This article, published by Sceptical Scot, highlights the differences in approach and rates of funding in Glasgow and Edinburgh.
This article, published by Sceptical Scot, highlights the differences in approach and rates of funding in Glasgow and Edinburgh.
From the moment my little February baby was born I thought she was exceptional! All parents do don’t they? T was in fact like most little people her age except she started talking in full sentences when she was one, knew most of her letter sounds and numbers up to 20 by 2 and by 3 could tell you the name of any animal or plant in the garden! We didn’t coach or teach her, she just seemed to want to know, so we answered her questions. T loved knowledge, she loved books, asked endless questions about the world around her and she didn’t seem to have a problem holding on to information that even I as a grown up found tricky to remember. My sister gave her the nickname ‘Matilda’ and we counted ourselves very lucky to have such a clever little person to raise.
Now when you have a child like this you find the comments about school start pretty early. “She’s really ready for school!” “Ooh I feel sorry for her teachers!” “I bet you can’t WAIT to send her to school!” The thing was, even though I had a very bright little girl on my hands there were other things she didn’t find so easy as a result. Socialising for example. Whenever we went to birthday parties she’d prefer to hang out and chat with us! Physical challenges, anything involving risk or chance, her busy little brain just over-thought it all and the thought of what might happen if she failed or fell would overwhelm her into opting out. The summer before her 4thbirthday we took the decision to move back to Scotland from England to be closer to family, then her noisy little brother was born. She had to cope with so much change in such a short time; was asking her to be ready to take on the social and emotional challenges of school as the youngest in her cohort too much? How would I explain it to the well-meaning relatives? “Yes but she is SO ready for school!” There were so many factors that led to my ultimate decision to defer her starting school but the best advice I got was from a fellow teacher who said “she’s not going to be any less READY in a year now is she?” The truth is they just get more ready.
I should explain that I’m a primary school teacher, so the decision should have been easy for me right? Yet I still grappled with that worry that lots of parents making the decision to defer have about potentially ‘holding their child back’. I feel that school, particularly the early years has a lot to do with confidence. Those crucial years play a fundamental part in your formation of your own sense of your ability, your understanding of who you are and what you’re good at. Yes we’re all good at different things and yes we have strengths and weaknesses and it’s important for kids to realise this. However, once you get to school, the direction and pace of your accumulation of the types of knowledge and skills we value as a society becomes less self-led the higher you progress up the school. The amount of attention given to being good academically somewhat unfairly outweighs the fact that you’re good at gardening or golf all the way through school, until you ultimately leave school and become the next Charlie Dimmock or Tiger Woods. The question I found myself asking was why would I not give my child an extra year to build the ability or armour to negotiate that world?
As much as we are trying our hardest as a nation to make education more child centred and child led, it can be argued that the children with the most agency, access to risk, collaborative play, independent thinking, self-governed problem solving are in fact our very youngest in nursery. In nursery, if you want to get the scissors and glue out to build a scale representation of the Paw Patrol HQ well you can, maybe you’ll need to work on those social skills and recruit and manage some friends to help you! Maybe the responsive adults around you will recognise your love of engineering and adapt the play environment to enable you to extend your learning and experiences further by creating a engineering inspired role play area? In P5, if you spontaneously decided you needed to do the above, well I think even the most brilliant and responsive teachers would have to manage your expectations and politely ask you to get back to your writing/whatever task they were currently working on. I think my point is, giving your child another year in a good nursery setting is the oppositeof holding them back. It’s giving them more possibilities, not less. Nursery should be the place where you get to test out your amazing ideas, follow your inspirations, learn how to make friends, share, explain your thinking, go deeper into your areas of interest supported by a much higher adult to child ratio than you get in P1. Perhaps the reason having lots of children deferred is so unpopular is that it’s expensive?
I can honestly say that the extra year of learning through play that we were able to give our girl was the best decision I made. Yes she would have ‘coped’ with school a year earlier, but I didn’t want her to just cope, I wanted her to manage and thrive. We’re two terms into her first year in P1 and she is doing great, I look at the pace of her homework and the weekly reading that gets sent home and listen to the endless chatter about friends and the dinner hall and the playground and cannot imagine doing all of that with her a year ago and her being as confident about it as she is now. In her extra year at nursery she went from being a loner to being a leader, she developed in self-awareness, gained buckets of empathy, grew in confidence and taught everyone the names of all the plants in the nursery garden. Now when anyone asks me whether I think they should defer (I get asked a lot being a teacher) my answer is always defer. Your child has nothing to lose and everything to gain.
