Never before has such an opportunity arisen to reimagine and restructure England’s education system. After two years of severe disruption, what better time to transform our education system to:
• enable all children to thrive and achieve by re-doing their academic year;
• delay formal school entry by one year by establishing a pre-Reception year.
English children begin school earlier than most countries world-wide and the earliest in Europe. Not only out of step, this early start is not based on any developmental or academic criteria. Our children are among the most tested in the world (OECD 2011) and yet cannot compete academically with the highest performing countries (2018 OECD). The wellbeing of England’s teenagers compares poorly with other European countries (PISA 2018). Pre-pandemic, our education system was already failing our children; Covid gives us an opportunity to rethink and reset.
Current research into the impact of the pandemic highlights significant learning loss for our youngest children with potentially long-lasting consequences (EEF, 29.01.21). As a headteacher, I saw the damage caused by school closures on Reception children – this, on top of pressing concerns from early years’ educators over the last decade that increasing numbers of our incoming children present with language delay, vocabulary impoverishment, poor concentration and inadequate social skills. We educators know that children are simply not ‘school ready’ at 4 years of age.
By creating a pre-Reception year for our 4 year olds, and pausing to allow every child to re-do this lost year, we have an opportunity to create an education system that is both in tune with children’s developmental and academic needs and addresses the post-pandemic educational crisis. With political will and the requisite funding, we can give back to every child the time stolen from them and build something better for a brighter future.