Now We Are Six

Film Premieres 25th June 2021

Scotland is an outlier regarding starting school age, with only 12% of the nations worldwide starting school before age 6. All but two are former members of the British Empire.

Culture change film

Inspired by AA Milne’s poem Now We Are Six about identity and the search for satisfaction in that identity, this short 12 minute documentary by award-winning filmmaker, Saskia Anley-McCallum, explores Scotland’s cultural values behind one of the youngest school starting ages in the world,  getting to grips with the countrywide failure to turn the play-based principles of CfE’s Early Level (ages 3 – 7) into practise over the last decade.
 
Airing on Friday 24th June after school drop off, as some 164,000 Primary 1- 3 pupils across Scotland take their seats for the last day of the academic year and many of the 90,000 ELC nursery children’s parents will be looking at the tiniest ones in uniform, thinking: ‘That’ll be my child in August.’

Putting a kilt on the educational focus

Anley-McCallum specialises in making films about education. This time she delves into Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) at Early Level, a decade on from its implementation.
 
On paper CfE has a profound understanding of child development, encouraging a play-based start for children under seven. Yet for most young children aged 4 and 5 who will start P1 in August, this will not be what meets them.  

Too Much Too Young

A 2-year-long C4 Dispatches, aired in 1998, investigating whether or not teaching children to read and write too early could be harmful found unequivocally that it can cause permanent damage in up to 40% of young children. The findings were shared with every MP and leading educationalists around the country. Yet 23 years on, the numeracy and literacy skills of P1 children are being tested using the controversial online SNSA in Scotland, against the will of the Scottish Parliament. They are blamed for being a major barrier to the vision of CfE as a holistic approach: narrowing the curriculum,  schools pitted against each other as the published SNSA data is formed into league tables to help equip parents to choose a good school; and most importantly, they are ‘damaging’ to our children.  

OECD’s recent damning report led to an immediate commitment by the Scottish Government to completely overhaul the education system. The 139-page document warned of ‘misalignment’ between the qualifications system and wider goals of Curriculum for Excellence (CfE). ‘The “backwash” from this may even be felt in primary schools where concerns about readiness for subject choice and examination success were mentioned by parents of the youngest pupils’ the BBC reported. 

OECD state the ten-year timeline since CfE implementation is an opportunity to review it.

'A very very serious' part of children's work'

An increasing number of politicians and parents are catching up with neuroscientists, educators and health professionals in understanding the lifelong effects of play and creative doing as critical ingredients in the early years; realising the detrimental effects of a too young start to formal learning on a child’s wellbeing and intellectual development.
 
Yet delivering the three RRR’s to children as young as four is just one of the major barriers to implementing a curriculum embedded in a ‘developmentally age-appropriate’ approach, one head teacher with over thirty years at the chalkface presses. A paradigm shift in our ‘distorted’ cultural values around education is critical.

Culture change: scrapping our 'attainment-driven agenda'

Gaining rare access into a Scottish P1 classroom, and hearing from a primary headteacher willing to put his head above the parapet to speak publicly about the changes needed.
 
“It is not that children are not able, it is that they are not ready.”
Willie French, Haddington Primary Head Teacher 

Statutory Kindergarten for under 7s

A recent report (pre covid) revealed one in ten children in the Capital attend an independent Primary and more than double this figure (21%) attend a fee-paying Secondary – the highest proportion of pupils attending a parent-funded school in the UK. Yet tuition fees for a teenager at even the least expensive of the hundred Scottish independent schools equates to around half the median take-home salary in Scotland (£21,075 in 2020). Closing the attainment gap necessitates ringfencing state-funded Early Years. 

Sue Palmer, Upstart founder and editor of Play is the Way (posted to every MSP in Scotland)

“Whilst there are positive examples of flexi-schooling in outdoor settings and Froebelian practice in the state sector extending into P1/2, the only school in Scotland where a child can stay in a kindergarten until they are 6 is in a private school like the Steiner Waldorf or Montessori School. That is just not right and not fair.”