Friday 4 April 2014

Why Wilshaw is wrong

Michael Wilshaw is drawing up battle-lines in the education of under-fives. His claim is that a form of compensatory education can improve the chances of those children who, he claims, are so disadvantaged that they can't access schooling.

The compensatory education he seems to be talking about is some form of instruction and this instruction is, apparently, much more effective that 'play' or 'creativity'.

My thoughts:

1. We don't have universal provision of childcare, so any comments about what does or does not go on in nurseries needs a strong dose of reality, telling us which children are in nurseries, for how long and which children aren't able to get into nurseries. My experience of education for under-fives is that many of the children who Wilshaw is calling 'disadvantaged' are also children who don't even go to nursery, let alone get the 'wrong' education. Tell me otherwise, but one of the disadvantages that disadvantaged children face is that it's hard if not impossible for many of them to get into nurseries.

2. Wilshaw et al are doing their best to misrepresent 'play'. When children play in well-resourced surroundings and safe surroundings, they achieve the very objectives that Wilshaw is claiming to champion: namely, they become engaged in 'cognition' (ie understanding how the world works - including their own bodies and minds), they become engaged in using language-in-action and so improve their language-use; and they become engaged in the key emotional responses we need in order to survive and progress: co-operation, compassion and the ability to place oneself in relation to others in the world. Play is not the enemy of educational progress. It is one of the key means by which we make that progress.

3. There is an awful irony going on here. One of the reasons why 'middle class' children arrive at school, very well suited to what school offers, is that more often than not, middle class children are fortunate enough to have been given the space and time to play and to read in open-ended, non-instructional ways. Family groups under the pressure of low wages and long hours of work, are not so exposed to these ideas about play and non-instructional reading.