Archive for January, 2010

Is testing really necessary? Blair’s place in history…

This week (as part of their series, “Winning Women’s Votes”)  Radio 4′s Woman’s Hour focused on what might sway women’s vote at the general election.

On Wednesday, Jenni Murray and guests (Dr Mary Bousted, General Secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers and Gillan Low, President of the Girls’ Schools Association and head of a top-performing independent girls’ school in south west London) looked at education – tackling the question “Is testing really necessary?”

The programme asked what an incoming government “should do about measuring progress in schools”.

 Woman’s Hour introduced the programme like this: “Labour came to power in 1997 with the slogan ‘education, education, education’. It went on to introduce compulsory literacy and numeracy hours in primary schools, staking its reputation on raising educational standards. Ten years later the General Teaching Council said: “England’s pupils are among the most frequently tested in the world, but tests in themselves do not raise standards. Today some of those tests have gone, though others remain. School league tables based on test results have not escaped controversy”.

I listened to the programme, (drawing parallels between the proposed Sats boycott and the Early Years Learning and Development Requirements) and sent the following comment by email along with information about this blog. The comment hasn’t been broadcast (yet). This is what I said:

“High time that this fundamental question is asked. Blairite policies (“Education, education, education”) were Orwellian. They had little to do with education in it’s true sense – and (like the war on Iraq)  had much more to do with Blair’s (party political) ambitions and political expediency.

No mention was made in today’s programme of the effects of the Early Years Foundation Stage Learning and Development Requirements and EYFS Profiling on children as young as four and younger. Despite government assertions that there is no ‘testing’ in the EYFS system – the realities on the ground in schools are very different. Early Years Practitioners are describing this compulsory system as: Testing-in-all-but-name.

See also this quote sourced from an early years practitioner:

 “In order to complete the 69 ELGs the child must first achieve the 39 DM targets or they can’t be awarded the ELGs (Early Learning Goals) and some authorities are putting pressure on reception teachers to do all 9 points (117) which include NC levels. It is actually a post code lottery what expectations and criteria are placed on teachers and children “

Listen to the Woman’s Hour programme here (Listen Again facility).

See also my news blog – Tony Blair, the war in Iraq and the history books

EYFS exempt school wins ‘outstanding’ category at inspection.

See this Nursery World article for full report.

Homework at the age of four?

Our school is ‘reviewing’ their current Homework policy – ‘looking to identify set days on which homework will be set and collected in by teachers’. We’ve received a note in our daughter’s school bag. There’s a table to fill in and a comments box:

The table looks like this. (There are boxes for parents/carers to tick ‘please tick appropriate box with regard to time spent on homework activities’ - and a comments box at the end of the sheet of paper for additional comments).

—————————————————————————————

Homework Focus     Not enough     Correct Amount        Too Much

Spellings

Reading

Maths

Topic

———————————————————————————————

‘Homework’ is a subject very relevant to criticisms of the Early Years Foundation Stage Learning and Development Requirements and the EYFS profiling which I believe is completed at the end of a child’s first year at school and so I’m sharing our responses to this ‘homework’ questionnnaire with readers of this blog. Here they are:

Firstly, we’re really glad that a school such as ours should be reviewing their homework policy. This may be a positive development. It must be a difficult and time-consuming task coordinating the facilitation of learning for a large number of children. We can see the need for practical ways of doing things.

However, as parents we can’t help thinking that a tick box system like this is not the answer. Whether you are conducting a simple survey like this, or compiling research evidence for a  Phd - answers and results received from questionnaires depend on which questions are asked in the first place.

So let’s look at the assumptions behind the form. The tick box we are faced with appears to assume that all parents agree it is a good idea to give a child of four or five  ‘homework’ in spelling, reading, maths and/or a topic.

As parents our approach is as follows: our child is four, and at the moment we feel that the six hours of formal learning she receives at school is quite enough. When she gets home – we would like our daughter to play. And to learn through free play. At four years and four months that is her job. (And at five, her needs may be different).

