Yesterday’s Guardian contained several articles which highlighted how ‘family life’ issues will be central to decisions made in the next election. Some commentators are calling this a ‘Mumsnet’ election – meaning that decisive issues will include those most relevant to parents – and women.
Early years education should be somewhere near the top of this list. Not least because women in particular are over-represented at the school-and-nursery-gate as well as in the pre-school sector workforce.
But yesterday’s paper offered no analysis of the impact on parents, women, families and early years practioners of the Early Years Foundation Stage and EYFS Learning and Development Requirements. Why?
Firstly, I suggest – although the issues are straightforward – (there is a broad consensus for reform of the sixty-nine compulsory learning and development requirements – which includes the work around the petition I launched – see this link – and if you haven’t done so already, please consider signing…) – the matter is hedged about with government bureaucracy and “spin”. So much so, that I believe many parents (and journalists too) simply can’t see the wood for the trees.
There is also a lack of information and witness from the coal face of parenting . No-one appears to be documenting how parents and children themselves are experiencing the sixty-nine compulsory Early Years Foundation Stage Learning and Development Requirements.
Whilst I do NOT claim to speak for all parents (and would never presume to do so) – I believe this blog steps in to fill a void. For example:
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard people represent the view (both online, at the school, in the classroom and in person) that they know the EYFS learning and development requirements have their shortcomings (or are fundamentally flawed). People who express this view maintain the EYFS learning and development programme (including the learning and development requirements) is still “workable” because “we don’t do things like that here”. Meaning that dedicated practitioners are able to mitigate the potentially harmful and/or damaging effects of the EYFS compulsory learning and development requirements.
I doubt very much that this is possible. The government and local authorities sometimes give the impression each setting can interpret the framework and ‘facilitate’ learning in it’s own way. The government and local authorities maintain the framework allows for flexibility and protects the interests of the ‘unique child’ .
In practice however, the realities of life in the classroom or nursery tell a different story. How do I know this? Let me count the ways…
This week I opened my child’s school bag to find a three page document entitled:
“Notes for parents of children in Reception – Communication, Language and Literacy”.
In the public interest (and with names removed) – I have decided to publish this document here. I believe it clearly shows that children, teachers, child care practitioners are simply not in a position to escape the EYFS learning and development requirements straitjacket, however well-intentioned teachers and practioners might be, and however hard they try.
This document shows how a typical, committed and enthusiastic teacher might tackle the 69 EYFS learning and development requirements. It is not important that this document originates from a particular school. Since the EYFS is enforced everywhere (apart from those Steiner schools which have gained a partial exemption) – every nursery teacher will be forced to do this work, and produce a similar plan although of course they will each approach it in a different way.
The first page of this document looks like this: (readers can enlarge any of these documents by clicking on them. The text is clear enough to be legible):
Document photograph: Notes for Parents of Children in Reception. Communication, Language and Literacy. 13th. January, 2009
Here’s the second page:
Document Photograph. Communication, Language and Literacy: Notes for Parents of children in Reception. 13th. January, 2009
And the third.
Spellings, phonics and numeracy appear prominently in this document, taking up the first two pages. We are told “some children will be bringing home 3 or 4 words to learn each week…”
Parents are urged to ‘help their children learn the letter sounds’ using a three step method.
At this point I need to remind readers of our child’s age. Daughter is at present four years and four months old.
We are dedicated parents (with flaws, of course). Each night since she was about two without fail, we have enjoyed reading stories to our child. At least an hour every day and usually more. Other Half and Daughter do this together. They are currently giggling their way through extensive tracts of “The Hobbit”, “Pippi Longstocking”, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and the like. Most Saturdays we go to the public library. Babes loves her books.
She is progressing at her own pace. She is not of compulsory school age. On the very first day of school last September (as I think I mentioned before) we found a ‘reading record book’ in her school bag. We felt it was age-inappropriate and have now stopped stressing out about filling it in.
There is a lot to say about speech and language acquisition. Speaking two languages as I do I feel our daughter is getting along really well with this, but it is way too early to start on the programme that is being suggested in the document shown here.
The document tells us: “Some children will be bringing home 3 or 4 words to learn each week”. (Perhaps this measure will not include our child?).
But if she is not included, how is she going to feel? On page two we are told that “All of the children will be continuing to read independently each day and in their small independent reading groups on a weekly basis“.
What about those children who are nowhere near ready to “read independently”?
Page Two also tells us about “target words”. The government in their ‘spin’ has consistently avoided using the word “targets”. But on page two here is that word again, quite clearly expressed.
And then there is the “Super Spelling Time” mentioned on Page One of this document. At our parental exemption application meeting our local authority maintained that the EYFS learning and development requirements did not include the “testing” of children.
In the meeting my response to the local authority was that one could write whole Phd. dissertations about our understanding of testing. What’s important here I feel (as one blog reader commented) is that children know when they are being tested. Whether or not you present it to them as a test.
“Super Spelling Time” sounds like a well-intentioned attempt to get to grips with the sixty nine compulsory learning and development requirements of the Early Years Foundation Stage.
May I suggest though, that in reality it is nothing other than a spelling TEST.
Parents are told: “Children will have a go at writing the words/letter sounds that they have been practising with you at home“.
Our position is currently that our child is not ready to “practise words/letter sounds at home”. We will not be forcing her to do so. And I know from my communications with other parents across the country that we are not the only parents with this stance.
Yesterday I showed the documents to a retired early years practioner friend of mine. Her comments included the observation that a vast number of parents would not have the time or inclination to read it. She felt many parents would get the document, glance at it, feel overwhelmed and/or pressured – put it in a drawer and then hope the whole thing would go away…
“What is robot-talk?” my friend said “There’s no explanation here”. “What about those parents who themselves struggle with literacy, or for whom English is a second language?”.
As far as the term “phonics” is concerned – my own thoughts are of course I know some of the background to these systems myself, having taught adult literacy and gained a degree in German. But I also know there are different systems of phonics. More importantly there are criticisms of these systems too.
But it seems desirable ‘parental contributions’ in schools are now limited to fund-raising and baking cakes. We are not required to comment on how our children are being educated. The EYFS learning and development requirements are set in bureaucratic ‘educational’ stone. Until and unless government policy is changed. Here’s that petition link again.
A final observation about the document I’ve shown here. It shows a tiny portion of the huge swathe of paperwork necessary to uphold the EYFS learning and development requirements system.
Readers may recall that every single one of the governors at our school refused our parental exemption request.
Although I maintain that decision was morally unsound (they could have made a stand – come out of the closet for the sake of justice – they could have stood up to government pressure) – a part of me understands very well why some of them might have thought that granting a parental exemption was impossible. If it takes this much organisation and paperwork to uphold the sixty nine compulsory learning and development requirements – how much more paperwork would a parental exemption entail? But the thought of this just makes a further mockery of the so-called parental ‘right’ to exemption. It is no right at all. As yet no local authority or state school taken the risk of supporting a parental exemption. The system is a farce. The right exists on paper only.
I’m finishing this blog post now. It’s my birthday and I’m getting the ingredients ready to make a birthday cake with my daughter when she gets home.
I feel there are many more questions and issues to discuss around the documents that I’ve published today. So I’m throwing this open to you now, my readers.
I hope this blog post is useful and/or challenging for parents and early years practitioners alike. I’d be particularly interested to find out more about what other parents, (including parents of summer-born children) are experiencing. Do send me a message via the contact section. Please specify if you would like me to publish anonymously.