Child-Led Versus Structured Teaching: The Debate

In 2014 Ofsted have stated that more structured teacher-led learning is needed as too many nurseries are failing to prepare children for school. What do you think?

Children’s Minister Liz Truss said that she wants to see more teacher-led sessions in the nation’s nurseries, like they do in France and other European Countries. But there is ample evidence that suggests play, child-led, self-discovery is equally, if not more important than adult-led activities.

Our very own child play development expert, Dr Gummer believes that “Learning through play is beneficial to children as they learn invaluable skills about themselves and their environment, that often cannot be taught in a classroom. Play is a precious process of exploration and  using these during play allows children to understand the world around them,  becoming aware of their capabilities, limits and teaches perseverance. Play produces self-esteem and confidence and it is children who have these skills that have the fewest problems when starting school.”

Sir Michael Wilshaw stressed the gap between children from affluent home in comparison to children who come from deprived and disadvantaged homes. He feels that school admissions should be changed so that the opportunity for education is given to children from disadvantaged backgrounds as they will benefit more than children from affluent backgrounds who have support at home. It is obviously crucial to support children from a disadvantaged background who require extra support in preparing them for school, but how would we measure disadvantaged children? Wilshaw’s aim is to bridge the attainment gap between rich and poor but will this work?

[quotebox text= “More than two-thirds of our poorest children – and in some of our poorest communities that goes up to eight children out of 10 – go to school unprepared. That means they can’t hold a pen, they have poor language and communication skills, they don’t recognise simple numbers, they can’t use the toilet independently and so on. Wilshaw. Let kids be kids and let them, jump, run, climb, shout, yell, hide and get dirty”]

The government are backing Ofsted’s view that a formal structured, teacher-led approach is the future, even for our toddlers. But Beatrice Merrick, British Association of Early Childhood Education states ”We must not rush to formal learning too early”. Finland and other European countries hold the view that children will learn when they are ready. They have shown through PISA results that starting teacher-le, formal, structured education at aged 7  has lasting benefits. So why are we not listening to the countries that are succeeding? And why are we not copying them? Children are still able to develop fine motor control, such as pincer grip movement without formal education. They can master this skill through playing and holding wooden spoons or paintbrushes, picking up beads and rice all of which contribute to the child learning how to hold a pencil for later education

Liz Bayram, chief executive of the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years, believes “The evidence shows that high quality childcare delivered through a play-based approach to learning is vital to help children develop the social, emotional and physical skills they need to thrive and is one of the most effective ways to lift children out of disadvantage. A child’s confidence, independence and willingness to learn is more important than being able to recognise letters, sit still and focus on a task.”
However, starting to learn at a young age and teacher-led activities will allow children to be at the same level as their peers and this educational could have lasting impact on children’s development. But when will children play?


What can parents do to support child’s learning through play.

  • Provide children with the opportunity for role play. Children will be able to develop verbal skills and imagination through developing a narrative. They will be able to socialise with other children and listen to other’s opinions.
  • Allow children to continually develop skills. Once a child has learnt a skill, it should not be forgotten about, it should be revisited to trigger the memory. As children develop and get older so will their abilities, so revisiting things may change the way in which children play and this allows exploration of new avenues.
  • Let children try and solve their own problems as this will develop problem solving skills.
  • Praise children when they have done something well or achieved something.
  • Activities such as cooking or playing shops is still educational, yet fun as children are reading instructions, measuring quantities of food and developing motor control when string.

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