You can read our guest blog for the independent think tank, Reform Scotland, on their website at this link:
Questions of a similar nature have been agonised over through the ions of history; questions whereby the answer leads one way or the other to two different routes, each with their unknown pathways and destinations.
And yet this particular question need not exist. It exists as parents, and some staff, grapple with the enormity of ‘sending’ very young, often very immature, children to school – that is school defined in the eyes of much of the populace as “Big School” with its attendant structure, uniform, and three Rs. In many, if not most, cases the definition is built upon first hand experience of several decades ago…and sadly it is not unheard of still to witness small, energetic children being admonished with ‘just wait till you get to big school….’ No, the question need not arise if ‘Early Years’ was merged into one, as indeed Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence acknowledges with its levels. …’early’ spanning age three through Primary one, and first level from P2 and beyond. If we operated a kindergarten system much of the inevitable formality would be alleviated, transition would be eased and, most importantly, children would be enabled to learn at their appropriate developmental stage in a relevant manner.
I am delighted to see the expansion of what is often referred to as ‘play- based learning’ in primary one and two classes, and there are many dedicated, qualified, conscientious teachers and practitioners chipping away at past regimes to achieve this for children. I welcome this – what I prefer to think of as a more active and creative living and learning base for children – and fervently hope that funding and training support its growth.
But we are not there yet…at least not universally, so the question remains ‘to defer or not to defer?’
My answer is unequivocally ‘yes’ – but to state that without giving reason is perhaps not fair, so here is why I think it so vitally important. In an early years setting or nursery school the ratio of adult to child is better than in school which immediately means there is a greater chance of your child being spoken with and played with in adult company – therefore enhancing their communication and social skills. Early years have environments laid out to encourage movement from children, provoke curiosity and support individual interests and maturation stages. Timetables and strict curriculums do not exist and children can be immersed in continuous exploration experiencing a multitude of scenarios and developing skills that they will carry with them into their later years. – skills such as independence, confidence, being organised and understanding their contribution is as important as the next person’s.
A quality early years setting will spend at least as much time outside as it does inside, letting children see the workings of their world as they play physically, in role, and with imagination. Outings can be spontaneous, literacy and numeracy fostered in day to day life, and little people nurtured as unique and valued. To date schools seem unable to overcome the practicalities of such an approach.
In the same vein that parents may concern themselves that a friend’s child may sleep all night, sit up, eat, walk, and talk before their own so they gradually accept that children do get there in their own time. So it is with social and cognitive maturation. Some children are very physical and may yield paintbrushes, chalks and pencils with skill – or not – as the case may be; some will listen well to stories and poems perhaps memorising and reciting in full while others cannot sit still for 30 seconds. Some children will separate happily from parent or carer, others weep long into a morning until they feel loved and secure in a new environment. But you know what? They almost always get there in the end!
So if you have a child where your instinct is to defer, then do so…..an extra year in an early years setting makes a huge difference, and you will have a child better able to meet the challenges and fun of the next step of their education.
If you are interested in further reading around this subject Upstart Scotland has collated various articles evidencing educational and neuro-scientific research as to why it is important to get it right. If you wish to learn more about the principles upon which quality early years practice is founded read about Friedrich Froebel – credited with being the ‘Father of Kindergarten’ and whose beliefs and approach still stand strong today. If you need first hand reassurance about the value of deferral I am Head of a kindergarten and have lost count of the many children whom I have deferred and had the privilege of watching the resulting positive outcomes. I am also a mother who wishes she had had the opportunity to defer a December born son, and lastly I am a grandmother with two out of three grandchildren (in Scotland) who deferred and benefited enormously from doing so…the third had a March birthday!
So, for any parent asking the question ‘To defer or not to defer’, my answer is always DEFER!
By Alison Hawkins, Headteacher, Wester Coates Nursery School
(if quoting from this blog, please ensure 100% accuracy and attribute the author)
Being a mum can be a lonely place at times. You always worry, ‘Is my child okay?’ or ‘Am I doing the right thing?’. Sometimes you feel that whatever decision you make will be the wrong one. These were my initial thoughts when my husband and I began the deferral process for our child. You could even say, I often buried my head in the sand as if the issue would resolve itself without a battle. It was a nice thought but not our reality. However, the ‘Give Them Time’campaign has given me the courage, encouragement and passion to talk about deferral and share with others my experience in the hope it can offer what the campaign has given me.
