Today the Government unveiled its plans for the revised National Curriculum (which of course won't be truly national because lots of schools won't have to follow it).
trumpets its introduction :
Curriculum changes 'to catch up with world's best'
Sounds great - what will that entail I wonder ? The first paragraph has us off to a flying start :
"Five year olds will start tackling fractions and computer algorithms, as a more stretching national curriculum is announced for state schools in England."
However, I remember studying - as I'm sure all UK trained teachers do - the works of one Jean Piaget.
According to Piaget, most five-year-olds will be developmentally at the 'intuitive thought' sub-stage of the Pre-Operational Stage of development.
A key feature of this stage of development is that children will rarely have the cognitive ability to demonstrate "conservation" - and there are a range of Piagetian tests - which will be familiar to all teachers - which demonstrate this.
Ask a 5 year old to make two balls of plasticine the same, and give one to you and one to their self. Then roll yours out into a snake - and ask "Who has the most plasticine" . They probably won't get this right.
They'll also struggle with "Less than and more than" - Give a 5 year old child 8 jelly babies, and 3 starbursts, and ask them whether there are more jelly babies or more sweets - they'll probably say "More Jelly Babies"
In fact (theory), children don't usually start getting their heads around this sort of thing until they're about 7. (Assuming normal development).
So ... If a child can't with any consistency recognise that two halves of a whole will remain the same size relative to each other however you move them around - how are they supposed to get their head around fractions ?
I'd suggest that until a child develops Concrete Operational skills then they won't just find fraction work hard - most of them will find it impossible - and most children won't start developing the ability to take those skills on board, until around 7 years old.
In the National Curriculum as it stands, other than odd mentions, fractions are introduced at Key Stage Two - ages 7 to 11. Which oddly enough roughly coincides with the expected ages for Piaget's Concrete Operational Stage - a coincidence ? I think not.
I wonder if Michael Gove has a position on Piaget's theories?