Monday, November 29, 2010

Time to stop pushing four-year-olds into formal education?

Jeff Breslin has an interesting piece today suggesting that many Sixth Year pupils and students in the first year of university are essentially marking time, and that valuable education resources could be spared by cutting degree courses down to three years in line with the practice in England, and by encouraging pupils to leave school a year early if they already have the prospect of a job or university place. I understand the point he's making, but it seems to me there's a contradiction there - one of the basic reasons for four-year degrees is to make up for the fact that students are essentially a year less advanced in their studies than their English counterparts, who (as I understand it) are generally not able to become first-year students until the age of eighteen. Under Jeff's blueprint, many students could be starting at sixteen and graduating at nineteen, which I'd assume most people would agree is pushing it a bit.

Of course, there's a double-whammy effect here, because Scottish pupils also start primary school a few months earlier on average than is the case in England. As my birthday falls on the 'wrong side' of the cut-off date, I started at four years and seven months old, which meant that - in spite of seeing secondary school through to the absolute bitter end - I left at the tender age of seventeen years and four months. I suspect if we want to get a better return for the resources put into education, it's this side of the equation we should be looking to reform first. Starting formal education early is bafflingly popular with Scottish parents, but it seems blindingly obvious that pupils would make more of their years at school if they both started and finished a bit later.

PS. I really must salute Jeff's ingenuity in illustrating his point about a 'double dip' loss of interest in education with a graph showing the changes in Californian house prices between 1976 and 2006!


  1. I like it James, and I agree with you actually.

    I did consider this option too to compliment my own idea of ending 6th year but I suspect that most parents enjoy their children going off to school at age 3 or 4 as they get to save money on nursery costs earlier.

    So, in order to make your plans work and, as a result, make university work, then I guess Governments need to sort out childcare and make it cheaper.

    Bit of a can of worms this one!

  2. Actually in England kids go to school the term after their fourth birthday so they are at most 4 and 4 months which in my view is way too early. I wouldn't start formal education as we think of it until maybe 6 & that's part of what the Curriculum for Excellence is trying to agree.

    Nice to see Jeff backing Lib Dem policy which is to introduce 3 year degrees.

  3. Ah, you're probably right about the reasons for parents favouring an early start, Jeff - I hadn't taken into account nursery costs!

    Are you sure about that in relation to England, Caron? I checked a Citizen's Advice Bureau site, and it says that children generally start at the beginning of the term during which they will turn five (ie. at least four years and eight months), and that the compulsory starting age is five.