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Monday, 19 April, 1999, 18:42 GMT 19:42 UK
Pushy parents told to 'cool it'
Alison Sherratt
Alison Sherratt says parents put too much pressure on infants
By Gary Eason in Harrogate

Teachers have complained that parents are putting their children under pressure to perform academically from a very young age.

Unions 99
They say education officials are making matters worse with their expectations of what children should achieve by the end of the reception year in school.

At the Association of Teachers and Lecturers conference in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, Alison Sherratt, a teacher in Bradford, called on the union's leadership to look at the effect of parental pressure on many children.

Shirley Blackman
Shirley Blackman said that too much was expected too soon from young children
Ms Sherratt also called on delegates to consider "how we can educate the parents to 'cool it', and let these children have some fun while they still can".

Parents were even pushing them to perform well in the new 'baseline assessments', the tests intended to help teachers establish how much children know when they start school.

"Of course every parent wants the very best for their children," she said.

But they took to heart what they heard from the Department for Education, ministers and the media, and wanted to know how to "stuff these little brains" to try to make sure they did well in school tests.

Parents were even using the 'desirable learning outcomes' - the official guidelines on the skills children should acquire in nursery school.

"They use them as a tick list, so that their particular little person's score will be higher," she said.

A review of these guidelines, carried out by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, has also come under fire at the conference.

Pressure on young children

Shirley Blackman, from Wellesley First School in Norwich, Norfolk, complained about the expectations that they contained for pupils at the end of reception year - which she would be pleased if some of her third year pupils could manage.

"We are talking about children as young as four years 11 months. What pressures are we proposing to put on these very young children?" she said.

The same sort of pressures in Japan had led to "stressed, neurotic children" at the age of five. The danger was that children felt they were failures early on, wrecking their confidence.

"It puts them off reading and writing, and it's jolly hard work to pull them back again," she said.

In other countries, however, formal education did not start until the age of six or seven. There needed to be thorough research into what was best.

Norwegian differences

Another speaker at the conference, Ken Richardson from Newcastle, said his school had been visited last week by five Norwegian teachers.

"They were amazed at the standards in reception," he said, "maths, literacy - they were astonished how much the children were able to do."

They then worked their way through the school and found that children in the fourth year were doing the same work that children of the same age would be doing in Norway - where formal education starts later.

"When I asked how this would be received in their country - the formal education at ages four and five - they said: 'The parents wouldn't stand for it'.

Mr Richardson also wanted research so that parents in England would be aware of the different cultural attitudes elsewhere.

He also backed calls for children to have the space in their early years to play and explore and enjoy themselves. He recalled his own son starting school 12 years ago.

"He came home buzzing," he said, "not from learning things about numbers, not from learning things about English. He'd met some new friends."

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