Archive for March, 2010

A parent’s guide to the Early Years Foundation Stage. Early Reading.

It’s been eight months since I began blogging about the Early Years Foundation Stage. My daughter is now four years and seven months old –  it’s the Easter school holidays – a chance to consider this journey.

Once again I’ve been contacted by a national newspaper – I’ve agreed to do a telephone interview in two weeks time – depending on news priorities the feature in question may or may not see the light of print. Off and on I’ve been wondering what I’m going to say, of course. I like to interrupt these blog posts with a picture. This one is suitably surreal:

[picapp align=”none” wrap=”false” link=”term=easter+bunny&iid=4361948″ src=”c/6/f/c/PicImg_Easter_Preparation_4f29.jpg?adImageId=11907220&imageId=4361948″ width=”500″ height=”344″ /]

Parenting doesn’t come with a set of instructions, does it? We all go through times when we doubt ourselves – I’m no exception. Most parents have an eventful time when their daughter starts school. As a mother, mine was particularly eventful as it marked nothing less than the start of a campaign to change the entire early years education system. Although I never really intended it to be a ‘campaign’ as such. It just evolved that way. 

The year before I had done NUJ training with Heather Brooke – to learn more about the Freedom of Information Act (you may not know, reader that it was Heather who broke the M.P’s expenses story) and I’d also completed NUJ training on new media and blogging. So it was natural that I was going to apply both sets of skills to my own situation and look at the story which presented itself in my own life. The early years story.

I left the NUJ training with Heather Brooke feeling as if she was really brilliant but that I could never measure up to her and could never achieve anything like what she has achieved. Uncovering the M.P’s expenses scandal was crucial in understanding the weaknesses in our democracy. It is safe to say that government will never be the same again.

At first glance and compared to the M.P’s expenses scandal – this ‘early years story’ may seem uneventful. It’s punctuated by the tedium of daily parental chores. The picking up of socks. Providing a home. Checking that teeth are cleaned, that your child gets to nursery on time. Most of this is still women’s work. How many dads do you see at the school/nursery gate?

But do you know what? In terms of what humanity, the media and democracy are supposed to be about – this ‘Early Years Story’ is more important than the M.P’s expenses scandal – for one very good reason. 

Of course we need to look at our M.P’s behaviour not  least because M.P’s are influential. But in Early Years we’re talking about children.  Children who are so young they simply cannot defend themselves against foolish policies or political expediency. It is so simple – but children ARE the future. Get it wrong in the early years and you can damage their future beyond repair.

There were many times when as a parent, I questioned the validity of my own actions. I’ve held on tight to what I instinctively thought was best for my child and what I believe to be the truth. Despite what I was being told by some so-called early years “professionals” in my immediate vicinity. Despite being slated by the “Mumsnet mafia”. Of course negative “parental peer pressure” can damage you and your family – if you let it – and we all risk facing it every time we stand at the school gate. (Although in my case and mostly – I’ve met with supportive comments there).

From where I’m standing right now – and whilst I don’t want to give the impression I’m trying to speak for all parents – maybe it took someone in my position to give voice to this particularly experience. The experience of being the mother of a small child who disagrees with current Early Years policies. Until I started this blog the experience remained undocumented.

So like matching up socks I’ve put one foot in front of the other – writing one blog post after another. Day by day.

It’s quite clearly what they call a niche blog still. With some cynicismI know , I’m not writing about a highly marketable subject like sex – I’m not blogging about a subject that produces the key words to fire up the Google search engine.

Journalists have been interested in why there haven’t been any other parents to date who have applied for a parental exemption. Some draw the (false) conclusion that the opposition to the EYFS learning and development requirements is a minority concern. I would offer the following explanation:

When you have a child your life changes dramatically. You cope with a baby (or two, or three?) and try to juggle baby, job and home life. You may not know much about the early years education system and the early years go so fast – you don’t have time to learn as much as you would like.

 Your life is well, interrupted. In the early years you’re very lucky if you get short spaces of time to yourself. Time to read, reflect consider. Parents like me have to get on with it. We sometimes muddle through.

