Archive for the ‘History of opposition to EYFS learning and development targets’ Category

In which the writer begins to deconstruct an ‘ideological assault’ directed at early years settings in England, children, parents, families, people with disabilities and the NHS. With the help of a public meeting against the cuts in Northwich, Cheshire.

Felicity Dowling. National Union of Teachers. Public Meeting Northwich Cheshire West Against the Cuts. May 24th, 2011. Photograph: Frances Laing.

The phrase ideological assault may help us understand what is happening to and in our society. For understanding is half the battle. To begin, readers I’m offering two single word definitions from a rather elderly edition of the New Shorter Oxford English dictionary for your consideration: 

Ideological: A system of ideas or way of thinking pertaining to a class or individual, esp. as a basis of some economic or political theory or system, regarded as justifying actions and esp. to be maintained irrespective of events.

Assault: 2. An attack by spiritual enemies; temptation to evil.

Public Meeting Cheshire West Against the Cuts. Northwich, England, 24th. May, 2011. Speakers Felicity Dowling. National Union of Teachers and Andy Ford member of Unison union regional committee and NHS employee (speaking in an individual capacity). Photo: F.Laing

The context is not simply the public meeting against the cuts which took place in Northwich, Cheshire, last month. The context is our whole lives. The entirety of this blog, since I began writing it two years ago and certainly the chapter of the book I have just completed – fellow contributors to the book include members of Parliament and Early Years Experts across the planet. The book, soon to be published will be called: “Dissent and the English Early Years Education System”. For without dissent there is no democracy. AND I’m not just mentioning this book for a publicity plug – I’m mentioning it because every  one of the issues mentioned in this blog post – and the book – directly affect every young child in this country.

Young children need health care and until and unless that provision is made secure – the huge  proposed investments in Phonics programmes and School League Tables – which have already been called into question by international researchers and academics – should again be called into question too. Joined up thinking.

I say: the ideological assault we are facing is Orwellian in nature. War is Peace. In a response to campaigning constituents in a letter dated 20th. May (see previous post) – elected representative Conservative M.P. for Chester Stephen Moseley declared: “…there are no cuts in the National Health Service and in fact NHS funding has been increased by the coalition government”.

Watch the video featured at the end of this post and Dr. Ron Singer who clearly states: “There are going to be huge reductions in what the NHS provides…not only are we facing the biggest reorganisation in the history of the NHS (the NHS and Social Care Bill) but at the same time we are also being asked to save or create ‘efficiencies’ of twenty billion pounds over four years (about twenty per cent of the total budget and for England about twenty-five per cent of the total budget”).

War is Peace.

Thirty five people were present at the public meeting in Northwich, Cheshire – some of them NHS employees. Amongst them Felicity Dowling of the National Union of Teachers and Andy Ford, member of Unison  Trade Union Regional Committee.Felicity Dowling, who works with children in the field of Special Education Needs (SEN) described a barrage of cuts on the battle field:

Early Years Consultants privatised and cut from 17 to 12 in her area. An overall reduction in special educational needs funding, affecting play areas, toddler groups, access arrangements, cuts in basic provision such as the lack of special chairs – a three year staff pay freeze in schools – along with cuts of pay and weekend work.

Felicity stressed the importance of talking for small children – and how cuts in the ‘Every Child a Talker’ (see this link for similar cuts elsewhere) grant will impede their progess. Cuts in Sure Start provision…disability provision all gone. People not being able to pay for child care. “Who is going to pay for a specialist teacher?” she asked.Felicity also spoke in some detail about the pending National Union of Teachers ballot for strike action on the issue of pay, conditions and pensions and deconstructed some popular myths about the cuts;

MYTH ONE:  The cuts exist to save money (academies and ‘free’ school cost vast amounts and in the long run will be more expensive to maintain – the cuts Felicity said ‘are not about money they are about politics and the way the government sees the public sector’).

MYTH TWO: “We are all in this together” – (72 per cent of the cuts described by Felicity impact on women and small children).

MYTH THREE: “Nothing we can do will make a difference” – (when soldiers came back from the Second World War they wanted a better world – Felicity refers to the letters written by her own father – they had the determination to build a better world and many of their generation pushed to found the NHS – a system free at the point of need).

Felicity urged the audience: “Don’t think things will stay the same – if they get away with this  – they will come back for more – Cameron will come back for the forests too”.

