chapter  1
Four-year-olds in school: Play, policy and pedagogy
Pages 16

To many of our international readers, such comments must seem extraordinary. At a time when most young children in Europe and elsewhere in the Western world are experiencing a kindergarten education based mainly on a diet of play and socialisation, many four-year-olds in England are apparently already failing to develop ‘fast enough’ in order to meet government targets. It is well known that the media are highly selective in what they report and how, and that there is a relationship between the media and the ‘moral panics’ that have punctuated policy debate throughout the history of education (Critcher in Buckingham, 2003). While we do not want to be unduly negative about the ways in which young children are portrayed in the media and elsewhere, the media nevertheless reflect cultural expectations as well as contributing to them. Moreover, it is certainly not our intention to promote a moral panic about the education of four-year-olds. Rather, our aim in this book is to contribute to the growing research literature that argues that there is a great deal more to the present and future lives of four-year-olds than whether or not they can link sounds and letters. So, while it might seem odd to begin a book about children’s role-play with an explicit reference to government targets on writing, the wider context of early years education, in particular cultural and societal expectations of children’s achievements reflected in the unusually early school starting age in the UK, provides the backdrop to the research reported in this book and to many of the arguments we put forward here.