Archive for the ‘Government review of the Early Years Foundation Stage legislation’ Category

Phonics/reading test for five and six year olds rejected by the government’s EYFS review panel

Front page Times Educational Supplement today we find an interesting piece by Helen Ward entitled: “Phonics knocked off it’s perch by EYFS review”. in which Helen appears to be highlighting how the findings of the government-sponsored review panel appear to directly contradict coalition government policy on the reading test for five and six year olds. I’m saying ‘coalition government’ policy here – but actually the reading test is Conservative Policy and as far as I’m aware was never backed by the Liberal Democrats.

So we have a political controversy and I’ll say again what I’ve said before: The futures of young children are in danger of being sacrificed on the altar of political expediency.

Meanwhile Early Day Motion 1532 to rethink the Phonics Test has been signed by prominent Lib Dem, Labour and Green M.P’s but the Conservatives are noticeably absent from the list. So the phonics test for five and six year olds has been criticised by Phonics experts (such as Prof. Greg Brooks who signed the petition to Stop School League Tables for five year olds) – criticised by practitioners (see the international petition to Say No to the Phonics Test) and criticised by the government commissioned EYFS review panel. Yet the government is still going ahead with this. Orwellian, isn’t it?

I read a piece on the Educational Maintenance Allowance written by Aaron Porter formerly of the NUS in the Guardian yesterday. He seemed to be saying that Michael Gove and the coalition government either don’t know their own policies very well, don’t know what they are doing or that they are quite simply incompetent. I tend to agree.

 The major ideological objective behind many of these policies is to be blunt: to make people pay.  To make people pay for their schooling by allowing private companies to take over academies and elements of schooling, to make schools pay – and – because the policy is fundamentally educationally unsound – they are making our five and six year olds pay too.

There is another aspect of this (and forgive me for being so wordy readers) – which is the question of the private companies which are behind the organisation and creation of the phonics testing. The week before last the Times Educational Supplement ran several articles (for and against arguments) on the reading and phonics test for five and six year olds (although they were still referring to it as a test for six year olds). One of the comment pieces which supported the test was written by several authors some of whom were described as literacy trainers. I was prompted to respond to this with a readers letter which remained unpublished. Here it is:

“Very pleased to see more in depth coverage of the reading/phonics test this week. There were several simple points that I would like to highlight though.

Firstly can we please stop referring to the test as a “test for six year olds”?  A good number of summer-borns are set to be tested – and if our school is included in the pilot scheme – this would include my own five year old daughter. So it would be factually correct to call it a “test for five and six year olds”. Differentiating brings us closer to understanding how developmentally different children in Year One classes actually are.

Secondly – I was interested to read the piece by Ruth Miskin and Jenny Chew who are referred to as ‘literacy’ trainers. Amongst other issues raised in this piece we are reassuringly told “children need not be fazed by the requirements of the screening check”.  Does that mean that parents need likewise not be fazed by the £250,000 that the pilot scheme will cost? Or the fact that the government is refusing to tell us how much the scheme as a whole will cost, for reasons of commercial confidentiality as described in the Freedom of Information Act Query I submitted recently? Does that mean we need not be fazed by the fact that at least one of the authors of the article in question is not simply a ‘literacy’ trainer – but in addition appears to run a commercial enterprise, heavily marketing phonics materials and training packages across the country? Does that mean we don’t have to ask or answer questions about which companies are contracted to deliver these programmes and how? Are  we likewise not to be fazed by cuts in our libraries, arts and public services – which are directly relevant to children’s  ability to access books and communicate?   

Thirdly – I’m very glad to see the debate in the TES on the reading test – but most parents don’t read this paper – it (inevitably?) mainly addresses an elite audience. Your average parent at the school gate is not aware of the controversies surrounding the reading/phonics test. And even if they were – most of us do not believe we could change anything about it anyway. Even the most assertive parent – tends to crumble (in despair?) when faced with the many permutations of the adage that ‘teacher knows best’ in our society. Parents and their children continue to be excluded from a truly democratic discussion on education. They are disenfranchised and disempowered by the reading test plan – as they have been disempowered by the many other inappropriate measures foisted upon them in recent years.

Frances Laing (editor of the international petition “Stop School League Tables for Five Year Olds”, parent, trained teacher, writer, blogger and journalist).