Andy Ford, member of Unison Trade Union Regional Committee and speaker on the panel is an employee of the NHS national blood transfusion service and highlighted  the need for the general public to support NHS workers – if blood transfusion support workers didn’t work for three days then ‘a lot of people would die’. 

Andy stressed the proposed ‘reforms’ in the NHS were firstly, the ‘wrong reforms at the wrong time’ and secondly ‘bad for patients’. ‘Bad for patients’ because the principal of universal health care – free at the point of need – is due to be abolished with the proposed reforms. 

We are facing a ‘privatisation like never before’ even Thatcher ‘did not attack the NHS’ he said.Andy described a lack of public accountability where ‘any willing provider can provide healthcare’ – the trade union position was ‘a clear defence of social medicine rather than the market’.And the market was a huge and lucrative one – the NHS budget in Rochdale alone was 300 million.

Andy spoke about how prices and tariffs for operations are not true prices, for example for children’s heart surgery. A surgeon from the John Radcliffe hospital surgeon said to him “What am I supposed to do – turn these people away?, I can’t do it…” – there would be a tendency for privatised companies to pick easy operations. Without the NHS people with cancer would bankrupt themselves.

Andy Ford, Unison Regional Trade Union Representative addresses the public Meeting in Northwich May 24th, 2011- organised by the coalition "Cheshire West Against the Cuts". Photograph: Frances Laing.

Private finance initiatives were unsustainable – locally in Whiston debt servicing of the PFI cannot be met from the market. If the market were a true market then PFIS would be allowed to go bankrupt. The first duty of a PFI is to service and pay debts…By contrast in Scotland there is no market for services. MRSA was unknown before Thatcher and deregulation. Regular cleaners had always been present. In Wales Plaid Cymru took cleaning services back in house and this led to improved standards. 

Discussion at the meeting kicked off with a few voices saying that some people were in ignorance of the extent of the cuts – but by the end of the meeting – an impressive and detailed list emerged and the recognition that we can’t wait until 2015 and a general election to take action. 

One union delegate’s summary of cuts in West Cheshire included those made in Children’s Centres and home care facilities – together with an assault on staff terms and conditions summed up by the motto: “keep council tax down and screw the staff”.

I gave a short account of attendance at the Multiple Sclerosis Society Regional Meeting in Preston last month – and the week of action against assessors ATOS. The M.S society is currently in the forefront of the ‘Hardest Hit’ campaign which highlights how people with disabilities are being detrimentally affected by the proposed Welfare Reform Bill.

 As promised at the beginning of this blog post here is Dr. Ron Singer with the clearest account of the ideological assault I’ve heard so far: 
 

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).

In which the writer considers the EYFS Review and only narrowly avoids the use of expletives…

It’s fairly standard these days for a government review to be ‘leaked’ in a targeted way to the press – before it is published. That’s how certain media machines work. Your average PR agency with any clout – knows that public opinion can be influenced by providing journalists with crease-free copy before the event. That is not to say that journos won’t regard ready made press releases with a critical eye – but your average hack is always pushed for time – there are huge cuts in the print industry and very little investment in investigative reporting – early years education is not an easy thing to write about and few writers are paid to be steeped in it.

Several articles on the Early Years Foundation Stage Review popped up yesterday. Amongst them in: Nursery World: Children and Young People Now and The Guardian

The Children and Young People Now piece tells us: “the government-commissioned review of the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) was informed by 3,300 submissions from organisations and practitioners…”. No parents then?

In fact there were some parents – and I was one of them. Since this blog draws on nearly two years work – and is now a historical document I hope a look back at previous blog posts can fill in some gaps here and put Dame Tickell’s Early Years Foundation Stage Review into context.

For those who missed the background – the EYFS ‘consultation’ and review has been marketed as something which will ultimately assist ‘disadvantaged’ children and their families. You will notice that I placed the words ‘consultation’ and ‘disadvantaged’ in inverted commas there…that’s because for lots of reasons documented in previous blog posts such as this one  I believe very few if any parents of ‘disadvantaged’ children would have been in a position to take part in the review. I might be wrong – but I don’t think so at this point. Ultimately perhaps we shall never know, as the publication of consultation responses is managed by the government – I can’t see any evidence to show that they will not cherry-pick consultation responses and publish them to suit themselves.

