THE BLOG
11/11/2013 06:25 GMT | Updated 23/01/2014 10:53 GMT

Sending Two-Year-Olds to School in Their Babygros

Why would two-year-olds not thrive in schools? For starters, they are likely to be in nappies, have limited language and may well be drinking from a bottle. Next, they need higher ratios of staff to children as they need access to stable attachments with a key person and sensitive and responsive care from everyone.

Earlier this year, the early education sector was embroiled in a debate with the government about whether childcare providers should be allowed to care for more children at the same time - the ratios row. At that time, I suggested the government was using the policy proposal as a way of funding another early years initiative - 15 hours of free education for disadvantaged two-year-olds. The government's cunning plan, I suspected, was to fund the programme for two-year-olds by sticking them in school.

That plan is not so cunning now after Ofsted's chairwoman, Baroness Sally Morgan, declared two-year-olds should be saved from a "dire start to their educational life" - by taking them out of nurseries and other childcare settings and sending them to school. This child-unfriendly statement flies in the face of Ofsted's own data that shows year-on-year improvement in the early years sector. It also goes against many other nations' education policies where they are doing the reverse -raising or considering raising the school entry age for the long term benefit of all children. In Scandinavia, for example, children start school at age seven.

Why would two-year-olds not thrive in schools? For starters, they are likely to be in nappies, have limited language and may well be drinking from a bottle. Next, they need higher ratios of staff to children as they need access to stable attachments with a key person and sensitive and responsive care from everyone.

Now let's think about what generates cultural capital and makes a real difference to getting poor children onto a level playing field. Yes, they need really good language rich relationships, with lots of conversations and stories. At the London Early Years Foundation, we have a mantra: "Two words together at two, 1,000 words at three and fluent by four."

Next up, let's think about how they learn. Yes you guessed it, they learn through play. Many two year olds are still engaging in parallel play, which means they like to play alone but next to other children. This requires sensitive care from providers and the right environment to ensure they can dip in and dip out of activities - which is different from a school environment.

Anyone who has spent a day with a group of two-year-olds knows their behaviour ricochets from being like a baby to a toddler, depending on the time of day. They are not ready to learn in the way a school environment dictates.

Baroness Morgan also pointed to weak parenting as a factor in children's attainment levels in later life. She is right to make this link, but nurseries and other early years settings spend much time bridging the gap between nursery and home learning. Staff need to be able to lead and extend casual pedagogical conversations with parents so they learn about two-year-olds. A child's biggest development spurt is in their early childhood.

Two-year-olds in schools is just a huge mistake. If you need more evidence, there's plenty provided by the Two Much Too Soon campaign, which presented a petition to parliament last week calling for the government to stop making developmentally inappropriate policies affecting under-fives. We all have a responsibility to look at the evidence, what works in practice, and stop ill-informed people risking small children's futures.