Parents agonise over testing before kids start kindy

Parents are increasingly paying for their four-year-olds to be tutored to give them a head start and even prepare for a mandatory literacy and numeracy assessment in kindergarten, prompting fears that children face unnecessary pressure before they have entered the classroom.

Tutoring colleges have said preschool tutoring was on the rise as parents "place a strong value on education", but academics warned that tutoring young children takes away from important play-based learning. The Department of Education said such tutoring was unnecessary.

Kumon, a tutoring college with centres all over Australia, said its data showed preschool enrolments have increased 45 per cent in five years, while Begin Bright, which also has tutors around the country, said demand for preschool and primary school tutoring was growing steadily.

The Global Education Academy said parents want their children to be academically prepared for school and enrolments in its programs for preschoolers have been rising each year.

Majeda Awawdeh-Caleo, founder of the Kogarah-based academy, said preparation for the kindergarten Best Start assessment was part of their school readiness program.

Kindergarten students at all NSW public schools and some Catholic schools do a compulsory one-on-one assessment before they start school as part of the Best Start program, designed to identify each student's literacy and numeracy skills.

The 40-minute assessment asks students to complete tasks such as counting, adding and subtracting small numbers, writing their names and identifying familiar words.

Schools are telling parents at kindergarten orientation days that tutors are unnecessary because the assessment needs no preparation or assumed knowledge.

But Dr Caleo said parents wanted their children to perform well in Best Start and were also increasingly concerned about the federal government's proposed phonics test for year 1 students.

"Parents are more aware that their children are assessed early and they don't want to wait for the school to tell them the areas that need to be addressed," Dr Caleo, a former high school maths teacher, said.

"They also might fear that there is a problem and they want to put them on the right foot from the beginning because they don't want them to feel any stigma when they start school."

Dr Caleo said parents spend between $750 and $900 a term on tutoring at the academy, which is described as Australia's "only research-based learning centre".

She said year 2 was also popular for tutoring in preparation for NAPLAN tests in year 3.

But Cathie Harrison, a senior lecturer in early education at the Australian Catholic University and an adviser to the ABC show Playschool, said children should be learning through play, not tutoring.

"I think it is a sad indictment if our emphasis on early testing is leading to young children being tutored," Dr Harrison said.

"We don't want children starting kindergarten with a fear that they are not good enough for school and I worry that tutoring sends them that message."

Dr Harrison said the Best Start program was developed "with the right intentions" but questioned whether assessing a child "before they start school and with a teacher they have not yet developed a relationship with" was the most appropriate way for schools to gather data.

Associate professor Robyn Cox, president of the Primary English Teachers Association Australia, warned the proposed year 1 phonics screener was "tuition fodder".

"The proposed year 1 phonics checker is an instrument to test the constrained skills of letter-sound relationships and children could be prepared to sit this proposed test by outside tuition centres," she said.

A spokesman for the NSW Department of Education said Best Start was "not a test".

"It is important that teachers gain an accurate snapshot of what literacy and numeracy skills children bring to school so that they can support their learning," the spokesman said.

"Children do not need to be tutored for the Best Start Kindergarten Assessment. Parents and early childhood providers play an important role in preparing children for school."

This story Parents agonise over testing before kids start kindy first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.