Mr. Gove, if giving children time and space to play while they are young is dumb, let’s be grateful we’re not all as smart as you.

12 Sep
Adrian Voce, a signatory to the recent Too Much Too Soon campaign’s letter to the Daily Telegraph offers a rejoinder to the Government’s dismissive response to the call for a rethink on early education.

Michael Gove and his minions cannot so easily dismiss the arguments for a change in early education policy, as his Department has tried to do today.

A letter to the Daily Telegraph, calling for an end to the Government’s move towards ever earlier testing and quasi formal teaching for 4-5 year olds, is signed by no less than 17 professors, numerous PhD academics and many senior practitioners, writers and campaigners not to mention the heads of several Teachers’ Unions.

A DfE spokesperson, quoted in the Telegraph, said the letter represented the “bleatings of pop psychologists”, which many will find rich when the Secretary of State’s main claim to educational expertise is that he used to write about it in newspapers.

The letter is part of the Too Much Too Soon campaign, launched by the Save Childhood movement, and calls for five specific changes to education policy: –

1)   To re-establish the early years as a unique stage in its own right and not merely a preparation for school

2)   To protect young children’s natural developmental rights

3)   To prevent baseline testing

4)   To reinstate the vital role of play

5)   To call for an English developmentally appropriate Foundation Stage for children between the ages of 3 and 7.

Noting that the children in less than 10 per cent of industrial nations begin school as early as British children do, the letter points to the weight of evidence that “children who enter school at 6 or 7 – after several years of high quality nursery education – consistently achieve better educational results as well as higher levels of wellbeing”.

For play campaigners this is an important debate. Although we have mainly focused on provision out of school (or the lack of it), and the accessibility or otherwise of the public realm for playing children, we are natural allies of the movement to make educational settings more responsive to what we know about how children learn through play. Many teachers would benefit from some playwork training, and almost all schools would be improved by a playwork design on their outdoor space.

Aligning with campaigns like Too Much Too Soon helps to build those links, but more importantly, if we declare ourselves for children’s right to play, it must apply to whichever setting, at whatever time of day that right is germane to the child’s welfare.

Most of the developed world understands that 4 and 5 year olds – or the adults that they will become – are not best served by having to sit still, be quiet or stand in line as a matter of routine, let alone going in time-out for “bad behaviour” like talking; getting homework in reading and writing and, soon, having baseline tests at the start of reception class.

None of this happens to Finnish or Swedish children until age 7. The fact that they have the finest academic results in the world is a result surely of the fact that more of them are self-confident, resilient, emotionally intelligent and creative from having enough time to play in their early years

Mr. Gove may think these qualities are irrelevant – the result of “dumbing-down” – but this runs in the face of modern science and what it tells us about how we grow, learn and thrive. Prejudice may be with him (as I experienced in a bruising interview on LBC News, when the host told me she was seething with anger that I was against testing her 5 year-old).

However long it takes, history will prove how wrong he is.

Adrian Voce OBE



The Too Much Too Soon campaign is calling for a day of action on 30 October. See for details

5 Responses to “Mr. Gove, if giving children time and space to play while they are young is dumb, let’s be grateful we’re not all as smart as you.”

  1. Marc Armitage 12 September 2013 at 4:49 pm #

    Yup, absolutely. In some respects, the bit I find most disturbing in this is the complete lack of an objective approach by the current DfE in England. The ideological driver here is so tangible you can almost taste it … and it don’t taste nice.


    • Claire Morley 15 September 2013 at 7:56 pm #

      Absolutely Marc. Scary how these guys think themselves so rational, taking a “common sense” approach or whatever but are capable of acting against all the evidence!


  2. Elizabeth Deighton 12 September 2013 at 9:50 pm #

    I am a Mum of 4 now all adults as well as working in Early Years. Children need to dig dirt, climb trees paddle in rivers and generally explore the world by their 5 senses and yes, I do include eating things that normally re not considered edible (soot soil, dog food, raw mince and stock cubes. All these at least one of my children have tasted at various times) The last thing they need is to be tested marshelled in controlled enviroments. let them be childrren


  3. Claire Morley 15 September 2013 at 7:52 pm #

    Keep up the good fight Adrian!



  1. “Teacher-led play” is government’s answer to the charge of “too much too soon”. | Policy for Play - 13 September 2013

    […] Behind its aggressive defence of an early years policy that would see 4 and 5 year-olds being tested when they start school earlier than almost anywhere else in Europe, lies a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of play, as Adrian Voce explains in this postscript to yesterday’s piece. […]


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