Are We Missing The Point Of The Value Of Play?

Posted on: October 22, 2014


Two major studies into the impact of free nursery places for three year olds have found that children gain no specific benefit from the head start they get as a result of pre school education.  Research by the Institute of Education and the Universities of Surrey and Essex  found that although children did make good progress at five, the overall impact became diluted by the time children reached seven and was not at all evident by the time children reached eleven.  These results have been reinforced by the report made by Fiscal Studies and the university of Essex as they have found that for every six children only one child was accessing nursery eduction that they wouldn’t normally have, the other five’s parents were benefiting from reduced childcare costs.  I find these results really interesting because I have observed the catch up stage at seven years old where the children all seem to find a similar level – the quicker children tend to slow down in their progress while the children who have taken their time tend to catch up.  It is almost as if seven is the age that any assessment should be used as a baseline, especially as the attainment of children tends to drop a little in relation to the SATS results achieved in year two.

The success of any education system comes down to how well the children in any given country perform in tests at a chosen age.  Presently Asian countries are topping the list of best education systems, with South Korea at the top.  European countries seem to be slowly declining in their ability to reach the top of the tables, even Scandinavia, who are usually ranked highly, are starting to slip.  If we look deeper at the different educational approaches it becomes quite obvious that the reason Asian countries are topping the tables is because they are simply hot housed and forced to do well at tests while Western children’s education is still pretty holistic despite there being a huge emphasis on testing at the moment.  The Asian system is flawed because it produces a huge group of people who are great at passing tests and have a disciplined approach to work.  The downside to this approach is that they are not particularly good at thinking for themselves and lack innovation.  The Western system is a mish mash of trying to compete in tests and trying to put the needs of the children first that we are ending up with a load of children who are highly opinionated but are not very good at passing tests.

It would seem that the whole world seems to have lost its way in terms of knowing what is best for children educationally and schools in the UK are increasingly pressurised to educate their pupils to a standard that is average or above regardless of the child’s true ability.  Assessment is a valuable way to determine the ability of children and if used solely as an information tool for teachers would be very valuable.  However assessment in our primary schools is essentially a test for the school, as OFSTED can state that a school requires improvement on the strength of their SATs results.  Mistakenly I thought that schools in Special Measures were likely to be the most stressful but now believe that aiming to keep the same grading or improve is just as stressful.  You hear about Michelin Starred Chefs losing their nerve when they lose a star and running to the hills – I am beginning to think that this is starting to apply to school.

Hours of research has concluded that for preschoolers play is the most valuable learning tool, in fact play is the cooking pot that every life skill your child acquires originates from.  Learning to read and write for example is like the formation of the earth you need a universe worth of experience in order to achieve these skills – something that sitting at a table will most certainly not achieve.  Sure Start Centres hold courses on play and life with a preschooler is so much fun, whether you play around a climbing frame in the garden or splash about in squelchy mud you can enjoy the pleasure of the experience.  It is only through the eyes of our young children that we are able to re experience the magic in the world. All studies into the development of children generally indicate that children follow a rough pattern of development at their own pace but generally reach their milestones by the time they are five.  Two year olds are assessed to see what their attainment level is and anyone in the position of educating them such as; nurseries or childminders have to explain their provision if the child doesn’t tick all of the boxes.  Thankfully that type of assessment has not extended to children who are at home with parents.

What concerns me is that combining the concept of play and teaching to the test is causing a clash of experiences that can only end in disaster.  We are already anticipating a shortfall in engineers and skilled people who are capable of being innovative enough to take us into the next century.  History frequently tells us that the people who made the greatest difference to our lives were not always the best at passing tests – the world changers were the ones who had a vision and could turn that vision into reality.  Leonardo De Vinci invented many objects that the world was not yet ready for but have now been produced using the technology that his time period was lacking.  De Vinci would not have been able to have produced such awesome works of art if he lacked imagination.  Every film we watch, book we read, technology we use, garment we wear, painting we admire, music we listen to has been produced by someone’s imagination.  I can’t remember ever looking at an exam paper and feeling overawed by its beauty.

2 Responses to "Are We Missing The Point Of The Value Of Play?"

Brilliant observation, my thoughts are around the social geography of the national curriculum and the impossible values it extols now as society revolves around property ownership and not communities and educational values. I am on the receiving end of 4+ years of denial by our local council of giving misleading advice that took away my daughter’s belief in her SATS results because they would not investigate within the school, the evidence she held…such is the pressure to preserve the clearly failing system. Data overload turning perfectly sensible schools into bullies when faced with the real values they hold.
I am researching the loss of subtlety of the brain which is evident when play is absent as the observational skills retreat. You have helped tremendously!

Hi – I am glad you liked it and that I am not the only person who has noticed this. I think that the description, ‘subtlety of the brain’, is an excellent description for the phenomena that is being missed due to only concentrating on tick boxes. I would be very interested to know how your research goes because it is the, ‘I can’t put my finger on it’, issue that seems to have a major impact. When used to teach, I observed children who seemed to have gaps in their learning ability which caused major problems when absorbing information. According to their Key stage 1 SATs they were only just below where they should be even if they couldn’t remember 1 + 2 = 3. I have followed your blog to keep up to date with your progress.

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