In this sense we are at the mercy of any ill-advised policies that the government and commerce wants to throw at us. And we are quickly blamed when things go wrong.

But the blame for this particular education mistake lies squarely with the government.

 As I’ve mentioned before, we have ignored the homework that is sent home with our child. We read interesting books aloud (and not the boring reading books which appear in our child’s school bag). Doing this felt risky at times – were we doing the right thing?

Well. YES. Read Sebastian Suggate’s letter in Nursery World this week (my own letter was included last week). Sebastian conveyed some of the  important findings in his research namely:

“It is highly unlikely that children’s language is improved by reading, until they are in their fourth or fifth year of school, simply because the richness of language found in books that young children read is inferior to what they could obtain from oral discourse. Social confidence and pleasure can be gained in many ways during childhood – without touching a book. If social confidence is undermined by not reading early, then that must be the fault of the educators and parents more than the child”

To read Sebastian Suggate’s letter in full follow this link: Early Reading 

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Woman’s Hour on home education today

Woman’s Hour on home education today. Listen at this link:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/womanshour/02/2010_12_mon.shtml

Letter of the week in Nursery World

I’m letter of the week in Nursery World this week. Thanks to everyone who has written in with comments on this blog. To read the letter, follow this link:

http://www.nurseryworld.co.uk/news/990518/Opinion-Letters/?DCMP=ILC-SEARCH

And here’s the copy itself:

LETTER OF THE WEEK

EYFS EXEMPTION

‘I am keen to learn from the experience of those at the sharp end,’ writes David McVean, new Director of Curriculum Development QCDA, in his letter about the exemption process from the EYFS (4 March).

Okay, David. To my knowledge, we are the only parents in a state-funded school to have applied (and been refused) what they call a ‘parental exemption’ to the Early Years Foundation Stage Learning and Development Requirements.

We applied last August, with the ‘cogent set of beliefs’ demanded by the Government. (I am a Quaker and my other half is an atheist). I also documented our application and the entire process on a popular grassroots blog at http://www.parentsguidetoeyfs.wordpress.com.

Disappointing, David, that you feel comforted by the ‘tight’ timeframe and the fact that ‘an applicant is only exempt once a decision is made by the Secretary of State’.

Our feelings as parents and as a family, put bluntly, are as follows.

The parental exemptions process is a farce and an infringement of the human rights of any child.

Any parent who looks up to, trusts or relies solely upon the advice (and spin) of the Government or Secretary of State to ‘educate’ their child is, in our opinion, in a very sorry state indeed.

For reasons of political expediency, the Government is unable to admit that the EYFS learning and development requirements are, educationally speaking, a huge mistake. Soon after the election they will be changed, but too late for many of our children.

Our child started school at just over four years. In the first week she was sent home with homework in her school bag. We have enjoyed reading together from an early age but wholly reject the developmentally unsound EYFS targets the Government has tried to impose on us. So, for the past six months, homework has stayed in the school bag. Since she is of non-compulsory school age, we see no reason why we should do it.

The school, thankfully, has at last realised that as a family we are not gullible enough to swallow Government propaganda about EYFS profiling. Last week our daughter won a prize at school for best portrayal of a character from a storybook. Aged just four, she chose Pippi Longstocking.

David, to use a well-worn but still effective phrase, ‘we weren’t born yesterday’! Stop your ‘spin’. Like Pippi, the many movements to abolish the EYFS compulsory learning and development requirements and the profiling are now strong enough to lift a horse with one hand.

Frances Laing, http://www.parents guidetoeyfs.wordpress.com

– Letter of the Week wins £30 worth of books

20,000 Families live in destitution in the U.K. Children and Young People Now

I’ve just come across this Children and Young People Now online article which describes the situation of many young people in the U.K. who are in families where care givers are seeking asylum. The piece also features responses from the U.K. Borders Agency.

Children and Young People Now. Asylum Seeker families and Destitution

What is the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile?

What is the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile? And what is it for exactly? Good questions aren’t they? At the end of this blog post I’ll be including links to explanations offered by the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Authority. But right now – I’m staying with what parents think. Some of this is speculation of course.