I suppose I came close to expletives yesterday (see my comments after the Guardian piece) when I read that the 69 targets were to be cut to just 17. In the year in which my daughter started in reception class – we lodged a request for a parental exemption for our child. I understand we were the only parents in England to do so. It was very clear to us that there were too many learning and development requirements – in the exemption interview we were asked to voice our objections to all of them. All sixty-nine of them. We thought this was a ridiculous request and a mechanism which simply served to silence dissent. The exemption process for parents is tortuous and I’ve documented it in some detail. See previous posts.  

What is never mentioned is that in fact every parent has the human right to apply for exemption (according to decisions made by parliament and documented on this blog) – but this right is no right at all – a school simply needs to say they don’t have the resources to provide alternative provision. And it would take a judicial review to change that situation – and how many ‘disadvantaged’ parents have the thousands of pounds needed to fund that?

And now, two years later here is the government commissioned review with an admission that they were wrong and that something about these targets-in-all-but-name needs to change. The near expletives in my Guardian comment (which I’m not apologising for) – came with the realisation of the damage the government has done to a whole generation of children.

And then there is the suggestion that children as young as two will be subjected to ‘developmental’ tests. To address this point – I say the following. We live in a country where many parents and children are put under immense pressure to perform. The pressure arises, not just between friends, neighbours, through television and the media (and later at school) – but because many parents lack confidence. Their ability to be confident in what they are doing is often whittled away yes, by the media, the parenting industry (all those companies trying to sell you products for your child)  and those around them –  by the false expectations that people increasingly have about what children should be doing by two. Those who really know children, will have seen children who are not talking by two, or barely walking by two and have no issues later at all. People nowadays are increasingly expecting too  much too soon.

And there is something else – I’m going to use some anecdotes for this one. I was shocked recently to see two mothers with six month old children (one of whom was quite clearly already overweight) – feeding their children whole bars of chocolate. An older auntie commented on this – and asked what the mother’s health visitor would say about that. The mother said with a proud boast: “Oh, I don’t tell her”.

And that says it all as far as I am concerned. Surely we should be aiming at building trust between health visitors and parents and a space in which parents feel they might be able to acknowledge real issues and ask for help if it is needed. I don’t think that ‘policing’ parents of two and a half year olds in this way is going to help build this trust. 

There were other important voices to be heard on the EYFS review this week:

Margaret Edgington, Richard House and Kim Simpson of the Open EYE campaign made a public statement on the EYFS review yesterday:
  
‘We welcome the move to a framework which is simpler, less bureaucratic and more easily understood. We also welcome the retention of the statutory welfare requirements and the general approach to early learning which the EYFS promotes.

However, Open EYE has consistently campaigned against the compulsory learning and development requirements for such young children, who do not legally have to attend any form of provision. Simply reducing the number of goals is not nearly sufficient, and there is still likely to be too much emphasis on measuring children against a narrow set of targets. The suggestion that some 5 year olds should be judged as below expectations on the proposed 3-point scale is particularly deplorable, and is rooted in a fundamental misunderstanding of the great diversity of young children’s development.  It will inevitably increase early labelling with the consequent impact on children’s confidence and self-esteem. We will continue to campaign for there to be no compulsory requirements for children below statutory school age.’

Let’s take a look at the bigger picture to finish. Bearing in mind that children in England already have to go to school much earlier than in many other countries such as Finland (countries which maintain much higher educational standards) –  compulsory school-age in England is four – I find  the targets and testing picture for a child between birth and five years disturbing. Here it is:

Age of Child and test implemented:

1) Two and a half:   ‘Developmental’ check carried out by health visitor

2) Between birth and the age of five: 69 learning and development requirements  to be fulfilled (now reduced to 17)

3) In the year in which a child turns five: Early Years Profiling carried out by reception teachers.

4) Early Years Profile results would have been fed into League Tables for Five Year Olds on a school by school basis (plan recently withdrawn by the government but indications that so-called Super League Tables will re-introduce it).

5) Reading/PhonicsTest at Five (not just six as the government would have it) but five – since a fair proportion of children are summer born like my own daughter. My understanding of this test is that if children fail it, it will be repeated in the term that follows.

Our young children are still being observed, tried and tested at every turn. What they need is support and space. And a quote from the Stop School League Tables for Five Year Olds petition:

“We’re supposed to love them not treat them like employees”.

