When is a parent not a parent?

Back in the early 70s, when I trained to be a primary teacher, the whole of my first term at teacher training college was dedicated to ‘child development’.  The importance of play couldn’t have been over-estimated, crucial as it is to creativity, dexterity, imagination, social development, special development, motor skills and just about everything else.

Four decades later, Ofsted believes it knows better.  Gone are the outmoded, even quaint, ways of the past.  Today it’s a human right for every woman to work and therefore every child has the right to spend their early years in a nursery.

But there’s a problem.  Children from disadvantaged families, it seems from recent news reports, lag behind their better-off peers when they start school.  Perhaps mum hasn’t the time to potty train them properly, or teach them how to eat with a knife and fork.  Perhaps they don’t have toys to help them develop their practical skills.  Perhaps mum is too tired to teach them how to give and take, repent and forgive, and live as social beings.

The solution, says Ofsted chief, Baroness Sally Morgan, is to enrol two year olds from disadvantaged families in school nurseries.  The government, she assures us, is making provision for two-year-olds in state schools.

Quite rightly, the Early Years Alliance chief executive, Neil Leitch, is outraged by the suggestion.  He agrees that children from disadvantaged backgrounds need considerably more support; but to place such young children in schools is beyond belief.  He says:

Social inequality needs to be addressed in many ways and taking very young children away from their parents and placing them in formal schooling is not the answer

Ofsted’s solution, however, should make us take stock.  The Bible clearly tells us that children are a gift from the Lord, a blessing we shouldn’t take for granted.  Children belong ultimately to the Lord, but parents have the responsibility for raising them in the fear of the Lord.

What a far cry from the bureaucratic attitude towards children in our society.  As far as they are concerned, the government (the State) believe they own our children, and children are a commodity within the state system.  In a ‘big, brave move’ the government are making it easier for schools to take children from the age of two.  Soon, all children will be expected to start school at that age, and before we know it, it could become compulsory for them to do so.

Once they enter the education system, they become a statistic.  Every stage of their development is plotted on a graph or chart.  Only today Sir Michael Wilshaw is recommending the reinstatement of SATS at ages 7 and 11, in addition to those currently in place.  League tables are drawn up.  Children as young as two are branded according to their ability to perform or conform.  Slow developers have distinct disadvantages.  Every child is on the education sausage machine.  In at two; out at eighteen.

With reference to SATS, Sir Michael says:

In getting rid of the tests, we conceded too much ground to vested interests.  Our education system should be run for the benefit of children, and no one else

I strongly suggest that continual tests are a frantic attempt to up our standards to those of China and other Asian countries at any cost, to keep the UK near the top of the tables.  The well-being of the children comes way down the list of priorities.

Neil Leitch supports this view.  He says he fears we’re moving to a position where we do not want our children to be children any more.  The top-down pressure from government could lead to the ‘schoolification’ of early years as a result of inappropriate practice for young children.  There’s a growing culture of rushing children to a point where they could produce a return for the economy, instead of following academic evidence that learning through structured play and self-development was the best way to develop as a fully-rounded person.

And what are these young children taught?  Rather than being nurtured at home, able to imbibe family values and a unique sense of identity within a family unit, they are, in effect, institutionalised.  The creed of the State is what they learn.

There are many educators who share concerns over the type of curriculum two year olds should follow, bearing in mind the importance of play and the dangers of formal learning too soon.  Sadly, the government officials who make the rules are rarely teachers themselves.  They would do well to listen to Educational Psychologist Dr Jo van Herwegen of Kingston University, who warns that formal learning is extremely difficult as children’s working memory and language abilities are still developing at age 2-3.  Forcing children to learn in formal settings and sit tests regularly can risk creating performance anxiety and an aversion to learning later on in life.

Of course, we wouldn’t restrict young children to formal learning.  Or would we?  Children in infant classrooms up and down the country are tutored to pass SATS, and have a National Curriculum to follow which demands so much of them that free play, dressing up and other creative activities often get pushed to one side.  Young children don’t get time in school to explore and experiment because the core curriculum is so prescriptive.

If Sir Michael has his way, it will become more so.  The government says there’s no longer any need for nursery teachers and other child carers to be trained in how children learn through play.

Without knowledge and understanding of God as revealed in the Bible and through his Holy Spirit at the centre of the curriculum, the best intentioned educators will ultimately fall short.  The apostle Paul summed it up when he said:

It’s in him that we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28)

The prophet Isaiah knew how important it was to develop ‘the fear of the Lord’ as the foundation of life:

He (the Lord) will be the sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure (Is 33:6)

If our government took heed, and adhered to the principles laid down in scripture, our children would be well cared for.  We would see ourselves and our children in the right perspective.  Instead of selfish ambition we would be prioritising child-flourishing and well–being over educational attainment at an early age.  We would also be providing Godly, stable, loving and supportive home lives in traditional family units.  The results would be amazing!


This has been on my mind a lot over the last few weeks.

Well put.


An excellent article Jenny - I absolutely agree!

I've sent it to Andrew Rosindell MP!

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