All kindergarten students in NSW public schools have been assessed for the first time this year, revealing a wide range in abilities – from children who did not know how to hold a pencil or write their name to those who could read an entire poem.

The Best Start program – a 40-minute assessment of every kindergarten child in a government school – was designed to help identify those learning difficulties that may have otherwise been overlooked until later in schooling.

NSW Primary Principals’ Association president Geoff Scott said Best Start is giving teachers a good idea of where each child is developmentally. ”It reinforces what many teachers have been saying for many years,” he said.

Blacktown South Public School assistant principal and kindergarten supervisor Gail Hatty said the program had resulted in the early identification of children needing assistance.

”It is picking up these children early in the piece,” she said. ”We have kids who don’t know how to hold a pencil and can’t write their name. They don’t know heir colours. I had other children who could read the entire [Edward Lear poem] The Owl and the Pussycat.”

This experience is supported by the findings of a national study by University of Sydney academic Tony Vinson.

His damning report in 2006 found that some children started school with no idea of what to do with a pen, paintbrush or book.

At the time, Professor Vinson said NSW needed to more than double its funding for preschools, on which children from disadvantaged families especially depended to develop their foundation skills for learning. He said there was strong evidence to suggest preschools could help bridge the gap between poor parenting and a chance at successful schooling.

Primary principals have campaigned for preschools to be attached to all government schools.

Mr Scott said the number of government preschools under the NSW Department of Education’s authority should be increased from 100.

The Department of Community Services oversees another 800 preschools operated by non-government organisations and councils. The department provides funding to about 750 non-profit community preschools. The NSW opposition said it would bring all preschools under the education portfolio. It is also committed to increasing preschool participation rates from 65 per cent to 95 per cent.

Mr Scott said preschool was crucial for children whose parents were unable to encourage early learning.

”If you have a home where there is a lot of parent involvement with the young person and there is a lot of reading material and books and constructive play, then they are virtually doing a home preschooling.

”The ones that are a worry are the ones who don’t have the ability to do that. It can take years for some kids to overcome not having either a preschool or equivalent experience at home.

”If you get a good start either from the home or preschool the kids go on from strength to strength,” he said.

Peter Hill, the chief executive of the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority, said it had been discussing a possible national approach to the early assessment of children.

He said the educational development of children in year 2 could help shape their performance in year 12.

”The earlier we intervene, the greater the chance we have of catching the mup,” he said. ”You don’t want to wait until year 3 (to find out there are learning problems). Beyond years 1 and 2, it gets harder to catchup.”


Source: Sydney Morning Herald –