Update the same day – an insightful comment from A. (who asked me not to publish names). Thanks A! Comment copy follows:

” Thank you and good luck with your camapaign.   A quick story…..one of our boys was asked to leave the library where he was sitting Key Stage 1 tests some years ago. He couldn’t manage the  paper (‘late’ reader). He couldn’t de-code words and writing was a real struggle. He was 7 years old.   ‘There, there dear, you make your way back to the class and do some drawing for a little while’ said the well-meaning teacher (or something along those lines).   He was – and is – a very ‘bright’ boy, whatever that means!   But this early experience – and the requirement to ‘perform’ –  really knocked him back and set him apart from his peers.  He felt stupid and he felt a failure.  He hated ‘tests’ and clammed up immediately.   A few years later – and with lots of support from us as parents, he regained his confidence and he’s now set to achieve mainly As in GCSE exams.    There was never a big problem – it was just too soon at 7 years.   His brain wasn’t ready.   GCSEs are just the first hurdle –  ASs and A2s are another ball game altogether –  and then the whole issue of universities and university fees etc  Our son aged 17 has applied on-line for part time jobs at Tescos, Sainsbury and others –  he has 11 GCSEs – mainly A grades but he gets rejected on-line – he is already losing confidence and dreading the rejection.  It’s especially worrying for him now his friends have managed to get jobs.  Our youngsters deserve a chance when they are very young – and they also deserve a chance when they are teenagers entering the adult world.  Why not offer him a job?  If he doesn’t perform he can be asked to leave – but for goodness sake give the kid a chance!   There is no perfect system but we need to be open to ideas and we need to listen to a range of views from parents as well as the ‘experts’ who teach. Most people have life experiences they can bring to the debating table,  but for some reason people are not very open-minded.”

Early Years Foundation Stage Review: Demonstration 26th. March, 2011.

Demonstration Against the Cuts. Saturday 26th. March, London.

The results of the Early Years Foundation Stage Review have been announced today. Rest assured readers, I do intend to share my thoughts with you all on this front – as soon as I can. However, in the meantime – I’m sharing this photograph – sized up so that you can see the detail of it. 

We were three of the (four hundred thousand) people on the demonstration on Saturday, travelling in a Unison coach. My daughter wore this waistcoat with an important message on the back. We mingled with the NUT contingent on the demonstration and hundreds of people read the message, photographed it, commented on it and talked to us about it. One teacher on the demonstration liked the message so much that she gave my daughter an NUT banner as a present. The banner reads: NUT: Education Cuts Never Heal.

Later that week my daughter took the banner and some photographs into school. Taking part in the demonstration, talking to people and being with friends – was very motivating for her. She especially enjoyed reading all the marvellous and colourful banners from everywhere in the country. 

It was a day about making the connections. The people reading our message made the connections straight away, especially the teachers and the many nursery assistants and classroom staff at the demonstration. And the accompanying messages were very simple: that the league table plan was, and is – ridiculous and far too costly – that with people power – we can achieve change and bring the coalition government down – that we don’t need more league tables, more testing and more bureaucracy – that our coalition government has no mandate from the people to do what it is currently doing and what the government is doing is not backed up by common sense or research evidence – despite what they are trying to tell us with their patronising, slick, media machines.

And we were there on Saturday and saw the demonstration with our own eyes. Nowhere did we see any hint of aggression or violence from the crowd. But for my daughter it was an illustration of the police state we are living in. We saw the helicopter overhead which accompanied us along the entire route. We saw the police (sharpshooters?) – craning their necks from the Westminster windows. We noticed how our mobile phone signals were interfered with for at least two hours in the vicinity of Westminster – how we were herded off along the embankment and how the nearest tube station to Westminster was closed to us at very short notice by the police.

And we noticed the gaps in reporting of the event when we returned – the alternative narrative which didn’t come across in Commander Broadhurst’s pseudo-friendly Tweets to us all: Conflating numbers: have 149 people really been charged with violent offences: no.

And because it is important and highly relevant in terms of accessibility and equality – I’d like to thank one kind person from the coach who waited for us at the tube station and indeed on every corner helping us with our trolley on the demonstration. With multiple sclerosis in the family and a small child – we experience attending such events as a huge challenge and without some solidarity from those around us it is very difficult – and four hours walking is a long stretch for little legs too.

And so the issues stay remote for the Eton school boys that say they are ‘governing’ this country – but they come together in our lives. They are real for us. We made a splash on Saturday. And now the TUC needs to listen to the membership – the majority are clearly ready for radical action – not just another demonstration.

See also today’s Guardian piece: UK Uncut arrests threaten future protests, lawyer warns

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

Open Eye Conference 2010. “The Child the True Foundation” Article in the Telegraph and Dr. Aric Sigman.

