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Shortly before Christmas 2015, the Education Committee decided that they would address this question. ("Now that's a good idea", thought many.) They invited public responses, identifying three questions of the enquiry:
- What should be the purpose of education for children of all ages in England ?
- What measures should be used to evaluate the quality of education against this purpose?
- How well does the current education system perform against these measures?
They received many responses, and you can see them - and read them all - here. The collection of submissions is a powerful set of documents, and worth publishing separately as a case study, we think. (In this article we are giving you an additional link to our original submission, it having been edited to conform.)
In our submission we began, as others also did, suggesting that they actually should begin by asking a preliminary question: 'What are the characteristics of learners?'
To be followed by their question And Then: 'so, what should education look like'?
We really hope that the portfolio of submissions will cause the group of MPs to think widely, and we are sure that some of them will.
In their first meeting last week (see the following video from the Parliament website) Gateshead MP Ian Mearns endeavours to steer Michael Wilshaw away from his 'performance indicators' back to the subject of the enquiry:
"NEWS LATEST: Parliamentarians listen to educators!"
Nicola Sturgeon the Scottish first Minister, is really listening to two separate reports submitted by Naomi Eisenstadt and by Iram Siraj.
"This report ..highlights the importance that access to quality early learning and childcare has for both children and adults in tackling poverty. It helps improve educational outcomes, while it allows parents and carers to return to work, education or training.
"By trialling different methods with local authorities and child care providers, we will be better able to understand what parents and children need and want, and what is actually working. This will be crucial as we move forward with our transformational expansion of childcare.
"We need to work together to achieve our dual aims of providing high quality early learning and childcare that also meets the needs of parents, and that's why we will convene a National Summit in February so we can discuss these issues and work together to deliver an expanded childcare service that plays its part in tackling poverty and improving lives."
In 2015 Professor Iram Siraj submitted her report on the early years workforce in Scotland:
"Professor Siraj has set out clearly that we must have a workforce that is highly skilled and trained to work with young children, so that the foundations are laid for their future social and emotional wellbeing and their future attainment. The benefits of high quality early learning interactions with skilled practitioners have been shown to be particularly marked for those children who face particular barriers or challenges in terms of their socio-economic background, and Professor Siraj highlights this in her report., and it has been warmly welcomed"
It seems as though politicians are at last entertaining discussion about what constitutes 'quality' and are ready to put money behind it!
We anticipate that the government-side researchers and developers are now ready to listen to early childhood educators who are observing, for example, that:
"Scotland's early school starting age not only means that formal schooling starts before many children are physically, emotionally, socially and cognitively 'ready' and able to take full advantage of it. It also meant that, when widespread demand for early childcare arose in the closing decades of the 20th century, it was only necessary to provide childcare for about two years. It was therefore seen primarily as 'child-minding' and the political emphasis was on getting parents into work, rather than on children's development. So at a time when the quality of children's early care and their need to learn through play is arguably more important than at any time in history, there was little interest or investment in these aspects of childcare.
In countries such as Finland, where – owing to a school starting age of seven – widespread demand for early childcare began in the 1970s, early years authorities have had forty years to develop a highly effective system of kindergarten care and education, while Scotland is still in the early stages of development. There has also been more support for Finnish early years educational development because children in Finland spend four years in their kindergarten settings, as opposed to Scottish children's two years of pre-school 'child-minding' and two years of prematurely formal schooling. (This is extremely galling for EY specialists in Scotland, as our country has a very proud tradition of early years provision and scholarship, but – as stated above – the voices of EY authorities are seldom heard.)
In fact, in 66% of countries worldwide, the school starting age is 6 and in 22% (including many that now perform well above average in international comparisons of educational achievement and childhood well-being) it is seven. The 12% that have historically chosen to start school earlier – and whose performance in both education and well-being is distinctly lack-lustre – are all members (or ex-members) of the British Empire."
We anticipate a new era of listening.