At the moment though, we try to provide activities and resources for her to do this. Reading stories, visiting the city library, constructing buildings with blocks e.t.c. visiting our allotment, growing vegetables, spending time with grandma and grandad. Talking to people/friends/neighbours. Walking. Listening to music. Dancing. Making the tea together. Stroking and talking to the cats. Sitting by the fire drawing pictures. Doing nothing in particular. Watching a film. Just having the time to “be”. And so it goes on. Everyday life.

Our situation provides evidence of the essential weaknesses of the system of Early Years Foundation Stage Learning and Development Requirements (and the accompanying EYFS Profile with the profile points which nursery teachers are required to gather evidence for at the end of the first foundation year at school). Namely the following:

In our daughter’s class (of thirty or so children – not sure of the exact numbers) – the children vary in age. There will be summer born children like our daughter – currently aged four. But there will also be older children in the class too. Sometimes children that are nearly a year older than our own child. Children who are five years old, for example (or older?)

It is quite clear to us that these children will inevitably find themselves at a different developmental stage than our own child. And that is absolutely fine. Each child develops differently and we would like to think they can do this at their own pace.

However, at present, as far as  ‘homework’ is concerned - the statutory Early Years Foundation Stage targets and the EYFS profiling appear to mean that teachers are expected to bring each child up to the same standard. The profiles are statutory. They are an obligation for the school.  

And as far as we know, the same homework ‘tasks’ are being put into the school bag of each child in the school (Update: Apologies for this very obvious mistake readers – of course I meant to write  ‘in the class’ here and not ‘in the school’. The ethics of blogging demands that I leave the original sentence as it stands and introduce an update here. F.L.) . We’re assuming that each child in our child’s class is given the same ‘homework’  to do in their school bag each week.

As far as the ‘Super Spelling’ session is concerned (detailed in a previous post) parents are asked to ‘practice’ spellings at home, which will be ‘tested’ in school). Once again, this appears to show that the same criteria are being applied to all children in the class across the board, regardless of age and developmental stages. 

As parents – what we are being asked to do by the school is to judge our child according to the same criteria which are also being used for much older  children. We are not willing to do this, it is educationally and developmentally misguided.

Our child is a full year younger than some other children in the class. She is also of non-compulsory school age. She is not required to complete homework as far as we can see.

There is more than enough evidence amongst early years practitioners and researchers internationally to show that pushing young children too hard too soon does not benefit them in the longer term and may put them off learning altogether.

All of these issues leave us all with practical problems to solve. Issues like these will be shared by many parents across the country.

How many parents in state schools open their child’s school bag to find ‘homework’ and a ‘reading book’ ?

 How many of these parents suspect that their child is just not ready for the work which is being set for them?

 How many of the parents who feel this way are assertive enough to do or say anything about this?

 How many (or how few?) of these parents are able to write the realities of this situation down and publicise it?

 We are both working parents. In a recession we suggest that there may be many parents out there who cannot afford to wait until their child is five to send them to school.

So given all these issues – including the educational ones – we, as parents are faced with several dilemmas.

 Do we ignore the ‘homework’ which is placed in our child’s bag each week (as we feel much of it is age inappropriate)? If we do this, what happens to our child when she is AT school?

We are not obliged to practice spellings with our child at home which will then be ‘tested’ and ‘marked’ each Monday at school. (Although the ‘testing’ and the ‘marking’ goes under a different name). Our child is of non-compulsory school age.

In writing down feedback for our school and all others interested in the future of education it has often been inferred that we are somehow overly-anxious parents who are concerned that our child will not meet the Early Years Profile ‘targets’. (And we know they are ‘targets ‘in all but name).

To set the record straight  (again) – the opposite is the case. Our child is confident and happy. She learns well partly because we have given her the space and time to learn – to learn in her own time – when she is ready. We have complete confidence in her abilities.  Our vote of ‘no confidence’ is firmly placed in the boxes marked ‘system’ and ‘government’

During the course of the past two weeks I have received some feedback from early years practioners across the country. Two separate sources. The first said:

In order to complete the 69 ELGs the child must first achieve the 39 DM targets or they can’t be awarded the ELGs (Early Learning Goals) and some authorities are putting pressure on reception teachers to achieve all 9 points (117) which include NC levels. It is actually a post code lottery what expectations and criteria are placed on teachers and children…