The international Open Eye conference I attended two weeks ago received coverage in the national media, including the Telegraph newspaper:

They chose the challenging headline “Ban Computers from schools until children reach age 9 says expert”.

Dr. Aric Sigman is quoted: “There is evidence to show that introducing information and communications technology (ICT) in the early years actually subverts the very skills the Government ministers said they want children to develop, such as the ability to pay attention for sustained periods”.

Dr Sigman is the author of the book: “Remotely controlled: How television is damaging our lives” and has recently published a new book.

In addition, Dr Sigman, who is an Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society, a Fellow of the Society of Biology, a recipient of the Chartered Scientist award from the Science Council and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine, has published scientific papers. Well Connected?: The Biological Implications of ‘Social Networking’, is published in the Spring edition of Biologist, Vol 56(1), the journal of the Institute of Biology.

The Telegraph article interestingly picks up on the lack of action of our coalition government:

 “The coalition government is reviewing which of its functions should be passed on to the Department for Education. Before the election, the Liberal Democrats said they would scrap the ‘nappy curriculum’.

Nick Gibb the Conservative schools minister has described it as a ‘bureaucratic nightmare’. A Department of Education spokesman said: No decision has been made yet on the future of the EYFS. Ministers are looking carefully at how best to strengthen the EYFS framework. We’re clear about the need to cut bureaucracy to free-up front line professionals in supporting young children’s development”.

All well and good. As I’ve said before –  whilst the government does nothing – parents and children are forced to do their dirty work for them and mop up the mess.

Half term – politics, academies, PTA, eyfs parliamentary petition, coalition government and a child’s first year at school

As the coalition government sets about it’s business – coalition agreements on education and schools are analysed in the mainstream press but official statements on the future of the Early Years Foundation Stage compulsory Learning and Development Requirements remain noticeably absent.

The e-parliamentary petition system was de-activated by the U.K. administration around six weeks ago (due to the election, they said). But the election is over and the system hasn’t been restored. This has meant all the people who’ve approached me during that time wanting to sign the e-petition on the right of this page have simply been unable to register their protest. Democracy in action?

Yet another reason why people should meet together in person with academics to discuss the best strategies to adopt for early years education. The Open Eye conference I shall be attending in London next month seems to be gaining in importance all the time.

Parents and children are in the thick of all this, as usual – mopping up a political mess. Many schools face an uncertain future due to budget cuts. Will the proposed plan to create more academies draw money away from state schools? Meanwhile there is a noticeable absence of discussion about education itself and the naked emperor of the compulsory Early Years Foundation Stage learning and development requirements.

Namely this: in any other field of research or government – you would expect government policies to be based on the best available international research consensus. Here we have an international research consensus telling us there are no advantages to pushing young children to read and write at a very early age (as the EYFS compulsory learning and development requirements are doing). And this consensus is being ignored by our government.

On the ground here, there are some rays of sunshine. For the first time ever – we have a Parent Teacher Association. The first meetings were well attended – full of enthusiastic, discerning (and critical) parents. I can’t say much about this here obviously, but it’s a positive development and I feel I can say we’re working on joining the National Parent Teacher Association. This site must be useful for any parents to look at, there’s so much useful information on it, including a nifty “Ten Pointers to Success” for your PTA – so I’m including the link here.

On the internet there’s been some discussion about the ways in which academies might benefit children under five. Some are under the impression that if parents create their own schools they can avoid the pressures of the compulsory Early Years Foundation Stage Learning and Development Requirements. Unfortunately this isn’t the case. As the law stands all settings are required to meet the demands of this compulsory system – unless they undergo the tedious, labour-intensive and as things stand – tortuous process of applying for a settings exemption. So we need to change the law. Easier said than done, isn’t it? I’ll let readers know as soon as the petition is up and running again…

Are Early Years Foundation Stage Profile scores being used to predict Sats results in YOUR CHILD’S school?

Time for Change. Picture by Frances Laing

Measuring things can be very useful, can’t it? Especially for small children. A tape measure is fun to use. Clocks tell us when it’s time for tea…(or in this case – hot chocolate in M and S). 

But (and it’s a big but) – targets can also distort the way we perceive our fellow human beings. I’ve come across considerable evidence to suggest that Early Years Foundation Stage Profile scores are currently being used to predict Sats results in some schools across the country.  

