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“More effort needs to be spent on the most valuable years which are the earliest years”

A government inquiry recommending that all children be allowed to start school in the September term after their fourth birthday has fuelled the debate about whether early schooling actually benefits young children. Sir Jim Rose, former OFSTED inspector and author of the Rose Report on primary education, believes that early school entry helps counter the fact that Summer-born children fair worse in exams because they start school at a later age, as reported by Richard Garner in The Independent.

However, a survey of 700 teachers, published by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, reported that many of those questioned felt, in the words of one teacher: “Summer-born children, especially those born in August, often lack the maturity to cope with school. They would be better off staying at preschool for longer.

But Peter Tymms, Professor of Education at Durham University says it is not at all certain that an early start is bad for many children finding the evidence contradictory: “I have been struck by the enormous progress that children make during their first year at primary school regardless of the age at which they come in.”

Professor Tymms also feels that the problem lies essentially in the standard of teaching during these very important early years. His latest research, published in the Journal for Educational Assessment, Evaluation and Accountability, suggests that “more effort needs to be spent on the most valuable years which are the earliest years.”

“It has long been argued that a pupil’s ability to learn concepts such as language and mathematics is at its greatest when the child is very young,” adds Jack Grimston in The Sunday Times.

However, the allocation of the most talented teachers is often diverted to Year 6 pupils who are preparing for entry into secondary schools. Prof Tymms’ research found that the impact a teacher has in a child’s first year at school, be it good or bad, has a lasting effect which can still be seen 6 years later. This gives credence to the argument that firm foundations provided by excellent teachers are essential if a child is to have a positive school experience.