This article from the TES suggests that the government plans to implement a baseline test at two and a half years, and a further test at five years. These tests seem designed to test early years settings, teachers and schools for the ‘progress’ they achieve with children in a narrow range of areas. I have yet to hear anyone in government talk about how these tests will improve outcomes for children, or about any additional intervention that will be funded. The ‘early intervention grant’, which is so helpful to those of us in early years, for supporting those children who most need help, has recently been slashed.
On Thursday 12th September 2013, Liz Truss was interviewed on Newsnight by Kirsty Wark. Luckily for me (and perhaps unluckily for Liz Truss) I can touch type, so I typed a verbatim account of what was said. This is given below. The questions Kirsty Wark asked are in italics. The points Liz Truss made on testing are highlighted in bold.
Liz Truss: If you go into a Reception class, you will find that children are playing, they’re learning how to play together, they’re learning how to take turns and what I think the issue is, is that too many children are arriving at school not with those skills that Mary talked about, ready to learn. So what we need to do is to improve early years education, to make sure that rather than the 33% of children who arrive at school without communication skills, make sure they have them.
So you believe essentially that the State should be in loco parentis?
Liz Truss: Well, what I’m saying at the moment is we are recruiting early years teachers for our nurseries. 96% of children take up early education at age 3 and 4. Let’s make sure that’s really high quality, so children have the skills, they have the vocabulary, they know how to take turns, then they can start school ready to learn. We shouldn’t delay the start because we haven’t done the preparation before hand.
But this government and other governments indeed have always praised the Scandinavian system … why can’t you embrace the idea that the best way …
Liz Truss: They have formal settings that children go to in countries like Sweden, with highly trained teachers, and early years teachers in Scandinavia are paid the same as a primary school teacher. Here we’ve got an issue that early years teachers are paid much less. I would like to see early years teachers better respected and better paid, I think it’s really important. We are setting higher standards for early years teachers, we’re above our recruitment targets for early years teachers precisely because we want to close the gap.
You have started putting kids into test situations at the age of five.
Liz Truss: We’re absolutely not doing that. There’s already an early years profile done at age four or five to see where the child is. We do that through the current system. What we’re doing is saying that schools can have a choice between using that and using alternative methods to see where a child is. But good teaching is all about finding what a child knows already, how they’re learning, how they’re developing and building on that. And we’re giving power to professionals to say this is the way we want to approach it, this is the way we want to help children get on during their school career. Can I just make the point Kirsty about play, is that we’re not against play, we absolutely think children learn through play, the issue is whether it should be entirely child-initiated, or whether it should be teacher led.
On your film, where you had somebody saying ‘we’ll teach the child to read if they want to’ I think that’s the wrong approach, because what you’ll get is middle class children with books on the walls, they’ll be the ones learning to read. The children who may now have an experience of reading will be the ones that are left behind.
Are you saying that poor people, that working class people, aren’t capable of actually introducing their children to books.
Liz Truss: I’m saying that children on free school meals do much worse at GCSE than children without, and there’s a long tail of under performance and yes, low income children arrive at school less well prepared, we have evidence to show that.
So what you’re saying is this policy is simply because you believe that poor children, children from less privileged backgrounds, need the government to step in.
Liz Truss: What I’m saying is that we need to make sure that every child succeeds.
Why not give parents more support to stay at home. I mean part of the problem with this is that you need more women to come into the workforce, you just do, and therefore what you’re offering is, your 3 or 4 year olds places at nursery, then going onto formalised learning at five, because that suits the economy, rather than child centered in the way that the UN believes the rights of the child should be.
Liz Truss: Well absolutely not. We know that 66% of mums go out to work, that’s a fact of life, we know that early education benefits all children. There’s a study being shown that early education has benefits far into a child’s life, right through to 18, but it has to be high quality education, which is why we’re raising the standards for early years teachers, but we’re giving professional autonomy. We’re not saying how we want teachers to teach, what we’re saying is that we’re going to allow you to get the best outcomes for children, to see where a child is, to offer much more flexibility.