Why should I care about that?, you’re asking, when I’ve  got enough on my plate as a parent already in this fast-paced culture of ours? Here’s why:

Imagine you’ve logged on to one of those online bank accounts where you can input your pay, and all your direct debit amounts and then when you press a button you can predict how much (or how little) money you’ll have left at the end of the month after you’ve paid your bills. Using one set of profile  scores to predict another is a bit like doing this. Except your child is not a bank account – they’re a human being.

Think about your child’s education. Your little one is in the reception year at school. They may be only four or five years old. School report day is tabled in to the calendar for the end of term. You’ve read up a little bit on Early Years Foundation Stage Profiling and you’re expecting to hear something about this on the last parent’s evening of the year at school. 

If you’ve been following this blog so far, you’ll have your criticisms of the compulsory Early Years Foundation Stage Learning and Development Requirements which culminate in the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile to be completed in the year in which your child turns five.   

Now imagine the senior leadership team at your child’s school. It is consistently striving to improve standards (in fact, Ofsted polices it’s efforts in this direction on a regular basis). Your SLT team looks at profile scores very carefully – monitoring them to see whether they’re going up by satisfactory degrees during the course of an academic year. 

 Your school team is conscientious. In fact they’re so conscientious they decide to employ what they believe to be the most accurate statistical methods available to find out more about what is going to happen to their school (their staff and their funding) in future years. 

So they use the Early Years Profile Scores of a particular group of children to predict what the groups Sats results will be at the end of their children’s time at Primary School. 

A reasonable way of going about things you might be thinking. But there are several problems with this approach aren’t there? Firstly, I believe schools are not supposed to do this and secondly – in using Early Years Foundation Stage Profile scores to predict Sats results – your child’s first school years are reduced to a statistical probability – using a system that is flawed in the first place. Are you with me so far?

Surely, if Early Years Foundation Stage Profile Scores are being used  to predict Sats results, a range of fairly disastrous developments in your child’s educational career are likely, aren’t they?

 Let’s take two different scenarios…(leaving aside the issue of whether or not your child’s abilities and talents are being accurately measured, which if you ask me, given the nature of the EYFS learning and development requirements and the profiling is simply not the case) –  in the first scenario – imagine your child’s Early Years Foundation Stage Profile Scores are low compared with the other children in their class. If these scores are used to predict later achievement – aren’t the staff who read the results inevitably going to impose low expectations on your child?

Conversely, if your child’s Early Years Foundation Stage Profiles are high compared with other children in the class, then higher Sats scores may be predicted. Doesn’t this create unnecessary performance pressure from the start?

 Two days until the General Election. Shortly after that the next round of Sats tests will be talking place. Major teaching unions have launched a boycott against the Sats tests and they’re backed by many parents.

Sats reform must be linked to reform of the Early Years Foundation Stage.

P.S. This old-fashioned clock looks good doesn’t it? Like some attempts to measure children inappropriately in schools though, it broke down very soon after ‘purchase’ and we needed to exchange it…

Open Eye Conference (June 12th.) and the Early Years Foundation Stage

As a family we’ve come a long way since we applied for and were refused a parental exemption to the learning and development requirements of the Early Years Foundation Stage legislation in our state-funded primary school.

It was back in August last year that I first became aware of the existence of the organisation Open Eye - the campaign for an Early Years Education. I wish I had known about them previously – it would have helped us a great deal when our daughter was younger (she is now four years and eight months old).

I’d discovered the Open Eye video directed by Fergus Andersen – which I’m posting again here. Some of the footage looks like it was shot at a previous Open Eye meeting and features parents’ views on the Early Years Foundation Stage Learning and Development Requirements and the Profiling.

I understand the video is now being used as a training tool in colleges and early years education settings. I have a vivid memory of the meeting in which we discussed our application for a parental exemption to the Early Years Foundation Stage Learning and Development Requirements. As I described in the archived blog post – the EYFS parental exemption meeting was attended by the then headmistress of our primary school at the time (together with the manager of the nursery unit attached to the school. Now we have a new headmaster – with a new approach).
 
The local authority representative was half an hour late at least – the headmistress was apologetic of course – being a trained teacher in adult education myself – I suggested we all spend the time watching the Open Eye video – which I felt was the best way of introducing the issues involved. So I managed to get the headmistress and the nursery manager to watch it. At the time I honestly thought that anyone who had seen it and taken in the issues, couldn’t help but act on what they were seeing. I was wrong.

Naively, perhaps, I expected them both to make some comment about it – if only to say how well crafted this film is. They didn’t. In fact, significantly they said nothing at all about it. Nothing at all.  I find that remarkable but indicative of the dangerous and restrictive power structures which some early years staff are experiencing.

