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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 April, 2003, 16:51 GMT 17:51 UK
'Too much, too young' for children

By Sean Coughlan
BBC News Online at the ATL conference in Blackpool

School children
Should we start formal schooling at a later age?
Young children's behaviour in school is being adversely affected by too many tests and targets and a lack of creative play, say teachers.

Delegates at the annual conference of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers in Blackpool heard calls for a review of the "straitjacket" of the academic expectations placed on infants.

Young children are being "swamped by external pressures", such as target-setting and the requirements of the curriculum, said Shirley Buxton.

This could "sow disaffection" among pupils, particularly among boys, which revealed itself later in their school careers.

Speakers called for a recognition of the importance of fun and creativity in the learning processes of five year olds.

And there was criticism of the literacy strategy, which the government has credited with improving results in reading and writing in primary schools.

There was also alarm at the apparent increase in health and behaviour problems among children in both primary and secondary schools.

'Space cadets'

In a separate debate, Jovan Trkulja said teachers had to contend with pupils so "doped-up" with drugs prescribed to calm hyperactivity they were "space cadets", out of touch with reality.

He added that there had been an increase in the number of pupils bringing the consequences of their disturbed home lives into school.

Another speaker, Hank Roberts, made a connection between this behaviour - and an increase in allergies and health problems - with the aggressive marketing of fast food.

One student teacher said she had spent time in a school where 75% of the pupils were on the special needs register.

The conference voted in support of calls for a Royal Commission into child health and welfare.

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