And the second source: “There is considerable pressure on reception teachers to raise achievement in the EYFS.  The ‘Local Authority Outcomes Duty’ sets targets for local authorities to meet. In other words they have to increase the scores on the EYFS Profile, which is completed at the end of the Early Years Foundation Stage, when children are aged between 4 years 10 months and 5 years 10 months  (and have to ‘narrow the gap’ between the 20% of children who perform least well and the rest) – this year difference in age is obviously very significant.  It is true that different Local Authorities are interpreting this pressure in diverse ways and are applying different rules/expectations to practitioners. These could be described as the ‘unintended consequences’ of EYFS, but I’m not sure how unintended it all is.  The reality is – it is a postcode lottery. Some local authorities (LAs) have more experienced early years advisers, who are able to resist and mediate the pressure, and other LAs do not. There is also pressure from OFSTED inspectors who have been given some guidance, I only discovered today, which says things about ‘age expected levels’! This is not actually in the EYFS… 

My own parting thoughts on this. I had occasion to go into the school reception office the other day - I glanced at the behavioural standards for children and the school which are framed and displayed on the wall. They included the phrase:

“We do not cover up the truth”.

As parents we have experienced the shortcomings of the Early Years Foundation Stage learning and development requirements system first hand. 

We are now experiencing the shortcomings of the Early Years profiling system and the difficulties this presents for children, teachers, parents and schools.

I believe the truth has already been been covered up for far too long.

Welcome Russian speakers! International discussion of Early Years Foundation Stage Learning and Development Requirements.

Glanced at blog referrer logs yesterday and noticed there was quite an audience of Russian speakers. I’ve heard from early years specialists there is an increasing amount of interest in criticisms of the EYFS learning and development requirements in the Russian-speaking world.  Welcome!

Opposition to Early Years Foundation Stage learning and development requirements in state schools

Alongside all the supportive comments received on this blog, in the ‘real’ world and in the internet community at large – comes the inference on Twitter that I’m nothing but a nervous (and neurotic?) mother, a secret Steiner supporter and that my “guru” is Dr. Richard House (only if you’re very, very bored should you seek out ‘Thetis Mecurio’s caustic and patronising comments on Twitter or search for EYFS on Twitter at this link). 

Were circumstances in the English education system different – I might find such responses  amusing. The word “guru” just doesn’t figure in a mindset like mine. Namely because I know how dangerous it is to regard anything or anybody uncritically. Nervous I am. Quite rightly so – given the current state of early years education.

It’s possible I’ve had a sense of humour bypass and not noticed – but there is something decidedly unfunny about attempts to mask or marginalise the  extent of opposition to, and criticisms of  – the Early Years Foundation Stage Learning and Development Requirements – regardless of who the perpetrators of this particular brand of misinformation are. Here’s why.

I’ve always believed that people have a right to good quality education. And that this right belongs to everybody – not just those parents who have access to a sufficient income to send their children to a private school. It’s a human right that people have fought for for hundreds of years and it’s also the reason why our child attends a mainstream state-funded school.

Steiner schools (and Steiner parents?) it seems have access to the resources/man-and-woman power to question and challenge the Early Years Foundation Stage Learning and Development Requirements – to secure exemptions and to craft an alternative. Good luck to them. They have vested interests. As we all do.

But where does that leave the millions of children in state-funded schools who will still have to suffer the consequences of the potentially damaging Early Years Foundation Stage Learning and Development Requirements? What about us

I’d like to put the following prediction on record. At the next election - with a change in government, and as a response to public pressure – the EYFS system will be reformed as a priority. I’d like to predict that at the latest in the early autumn as a first step the 69 learning and development requirements will be “downgraded” to recommendations only. Further changes will follow.

The huge (and as yet uncharted – millions?) that have been invested in setting up the Early Years Foundation Stage learning and development requirements system, it’s accompanying bureaucratic machine and the EYFS-charting-and-research-educational-gravy-train-industrial-monster it has spawned will then start to be dismantled. Public funds which must amount to millions will have been wasted. Millions which could have been spent securing real improvements in the lives of children living in poverty – wasted.