In contrast I’m not usually prone to spontaneously bursting into tears – but I generally well up when I watch this video. Given what’s at stake, I think emotion is appropriate.

Regardless of what happened with the exemption process I’m really glad that our former headmistress and the nursery manager watched this video and that the three of us, myself, my Other Half and my child were there to witness it. Both the head and the nursery manager were made aware of criticisms of the EYFS learning and development requirements – in future neither of them will be able to say they didn’t know about the issues raised. 

Ultimately the government can no longer maintain there is no demand for parental exemptions to the EYFS learning and development requirements.

The Open Eye conference takes place on June 12th. in London and I’m very glad to say my ticket is secured. I’ve continued to engage with our daughter’s school and her dedicated nursery teacher in our state–funded school. Last week I handed in a note with the conference information on it and the suggestion that the school pay for someone to go to the conference. I doubt they will send someone but at least now they have the information.

So teachers, parents, nursery practitioners, specialists…look forward to seeing you there? Here’s the video I’ve talked about in this post – amongst other speakers it features Dr. Penelope Leach – Sue Palmer and a representative from the National Union of Teachers who explains how and why the children in her class will not be in a position to meet the (age inappropriate) EYFS-related targets for that year. There’s more to say about this year’s conference line-up but I’ll come back to that one.:

Are the Early Years Foundation Stage Learning and Development Requirements child (and parent) abuse?

The Miserable Snowman. Picture by Frances Laing. Model by Laing Jnr. Home made Bright Orange Play Pastry (with help from) Granny.

I spent half an hour on the phone this week being interviewed by a fellow journalist from a national newspaper.    

We talked about parental exemptions to the Early Years Foundation Stage Learning and Development Requirements.  Once again I was asked if we were the only parents in the U.K. to apply for and be refused an exemption to the Early Years Learning and Development requirements (in a state-funded school). I believe we are and I said so.    

No doubt some people would conclude that because no-one else has applied – that no-one else wants to – or indeed even that no other parents share our views about this system. I think that’s the reason why I keep getting asked that question. 

It’s a false assumption, I believe and I’m only just coming close to all the reasons why some parents might feel unable to apply in the first place, or indeed unable to even speak about how  they feel – and indeed how the opposition to this system is growing all the time as like-minded individuals continue to find each other and come together.   

After the newspaper interview, after hanging up the phone – I realised I must have sounded quite dispassionate about it all. I suppose I wanted to be clear about what I was saying, stick to the facts, avoid being stereotyped as an “over-sensitive” mother and all that stuff, you know. 

I was aware that the journalist I was talking to was young, and not a mother yet. Not that you have to be a mother to understand young children and their situation – but you do need a certain kind of empathy, I believe.  And becoming a mother (as a famous photographer said recently – I can’t remember her name) can give you a different and important perspective on humanity itself.  

In addition to facts, feelings also constitute a truth. And for small children they are a very basic truth. Love, good food, play, support and the sheer power of the imagination being amongst the things they seem to need most.    

Back in December – Sue Palmer talked to the Morning Star newspaper and described the pressure put on young children with the EYFS learning and development requirements as “state-sponsored child abuse”.  (scroll down to see the piece the Star site works like that)   

Sue used to work in support of the National Literacy Strategies and now acknowledges the NLS was going in the wrong direction and that the compulsory learning and development requirements of the Early Years Foundation Stage and the ways in which the government are putting pressure on children are detrimental to their well-being. I write this with a sense of admiration – although I’ve never even met Sue – to be part of something like that and then to admit that you were going in the wrong direction – and to come out in public and say so – takes some guts.  An image of my namesake (St. Francis) springs to mind at this point – a merchant seaman a militarist and a capitalist – who experienced the “Turning” and became the patron saint of ecology.    

At the time I read the Morning Star piece – I still felt Sue’s words were extreme (with all my criticisms of the Early Years Foundation Stage, the Learning and Development Requirements and the Profiling). Not now.    

In fact I’ve recently heard what is going on – being described as ‘parent abuse’. In the sense that parents are being encouraged and put under pressure to make children do and learn things – that are not only developmentally inappropriate for their children  – but where it not proven that they will be of any benefit in the long run. And where it is NOT proven that they will not cause harm.  “parent abuse” because parents should never be put in this position in the first place.  

