Parental ‘choice’ and Early Years Education

Sanity. September 2009

There’s some truth in the statement that I write to save my life. I don’t mean this blog is therapy. It isn’t. I write partly to understand the structures I encounter on a daily basis with my family. To draw conclusions and to deal with them.

In one sense – this is understandable. There are so many ethical issues to navigate when you write about something which affects your own child.  Few parents have the capacity (or the child care) to cope with juggling journalism and a baby or toddler. Few parents would dare to write openly about their own school. Why not? That’s an interesting question too – and one I’ll come back to…

The  fact that I’m on the coalface puts me and my writing in a very important space, I believe.  As far as I can see, there is a great deal of writing about the theory of ‘Early Years Education’ but much less (or nothing at all?) about the day-to-day realities of living with the system.

If no one (or very few people) are writing about these realities – then vast swathes of people’s experiences are made invisible. They are effectively silenced.

Blogging as a medium is a precious thing. Some people don’t see it as ‘proper journalism’ (although I think this view is much more common in the U.K than it is in the U.S.). There’s no doubt that in order to blog well and hold a reader’s attention  – you need good creative skills. So far this blog is holding up. I started it in early August. It’s been running for a mere two months and already we’re talking getting on for two thousand viewers a month.  Some of these readers are local. Some are national. And some are international. It’s not enough.

When I first heard the Early Years Foundation Stage Learning and Development Requirements being described as ‘totalitarian’ I considered this to be a gross exaggeration. (Totalitarian is the word Steve Biddulph – internationally renowed Early Years Expert uses). He has been a psychologist for thirty years at least. He describes reading about the Early Years framework with a sense of horror. See this short video:

 I lived in Germany for ten years and I (still) speak fluent German. I saw the wall come down (that’s twenty years ago now). I studied German history. So the phrase ‘totalitarian’ means something serious and important to me.

 I understand that one of the hallmarks of totalitarian regimes is the complete control of an education system. Complete control of our children (political, financial and cultural) from a very early age – and complete control of their parents – both cultural and economic control.

So I return to the title of this blog post. In the current system – there is no such thing as parental ‘choice’. I have documented the parental exemptions process for the Early Years Foundation Stage Learning and Development Requirements. As I’ve said: it is a farce and nothing but a tragic piece of theatre.

The government is telling parents they have a ‘choice’ of school and a choice of whether or not they participate in the Early Years Foundation Stage Learning and Development Requirements. Once again I understand now – this is the ‘Hobson’s choice’ offered by a totalitarian regime.

In this country we are currently facing a severe recession. How many parents can afford the ‘choice’ of foregoing paid work and waiting until their child is five years old before sending them to school or nursery? (This is the only way we currently have of avoiding the EYFS framework).

If the EYFS Learning and Development requirements are compulsory in every setting (except the few Steiner settings which have managed to secure a settings exemption) – where is the choice exactly?

I’d like to describe some fairly basic, factual aspects of our school. I am fairly certain it is a typical school in England, so they are nothing unusual.

We do not appear to have any sort of functioning parent-teacher association. It is not advertised on notice boards and not active on Open days or parent-teacher meetings. As far as I can see this effectively means parents have no decision-making power at all at our school.

Of course – we are given forms whereby we can volunteer to ‘help’ at the school, undertaking jobs as diverse as handing out the library books for the children or helping out in the school office. But there appears to be no democratic forum at all which enables us to voice our opinions or beliefs about our children’s education. Should I be surprised?

My husband and I attended a parent’s planning meeting last night. Half an hour. Mainly logistical points about what to bring to school, what our book bags are for – and then – what we would be doing in the next six months as far as reading is concerned – a description of the Phonics system and a hand out. Space for short questions. (Five or ten minutes for thirty sets of parents). I asked about the provision for left-handedness and right handedness.

My child comes home three times a week with a different reading book in her bag. She is four years and two months old. A fellow journalist remarked recently: they didn’t understand this at all – she is not of an age where she has to undergo compulsory schooling…

No mention of the criticisms of using Phonics at all – or any recognition of what happens to children when they are exposed to ‘Too Much Too Soon’. Of course, stupid me – totalitarian regimes don’t allow you to disagree…do they?

Totalitarianism aims for cultural (and economic) control. Some parents at the meeting we went to actually believe it is commendable for children to conform to the sixty-nine compulsory Learning and Development targets. They’re concerned and want to help their children ‘measure up’.

With a sense of tragedy I’m realising they’re not the only parents in the country who’ve swallowed government propaganda wholesale.

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