Monday 19 March 2018

No child should be sent to school if they can't even manage to button their coat

Sinead Ryan
Sinead Ryan
Sinead Ryan

Sinead Ryan

Every parent looks forward to their child's first day at school with a mixture of joy and trepidation. So, too, do the teachers.

But are we expecting too much of both? The head of the Irish Primary Principals Network (IPPN), Brendan McCabe, claims that many children are starting school too early and aren't ready for it and teachers end up effectively becoming babysitters rather than educators.
I had a difficult choice to make with one of my children: he was old enough for school at four and a half and had already spent almost two years in Montessori school.
But they felt he hadn't fully developed enough social skills, despite being bright, to be ready for junior infants and a class of 25.
It was a really tough call and, I have to admit, the thought of forking out for another year of fees plus a childminder for the afternoons made me think twice.
That year was the one where I was supposed to have had more money in my pocket and the finances would ease up as I returned to work for longer hours.
In the end, I went with the expert advice and held him, and myself, back.
As it turned out, he flourished in school once he got there but ended up one of the oldest in his class all the way up and will be over 19 doing his Leaving Cert.
So, a mixed bag as it turned out -- and probably unnecessary.
Mr McCabe's views are undoubtedly considered though, and I'm sure there are some kids starting on the first day who can't button their coat, tie their laces or visit the bathroom unaccompanied.
No child should be sent to school if they can't manage such basic tasks, and no parent who has mollycoddled them to this extent is doing their kids a favour.
But school is often the goal at the end of a very long and expensive wait by parents who are paying out the equivalent of a second mortgage in crèche or childcare fees.
For them, junior infants can't come soon enough.
In truth, four probably is too young to start school, especially if they haven't had a full-time Montessori experience beforehand.
But four years of stalling your career, or struggling to juggle all the bills can be more than most parents can stand, so, yes, many do see 'big school' as their relief and release from all that.
However it's not necessarily best for the child. In Sweden and Finland, children don't start school until the age of seven.
A campaign has recently begun in Britain calling for the same policy.
Some 127 educational experts wrote an open letter to the Minister for Education there asking that the formal school age be moved upwards.
But countries that have older enrolment policies also have a fully funded childcare system where parents can get back to work (and paying tax) while their offspring are cared for in pre-school and kindergarten facilities, making them more than ready for the real thing when the time comes.
We have the very worthwhile Early Childhood Care and Education scheme (ECCE), which undoubtedly many parents are happy with.
However, allowing just three hours a day for 38 weeks, it's hardly going to get mums back to meaningful work easily.
Calls have been made for a second year to be added and Minister Frances Fitzgerald (above) has not hidden her desire to do so, but as usual, resources don't allow it at present.
If they did, I'm sure most parents who could afford to would happily leave their child in sessional Montessori for a second year if it meant them starting school a little later.
Until then, they will continue to make hard decisions and teachers may well continue to find themselves wiping, cleaning and minding their small charges instead of teaching them.

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