The first parental exemption to the EYFS Early Years Learning and Development Requirements?

So busy this week – the start of school – that one important fact is only gradually dawning on us. We seem to be the first parents (in the U.K) to request a parental exemption from the EYFS Learning and Development requirements for our child. We seem to be the first parents to have gone public with our experiences like this. We’ve met with considerable interest from fellow journalists.

I received an email from Open Eye (the British Campaign for an Open Early Years Education) – with a Hansard reference enclosed. It seems the Open Eye campaign team had asked Annette Brooke M.P. to ask a parliamentary question about exemptions back in July in the House.

The question seems particularly relevant and may be helpful to our situation. Click on this link to see it: question

Let’s look at the question and answer in more detail…(both are highlighted in bold in the next section):

Annette Brooke (Mid Dorset & North Poole, Liberal Democrat) was asked to ask the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families pursuant to her answer of 23 June 2009, Official Report, column 819W, on children: day care, what was her definition of the term “philosophical convictions” contained in the Early Years Foundation Stage exemption document.

This is the answer given by Dawn Primarolo (Minister of State, Department for Children, Schools and Families; Bristol South, Labour)

“Parents may apply to their early years provider for an exemption in respect of their child, where they consider that the Early Years Foundation Stage learning and development requirements, or some element of them, cannot be reconciled with their religious or philosophical convictions.

The term ‘religious and philosophical convictions’ is a concept that is understood in legal terms and appears in case law, such as that on the European convention on human rights. It refers to a cogent and serious belief-set or conviction worthy of respect in a democratic society”.

Here are just some of my initial reflections on this one:

In the run up to requesting an exemption – as described on this blog – I used citizen’s tools such as the Freedom of Information Act to gather information. (If there’s anyone out there who wants to do this with their school – get hold of a copy of Heather Brooke’s excellent book: ‘Your Right to Know’ and go to the Chapter on Education). The first exemption I had applied for though was actually made some time previously at a different provider, as I’ve mentioned. At that time – the framework was not statutory so we didn’t have to jump through the hoops we have to jump through now.

After collecting and considering the FOI information – I formulated a letter. The first three paragraphs of this read as follows:

“I have kept the following formal statement/application brief and succinct, but there is of course a wealth of literature to back up our principled position, which I can and will furnish you with if necessary/helpful/appropriate.

After much consideration and for ethical, educational, moral, philosophical, religious and political reasons my husband and I find ourselves unable to support government policy on the EYFS Learning and Development Goals – and the ways in which the government is seeking to implement the Early Years Programme in this regard.

We would therefore like our child to be excluded from the Learning and Development Goals elements of this scheme and trust that this decision will in no way affect the quality of her care”.

Before and during the exemption request process I made it very clear that amongst our ethical objections – my Quaker beliefs – were an important part in this decision of conscience. There were other factors too: which is the reason why alongside the word ‘religious’ we also have the words: ‘educational, moral, philosophical, and political’ in our letter.

  • Educational objections (because the research is just not there to back up the Learning and Development Goals as a ‘should’ and a ‘statutory’ requirement).
  • Moral because to put it simply – the government appears to be perpetuating falsehoods in this respect and this is morally wrong. We are in danger of damaging our children.
  • Philosophical (proceeding from philosophy or learning)
  • Political because it would be straightforward and easy to rectify this situation and change the system quickly if the political will could be found.

Let’s be clear about this. Independent education is important and so is parental choice. But people have fought for equality in education for hundreds of years. What the government is saying is that any parent who disagrees with the statutory nature of the Learning and Development Goals of the EYFS and requests an exemption will be denied access to a free nursery place. Excuse me? What happened to the Human Rights Act, exactly?

So here, in essence is my challenge to the State. In the 1650s Quakers might have written a letter by hand which expressed their concerns and presented it personally to their monarch. Margaret Fell delivered a paper directed to the king and both houses of parliament in June 1660 – making clear the corporate testimony of Friends ‘against all strife and wars’.

Traditionally women (like the suffragettes) have always written and campaigned from their kitchen tables. I’m challenging our State with the tools I have to hand. My tool box is digital.

Take a few moments to consider what sort of a world we live in right now. There is great beauty – but we also have more than forty-four wars raging – not to mention the challenges of Climate Change. Forest Destruction. The need for nuclear disarmament. The food crisis. The global water crisis.

As a family we try to make the connections. I’ve spent the last thirty-five years learning about these issues and trying to make a difference. I know too well we need the best brain and heart-power we’ve got to really make a difference. The best expertise.

We cannot afford to get education wrong even before our children have started in the system. And right now, the government has got it wrong and they’re refusing to admit it.

So, we shall see what response is forthcoming to our request for exemption. Let the local authority and the government consider the ‘complications’ that have been caused as a result of our application. It’s high time they did.

Maybe some technicality will be unearthed which will impede our progress. I wonder whether our ‘elected representives’ will have the bare-faced cheek to try and tell us we don’t have a ‘cogent’ set of beliefs…


2 responses to this post.

  1. […] The first parental exemption to the EYFS Early Years Learning and Development Goals? […]


    • Posted by Frances Laing on September 14, 2009 at 10:45 pm

      Yes, I know it sounds strange, but that is the legalese apparently and the term that is used.
      Thanks for the comment.


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