Monday, May 28, 2012

Can Starting school at seven 'boost pupils' reading skills?

Pupils kept out of formal schooling until the age of seven perform just as well those subjected to normal lessons at five, it was revealed.

In some assessments of reading skills, those with a later start actually overtook their peers by the age of 10, figures show.

Academics suggested that infants given more time to naturally develop their language skills in the early years had a better foundation when they started conventional tuition at seven.

The disclosure – based on an analysis of pupils in New Zealand – will raise fresh concerns over Government reforms to pre-school education which appear to place a greater focus on the three-Rs at an increasingly early age.

This includes subjecting all pupils to a new-style reading test at six to identify those lagging behind.

It comes after a major US study showed that bright children actually benefited from being slowed down in the early years, suggesting that they risked growing up in an “intellectually unbalanced” way by being pushed too far, too soon.

Most British schoolchildren already start classes earlier than their peers in many other European nations. Children are normally expected to be in lessons by five, although most are enrolled in reception classes aged four.

But the latest study – published in the journal Early Childhood Research Quarterly – found that children who begin decoding words later than their peers can “eventually achieve equally in reading fluency”.

“Our findings suggest that success at reading is not assured by an earlier beginning,” it said.

Academics from Regensburg University in Germany and Otago University in New Zealand tracked hundreds of children who started formal schooling at different ages.

This includes those who joined conventional New Zealand state schools at five and others from progressive Steiner schools, who are allowed to delay formal tuition until seven.

The second group remained in Steiner nurseries for two more years, where written language is banned to encourage the development of oral communication and children spend time on play-based activities, such as painting, drawing, cooking, singing or oral storytelling, the study said.

Children were given reading tests at different stages during the first six years of their primary education to assess their ability to decode individual words and fluently read a passage of text.

The study, led by Dr Sebastian Suggate, found that those learning to read later had caught up by the age of 10 and actually had “slightly better reading comprehension” before the end of primary education.

“Instead of focusing on developing decoding-related skills between the ages of five and seven, and in the first years of school, it may be that the environments in the Steiner kindergartens favoured language development, which later feeds into reading comprehension,” said the research.

The findings come amid claims from academics that children in England are being pushed too hard at a young age.

Currently, all nurseries and childminders are expected to follow a compulsory pre-school curriculum that requires children to hit a series of targets before their fifth birthday.

This includes reading and understanding simple sentences in books, writing simple sentences, counting up to 20, using simple addition and subtraction and employing everyday language to describe and compare size, weight, capacity, time and distance.

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