Monday, 18 July 2016

Upstart Scotland: The importance of Kindergarten to the age of six

My older son was so fortunate when we lived in America to gain from 3 years of Montessori nursery and then 2 years of Kindergarten, at Mundelein north of Chicago. The Montessori kindergarten ran from 2 to 7 years. He gained enormously from having an excellent ground work in the spoken work, speech work, creativity, number, size and more …..BEFORE he began his formal schooling at 7.

There is a new educational initiative in Scotland now called ‘Upstart Scotland’ to consider that young children here might be better served by starting formal education at 6 or 7 years, rather than the 5 years at primary one here. 

Its important to understand that Kindergarten is not simply going out into a garden for rough and tumble play. Yes games do matter of course, but Kindergarten is firstly about laying the ground work for learning – such as colours and shapes; working on speech and how the individual letters are made; role play through house corners etc.; language development through team work, story book corners, creative work with modeling and drawing, drama etc. 

Its misleading to say this is simply about play. The difference is that compared to Primary one – where there are pressures to start the Reading scheme and to begin formal writing and number in jotters – kindergarten is about learning the basics beforehand – so that when the children do start formal learning the process goes much more quickly 

Many children, especially boys lack the concentration needed to learn in primary one – so kindergarten helps to develop this. The problem in our system is that those who do not developed what educationalist call ‘readiness to learn’, fall behind right at the start.  

*Education is an art form – that cannot be easily defined, tested or analysed. The most effective way to improve education is with top quality teachers. This requires attracting the best people, through good salaries and five year masters degrees.  This saves money too – because top quality teachers require less monitoring or testing costs and can autonomously run their own schools and classrooms and make wise, informed decisions. Unfortunately many pre-school teachers here have not had enough training. 

Some teachers spend two thirds of their time on ‘monitoring paperwork’ that no one ever looks at – when their time and energy would be better spent in teaching. 

Keep the Primary school Curriculum Simple!  
(1) A Focus on Basic Skills for half the Curriculum
(2)  Other Half PBL (Project Based Learning) and individual Project earning. 

For the first – these are the skills that can be counted and measured.
However for the second of PBL, good quality education is full of equally important skills that are not so easily measured – creativity, emotional resilience, teamwork, enterprise, individual thought, oral skills, enthusiasm, motivation, originality social skills, lateral thinking, more. 

The problem with any Targets is that they measure what can be counted, rather than what matters. That’s why testing is limited. A good teacher does small test routinely to check on learning outcomes. Also Head teachers can easily do their own testing of classwork, by taking a class for some lessons. 

Levels in number work are set for each level and at Primary most will meet these basic requirements. The Basic Skills should be the first requirements of the school day – with the PBL or Developmental Skills done to make the school day more challenging and motivational.
We have a culture of elitism in both our society and education.

Closing the Attainment Gap
**In Scotland and the UK there is a culture of ‘Empire’ attitudes – that have been encouraged by the teaching of both the Roman and British Empires for decades, in order to perpetuate the myths and falsehoods that some are born into privileged and better than others and feel themselves to be ‘superior’ to others.

According to Stuart Hardy in his book     , the ancient Scottish clans ran a more equal system (rather than feudal) – where there was a clan chief and all the clan were seen as responsible for the success of the clan by pulling together. 

Scotland was never controlled by the Romans. Scotland led the way with a rich Enlightenment and innovating thought and discoveries.

We were the first country to offer education to all boys in Parish schools. Lets build on our past successes now, by embracing a more egalitarian society and attitudes, and not simply ‘accepting’ that some children are born to be ‘lower ranks’. We can’t all be the same – all academics, or all business-minded, or all good with people, or all good technically – but we can have a society where all children are offered a much more equal chance in life to develop rich, rewarding lives.

Those who live in grand, enormous estates or homes in Scotland – perhaps they should go one day a month to visit and help those children in dire poverty here and have their eyes opened to the dreadful plight of the children. It is getting worse, not better here in Scotland and they should be ashamed. 
The ICESCR is looking into the failures in the UK and Scotland to offer these children their human rights to decent health , pay and work. And also to stop the discriminate towards women, the disabled and pensioners.

The Tories say they want to improve educational outcomes – their first step might be for them to request to abolish the Private schools then? 

The educational attainment gap is mainly the result of social inequalities and only a tiny amount about schools and teachers.  In Scandinavian countries childcare is free for the poorest (and a maximum of £200 per month) In Kindergarten, any failures with speech can be identified – and work done on the pronunciation of letters. I know about this as a former Primary teacher – it is too late by the age of 5 or 6 to do anything. I had one boy at the age of 9 who was still using baby talk – so it was impossible even with all the teachers best intentions to teach him the written words – never mind his being able to read.

Children are not born stupid. Their environment can be changed and the earlier this is done the better. Language is the key. England is being Americanized. Does Scotland want to follow the healthier, more socially equal Nordic model – or the elitism capitalist American model? We need to choose.

The Upstart Scotland program and Personal Development and Emotional Resilience

It is most important that this 2 to 7 Kindergarten is portrayed as highly ‘Structured Play’ - so that parents realize this is not in any way about simply running about in the park. 

We’re trapped by history and tradition.  In 1870, the English parliament chose an early  school starting age so children’s mothers could provide cheap labour in factories. Scotland followed suit, and ever since we’ve taken it for granted that formal education must start at five. (Only 12% of countries worldwide start children at school so early – and all are ex-members of the British Empire.)  

Upstart – Sue Palmer Published by Floris 16th June 2016. 

95% attend State Schools
Most Teachers hold Masters degrees, from Kindergarten onwards
2 – 7 years Kindergarten
7 – 14 years. First tests at 14,
14 – 18 years
No school is bigger than 600. Small class sizes