One last note on this: I had requested our own M.P. Stephen Mosley to sign the EDM to rethink the reading/phonics test for five and six year olds. In response Stephen referred to some research that allegedly backed up the validity of the test. I sent off an email this week to ask what the research resources are that he is referring to. I shall look forward to receiving a response and inviting readers to comment. Stephen writes in his letter:

“I would like to assure you that the education Minister Nick Gibb, M.P. has undertaken a great deal of reseach in this area and that the Government’s proposals are supported by high quality research evidence from across the world, from Scotland and Australia to the National Reading Panel in the United States. The inclusion of non-words in the test would mean that pupils would have to de-code words and ensure that they have not just memorised individual words”.

Somehow I’m not reassured by this but after all what do I and my partner know about the education of five and six year olds (I’m only the mother of one of them – and my partner is only the one who goes to the library every week with her and reads the stories every night…

 A note of heavy sarcasm creeping in there. At the risk of banging on boringly about this and in the event that I don’t receive a response from Stephen Moseley M.P about the research sources the government is using to back up their arguments about the reading test – can anyone else out there help me out in naming these research sources?  Ta.

Update:

Made a start with researching the research sources, here is the U.S. source which interestingly enough, advocates a ‘combination of methods’ to develop reading skills, and not just one - this includes comprehension and listening to a child read. Question: isn’t that what schools are already doing? So why spent a quarter of a million pounds on a pilot scheme and several million more on rolling out an entirely new programme?

Here is what the U.S. National Reading Panel had to say about one study they conducted (for the rest follow the link above):

“The panel also concluded that guided oral reading is important for developing reading fluency-the ability to read with efficiency and ease. In guided oral reading, students read out loud, to either a parent, teacher or other student, who corrects their mistakes and provides them with other feedback. Specifically, guided oral reading helped students across a wide range of grade levels to learn to recognize new words, helped them to read accurately and easily, and helped them to comprehend what they read.

By contrast, the panel was unable to determine from the research whether reading silently to oneself helped to improve reading fluency. Although it makes sense that silent reading would lead to improvements in fluency, and the panel members did not discourage the practice, sufficient research to conclusively prove this assumption has not been conducted. Literally hundreds of studies have shown that the best readers read silently to themselves more frequently than do poor readers, the panel members wrote. However, these studies cannot distinguish whether independent silent reading improves reading skills or that good readers simply prefer to read silently to themselves more than do poor readers. The panel recommended that if silent reading is used as a classroom technique, intended to develop reading skills and fluency, it should be done in combination with other types of reading instruction, such as guided oral reading”. (From U.S. Reading Panel Study).

No Early Years Foundation Stage Profile League Tables?

No Early Years Foundation Stage Profile League Tables? Looks like public awareness-raising around the Early Years Foundation Stage League Tables may have met with success. See this Nursery World piece:

http://www.nurseryworld.co.uk/news/1053634/No-EYFS-Profile-league-tables/

Don’t reach for the champagne just yet, though readers, I’m going to check and double-check this information first. In the meantime comments welcome.

Stop league tables for five year olds. International petition launch.

It started quietly with a solid and thoughtful consensus. It became an international petition. It changed government policy. Aim high. Join us and sign it at the end of this post: 

“The U.K. government is proposing to begin publishing school league performance tables for England’s five year olds on a school by school basis.

We, the undersigned believe that such an unprecedented development puts both young children and their teachers, parents and carers under unwarranted pressure that is distinctly unhelpful – especially for children at such a tender age. We believe such tables to be divisive and unnecessary, and that they generate all manner of unintended and unforeseeable consequences that do far more harm than good”.

 STOP LEAGUE TABLES FOR FIVE YEAR OLDS.

 TO SIGN THE INTERNATIONAL PETITION FOLLOW THIS LINK:

League tables for five year olds.

Michael Gove’s plan to introduce league tables for five year olds has given rise to a flurry of protest letters in the print edition of the Times Educational Supplement today – among them this one by Margaret Edgington of  Open Eye which I’m taking the liberty of re-publishing here:

Five years old is no age for an ‘audit’

Letters | Published in The TES on 10 December, 2010 | By: Margaret Edgington

  • Section:

    Letters

 Michael Gove’s latest policy initiative (“League tables for five year olds”, December 3) betrays a woeful ignorance of young children and what their parents want for them. It also indicates that he is likely to ignore Dame Clare Tickell’s Coalition-sponsored review of the Early Years Foundation Stage, which is due to make recommendations on early-years assessment and the Profile.

