This isn’t really news, because it’s not new. It seems to be fairly endemic throughout all levels of government. For example, this wonderful exchange between the Chairman of the Select Committee and the then Education Secretary, Michael Gove.
Q98 Chair: One is: if “good” requires pupil performance to exceed the national average, and if all schools must be good, how is this mathematically possible?
Michael Gove: By getting better all the time.
Q99 Chair: So it is possible, is it?
Michael Gove: It is possible to get better all the time.
Q100 Chair: Were you better at literacy than numeracy, Secretary of State?
Michael Gove: I cannot remember.
But it’s not Michael Gove in my crosshairs today. Not even a stray health visitor or midwife. No, it’s Ofsted and the Department of Education together who have come up with a jolly wheeze. They want to make it easier for schools to ‘recruit’ two year olds by changing the regulations around inspection.
From that article:
A Department for Education spokesman said: “No child should start school behind their peers. This is why as part of our plan for education we are committed to providing flexible, affordable and good quality childcare, giving parents real choice.
Oh dear. Oh very dear. Let’s look at that closely shall we?
“No child should start school behind their peers.”
We’ll assume that he means age peers, or the sentence has no meaning whatsoever. So if we go into it closely, what could he mean?
There are a number of useful skills for a school based education. Remember that this usually starts at age 4 in this country, even though the legally required education start age is actually the term after the 5th birthday. What should our 4 year olds be able to do? Sit, listen? Put on their own coat, dress and undress themselves? Hold a pencil, make marks, turn the pages of a book? Hold a conversation? All of those skills will be acquired by children slightly differently. Some earlier, some later. And some children won’t have all of them by age 4.
It’s a normal distribution type of thing. (Stay with me.)
Basically, lots of things, when plotted on a graph, come out in this shape.
On this graph, the different kinds of average, mean, median and mode are all at the same place – the top of the curve. It works well if you think about average height. Most people (mode) are in the middle (median) of the range (and you get the mean by adding up all the heights and dividing by the number of people).
Still with me? Personally I find the maths stuff fascinating, but I’m aware lots of people don’t. If you want to learn more about the distribution, this is good. The important thing though, is to remember it’s a range. So if we go back to the height idea, while *most* people will be around the average, there are also lots of people who are smaller, and lots of people who are taller. And a few people who are *very* small, and a few people who are *very* tall. That’s what gives the graph that great curve.
You can’t force all children to be at least average height. And you can’t force all of them to be of at least average skills. *Any* government suggestion that you can needs to be laughed at, loudly.
BUT there are some caveats. If you’re talking about height, for example, it is possible that some children aren’t reaching the height they could, because they’re malnourished. The answer is to make sure they’ve got access to good food.
And if we look back at when this idea of getting two year olds into schools was floated last year (independent), we find that the suggestion is to eradicate the effects of poverty on their performance.
Here’s a novel idea. Instead of throwing money at the effects of poverty, and coming up with solutions that won’t help, why don’t we address the causes of poverty? Just a thought. (*cough* basic income *cough*) I’m going to be writing more on that very soon, but I think this article is quite long enough already!