Let’s get this straight. Early years experts across the board (including many teachers) have been calling for reform of the EYFS learning and development requirements system for several years now. They are doing so because they are concerned about securing the best possible education system that we can achieve. Something that will encourage children to learn. Something that avoids setting children up to fail. Do state schooled children deserve less than the best?

On an international level, the English insistence on pushing children to read before many of them are ready is increasingly, nothing but a bad joke.

Much has been made of the notion that the EYFS system and the EYFS Learning and Development Requirements benefit financially and socially excluded families in particular. This brand of ‘spin’ is particularly offensive to those who of necessity rely on the state system.

I’ve yet to come across concrete evidence (not spin) to support the view that the EYFS learning and development requirements system is of real benefit to socially and financially excluded families. Disagree? Send in your views – I’d like to see them.

Our government does not want to back down from a policy that does not work so close to the next election (for reasons of political expediency not because the policy is right or educationally sound).

On the subject of Steiner schools – I’m enclosing a link to a recently published report on the implentation of EYFS by Steiner representatives. See report and links in this Nursery World article.  I haven’t read the report  yet – it’s over forty pages long - but my initial reaction when I heard about it was disappointment. It seems Steiner schools have produced the report in consultation with the Department of Children, Schools and Families. In the first instance I felt that working together with the DCSF like this might create the impression that the system is still workable. And I’m not sure it  is.

However as I said, I haven’t read it yet. When and if I do  and choose to write about it , critically as a journalist – I trust those who have accused me of being a secret-Steiner-supporter – will finally get their facts right. I respect the right to freedom in education – Steiner philosophies are one part of the opposition to the EYFS learning and development requirements but our own lives presently remain firmly rooted in a state education system.

“No grounds for learning to read at five” says researcher. Nursery World

See link to recent Nursery World article here.

A Parent’s Guide to the Early Years Foundation Stage. “Notes for Parents in Reception”.

Yesterday’s Guardian contained several articles which highlighted how ‘family life’ issues will be central to decisions made in the next election. Some commentators are calling this a ‘Mumsnet’ election – meaning that decisive issues will include those most relevant to parents – and women.

Early years education should be somewhere near the top of this list. Not least because women in particular are over-represented at the school-and-nursery-gate as well as in the pre-school sector workforce. 

But yesterday’s paper offered no analysis of the impact on parents, women, families and early years practioners of  the Early Years Foundation Stage and EYFS Learning and Development Requirements. Why? 

Firstly, I suggest – although the issues are straightforward – (there is a broad consensus for reform of the sixty-nine compulsory learning and development requirements – which includes the work around the petition I launched – see this link – and if you haven’t done so already, please consider signing…) – the matter is hedged about with government bureaucracy and “spin”. So much so, that I believe many parents (and journalists too) simply can’t see the wood for the trees. 

There is also a lack of information and witness from the coal face of parenting . No-one appears to be documenting how parents and children themselves are experiencing the sixty-nine compulsory Early Years Foundation Stage Learning and Development Requirements.

 Whilst I do NOT claim to speak for all parents (and would never presume to do so) – I believe this blog steps in to fill a void. For example: 

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard people represent the view (both online, at the school, in the classroom and in person) that they know the EYFS learning and development requirements have their shortcomings (or are fundamentally flawed). People who express this view maintain the EYFS learning and development programme (including the learning and development requirements) is  still “workable” because “we don’t do things like that here”. Meaning that dedicated practitioners are able to mitigate the potentially harmful and/or damaging effects of the EYFS compulsory learning and development requirements. 

I doubt very much that this is possible. The government and local authorities sometimes give the impression each setting can interpret the framework and ‘facilitate’ learning in it’s own way. The government and local authorities maintain the framework allows for flexibility and protects the interests of the ‘unique child’ .  

In practice however, the realities of life in the classroom or nursery tell a different story. How do I know this? Let me count the ways… 

This week I  opened my child’s school bag to find a three page document entitled: 

“Notes for parents of children in Reception – Communication, Language and Literacy”. 

In the public interest (and with names removed) – I have decided to publish this document here. I believe it clearly shows that children, teachers, child care practitioners are simply not in a position to escape the EYFS learning and development requirements straitjacket, however well-intentioned teachers and practioners might be, and however hard they try. 