At the end of the reception year, some children are nearly a year younger than others (some being almost six and others, who were born in late July and August, still four) and many are just beginning to learn English language.

To compare individual children at this point in their life is appalling enough. It is therefore hard to imagine what would lead someone to come up with the idea of comparing, school by school, the scores of such young, vulnerable children. Surely the teaching unions in England will stand together and support headteachers and teachers to mount a strong campaign against this highly damaging proposal.

Margaret Edgington, On behalf of the Open EYE steering group, Leicester.

http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6065659

League tables for five year olds. Gove and co. what on earth are they doing?

Did anyone ask parents how they feel about the stupid and demeaning plan to create league tables for five year olds? Not enough that our family  housing is endangered, our jobs are threatened and almost every aspect of our children’s future has now been rendered uncertain – but we are now expected to rob our own children of the last vestiges of freedom to learn that they can still experience in the early years of primary school.

Not enough that the best early years educational experts internationally have criticised the English Early Years Education system and the Early Years Foundation Stage Learning and Development Requirements.

The government promised a review of the system which should have taken these criticisms into account. Many childminders, parents, early years educationalists and carers spent a great deal of time formulating their responses. From where we are standing the review now looks like a complete sham. As I’ve said before “EYFS review = a cover for the cuts”.  

Start to read more about why government league tables for five year olds are such a bad idea at this TES link.

League tables for five year olds

EYFS review. A consultation or a cover for the cuts?

Dear Readers,

I’ve been away from this particular blog – but by no means idle. I’ve finished writing a chapter for a forthcoming book on the English early years education system. I’ll post further details on the launch as soon as I get them – it might take a while.

The deadline to complete responses to the government’s consultation on the Early Years Foundation Stage is Thursday 30th. September. I’m still hoping to write a response of my own – still grappling with the government e-consultation system though.

Anyone who has ever dabbled in environmental politics will be aware that when a consultation takes place regarding a building project – there are usually vested interests and power politics involved. I don’t think the EYFS consultation is any different in this respect. Yes – it is important to make your views known in the consultation process – but at the same time – most of us are aware of the strange sort of spin-censorship which goes on when the government remains in complete control of the publication of any responses received. This is one reason why I’ve highlighted some of the barriers to participation in the EYFS consultation process in the chapter I’ve been writing. Here is a short extract. Let me know what you think about this and whether you agree with me… 

From the forthcoming book – chapter title: “A Parent’s Challenge to New Labour’s Early Years Foundation Stage”  – this  chapter by Frances Laing:

“One of the criticisms levelled at people who question the EYFS learning and development requirements (and target-setting for under fives) – is that they are ignoring the ways in which requirements (and the system) are supposed to benefit disadvantaged families.

The argument goes like this: middle-class and so-called ‘advantaged’ families have the means to take their children out frequently, to provide them with stimulating activities, to read to them, to buy books and so on: disadvantaged children however are supposed to have more limited access to these things and therefore are in greater need of the so-called structures provided by the EYFS, the learning and development requirements and the English child care system.

This argument ignores several key issues. Firstly – that there is no evidence internationally or nationally to support the notion that the Early Years learning and Development Requirements help children from so-called ‘disadvantaged’ families. Secondly – families on lower income levels according to the governments own reports and studies – are less likely to access child care in the first place.

In August 2010 the Westminster government launched what they called an Early Years Foundation Stage review and e-consultation – one of it’s declared intentions was to address the situation of disadvantaged children and their families.

Disadvantaged parents and families will have difficulty taking part in this consultation at all. Some of the barriers to participation include the following:

• The fact that the consultation is eleven pages long and requires a considerable level of I.T. skills and access to a computer to complete.

• The consultation is inaccessible to parents who do not have English as a mother tongue. (There are a number of these in our reception class).

 • The consultation was launched in the summer holidays when many parents struggle for child care and cannot afford to take the time out to complete it.

 • The underlying assumption that parents are not professionals. Respondents are asked to give responses either as parents or professionals. If you classify yourself as a parent you are not required to answer any of the questions about the learning and development requirements or the educational content of the EYFS. (You can tick the box ‘other’ but are requested to justify your stance.) This approach excludes some parents altogether.

