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 Since this blog draws on nearly two years work - and is now a historical document I hope a look back at previous blog posts can fill in some gaps here and put Dame Tickell’s Early Years Foundation Stage Review into context.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.”