I wholeheartedly welcome the government's decision to cut back on the number of attainment targets for tiny tots in their first years of school.
I have to admit, I've come to this issue rather back to front as I didn't realise youngsters' early education was so wrapped up in bureaucracy – until they mentioned on the news this week that they were scaling back on the paperwork.
For example, did you know that children as young as three or four have a journal kept on them throughout their first year in pre-school consisting of 69 targets they must meet? It has been slashed to 17 targets in this new move, and I just hope these are an appropriate 17.
The way I see it is, and this is a bit of a layman's perspective as I don't have a child at school yet, children that young, especially those at pre-school and in reception classes should be allowed to express themselves through play and craft without any big bad attainment target book casting its gloomy shadow over them. Simply playing with other children will help them learn a whole host of essential skills such as social interaction and communication. A clever teacher will be able to make what on the surface appear fun games educational by introducing numbers, letters and shapes.
Of course it is important for children to learn to read and write and do sums and I hope this is what those 17 remaining targets focus on, but at the same time unnecessary pressure shouldn't be put on children. Even aged three, they will know that they are being tested and feel the pressure, and potential disappointment, at not meeting the grade. This could actually affect them for life and make them feel completely inadequate compared to their peers.
It is these feelings which will stay with them throughout their entire education and make them stop trying because in their eyes there is simply no point.
All children learn in different ways and at different rates and if a teacher does feel a little one is underachieving their first move shouldn’t be to put a big black cross on a development table but to give that child a little extra support to help them progress.
It is this personal touch which seems to be lacking in schools today right up to GCSE and A Level standards. It is all about exam results and league tables now and so little about the joy of learning. I find it shocking that in English classes for example, pupils no longer read the whole of the book, just the section that will appear in the exam. Not only are these children missing out on a potentially entertaining and educational read for their own benefit but I have no idea how you are meant to fully answer an exam question on a book extract when you have no idea of its wider context.
I'm not sure who is driving this trend to top league tables – schools or the government. Schools certainly fear not doing well in them but I doubt anyone outside the education system even fully comprehends these tables. I certainly couldn't in all my years as a reporter, so in that sense it is nonsensical to put too much weight on them.
They are essentially based on exam grades and you get points for how much better your exam results are one year compared to the previous year. For this you get a value added score and you are placed in the table depending on this score alone. The fact this score means very little in terms of a comparison to other schools because it is based purely on the difference between your school's two years of exam results and not how they fared compared to other schools, seems to be neither here not there to headteachers desperate to plug their school's position in the league.
Whilst I was working as a journalist, all year it would be impossible to get hold of a secondary school teacher for a quote on anything but as soon as the league tables were out they would be on the phone themselves bragging about their value added scores.
I just hope this decision to cut back on attainment targets for the youngest of school pupils is the start of a good shake-up of the whole education system for all ages, so children can go back to learning everything there is to know about a subject not just what will help them pass an exam.