Speculation – because – I suspect the average parent simply does not know. And this is a problem in itself. We don’t know and don’t understand not because we’re stupid but – may I suggest – because the whole system is too complicated and doesn’t make sense in educational terms. Correct me if I’m wrong, people. Disagree. Your views in the comments box please.

Just to show you what I mean and without reference to official sources – I’m going to have a go at providing an off-the-cuff explanation myself. After all, if I, a mother and journalist am having trouble understanding it (and the rationale for it) then heaven help any other parents who don’t get the chance to blog about it.

Here we go. Well. When your child turns five at the end of the school year (if they attend school) – you the parent can expect to receive a piece of paper with some scores on it – or possibly words written down – which are an attempt to measure your child’s achievements. You can expect to receive this at the parent’s evening.

I’ve forgotten how many goals there are. But you can check the QCDA links that I’m including at the end of this blog post if you like. I’ve forgotten how many goals there are – because I don’t bring up my child thinking ‘oh, I wonder if my child has met such-and-such-an-EYFS goal this morning’. I don’t think the number of goals really matters very much in human terms but if you really want the references I’ll put them in at the end of the post.

With a child aged four and half we will be due to attend parent’s evening soon once more. This will be a challenge for me. Not because I’m worried about how my child is doing. Because I think this system of measuring is a load of old cobblers. I fluctuate between feeling extremely sad that such a thing exists – and wanting to cry (which I did last time – I found the whole thing so upsetting) and wanting to laugh out loud because it is such a ridiculous way of going about things – and as a parent quite often I just can’t take it seriously.

 For lots of reasons. Here are some of them. I’m going to ask you a question now, reader…

Have you heard of the term ‘added value’? Come on, what do you think it means? Well here is one explanation from the field of higher education. No, don’t follow the link  now, I need you to stay with me – if you don’t things will get even more complicated.

Well, adding value as far as I can see, is supposed to mean – showing that someone has learned something. Schools and nurseries need to show that because otherwise in the current climate the government wouldn’t give them any money. As far as I can see – that’s how the system works.

But that isn’t how children work, is it? Children, especially young children are reassuringly anarchic, for one thing. Hang on, I need to stick to the subject here…

Added Value. This basically means – your child starts off at nursery at a certain age. Then they learn things. You can’t tell exactly where they are learning things, though. That’s the anarchic bit. They might be learning them at home. They might be learning things in nursery – they might be learning things when you take them to Granny’s or the corner shop. It might be a combination of all these things.

But, for the purposes of the Early Years Foundation Stage Learning and Development Requirements, the Early Years Profile Assessments, the Profile itself. You need to show ADDED VALUE you need to be able to show that the child in question learned the things you are talking about in the school or the nursery you are talking about. Get it?

That’s why before your child goes to school, and when they finish nursery there are issues with a report. With our child this happened at the age of three. This rep0rt may bear very little resemblance to the child itself. But the setting needs to show and explain what they think the child needs to learn.  Otherwise there would be no progress and no added value. Get it?

From practical experience I can say that the report issued at age three bore little resemblance to the child that I knew. (See previous blog posts). My child’s perceived shortcomings were identified in it though. Although they didn’t use that word. At the time I wrote a hefty letter about it – as I knew the report would accompany my child to school. I believed my child was a confident and sociable child (at age three)  – but the report indicated otherwise.  I was told they could only write about ‘what they could see’. Mmmm.

I feel I understand what is happening with this now. From an institution’s point of view – schools and nurseries are forced, from necessity to identify developmental ‘goals’ (or whatever it is they call them). If they didn’t – they would not be able to show that a child has ‘learned something’. They wouldn’t be able to show the ‘added value’ that secures their funding.

It’s my belief that the Early Years Foundation Stage system puts staff and parents in danger of coming to the wrong conclusions about their child’s learning.

But the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Authority think differently. If you think this blog post has been difficult to read – test the transparency of the QCDA’s explanations. I dare you.

QCDA on the question What is the EYFS profile? (note this page is filed under the heading tests and examinations – as parents we were always told there was no testing in the EYFS)

QCDA on the Early Years Foundation Stage practitioner’s responsibilities