This document shows how a typical, committed and enthusiastic teacher might tackle the 69 EYFS learning and development requirements. It is not important that this document originates from a particular school. Since the EYFS is enforced everywhere (apart from those Steiner schools which have gained a partial exemption) – every nursery teacher will be forced to do this work, and produce a similar plan although of course they will each approach it in a different way. 

The first page of this document looks like this: (readers can enlarge any of these documents by clicking on them. The text is clear enough to be legible): 

Document photograph: Notes for Parents of Children in Reception. Communication, Language and Literacy. 13th. January, 2009

  Here’s the second page: 

 

Document Photograph. Communication, Language and Literacy: Notes for Parents of children in Reception. 13th. January, 2009

And the third.

Spellings, phonics and numeracy appear prominently in this document, taking up the first two pages. We are told “some children will be bringing home 3 or 4 words to learn each week…”

Parents are urged to ‘help their children learn the letter sounds’ using a three step method.

At this point I need to remind readers of our child’s age. Daughter is at present four years and four months old.

We are dedicated parents (with flaws, of course). Each night since she was about two without fail, we have enjoyed reading stories to our child. At least an hour every day and usually more. Other Half and Daughter do this together. They are currently giggling their way through extensive tracts of “The Hobbit”, “Pippi Longstocking”, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and the like. Most Saturdays we go to the public library. Babes loves her books.

She is progressing at her own pace. She is not of compulsory school age. On the very first day of school last September (as I think I mentioned before) we found  a ‘reading record book’ in her school bag. We felt it was age-inappropriate and have now stopped stressing out about filling it in.

There is a lot to say about speech and language acquisition. Speaking two languages as I do I feel our daughter is getting along really well with this, but it is way too early to start on the programme that is being suggested in the  document shown here.

The document tells us: “Some children will be bringing home 3 or  4 words to learn each week”. (Perhaps this measure will not include our child?).

But if she is not included, how is she going to feel? On page two we are told that “All of the children will be continuing to read independently each day and in their small independent reading groups on a weekly basis“.

What about those children who are nowhere near ready to “read independently”?

Page Two also tells us about “target words”. The government in their ‘spin’ has consistently avoided using the word “targets”. But on page two here is that word again, quite clearly expressed.

And then there is the “Super Spelling Time” mentioned on Page One of this document. At our parental exemption application meeting our local authority maintained that the EYFS learning and development requirements did not include the “testing” of children.

In the meeting my response to the local authority was that one could write whole Phd. dissertations about our understanding of testing. What’s important here I feel (as one blog reader commented) is that children know when they are being tested. Whether or not you present it to them as a test.

“Super Spelling Time” sounds like a well-intentioned attempt to get to grips with the sixty nine compulsory learning and development requirements of the Early Years Foundation Stage.

May I suggest though, that in reality it is nothing other than a spelling TEST.

Parents are told: “Children will have a go at writing the words/letter sounds that they have been practising with you at home“.

Our position is currently that our child is not ready to “practise words/letter sounds at home”. We will not be forcing her to do so. And I know from my communications with other parents across the country that we are not the only parents with this stance.

Yesterday I showed the documents to a retired early years practioner friend of mine. Her comments included the observation that a vast number of parents would not have the time or inclination to read it.  She felt many parents would get the document, glance at it, feel overwhelmed and/or pressured – put it in a drawer and then hope the whole thing would go away…

“What is robot-talk?” my friend said “There’s no explanation here”. “What about those parents who themselves struggle with literacy, or for whom English is a second language?”.

As far as the term “phonics” is concerned – my own thoughts are of course I know some of the background to these systems myself, having taught adult literacy and gained a degree in German. But I also know there are different systems of phonics. More importantly there are criticisms of these systems too.

But it seems desirable ‘parental contributions’ in schools are now limited to fund-raising and baking cakes. We are not required to comment on how our children are being educated. The EYFS learning and development requirements are set in bureaucratic ‘educational’ stone. Until and unless government policy is changed. Here’s that petition link again.

  http://petitions.number10.gov.uk/parentsguideeyfs/

A final observation about the document I’ve shown here. It shows a tiny portion of the huge swathe of paperwork necessary to uphold the EYFS learning and development requirements system.

