Early Years Foundation Stage. Response to Reader Feedback. Freedom of Information Act query.

Here are my own initial comments about Lucy Giffen’s remarks. More to follow. Lucy says she is a ‘newly registered childminder’ who ‘felt the need to comment as a search on line took me to your blog which I felt was quite negative and not necessarily representing the full picture’.

Firstly, may I say, Lucy I’m truly glad you took the trouble to write. I am a trained teacher in Adult Education and believe it is really important to engage with a subject, to research it and discuss it. That’s one reason why I chose blogging as a vehicle for writing about this – it’s an interactive medium.

I’m sorry you experience the blog as ‘negative’. There are lots of positive things about our experiences but yes, there are negative ones too, and the urgency of the issues involved leads me to focus on the problems first and foremost. If change is not achieved rapidly, the future of our children is at stake. We have waited too long already.

If you had spoken to me a year and half ago (before the EYFS framework and the learning goals became a statutory requirement)  – I might have even agreed with your views. My child had attended a wonderful childminder with a great deal of experience and she was getting along fantastically well. My unease about the EYFS began as a gut instinct about a year and a half ago. And that brings me to my first point. Actually, I believe a parent’s gut instinct is really, really important and it shouldn’t be brushed aside.

A year and half ago I had numerous conversations with our childminder (who was then just beginning the EYFS training in a pilot scheme). I even disagreed with my childminder and argued FOR the EYFS framework, using similar arguments to yours. That is, I believed ‘things would work themselves out once the programme was up and running’. 

Nonetheless, a year and a half ago –  I held on fast enough to my parenting gut instinct to write my first request for exemption (in June, 2008). I didn’t hear any more about this – I assume because the framework wasn’t statutory anyway and so it wasn’t necessary. 

Round about the same time as I wrote the first exemption a year and half ago – I began to supplement my gut instinct with reading. I’d noticed that my now ex-childminder (my daughter had moved on to the nursery attached to the school she is going to in September) – had shown a considerable amount of unease about the way in which the framework (and the learning goals) were being implemented. I now feel this unease was entirely justified and realise that she is just one of hundreds of childminders and early years experts who disagree with the statutory nature of the learning goals. In the past year there has been a considerable amount of media coverage about the numbers of childminders who have had to give up their practice – either because the paperwork has got too much, or because they can no longer support the learning goals as a statutory requirement.

Like you, for a long time I felt that the EYFS in it’s entirety was okay. Like many parents I was often tired and just coping day-to-day and I suppose when my daughter went to a new setting I just went along with things. Until one day at the end of term when a brown envelope was thrust into my hand – it was my daughter’s report (at that point she was three and three quarters – that is – not yet four. Not yet four and the setting has been persuaded by the government that a ‘report’ is necessary.) – I was told that I would enjoy reading it, so I didn’t dread opening the envelope. I was not told there would be a ‘report’ beforehand.

However, when I did open the envelope and read it, I felt quite literally very sick indeed. Our child is universally acknowledged and praised in many social settings as ‘confident’ , ‘chatty’ ‘sociable’ and ‘friendly’. Many of the assumptions and labels used on the report bore not the slightest resemblance to the child that I know. And I am aware that this is the report that will accompany her for the rest of  her school life. I felt I had to do something else and as a journalist, that it would be in the public interest to bring as much as I could of my experiences out into the ‘Light of Press’.

When I queried the report I was told that the setting could only write about what they could ‘see’. I don’t believe I was really listened to. It didn’t seem to matter how many university degrees I had or what I knew as a parent. I felt my views were brushed aside. I now see there is nothing new about this dynamic. The other thousand or so people who signed petitions to object about the statutory nature of the Learning Goals have been brushed aside by the government too. My child’s ‘report’ was explained away – of course, it was said my child would behave differently at home in a ‘familiar’ environment than she would at nursery. 

I understand now that all this means a setting can only sometimes ‘see’ what they are looking for. And with a greater understanding of government policy comes the realisation that what staff and settings are being encouraged to look for are the learning goals, a very narrow framework of targets that I believe are anything but a focus on the ‘unique’ child. The funding and status of teachers, assistants, nurseries and schools appears to depend on it. If this is what the situation is, how do these vested interest affect children?

Shortly after receiving my child’s ‘report’ – I decided I needed to look at all the documentation the nursery had concerning my child. Not many parents know that they have the right to obtain this information from their nursery or school(see the chapter on education in campaigning journalist Heather Brooke’s book ‘Your Right to Know’).

I received the documentation within the ten day obligatory deadlines. There wasn’t much of it. A large plan of the EYFS guidelines and pages full of post-it notes. I was told , if I wished, the EYFS method would be ‘explained to me’. I didn’t need an explanation.