The early days
When I found out I was pregnant my husband and I were over the moon. We talked from the beginning about sending our child to school at 5.5 because we were having a January baby. It wasn’t a long conversation or an argument, we just agreed with the other’s feelings. We didn’t even know if the baby would be healthy. In fact, that was our biggest concern then. After an easy pregnancy (as if there is such a thing!), I gave birth at the end of December instead of January. I was really pleased to have a Christmas baby and my sister was home too. Perfect! However, it was not until my child reached nursery that I realised what this meant. We would potentially have to send them to school at 4.5.
During our child’s time at nursery we moved from one region to another. Would deferral be met with the same negativity as it was in our original area? The answer was indeed yes. I didn’t know what to do. I was lost in a form I couldn’t and didn’t know how to answer about additional needs, which my child didn’t have or limited communication. I was ushered into a room to see how serious we were about ‘deferral’. I felt so lost, frustrated, isolated with no one who understood to talk with about it. I was anxious that my child would have to sit at a desk aged four when they should be playing. Why the big rush?
Why we wanted to defer
In the end, their place at nursery was taken away and school looked like the only option. I had lots of professional parents wondering why we didn’t want to send our child to school. They would say ‘My child started at 4.5 and they are getting on fine’ and I am sure they were. For me though, something just didn’t feel right, and my husband felt it too. I was often told your child is ‘smart and will cope with the work’. It’s arrogant but that wasn’t my worry. It was simple things like sitting in a seat, going to the toilet independently, listening or sitting to do homework. I knew our child was smart and I didn’t need a test to tell me that. I had spent the last four years with this wee person and knew that they were academically capable, but would they be ready for the classroom? Primary teachers have a hard-enough job as it is without dealing with behaviour that is more suited to a nursery setting.
We thought we didn’t have a choice
We thought school was the only option. I cried so much. This was not what we wanted for our child. Why could no one see? I felt desolate and cried to my husband. That’s when we looked at the law and discovered we had a legal right to defer. I was confused and worried I was breaking the law but my husband reassured me that even though our child didn’t have a place at a state nursery, we could send them to a private one.
Silence and misinformation
Communication from the local authority had become non-existent. In fact, it had stopped. However, when I managed to make contact, we were told that if we sent our child to a private nursery, they would be placed on the home schooling register so that they didn’t fall off the Council’s radar. This made me worried that what we were doing was falling fowl of the law. I have nothing against home schooling but this was not our choice. Why couldn’t deferral be reflected more accurately in their records? Would they try to force our child to start primary two a year down the line? Couldn’t they see that I didn’t want our child’s education to suffer, I wanted our child to prosper? I wept down the phone. ‘My child is not being home schooled. We are sending our child to a private nursery. We are not asking for funding. What is the problem?’. I wasn’t asking for funding – I never had. In hindsight, maybe we should have but I had long accepted that prevailing attitudes about deferral and the current economic climate meant we would not stand a chance.
My husband was an invaluable source of support. He wrote a well-articulated letter that night which stated the law, asked for our child to be taken off the home schooling list and explained that they would be going to a private nursery for a year before starting primary one. We could only afford four days with our savings and we were lucky to have our parents to help a bit with childcare too. I know that not everyone is as lucky with this level of support, but we were determined to make it work. We had enough money until the January, but the private nursery encouraged us to look at a salary sacrifice scheme which also helped us afford it. I am grateful for all their encouragement and support. I don’t think they will ever understand my gratitude towards them.
You are not alone
After the ups and downs of last year, I was introduced to this campaign by a friend. It was such a relief to realise that we were never alone, that other parents were experiencing issues deferring their child too. I felt liberated, I wasn’t that difficult parent when talking to other parents in the ‘Give Them Time’campaign. There were others in a similar situation. Just to have that sense of release was wonderful. To hear about others’ struggles and hardship was a comfort, selfishly. To meet and speak to other parents in a similar position has been invaluable and often a great source of support. However, bigger than the campaign for me was the realisation in myself. It was profound. My decisions for my child are right quite a lot, particularly with deferral. Sometimes all you need is a wee bit of hope, a big bit of courage and another wee bit of encouragement when it comes to your child. You are not alone when it comes to deferral and it was the ‘Give Them Time’ campaign that gave me this. It is wonderful to share this with others and I hope the campaign gives others what it has given me. To parents out there, you are not alone and it’s okay to want your child to more than cope at school but to thrive.
Children in Scotland can start school from four-and-a-half years old. For many this is too young as they develop at different rates. This video shows the effects of trying to formally educate children who aren’t developmentally ready.