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Cambridge Primary Review: government would do well to heed these child-centred recommendations

Full Transcript of letter sent to Times Education Supplement and published in TES on the 23rd October 2009

The Cambridge Review

Although there has already been considerable coverage of the recommendations of the Cambridge Review since its release last week, there has been little in depth coverage of why it is recommended that formal learning should not start until 6, why boys are falling further behind under the current system and why a less centralised prescriptive curriculum is advised.

The key to learning success at every stage of education is developmental readiness.  Although some children are ready to read at 4½ years of age, others will not be ready until 6+ years, and one school of thought used to say that reading “readiness” was linked to biological development and coincided with the onset of shedding the first milk teeth, which usually takes place from 6 years of age (later in children with developmental delay). 

Boys are generally later than girls at developing the fine motor skills needed for writing and the control of gross motor skills necessary to be able to sit still.  These motor skills are developed through physical action and interaction with the environment in the early years when motor experience entrains neurological pathways involved in coordination, the control of eye movements needed for reading, writing and drawing and physical self control.

The ability to use written language is built upon an oral tradition when knowledge was passed from one generation to the next through the spoken word, songs and stories. Listening and speaking are the building blocks of literacy at which every child needs sufficient practice in the early years before being ready to “internalise” the written elements of language and match visual symbols on a page to memorised sounds.

Developmentally and neurologically, a child’s brain is primed to learn in different ways at different stages in development.  For example, from 4- 7 years of age, areas involved in movement, rhythm, rhyme and song are particularly receptive to new information and experience and will support verbal language later on. When education seeks to attain targets without going through the necessary building procedures first, it results in gaps  or weaknesses in the system which can undermine higher aspects of learning later on.

Learning is a biological as well as an educational process.  Until education takes individual developmental readiness into account, we will continue to see an unacceptably high percentage of children in the British school system who under-achieve.  The Cambridge Review, if governments can only heed its recommendations, is a ray of hope for children and education in the future.

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