I studied the documentation carefully – and came to the conclusion the post-it notes were exactly that: LABELS. Most of them I believe were prejudgements and interpretations of my child’s behaviour which were jotted down and designed to tick boxes. The boxes which I now understand are in the learning goals elements of the EYFS.  Here are two pictures which illustrate a tiny fraction of what I am trying to say:

Information Request Result under the Freedom of Information Act. Frances Laing, August 2009

Information Request Result under the Freedom of Information Act. Frances Laing, August 2009

The handwritten comments describe my child who at the time of writing must have been around three years and six months old.
They read: 
 “only answers questions – doesn’t volunteer information” and
“is reluctant to talk – needs lots of encouragement” (note  – these comments are not embedded in a context – they have been take forward as generalisations and I saw the like of them replicated in my child’s report – I regard the comments therefore as stereotypes and labels.
There are more labels I believe in the next picture:
The handwritten notes read:
(from left to right…)
*xxxx recognised the words on a picture as writing when asked where you could start when reading a book she said ‘the beginning’…
*Asked xxx to write a shopping list to get things to make a  cake. She scribbled but couldn’t say what she had written (at this point my child was aged three years and nine months…)
*asked questions about (red riding hood?) story – xxx said she couldn’t remember
*xxx recognises S A and E sounds but cannot say what letter apple begins with
* after some encouragement xx told me about open day on the allotment and lots of people were there. She had a bbq and enjoyed a burger and sausages.
*rhyming activity: couldn’t hear the rhyming words cat hat e.t.c and even with picture clues couldn’t find a rhyme…
* doesn’t play on the bikes much but tended to push along rather than pedal (dated 9th. December, 2008 when my child was three years four months old. No one had ever asked us if we had bikes in the house and whether or not my child had ever used one before. We didn’t have bikes and she hadn’t used one at home at that point – with or without pedals).
At the risk of writing a post which is too long and bores the reader – there is at least one more point in your comments , Lucy, that I need to respond to. You mention Megan Pacey’s quote. I’ve yet to double check and ask Megan herself if the following quote is an accurate reflection of what she said (I’m assuming it is, though). You cite the quote:
“While many practitioners admit to having been daunted by the EYFS a year ago, our evidence shows that the majority are now embracing the principles and ways of working that the framework advocates and are seeing the benefits of being led by the child and their interests”.
In response to this citation  I would offer another which featured in a previous blog post (see post written on August 13th.)
Megan Pacey, Early Education’s chief executive, is quoted as saying: “Few respondents felt the learning goals based on communication, language and literacy in the EYFS were appropriate.“Many members felt that the communication, language and literacy goals were too aspirational and not likely to be consistently achievable for all children,” she added. “The time is right to discuss amendments.”
Have I missed something? Let me know Lucy, and once again, thanks for your comments.
At this point, readers may be asking themselves why as a mother I wish to continue engaging with the system. There are two answers to that. Firstly, I believe in the value of education. It is too important to leave to politicians who refuse to acknowledge their policy is flawed. Secondly, in many ways I have no choice but to engage with it. Like many other parents we need consistency for our child – we need to engage in paid work – we need childcare. Even if our child changes settings we would still face the Learning Goals elements of the EYFS elsewhere – and opting out might change things for our child but it will change nothing for all other children under five.
Schools often say that parental engagement in education is actively encouraged. In our case, we have yet to determine whether statements like these are really true.
Update: Thursday 20th. August, 2009: There are some queries about these Megan Pacey quotes, which may have initially been quoted incorrectly. The ethics of blogging demands that I do not change what I wrote yesterday (aside from the odd typo that is), but instead analyse these issues in another post. More homework to do…will write again on this one as soon as I can(F.L.) 

2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Hedy on November 8, 2009 at 9:01 pm

    Reading a back copy of the Friend, I came across your letter and have therefore looked at your blog.
    I am a nursery/infant teacher who has taught part time in a small village school for the last 20 years. I have always been worried that we are setting children , especially boys, up for failure by starting them learning at a much too early age however the EYFS terrifies me as I had to keep proving that the children where making above average progress or else I wasn’t doing my job properly. So I have now retired, probably 2/3 years before I had been planning to. There is supposed to be much more free choice activities for the 4/5 years olds in the Reception class, but you have to make sure that they achieve all the goals or else……… Children are continually assessed to make sure they are progressing at the pace that the government thinks they should and it makes no allowances for individual children’s different rate of discovery/interest in their world. We cannot keep trying to put children into boxes, someone along the way has forgotten that they are individuals. Some children are ready for learning at an earlier age but there is no way you can force a child who hasn’t reached that magic stage of ‘being ready’! I have had many ‘discussions’ with other teachers over the years and have to a certain extent managed to go my own sweet way, however no more, with these tick boxes, sorry targets! but what is beginning to happen is that teachers – sorry, I mean practitioners, are lying/stretching the truth, to get the above average of progress for their class and to show that we are improving year on year. never mind the fact that each year we have a different cohort of children which may be as bright as the previous years but as any teacher knows you sometimes get year groups that are fantastic and others that struggle, but can you admit that???
    Don’t worry about the bit of paper that follows your child around, hardly anyone will read it or take that much notice of it if they did. I never read anything about a child until I had got to know that child and made my assessment about him/her. End of Key Stage levels are also ignored by Junior/Secondary schools as the individual teachers like to do their own assessments of the children in their classes.
    Wow I have got a bit long winded, forgive me, but it is so nice to see someone disagreeing with the establishment. I am not quite sure though as a teacher as to why the unions have let all this happen, but I am now safely out of it and enjoying life with no planning/assessments/justification/boxes to finish on a Sunday!!
    I am sure your child will do well, just talk to her/him and read and interest her/him in a wide variety of activities and you can do no wrong. (Oh andf plenty of cuddles!)
    Best Wishes


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