One home educating mother told me she didn’t take part because there was no category for her to contribute her views. (Home educating parents sometimes use child minders or part-time nursery settings. It is also quite common for parents to school age children to change to home education, or for home-educated children to return to school.)

In the pre-amble to the government EYFS review whilst the government pays lip service to the Freedom of Information Act it reserves the right to publish certain responses to the review and not others.

I predict the so-called consultation will be used to justify more cuts. Shortly after the launch of the EYFS review (as a journalist and editor of the blog “A Parent’s Guide to the Early Years Foundation Stage”) I requested an interview with the leader of the review – Dame Tickell. The request was refused.

Another example of the sort of censorship we all struggle with.”

Government review and ‘consultation’ on the Early Years Foundation Stage launched.

I mentioned in the previous post that I’m currently writing a chapter for a book which analyses the English Early Years Education system. Since we’re the only parents in the U.K. to our knowledge to have applied and been refused an exemption to the Early Years Foundation Stage learning and development requirements in a state-funded school I’ve got quite a lot to say about this issue as you can imagine! Stay tuned to this blog for more. Parents have until 30th. September to take part in the ‘government consultation’. Parents, practitioners, childminders – if you wish to take part in the ‘consultation’ and tell the government what you think – follow the link at the end of this post.

And here is the official government line as embraced on YouTube:

Access the Government ‘consultation’ on the Early Years Foundation Stage

Focus on writing blamed for fall in reading test results

I’m currently putting together a chapter for a book about the English Early Years Education system (and it’s shortcomings). The title I am writing to is:

 “A Parent’s Challenge to New Labour’s Early Years Foundation Stage”.

International researchers and academics such as Dr. Sebastian Suggate will also be making contributions to this forthcoming book. You can pre-order the book and/or register your interest at Hawthorn Press Early Years Education Series.

This work couldn’t be more topical right now. Today I woke up to the Independent headline: “Focus on writing blamed for fall in reading test results”.

The Indie piece is a response to Sats results. But there’s a direct link to early years education as the article reflects an underlying assumption, namely that children are ‘failing’ because they are not encouraged/trained/in literacy and numeracy well enough/early enough.

Taking into account all the research I’ve done so far and the opinions I’ve heard – I believe the problem we have is a very different one. We are in danger of pushing very young children too hard too soon. There is no evidence to suggest that pushing children of four or five to read and write too early will benefit their later learning and academic performance. In fact there are plenty of indications that if you do this in the education system – you will only serve to put children off learning. Possibly for life. A different approach is needed.

Researchers and parents who understand this – have been lobbying hard and pushing for a review of the Early Years Foundation Stage legislation for some years now.

Now a review of the Early Years Foundation Stage legislation is finally here. But we don’t yet know how effective it will be. Look out for my next post on this soon. 

I’ve made the link before and I’ll say it again. The Early Years Foundation Stage learning and development goals are the equivalent of ‘Sats’ for the under fives.

Read the Independent article here: Focus on writing blamed for fall in test results.

Government review of Early Years Foundation Stage. Interview with Sarah Teather Children’s Minister

Nursery World conducted a lengthy interview with the Children’s Minister Sarah Teather this week. See this link:

Sarah Teather on the  Review of the Early Years Foundation Stage

Government review of Early Years Foundation Stage

The long-awaited review of the Early Years Foundation Stage legislation has now been announced. The review has already been the focus of considerable media attention this week and I intend to continue analysing what the government is saying and reactions to this announcement over the next few weeks.

The language originally used by organisations which criticised the compulsory learning and development requirements of the EYFS is beginning to be co-opted by government. In an interview on Woman’s Hour this week – the government minister is now describing the system as too ‘prescriptive’. This is the same word used by the parents whose experiences were recorded in Fergus Andersen’s excellent video of the Open Eye conference in 2008. 

We are the only parents to our knowledge in a state-funded school to have applied for (and been refused) a parental exemption to the EYFS for our child. I have documented and written about this tortuous process and our experiences with the EYFS for almost a year now on this blog. We applied for a parental exemption in August last year on ‘moral, educational, philosophical, political and religious grounds’. We were refused a parental exemption – the school indicated they didn’t  have the resources to arrange it. They could not refuse us on moral grounds as we had the ‘cogent set of beliefs’ that parliament required. More importantly – they couldn’t disagree with us on moral grounds because we were right.

