A recent article in the Times on the rising market in tutors for three year olds made depressing reading. 4+ assessments at independent schools are becoming the most keenly contested entry point into independent schools. Increasingly three year olds are being asked to sit 30-minute written tests and then judged on their general knowledge, logical thinking and numerical reasoning. Parents are engaging tutors to give their children “an edge”.
Education experts are sceptical about the accuracy of the results. Professor Peter Tymms of Durham University’s School of Education commented on the inevitable “false positives and false negatives” that occur at a time when a child’s abilities are just starting to evolve.
Our main entry point is a year younger than for 4+, making “assessments” even more unreliable. When I see a Nursery applicant she will be two years old, and sometimes only just. We ask parents to visit with their daughters, enjoy a playdate followed by an informal interview with me or Ms Eastaugh, Head of EYFS. There are no tests and, while teachers will watch how the children interact with each other and respond to an adult, no-one will be quizzing them on their number bonds. We see the child for a very short time and she may have just woken from a nap, have a cold or simply not be prepared to talk to a complete stranger!
In many ways the Nursery playdate and interview process is to ensure the parents are on-side with our philosophy. If you want homework, worksheets and maths tests in the Nursery you will be disappointed and in the wrong school. There is a strong academic content but it is delivered through play and songs, inside and outside the classroom.
And our girls achieve excellent outcomes. Despite the very broad range of ability that is inevitable when the entry age is so young, our results at the end of Reception outstrip other local schools, both independent and maintained. Our Profile scores (the statutory format for assessment at the end of EYFS) are moderated and analysed by the Greenwich Education Authority. For the last academic year Greenwich informs us that 95.7% of our girls achieved “a good level of development” as compared to 79.7% of girls at other private providers, 69% at local authority run centres and 51% of children nationally.
The analysis is limited in judging only “a good level of development”; the vast majority of our girls are right at the top of that scale and achieving not just good but excellent levels. This is achieved through the work of a skilled and experienced Early Years team who understand child development, and the support of parents who believe that independence, resilience and a love of learning will have more influence on academic success than an hour’s maths homework a night for a three year old.