B is for Book, Bored and Below Compulsory School Age

IMG_1859I am not an early years teaching expert, but I have witnessed firsthand how ingrained a hatred of reading can develop in some children, and was acutely reminded of this when I watched the BBC 4 documentary ‘B is for Book‘.

As a former secondary school teacher who has tutored numerous children in English for more than 15 years (boys in particular), I could plainly see how easily a love of books can be jeopardised very early on in a child’s life.

Shockingly, the BBC film showed children who were not yet naturally interested in reading and writing independently (much less the daily monotony of phonics and lacklustre books) being deprived of precious playtime, as punishment for academic failure, at just 4 and 5 years old.

Why are we doing this to children???” I wanted to know.

So that they pass their phonics test with flying colours at the end of Year 1, and perform well for Ofsted? So that we can monitor, check and evaluate whether teachers are doing their job properly in teaching children to read? Or is it because we’re absolutely sure that this approach is in the best interests of all children?

Slowly But Surely

Evidently, the BBC film demonstrates that some young children are able to read early, which is wonderful, and should be encouraged.

But for those children who are not ready yet, why not wait a while?

Why not simply continue reading to them and with them?

Reading, reading, and more reading….

Entertain them with books; excite and enlighten them with the huge variety of stories and facts that exist on each mysterious page; make them eager to (slowly but surely) seek out words that are of interest to them.

Let them crack the code in their own way, and in their own time.

The goal of reading is the same; they’re simply taking a different path to reaching it.

Yes, this may require more patience.

Yes, this may require more differentiation in the classroom.

And yes, this may require confidence to step outside the prescribed method.

But if it results in a child not just being able to read, but actually enjoying reading, isn’t it worth a try?

At least for those children who are very clearly struggling at age 4 and 5…

To back off a little.

To give them space.

To give them time.

To wait until they’re verbally and mentally ready to deliver the intonation and emphasis that makes what they’re reading ‘sound‘ interesting to their ears (and inside their head).

To wait until the words they’re actively learning to read are the more interesting ones, the ones that will really bring the stories in books to life, and enrich their reading experience.

To provide them with really positive and proud memories of ‘the first books I ever read‘.

To make their effort more worthwhile.

To nurture and maintain their self esteem.

Summer Born SEN (separate to) Other SEN

Maybe it was my teaching experience, or maybe it was a mother’s instinct, but I knew that enrolling our summer born son in school at age 4 was not the right step for him in autumn 2013.

In fact, many experts say that even an age 5 start to formal reading and writing is not ideal for those children who are better suited to waiting a while.

Their research gave me the confidence to stand my ground in the face of strong ‘school system’ opposition and querying school run stares.

Fast forward to summer 2016 and our son has just recently read his first books, cover to cover, at an age that would be considered ‘extremely late‘ by English educational standards; moreover, given the irrefutable evidence that a disproportionate number of summer born children are diagnosed with SEN, by now he would very likely have been ‘labelled‘ in school over there.

Instead, in Canada, where he started school at age 5 years and 3 months (and formal reading skills in school didn’t start for him until age 6 years and 7 months), the range of vocabulary he can now decode comes from years of listening to stories (with the occasional word or phrase pointed to or discussed – ‘Isn’t it funny how some words begin with a k but you don’t hear it when you say it? e.g. knife, knight, Knapford Station‘ – before moving swiftly on); he avoided years of trudging through basic vocabulary within the pages of books that I knew would not capture his imagination – and undivided attention – quite so well.

Sure, he has some classmates that could read chapter books by the age of 5 and a half, and the system here doesn’t discourage this; in fact our daughter was a very ‘early reader‘ too.

It’s just that there is no expectation for everyone else in the class to be doing the same.

Risks in the Reading Race

Also, the likelihood is (as studies have shown) that in the coming years, this difference in reading ability should start to even out.

For some children, learning to read is a marathon, not a sprint, and in an environment where the process is treated as a race, it might set them up for feelings of failure and frustration as they strive to cross an ever-moving finish line .

As the song goes, ‘You can’t hurry love‘, and for some children, this is true of their natural readiness to develop a love of reading.

Hurry it, and we risk teaching them to hate books instead.

Our son has been lucky; we were able to make the right choice for his start in education after moving away from Surrey’s obsession with bureaucratic neatness and chronological age teaching.

However, there are still others who are trapped inside an admissions postcode lottery that can only be resolved if the DfE delivers on its promise and changes the School Admissions Code.

