Emily Carver is Head of Media at the Institute of Economic Affairs.
What on earth is this country coming to when children are arriving at primary school unable to speak, use the toilet properly, or hold a cup?
You could be forgiven for thinking that this is unbelievable in Britain.
But across the country, there are children heading off to school unable to say their own name, asking for a ‘bot bot’ instead of a drink of water, being taught not to devour their food with their bare hands and, shockingly, not knowing how to use the toilet on their own.
This would be bad enough, but it turns out that at the same time as children are failing to grasp the absolute basics at home and in school, inspectors from Ofsted have been marking down primary schools if children aren’t taught about… gender identity.
(Ofsted being a regulator that only recently quit the controversial Stonewall charity’s diversity training.)
If you were in any doubt that our institutions have been captured by gender identity ideology, a report last week in the Telegraph revealed that a lack of teaching of ‘gender identity’ and ‘gender diversity’ played a part in the downgrading of two primary schools in 2019 and 2020 by Ofsted inspectors.
Another school that was rated ‘inadequate’ was marked down in part because it had not taught pupils about ‘gender reassignment’. Apparently, the absence of such teaching at primary school level “reduces their ability to be respectful and tolerant of others in society”.
I’m sure most parents would forgo the ‘tolerance’ for basic literacy and numeracy.
Forgive me, but if teachers are reporting that five-year-old children are lacking the most basic communication and mobility skills, and head teachers are flagging that their reception classes are spending so much time on basic care that children have little time left for learning to read and count, then pupils learning about whether or not they may have been born into the wrong body may be ever so slightly beyond them.
What we are seeing now is a catastrophic culmination of three deeply undesirable issues: poor or negligent parenting, the devastating impact of lockdowns on early years’ learning, and a frankly absurd overemphasis on woke ideology in classrooms.
This last is enabled by messy equalities legislation, and is something Nadhim Zahawi, the Education Secretary, is currently battling with.
It was warned many times during the pandemic that lockdowns would have a devastating impact on child development – not least in terms of speech development.
Zahawi has admitted that school closures were a mistake, but the impact will be felt throughout the education system for years to come, with thousands of children having gone missing from school altogether.
It’s become a perfect storm. There was a natural lag when it came to seeing the economic consequences of lockdowns, and the same thing is happening when it comes to the stunting of child development.
The gap between those at the very best schools and the rest has been allowed to widen, and it’s clear that children are being let down both by their guardians at home, their schools, and a government that seems unable to get to grips with the system’s inadequacies.
Just look at some of these damning revelations in the Times:
“A head teacher from Nottinghamshire said that her school spent little time on literacy or numeracy in reception because it had to focus on basic care. Some four and five-year-old children joined reception class unable to say their own names and having drunk only from baby bottles. One child was brought to school in a shopping trolley.”
Another school leader reported that a child had to undergo extensive physiotherapy because they had spent so much time in front of the telly that they didn’t have the strength in their legs to walk around the school.
This may be an extreme example, but as a YouGov poll of teachers by the early years charity Kindred Squared found, nearly half of pupils starting in reception were not deemed ‘ready for school’ in 2020, up from 35 per cent the previous year.
The impact on those children whose parents have sent them to school well-equipped to learn must be considerable.
What is clear is that parents are becoming more and more reliant on schools – and the state – to play the role of mum and dad, as we saw with the controversial debate over free school meals.
It should be common sense that teaching a child to use the toilet is a basic parental responsibility, and that teachers are there to supplement a child’s learning, not to replace parental guidance.
In terms of resources, it may well be that we’ve got our priorities slightly skewed too. As the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) recently highlighted, while health spending is set to increase by 42 per cent between 2010 and 2025, the education budget will have risen by less than three per cent in the same time period. This seems hard to justify, when around 200,000 children left primary school last year unable to read and write.
When one looks at it in the round, adults – both at home and in government – have let children down. Badly.