As I have already said publicly – the fact that the learning and development requirements were and are compulsory – goes against the findings of internationally acknowledged educational  research about the early years. The evidence is overwhelming.

As human beings – and experientially – from caring and watching the educational development of our child very closely – we felt the rightness of respecting our child’s development and refused to push her too hard too soon.

As our child reaches the last week of her very first year at school – (she is now four years and eleven months old) – we are reminded how from the early days we refused to do the ‘homework’ that was sent home in her school bag throughout the year. We trusted our child to learn through play at her own pace.

 We discussed this measure often as a family and came to the conclusion that the EYFS material she was getting , and the spelling tests – were inappropriate to the developmental stage she was experiencing. I’ve published some of the homework on this blog with the names removed.

If the EYFS should continue in it’s present form – I would recommend that any parents concerned about this should refuse to cooperate with the system as we have done. We now know there is no legal obligation for a child of non-compulsory school age to do homework. Creating the impression that compulsory homework is a good idea for a child of four is wholly counter-productive. 

 For reasons of political expediency the government has yet to acknowledge that they have made a mistake with the learning and development goals and that the system is flawed. Perhaps the government will never acknowledge this.

As parents we are prepared to forgive, but we will not and should not forget. This will not be the last time that a government will ignore international research in favour of  ‘spin’ and political expediency.

 We used all the mechanisms that were at our disposal (as parents on a modest income) to voice our principled stance. We used all the mechanisms we had at our disposal to protect our child from being exposed to a policy that we knew was educationally unsound.

Time and time again we reinforced the idea with our child that it was fine to learn about something when you were ready to learn about it. We made it clear that at the age of four – the only ‘job’ a child should have is simply to play.

When the EYFS parental exemption process failed – we explored the remaining avenues we had. To change the law and protect our child we would have had to do a judicial review (which would cost around £49,000).

The government is now purporting to analyse how the EYFS affects ‘disadvantaged’ families. What choices do ‘disadvantaged’ families currently have but to accept this flawed and damaging system? As I’ve said publically – this is a human rights issue. Find me a  family in Britain today that could afford to do a judicial review at a cost of £49,000.

Having been refused a parental exemption for our child I launched a parliamentary petition calling for the compulsory learning and development requirements to be reformed. They should become recommendations only. This was a modest demand around which there is a considerable consensus in the educational and parenting community.

The petition was closed down by the government during the general election campaign – weeks before the closure date which was requested and publicised – and the week before an important international conference that I attended last month where it was expected that I might have secured publicity to obtain at least another thousand signatures. There’s democracy for you.

 I have yet to receive a response to this petition (which is just one of numerous petitions on the EYFS over the past few years).

Too often the experiences of parents are dismissed as ‘anecdotal evidence’. Why are they of lesser value than a governmental focus group or think tank?

On the one hand it seems parents are paid lip service to as ‘primary educators’. On the other hand they are often expected to hand over their parental authority to the ‘experts’ who are said to ‘know better’. The experiences of the past year confirmed my belief that those who are supposed to know better – often don’t. Parents need to continue to educate and empower themselves, especially now that brutal cuts are being imposed across the early years sector.

I care very much about education. Not simply for my own child, but for all children. I hope my daughter will look back at this blog archive in the years that come and understand that what we were fighting for is the joy of education – a gift – which of all the gifts we might give her – might possibly be the most precious thing she will ever have. As many parents who are labelled ‘disadvantaged’ will tell you – knowledge is power – and the ability to access information and communicate will see you through many of the difficult challenges life will throw at you.

I am very honoured to have been asked to join international researchers to contribute a chapter for a book on the English Early Years Education system. The title of my chapter will be: “A Parent’s Challenge to New Labour’s Early Years Foundation Stage”. I hope I can do it justice.

Since the government has requested parents to share their views on the Early Years Foundation Stage – I am forwarding this blog post to the Department of Education. I’m sure readers will be interested to hear any responses received. All comments on this blog are moderated.

DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION STATEMENT ON THE REVIEW OF THE EARLY YEARS FOUNDATION STAGE 

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