Compulsory Education Checks for Two-Year-Olds

According to The Telegraph children may soon undergo compulsory development assessments. Great idea, but a closer look at the plans reveals that all is not as rosy as it seems.

At present the Early Years Foundation Stage, which was introduced by Labour in 2008 is the framework for checking development of children. It has come under fire for being overly bureaucratic and too complicated and so the new plan is said to simplify and reduce the burden of paperwork.

We are all in favour of reducing paperwork, and allowing the nurseries and childminders to get on with doing the actual work for which they are being paid – caring for the children – but this seems to me to be a wrong turn.

I value nursery nurses and childminders, but if we are going to assess children, to check their personal, social and emotional development, physical development and communication and language, then I believe that it should be done by a trained health care professional. According to The Telegraph, care workers should be responsible for the exact nature of the tests, following a general framework. I fear that this may mean that some careworkers will take the tests more seriously, and others will not. And what about children who do not go to nursery or childminders, but are cared for by their parents at home?

It is not unusual for parents to be “blind” to their children’s difficulties – I know parents who have not noticed their child was almost deaf until they started nursery school. Often problems are noticed in school or nursery, but if the child is not in childcare then some things may be missed, even by the most observant parents. A neutral observer may pick up on things that our children do that we have become so accustomed to that it does not even register.

When we lived in Germany, we were strongly encouraged to take our children to the paediatrician for their check ups, called U’s (short for Untersuchungen – Tests). The first one is done shortly after birth, the second one normally before leaving the hospital and there are many checks in the first few years of the child’s life. Gradually, as the child grows older the U’s are more seldom. When we were in Germany over Easter, we had both children checked – since we were outwith the approved timeframe we had to to pay for the check up ourselves, but it was well worth the money to ensure that the children are achieving the set targets.

At Easter, the children had their eyesight and hearing tested, had to write their name, and do certain drawing exercises (eg. draw a man, a circle, a square), they had to walk forward and backward along a line on the floor. There was a physical check, looking at their development and stature, checking height and weight. I was asked questions about any difficulties in school, their social skills and many other areas. The U took over an hour per child.

This is not about hot-housing, or comparing children to boast about their abilities. It is to ensure that if the child does have deficits in any area, it is found early and acted upon. For instance, our daughter was on the border of the lowest height/age graph and was sent for further tests to rule out growth hormone deficiency.

We were referred to the paediatric hospital to have her hand x-rayed and she was seen within days. The tests revealed that she is likely to be a small adult, which was no surprise to any of us, considering her height-challenged parents. Further treatment was ruled out at this stage. If she had been found to have a problem, then treatment at this age would have been important – before puberty hits.

This highlights another crucial flaw in the Government’s plan – what happens if and when a child is diagnosed? Even before the cut backs, many parents were struggling to receive adequate provision and assistance for their children. In the UK we need to take early child development much more seriously, as there is so much that can be done to help children achieve their potential if the issues that they have are both identified and dealt with early enough.

If the Government were serious about Pre-School education, they would be giving it the attention and funds that are needed. To announce fab new plans while cutting services that help parents of children with SN is ridiculous. What good does it do to know that your child has SN if you are unable to access the help and assistance you need, when you are refused DLA and cannot get out of the house with your child. When you have to buy extra nappies as the local authority only supplies 5 a day. When you have to fight for months to get a referral to a speech therapist.

Why do I get the feeling that this is a cut disguised as an improvement and simplification of the Early Years Foundation Stage?