Readers may recall that every single one of the governors at our school refused our parental exemption request.

Although I maintain that decision was morally unsound (they could have made a stand – come out of the closet for the sake of justice – they could have  stood up to government pressure) – a part of me understands very well why some of them might have thought that granting a parental exemption was impossible. If it takes this much organisation and paperwork to uphold the sixty nine compulsory learning and development requirements – how much more paperwork would a parental exemption entail? But the thought of this just makes a further mockery of the so-called parental ‘right’ to exemption. It is no right at all. As yet no local authority or state school taken the risk  of supporting a parental exemption.  The system is a farce. The right exists on paper only.

I’m finishing this blog post now. It’s my birthday and I’m getting the ingredients ready to make a birthday cake with my daughter when she gets home.

I feel there are many more questions and issues to discuss around the documents that I’ve published today. So I’m throwing this open to you now, my readers.

 I hope this blog post is useful and/or challenging for parents and early years practitioners alike. I’d be particularly interested to find out more about what other parents, (including parents  of summer-born children) are experiencing. Do send me a message via the contact section. Please specify if you would like me to publish  anonymously.

New Year’s Reflections – Early Years Foundation Stage Learning and Development Requirements

  

My Babes when she was two. Picture Copyright Frances Laing. All Rights Reserved.

A Sunday in January. I’m waiting for a national newspaper to phone about the e-petition. Fighting off a head cold – it’s a good time to put my thoughts in order…  

I started this blog on August 4th. 2009. I mention this because I’ve learned that timescales are important in early years education. On August 4th. my daughter was three years and eleven months old. She was just about to make the transition from nursery to a state-funded primary school. She is summer-born.  

Why did I start writing this blog anyway? The story goes like this: whilst working part-time  I gained my Post Graduate Certificate in  Adult Education at the University of Wales in 2003.  Course members and colleagues were drawn from diverse fields. They included trainee teachers in adult education working in Sure Start projects. I started out teaching Basic Skills, and offering Social Sciences and German. As part of the course we completed an exercise and devised a curriculum for parents on health education. (I recall we got some excellent marks for that assignment, but at that time parenting was a theoretical exercise for me). Job and personal circumstances changed. In 2003 I was 38 years old – I’d written off the idea of ever ‘settling down’ and thought it most unlikely I would ever have a child).  

But I did. At the age of forty I married my atheist husband at a Quaker wedding and about a year and 49 hours in labour later we were graced with our wonderful daughter. To say the first year was hard is the understatement of the century for me. Six weeks after the birth (both me and Babes still struggling with breastfeeding, my back so painful from the epidural that I needed help to lift my child) my Other Half experienced numbness on one side of his face.  After nearly a year of repeated hospital visits and tests (we took the advice of our health visitor and took Babes along with us) Other Half was diagnosed with a chronic disability. We were lucky in that he  can still work full-time in an area closely related to disability rights. His team has won a prize for outstanding work in welfare rights.  

I’m telling you this reader, because I want you to know I understand that every parent has joys and challenges. And that’s directly relevant to the EYFS and they ways in which parents are dealing with it.  

By the time the EYFS framework was made statutory, my child was three. As a new mother in those first few years, with all the challenges we had, my feet hardly touched the ground. I was on a fast learning curve. At that time I knew quite a bit about the adult education system,  but I felt, precious little about early years education. My Other Half is a great dad (he’s the one who reads the stories). He has two grown up children. But I was still a relatively new mum. However one thing I knew well. My child.  

Due to our circumstances I started to focus again on my writing, and became a card-carrying member of the NUJ three years ago. As part of my Post grad Certificate in Education – I had been required to engage in what is called ‘Reflective Practice’. To write journals and ‘critical incidents’ about my own educational progress and that of my students. Blogging can be a reflective practice too. It seemed to be the perfect synthesis of learning, journalling and writing and opened up a digital universe.  

I believe in what they call ‘life-long’ learning. I will always try to help my child enjoy learning. It’s a great gift. As a mother when I first encountered the Early Years Foundation Stage I couldn’t see anything wrong with it. A framework was needed. That couldn’t be a bad thing. But something bothered me, so I kept writing, researching, learning and documenting facts and experiences on this blog.  