Forced school entry at age 4, forced Year 1 entry at age 5, or being made to miss a year of school later on, can all adversely impact the entire educational experience for some children, and therefore their life chances.

Correcting the unfair flaws in summer born admissions won’t fix everything, but it’s a valuable and important step in the right direction.

Related Blog Post

Coincidentally, a link was shared in the Summer Born Campaign’s Facebook group today that I think relates well to what I’ve written about here, and could be of further interest to others.

In ‘Debunking the Belief That Earlier Is Better‘ (June 27, 2016),  education consultant Rae Pica writes:

For example, the average age children learn to walk is 12 months – 50% before and 50% after. But the range that is normal for walking is 8-3/4 months all the way to 17 months. The same applies for reading. The average age that children learn to read is 6-1/2 – again, 50% before and 50% after.”

Our son sits firmly in that ‘50% after‘ range, and it genuinely breaks my heart when I see children in infant schools being chastised and punished simply because their natural cognitive development means they’re not ready to read and write yet.

At age 7, our son’s handwriting is developing beautifully (and naturally), but I have photographed his ‘writing‘ at age 4 and 5 with the intention of one day posting another article on why it would have been wholly unnecessary (and dispiriting) for him to sit in school at those ages ‘practising‘ and ‘improving‘ cursive skills that would develop perfectly well later on.

  • Written by author and journalist Pauline Hull


This entry was posted in EXAMPLE CASES, MEDIA COVERAGE. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to B is for Book, Bored and Below Compulsory School Age

  1. Lynne says:

    Reblogged this on Not-so-busy-a-Blogger and commented:
    Wonderful outlook on progress of early reading.


  2. Lexie M says:

    Brilliant post- definitely food for thought there X


  3. Doreen Philp says:

    Great article. Just one point .. School is not compulsory here in the UK therefore your title is misleading. It is education that is compulsory, hence the legal right for parents to choose to provide a home based education. 😊


    • Thanks Doreen, and you’re absolutely correct that education, and not school, is compulsory. However, given the definitions as they appear in primary legislation, I don’t believe the title here is misleading. There are very precise legal definitions of ‘compulsory school age’, which is what this campaign is founded on, and even the section of law that refers to ‘compulsory education’ (no.7 in third paragraph below) still appears next to the phrase ‘compulsory school age’. I hope this helps.

      Education Act 1996 (Part 1, Chapter 1, sub-section 8)
      (2) A person begins to be of compulsory school age –
      (a) when he attains the age of five, if he attains that age on a prescribed day, and
      (b) otherwise at the beginning of the prescribed day next following that age.

      The Education (Start of Compulsory School Age) Order 1998
      1998 No. 1607 Article 2 ‘prescribed day’
      2. For the purposes of section 8(2) of the Education Act 1998-
      (a) 31st August and 31st December shall be prescribed days for 1998 and successive years; and
      (b) 31st March shall be a prescribed day for 1999 and successive years.

      Education Act 1996:
      Part I General Chapter I The Statutory System of Education (Compulsory education)
      7. Duty of parents to secure education of children of compulsory school age.
      The parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him to receive efficient full-time education suitable— to his age, ability and aptitude,

      Also see:
      Pgs.19-27 of our January 2014 Summer Born Report (in Press Releases, above)

      Click to access 14-jan-15-summer-born-report-csa-lowered-to-4-through-unfair-and-unlawful-sb-admissions-process.pdf


  4. Pingback: B is for Book, Bored and Below Compulsory School Age | AN other blog of our growing family.....a day in the crazy-wonderful world of a Webb...

  5. Rhiannon says:

    This is very worrying. I’ve held back from sending my 3 1/2 yr old to nursery and the half school day so far and was considering homeschooling, but we’ve reached a point now where i think she would be able to handle the separation and she would really really benefit from having some playtime with other children regularly, so i was going to look into the local schools to choose one. She loves books and being read to, but i have a feeling she may be one of those that will take her time with reading and writing. What questions would you recommend i ask to try and get an accurate picture of each schools practices regarding reading ect? Many thanks, hope the message gets out there into schools soon or the outlook for our children gets worse and worse!


  6. jeanette Marr says:

    This was a really great article. I help in my daughters classes. I see the children losing playtime and being singled out because they are not ready to read. The pressure is immense with a couple of children saying they are stupid at 7. It really saddens me.


  7. Pingback: DfE Stalls on Summer Born Admissions Again | summerbornchildren

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s