Archive for the ‘The importance of play’ Category

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 

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.

Being a parent in a target-driven culture (Early Years Foundation Stage)

In the last two weeks everything seems to have moved very fast. Last week I attended my daughter’s first parent’s evening. We made it very clear how we felt about the learning and development targets of the Early Years Foundation Stage which are being imposed on us.

It was an upsetting evening. We’d put enormous effort into applying for the exemption – and were refused – not because our application didn’t stand up – (we applied on religious, moral, educational and philosophical grounds)…but basically because the school said the resources weren’t there to make alternative arrangements(see previous posts). So we had no choice but to deal with the situation – which is not the same as saying we accept it. We don’t. We are not going to push our child to meet targets which are not backed up with a sound educational basis and research. I’m sounding like a broken record at this point, I know.

Practically speaking – what this means for us is that we sometimes don’t fill in the reading book (with it’s targeted readers geared towards the EYFS Learning and Development Goals) which is sent home with our child. Our child is still attending non-compulsory schooling – so we are not obliged to as far as I can see.

We read stories together every night, but our child is just four and three months and we are not going to do anything which comes even remotely close to destroying her love of words. We really feel that striving towards some externally-imposed (and compulsory not optional) targets is not the way. So I have said to the school that what the government is doing (and what our local authority is asking schools to achieve) is counter-productive in that sense.

On a brighter note I was really glad to get away for the weekend with family and child and had registered for the “Being a Quaker Parent” course at Woodbrooke Quaker College. Although our group agreed on a confidentiality clause there are some aspects of this weekend that I can write about. See Questioners Garden Time for links to food and sustainability.

We looked at how, as parents we can deal with a target-driven culture in general. A fellow parent recommended a book to me which I shall try and chase up. I will try to post the title here.

At the school gate yesterday another parent pressed a newspaper cutting into my hand. I managed to find the link to what she was showing me on the Times Online website.

It’s a letter written by the Head of Infants of Radlett prep school in Hertfordshire. Further evidence I believe that the compulsory nature of the EYFS learning and development targets are not the way.

I’ve heard some people who support the EYFS learning and development goals say that their teachers can ‘bend’ the requirements so that they don’t have a negative effect on their children. My response on this is to say, well ‘yes’ but these compulsory targets don’t just affect the relationship between teacher and pupil – they also affect the relationship between peers and between parents. I’ve already met parents who’ve swallowed the government propaganda wholesale and actually believe that if their child doesn’t meet the targets on time, they have failed as parents and their children will be disadvantaged in life.

Peer pressure can be a positive thing but in this instance it quite definitely isn’t. When these issues come up I’ve had to explain to my child that she is nearly a year younger than some others in her class and that it is perfectly fine for her to be doing different things. I’m careful to praise her achievements whatever she does.

Childminders and the Early Years Foundation Stage

As part of the research for a piece I’m writing about childminders and the EYFS I revisited an archived version of ‘Woman’s Hour’ in which childminders are discussing some of the implications of the statutory framework and the future of childminding. Readers may like to hear it too. Click here to tune in.

Early Years Foundation Stage. The importance of learning through play.

‘The importance of learning through play’  is one of my recent Helium articles – it’s directly relevant to criticisms of the statutory Learning and Development goals elements of the Early Years Foundation Stage. Here is an extract:

“The importance of learning through play is at the heart of the controversies surrounding the British Government’s Early Years Foundation Stage legislation. The Learning and Development Goals elements of the framework have been widely criticised by expert early years practitioners (including those who support the Open Eye campaign). The targets are not simply recommendations but statutory goals and this fact puts pressure on both children and carers which in turn is detrimentally affecting young children’s ability to learn through free and exploratory play…”

 To read the article in full, click here.

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