The name of this blog is carefully chosen. “A parent’s guide to the Early Years Foundation Stage”. A blog for parents. I’d searched for information for parents about the Early Years Foundation Stage framework. There was quite a lot. Most of it though, was written by government departments or schools. And there was one significant thing about the government information I came across that caught my eye. It was completely uncritical of the EYFS framework. Something wasn’t right. I don’t use the word ‘propaganda’ lightly, but I’ll use it here.  

The journalist in me began to ask the searching cultural and political questions as to why this propaganda existed.   I wanted to put something else out there. As a Quaker and a member of the NUJ (adhering to the NUJ code of conduct and ethics) the writing needed to be as close to the truth as I could manage. My truth. A child’s truth. The truth of what governments are doing to childhood.  

Nowhere in any government EYFS or schools document could I find anything truly reflective. I’m sure that most of the nursery and school staff we encountered on our travels had good intentions, but it was clear to me that many had stopped considering whether or not the EYFS learning and development compulsory requirements were a good idea. Alarm bells rang in my head. This approach had very little to do with what I understood by education.  

And there was more. No-one appeared to be documenting the experiences of parents and children on the coal face of early years education. With the Early Years Foundation Stage and with the EYFS Learning and Development Requirements. That’s not surprising at all – given the realities of parenting. We only have one child under five. Parents who have several children and who are struggling to hold life, loves and jobs together are doing really well if they muddle through successfully on a day-to-day basis. You don’t have the time, the energy or the money to write a dissertation about it!  

When I started writing this blog, back in August last year I could hardly believe the realities of the EYFS learning and development requirements. We applied for a parental exemption and honestly thought it was possible to succeed. I now believe it is highly unlikely that any parents could succeed with this process for lots of reasons. The guidance documents are thirty-five pages long. The process is difficult to understand and takes time. There are no support mechanisms to guide parents through the process. It’s stressful. Also, many parents just don’t feel confident enough to question what the nursery staff, the teachers and the government are telling them. And by the time you have got your head around what is happening, your child is through the early years system and you’ve got more, new and different challenges to face.  

But the most significant thing here is: parents like us don’t stand a chance of gaining an exemption for their child in a state-funded school because the government doesn’t want us to succeed. Why not? Well – if they allowed us to gain exemptions – (in our droves) – it would be the final and conclusive admission that government education policies are fundamentally flawed.  

The government wants to win the next election. They don’t want to admit that the “education, education, education” Tony Blair (and later Gordon Brown) was talking about had very little to do with education in the truest sense.  

What’s interesting and important though, is that criticisms of the EYFS learning and development requirements span ALL political parties and all types of school. EYFS exists in private schools and nurseries, independent settings, faith schools, at child minders. It even affects families who choose to home educate. (Some parents who home educate send their children to childminders on a part-time basis).  

In the letter from our local authority which told us the school had refused our exemption application - Cheshire West and Chester local education authority took the liberty of trying to give  us the impression that we were free to go elsewhere with our child (to seek another school). They enclosed a phone number for an education help line to help us choose one.  But they knew that the EYFS learning and development guidelines apply at ALL nursery settings and all schools (unless that it the setting itself gains an exemption – some Steiner schools have done this as I’ve mentioned before on this blog – but we wouldn’t choose to send our child to a Steiner school and there isn’t one of these within a hundred miles of where we live anyway).  

Where do parents of young children go, when, (late at night perhaps) they need advice and/or support on pre-school parenting? We know they often turn to telephone helplines, and ‘talk’ to peers via the internet.  

Discussion threads such as the one I started at Mumsnet appear to reveal how little some parents understand about the Early Years Learning and Development Requirements. If there is a shortage of unbiased information, indeed, how can we know and understand the issues properly?  

Journalists and the rest of the media are partly to blame here of course. How many sensationalist headlines have you seen which give you the impression it’s outrageous when children can’t write whole sentences by the age of five? The truth of that is: it isn’t a scandal. Children all learn and develop differently at different times.   

Education policy does not fail because children aren’t schooled early enough – it fails because children are hot-housed too soon and are in danger of stopping engaging with education systems altogether in later life.  Is this what governments really want?  