The Precautionary Principle springs to mind. Caring thinking parents are surely on safe ground if we ‘don’t do anything that might conceivably be harmful to our children’. That’s a tough one too as we all make mistakes, get tired, irritable, overwhelmed…But even the harmful effects of ‘tired, irritable and overwhelmed’ surely do not equal the harmful effects of an insistence on a consistent, ubiquitous government policy which is not backed up by sound, educational research – something which in essence is based on a lie.  

And if elements of this untruthful and damaging system which has been imposed on us – really do constitute ‘parent abuse’ – then as with other types of abuse – of course it will take each one of us a long time to even figure out what is happening – and an even longer time before we feel able to act on what we know and have learned – before we reach that safer, happier and healthier place of change. “The echoes come slowly”  as T.S. Elliott wrote. Too slowly for us it seems, but they do come.  

My day-to-day observations about this tell me some parents (and some teachers) are quite simply in denial. Margaret Morrisey, of the organisation “Parents Outloud” has commented on this blog to the effect that parents are being “brainwashed”.  

In denial, perhaps for reasons I can understand. And others, don’t feel able to speak about it, for fear they might lose their jobs, for fear they might be bullied, ostracised, succumb to the parental peer pressure of the performance culture we are all exposed to – for fear their children might be the ones who don’t get invited to their classmates birthday parties…?  

But the number of testimonies emerging from distressed parents, teachers and early years practitioners is increasing. Consider this one, which has been anonymised:  

“One student from a nursery on the campus of ************* University said she had spent the previous month giving one-to-one ‘coaching’ to a just turned five-year old boy who had done ‘poorly’ in his profile assessment. The Local Authority had visited the setting and requested that he receive extra tuition. She said he had a ‘miserable month’ and she felt so guilty. She mentioned another young mother who was a student at the university and was visiting her every week in an absolute state because her four-year old son wasn’t making progress with his reading and writing”.  

Parents.  You know enough about taking responsibilities into your own hands. In the absence of effective action it is up to us to set our politicians, our headmistresses and masters, teachers and early years practitioners straight here and in doing so, contribute to changing this culture. Some of them really need to wake up to this quickly:  if a four or five year old can’t read or write yet – it really DOES NOT MATTER. They will catch up. They just need to be given a chance – without the constant pressure.  

And with a general election looming – it’s the perfect time to set our candidates straight with a vote for reform.  

But more than that. We need to question the whole notion of the “under-performing school”. The term is frequently used as a short-hand in the absence of any analysis of why a school is said to be “under-performing” (see Jessica Shepherd’s recent piece in the Guardian “What does the election hold for education policy”. ) and indeed in the absence of an analysis of the values and scales of measurement of the organisations and government departments  who are seeking to maintain they are “underperforming”.  

Historically we know governments have always sought to exercise control over education systems and many have gone to extreme lengths to issue propaganda to achieve these goals. I studied German history as a first degree – which included the study of Fascism and Education.  I speak fluent German, lived in Germany for ten years – experienced the fall of the Berlin wall and the aftermath. From these two very different perspectives – I lived and learned exactly what it means for a government and a political system to gain control over children in schools – why educational propaganda exists in the first place. As far as the Early Years Foundation Stage Learning and Development Requirements and the Profiling is concerned – it is highly significant to me that unless they choose to home educate – parents and children cannot escape from this system. 

Why not home-educate?, I was asked recently. That’s fine if that’s your choice and something you are in a position to do. But why should parents be forced into that situation when quality state education is not just an obligation but a human right? It’s something we pay for with our taxes, isn’t it? 

And so we fight for hope. For the truth. The picture, may I suggest, goes like this:  

The human and educational connections between the early years in childhood and young people’s later educational, vocational and academic achievements are not yet being drawn and emphasised strongly enough. On a basic level – we are using a system of measurement for our youngest children (the Early Years Foundation Stage Learning and Development Requirements and the Profiling) which has been criticised and discredited by international research. It is widely acknowledged that pushing children like this too early in life is likely to put them off education altogether. And it often does.  

It sounds incredibly simple  – but it seems this simple idea needs saying:  

One of the reasons why children don’t appear to be fulfilling their potential as people, and as individuals who learn well, with enthusiasm and throughout their lives – is not because they can’t read and write at five, or four, or that they are not being trained hard enough – it’s because they are being pushed too hard.    

This notion applies just as much to Sats as it does to the Early Years Learning and Development Requirements and the Profiling.  

And one of the reasons why so many give up on education or don’t do well later – is what happens to them in the early years.

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