We all had a favourite book as a young child. Many of us remember snuggling up on the carpet, watching our teacher's animated face as they put on funny voices and brought the story to life. For some, it was acting out going on a bear hunt that got them excited. For others, it was listening to the way the wild things roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes. And for so many today, it remains going into the dark, dark house, down the dark, dark staircase and into the dark, dark cellar where some skeletons live that lights eyes with wild excitement and brings eager smiles across faces. Young children across the world enjoy stories. Reading them, writing them and acting them out. And teachers the globe over enjoy bringing them to their flock. Because it is at this moment the flame is lit, the brain is inspired, and the learning begins.
In 2004 formal KS1 testing for seven year olds was axed. Children would be assessed not by a test, but by teacher assessment, a collection of children's work, a reflection of who they are and where they were at over a period of time. At last, teachers had won a small victory for learning. A victory for children's happiness at school. A victory for engagement. Teacher assessment works because it is hidden from view. It is relatively stress-free for the child. It begins to prioritise child-centred learning over bottom lines. And it was done for a reason. That reason being, agreed by anyone who had any ounce of compassion for children's learning, that testing children at this early age, putting exam conditions on children at the beginning of their learning journey - when most of Europe's children are only just starting school - was a completely unnecessary burden on those so young. How could we, as a nation, foster a love for life-long learning when, before the tooth fairy has even collected a full set of teeth, children are expected to get down and give their teacher twenty? It is bad enough that their final year of primary school is riddled with a strict diet of test, drill, repeat twice every half term for the entire year. But to introduce this - no, re-introduce this - to children who can barely get themselves dressed is taking our 'progressive' education system back to a stage of complete regression. For what? So we can 'measure' and 'monitor' their progress? So we can pigeon hole who they are and who they will become? So we can fiddle the books and make our school brochure statistics look even more glossy in the increasingly competitive culture that is devouring our national education system?
Surely, we want our children to go through school knowing they can thrive, knowing they can ask questions, knowing they can use their imaginations to explore places adults lose the ability to go. Surely, we want our young children, full of innocence and hope, to light up at the thought of trying something new. But most of all, we want them to feel safe in making mistakes and getting things wrong. Because this is where the real magic of learning happens. Not have their mistakes shoved back in their faces with red pen and low marks. We want our children to build and grow, to thrive and develop. Because these are their wonder years. This is their moment to be children. This is their time to create and discover, a time they will never have back. A time they can never revisit. A time that gets lost in the future pressures of growing up. It is bad enough that it already starts in Year 6. But to bring it forward to Year 2 feels almost contrary, especially in an age that is trying to savour childhood. Not only will it dim the flame of learning, but will quell the spark of teaching, a worrying prospect in a profession hanging by a thread in a world of ever-changing goal posts and a crisis in recruitment and retention.
It is no secret that the number seven has repeated significance in our society - the seven wonders of the ancient world, the seven day week, the seven golden tripods offered to Achilles, the seven dwarves. These are just a few among many. But please, please, let us not add seven year old children to this list. Let us not make seven years old the age at which children begin to be put off learning. As parents, let them cherish their childhood. As teachers, let them stay feeling safe and secure at school. As a society, let the youth of tomorrow enjoy their learning today.