Much has been made of the notion that the Early Years Learning and Development Requirements benefit so-called ‘deprived’ children and families in the first instance? Is this really true? Who is documenting how much money has been spent creating and upholding  the EYFS system? We find ourselves in the middle of a recession which  is hitting families hard. Safe and adequate housing is a huge and very basic issue. Homes are being repossessed at an alarming rate. What is the sense in prioritising the writing of ‘complete sentences with punctuation’ over safe, adequate and affordable housing (and food, for that matter)?   

The Mumsnet thread is ‘robust’ to put it politely. I’ve been told that I’m ‘deranged‘ by fellow posters. Posters have tried to call my integrity into question (I’m telling ‘porkies’ with  the parliamentary petition…). Posters have tried to say I’m a follower and supporter of Steiner schools and Anthroposophy. The fact is, I’m not. I’m not Steiner trained. We don’t send our child to a Steiner school. I’m familiar with some of Rudolf Steiner’s work (I lived in Germany for ten years) – but I haven’t read a great deal of it.  

For the record – I am critical of Steiner philosophies and educational practices - at the same time I believe the re-evaluation of what Rudolf Steiner had to say in the light of our contemporary knowledge and best educational practice may be a valuable exercise. I’m not going to reject ANY sources of information that I believe may have something to offer in our understanding of what is happening to Early Years Education.       

I’ve been told by fellow posters on Mumsnet that the EYFS learning and development  requirements are not ‘compulsory’. I asked Dr. Richard House for his opinion on this today. I said: “people were trying to argue that ‘nothing happens to children if they don’t meet the goals“. (Of course we know that children are not expelled from school, for example).  

Dr. House said:  

“This assertion (i.e that ‘nothing happens to children if they don’t meet the goals’ F.L) is a complete misunderstanding of the implications and the effects of the EL goals – for the key point is that their very existence has all kinds of effects on their children, that simply would not occur if the goals did not exist. Or put differently, a very great deal will inevitably have happened to children in the course of their not meeting the goals to which practitioners/teachers are aspiring (and of course the same goes for children who do meet them).  

 To give just a few examples:  

 Because of the local authority Outcome Duty, and the way that the pressure from the DCSF and Ofsted works, pre-school practitioners/teachers are under constant pressure to try to ensure that their children meet the stipulated goals. This is the nursery-level equivalent of the now completely discredited “teaching to the test”, and it is nothing short of catastrophic that very young children are being exposed to such a fear-driven regime. The literature that now exists on how targets unhelpfully distort professional practice is enormous and incontrovertible, and it cannot be denied that the Early Learning Goals are indeed ‘targets’ in all but name, which will in turn inevitably distort the practice of early-childhood practitioners/teachers. Add to this, first, that many of the targets are age-inappropriate, and, second, that the very idea that it is legitimate to have generalised targets for young children’s learning anyway is contraindicated by the evidence, and we can see how the EYFS’s learning-goals approach is fundamentally flawed in both conception and content, and is likely to impact negatively on considerable numbers of children. In no conceivable universe can the latter situation be described as ‘…nothing happens to children if they don’t meet the goals’.  

 Also, we have to consider the impact on those children who do not reach the stipulated goals. Practitioners/teachers will tend to experience a range of emotions in the face of children not meeting the goals – not least, in terms of anxiety; and young children pick up on these feelings psychodynamically and are deeply affected by them. At worst, children will know at some level that they have failed – with all the knock-on effects in terms of damaged self-esteem, turning off from challenging learning, etc. Moreover, with a predominantly young early-years workforce that is notoriously under-trained, and therefore not likely to possess the personal confidence and authority to avoid unquestioning compliance with state-imposed injunctions, there is little if any prospect that practitioners themselves will be able to forestall such unintended negative outcomes of the learning-goals regime. Again, then, in no conceivable universe can the latter situation be described as ‘…nothing happens to children if they don’t meet the goals’.  (Source: Dr. Richard House).

I’m running out of time.  We’re all running out of time.  A week, a month a year, can be a very long and crucial time in a young child’s life. We need to change this now. If you do nothing else, please sign the petition I initiated. Here’s the link. Thank  you.

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