Friday, 8 February 2008

Children start school too soon

A report in today's Daily Mail says that English children start school too young and are tested longer and harder than anywhere else in the world. Primary schools in England are more obsessed with tests than in 20 other countries and pupils still perform no better than their European counterparts.

Researchers from the Cambridge University-led Primary Review also found that English children find school "stressful" as they are subjected to academic lessons in maths and English at the age of four. But in countries such as Sweden and Finland, where children do not start education until seven, they outperform English pupils by the age of 11.

Research spanning 21 nations including Germany, Italy, Spain, the US and South Korea found that England was 'uniquely' obsessed with high pressure exams. Children here also attend larger schools than counterparts in many other nations following a reduction in the number of primaries by 3,000 over the past 40 years. The report added that other distinct features of the English system included a national obsession with exam standards. Primary pupils were given baseline assessments at age five, followed by national tests at seven and 11 and optional tests at eight, nine and 10.

"What distinguishes assessment policy in England is the degree to which it is used as a tool to control what is taught, to police how well it is taught, and to encourage parents to use assessment information to select schools for their children," the report said. "England is unusual in its high incidence of assessment and is exceptional in its emphasis on statutory external standard assessment for children at ages seven and 11." Testing in England "begins at a younger age" than in other countries, the report added. "In summary, formal assessment in England, compared to our review countries, is pervasive, highly consequential, and taken by officialdom to portray objectively the actual quality of primary education in schools."

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