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?


  • Francis Gilbert

    Your point about these “development” tests not being carried out in a “uniform” fashion is very important. Good point about this actually being a disguised way of cutting services. Very worrying. Early assessment and intervention is important, but it needs to be properly resourced. I’m involved with Save The Children’s Families and Schools Together Programme( which try to address some of these issues, but charities can’t plug the gap that government leaves behind.

    • Anonymous

      Thank you for your comment. Yes, it is worrying that the “Big Society” seems to be the solution the government sees to the gaps they are creating in this area. Charities should be there to offer extra assistance, not to for basic support to parents whose children have additional needs. This must be organised and paid for by the governments, or local governments.

  • Fromtheeastendtothefareast

    Really interesting and timely for me considering the fuss we’ve had to make to have our child assessed and sure enough he has global development delay only picked up after arriving in HK. The 2 year check with the HV in the UK was utterly pointless even when I did raise concerns, I was fobbed off. The German system sounds great, and if it can be implemented without the masses of bureaucracy that normally beleaguers new initiatives, then I would support it fully.

    • Anonymous

      Sadly, I don’t think that the German system would be easily implemented. For one thing, it is built on the system that most children see paediatricians not their parents’ GP. And the German health care system, while truly fabulous, is also extremely expensive. We pay a whole lot more than in UK – around 13% of pay, just for health insurance with extra payments for pension and unemployment benefit.

      I don’t see it as a “quick fix” but we should perhaps look at how other countries deal with early education and development and learn from them.

      Hope that your son gets the help and assistance he needs now.

  • Jo

    You are so right, announcing new plans to spot SEN early while cutting services you need if your child is diagnosed is just ridiculous.
    Also i had a real fight to get my son assesed at 2 years and even then was told he was probably just a late developer. It wasn’t until he started school that i was taken seriously, thankfully i had sorted early education intervention for him by way of portage etc but what a fight it all was.
    Your post enlightens the reality of these ‘plans’.

    • Anonymous

      I have heard this so often – that parents have to fight tooth and nail to get their childrens’ problems taken seriously. Too often we are brushed off with a “children develop at different rates”, when they really should be trusting the parents’ instincts. We do often know when something is not quite right, and there must be the support available.

  • Butterflyexperience

    Not very well thought through by the Goverment.
    I think it’s wonderful trying to identify children who could do with support and think it’s not always to spot SN children but children who may have poor parenting and then they can support those familys.
    However if cuts are due, then what’s the point?

    • Anonymous

      Yes, that is true – spotting children who may not be getting the best of support at home is a good reason to do these tests. But since schemes like SureStart are being axed, I am not sure that it will actually do any good.

  • Mrs.B

    When we first moved to the UK, I took my son to the GP for his 18 month developmental check as listed in the baby book… I was told that they didn’t have any staff to do these kinds of assessments anymore. I took my second child to the baby clinic twice after he was born but because of the utterly cold conveyor belt method, I haven’t taken him back since… to a clinic or to a GP. He’s 2.5. Some days I feel like I should maybe try to get them checked out more often but I’ve found that even when I show up with a specific concern, the GPs don’t ever check them properly… they just ask me a bunch of questions and send us home with Calpol (which my kids won’t eat and don’t blame them because it IS disgusting…)

    End of rant. 🙂

    • Anonymous

      Oh, rant away, Nothing like a good rant. That is pretty poor, sounds like your GP is quite useless. We are lucky that in Switzerland (and in Germany) we can go straight to a paediatrician instead of going to a GP. They are simply more experienced with children, I think.

  • Jemma Hill

    I agree 100%.

    Thirteen years ago my mum had to battle enormously (and lost, essentially) to get help for my brother who has SEN. She ended up home educating him because he got next to no support despite a diagnosis of ADHD and “Semantic Pragmatic” issues. Now that he’s at college, she had to travel a couple of hundred miles to see a specialist and pay for a new diagnosis as the term “Semantic Pragmatic” isn’t used any more, and there was no one able to assess him where they live. He gets extra help at his college (which they managed to screw up and not provide), but he is so far behind his contemporaries in some areas because he didn’t get the extra support he needed in a school environment when he was younger. College has been a complete culture shock for him.

    If the funding had been in place to help him and others like him when he was younger, there wouldn’t be the same gulf between him and “normality” now that he is an adult. He’s catching up, but he’s a good five years behind his contemporaries in some areas.

    • Anonymous

      That is really sad, Jemma. It is easy to forget what the long-term effects of insufficient support during early childhood can potentially be – and how short sighted it is for the government to deny this support.

      A child who is given more support at an early age will be more likely to be able to function “normally” as an adult. The likelihood that that child will grow to be a self-sufficient adult is much greater, which is not just beneficial for the child but for society as a whole.

      Good luck to your brother, and well done to your mum for helping him achieve his potential.

  • Mrs Kwazii

    Agree with all of your points. WIsh governments would stop tinkering with the system and put in place a proper, comprehensive plan that is overseen by HCPs. With a just under three year gap between my children, everything seemed to have changed by the time I had my second daughter. First time around they were phasing out 12 month checks, now I’ve had a letter to come in with D2 before she’s a year old.

    In my area of the UK, they’d rather you came in once a month maximum to weigh your baby at the clinic due to health visitor cuts. But this is where parents and carers are able to discuss issues and concerns with HCPs and are able to meet other parents and children, which can alert you to the fact that your child may be developing differently to others the same age. This is especially helpful with your first child, as you’re learning as you go.

    • MmeLindor

      Yes, agree. It seems that every government changes the rule book.

      Not just those with their first child, but also those who do not have support from relations and friends (ie. interfering mother-in-law).

  • MsGenealogist

    Insightful post. I hadn’t even heard about these proposed whizzy new assessments.

    And [sigh] at the nappies issue … this is not something that my own family has to deal with, but it’s depressing to recall how changes were expected in that one small area among others, & have singularly failed to materialize.

  • MsGenealogist

    Insightful post. I hadn’t even heard about these proposed whizzy new assessments.

    And [sigh] at the nappies issue … this is not something that my own family has to deal with, but it’s depressing to recall how changes were expected in that one small area among others, & have singularly failed to materialize.

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