Archive for April, 2010

How much does the Early Years Foundation Stage cost to run?

 

With news of threatened nursery closures across the country – a series of financial questions spring to mind. How much did/does the Early Years Foundation Stage cost to set up and how much does it cost to run?

My thinking is: if the Early Years Foundation Stage Learning and Development Requirements and the Profiling are fundamentally flawed –  as the likes of Dr. Sebastian Suggate seem to be suggesting with his research – why are we still spending so much money on them? Surely this is money which could be channelled into saving child care settings and nurseries?

And indeed, where does this money come from? Where does it go? How much is spent on ‘consultancy’ and ‘materials’ for example?

Since the Early Years Foundation Stage was introduced – a whole industry has sprung up around it. Google ‘EYFS materials’ and you’ll find everything from specially designed computer programmes for measuring children with a software tick box system…to a list of books and guidance manuals that have been written to help parents, teachers and practitioners  ‘understand’ how to do the EYFS. There’s at least one specially designed magazine on the market.

It is notable that in the communication vehicles of these EYFS industries (websites/blogs/magazines) the writers and editors have often ceased to talk about the concept of ‘early years education’ at all. They tend to talk about the ‘Early Years Foundation Stage’ as if it were exactly the same thing as ‘early years education’.  

But it isn’t the same, is it? Education is education. Educational theories are many, varied and constantly changing. They are supposed to be informed by educational research and consensus between researchers.

The Early Years Foundation Stage is a political and administrative programme that is supposed to facilitate and strengthen early years education.  But it is not education itself – as many of these EYFS industrialists appear to think it is.

I wonder what our EYFS industrialists – (the ones who produce magazines – videos – theatre productions and training courses to support EYFS doctrines)  will do if the legislation changes. They may find themselves without an income. Wouldn’t it be wise for them to look ahead now to a possible change of direction?

And I believe the legislation will change, possibly as soon as May, with a new government – or a hung parliament. If you ask me the main motivation for the change will be – the need to save money in schools and nurseries.

See these Nursery World pieces for more  topical background – and here’s Dawn Primarolo our Children’s Minister peddling predictable New Labour Spin:

Opinion Minister’s View

Five Nurseries withdraw from funded places scheme

Threatened Nursery Schools Unite on funding plan

Open Eye Conference (June 12th.) and the Early Years Foundation Stage

As a family we’ve come a long way since we applied for and were refused a parental exemption to the learning and development requirements of the Early Years Foundation Stage legislation in our state-funded primary school.

It was back in August last year that I first became aware of the existence of the organisation Open Eye – the campaign for an Early Years Education. I wish I had known about them previously – it would have helped us a great deal when our daughter was younger (she is now four years and eight months old).

I’d discovered the Open Eye video directed by Fergus Andersen – which I’m posting again here. Some of the footage looks like it was shot at a previous Open Eye meeting and features parents’ views on the Early Years Foundation Stage Learning and Development Requirements and the Profiling.

I understand the video is now being used as a training tool in colleges and early years education settings. I have a vivid memory of the meeting in which we discussed our application for a parental exemption to the Early Years Foundation Stage Learning and Development Requirements. As I described in the archived blog post – the EYFS parental exemption meeting was attended by the then headmistress of our primary school at the time (together with the manager of the nursery unit attached to the school. Now we have a new headmaster – with a new approach).
 
The local authority representative was half an hour late at least – the headmistress was apologetic of course – being a trained teacher in adult education myself – I suggested we all spend the time watching the Open Eye video – which I felt was the best way of introducing the issues involved. So I managed to get the headmistress and the nursery manager to watch it. At the time I honestly thought that anyone who had seen it and taken in the issues, couldn’t help but act on what they were seeing. I was wrong.

Naively, perhaps, I expected them both to make some comment about it – if only to say how well crafted this film is. They didn’t. In fact, significantly they said nothing at all about it. Nothing at all.  I find that remarkable but indicative of the dangerous and restrictive power structures which some early years staff are experiencing.

In contrast I’m not usually prone to spontaneously bursting into tears – but I generally well up when I watch this video. Given what’s at stake, I think emotion is appropriate.

Regardless of what happened with the exemption process I’m really glad that our former headmistress and the nursery manager watched this video and that the three of us, myself, my Other Half and my child were there to witness it. Both the head and the nursery manager were made aware of criticisms of the EYFS learning and development requirements – in future neither of them will be able to say they didn’t know about the issues raised. 

Ultimately the government can no longer maintain there is no demand for parental exemptions to the EYFS learning and development requirements.

The Open Eye conference takes place on June 12th. in London and I’m very glad to say my ticket is secured. I’ve continued to engage with our daughter’s school and her dedicated nursery teacher in our state–funded school. Last week I handed in a note with the conference information on it and the suggestion that the school pay for someone to go to the conference. I doubt they will send someone but at least now they have the information.

So teachers, parents, nursery practitioners, specialists…look forward to seeing you there? Here’s the video I’ve talked about in this post – amongst other speakers it features Dr. Penelope Leach – Sue Palmer and a representative from the National Union of Teachers who explains how and why the children in her class will not be in a position to meet the (age inappropriate) EYFS-related targets for that year. There’s more to say about this year’s conference line-up but I’ll come back to that one.:

Are the Early Years Foundation Stage Learning and Development Requirements child (and parent) abuse?

The Miserable Snowman. Picture by Frances Laing. Model by Laing Jnr. Home made Bright Orange Play Pastry (with help from) Granny.

I spent half an hour on the phone this week being interviewed by a fellow journalist from a national newspaper.    

We talked about parental exemptions to the Early Years Foundation Stage Learning and Development Requirements.  Once again I was asked if we were the only parents in the U.K. to apply for and be refused an exemption to the Early Years Learning and Development requirements (in a state-funded school). I believe we are and I said so.    

No doubt some people would conclude that because no-one else has applied – that no-one else wants to – or indeed even that no other parents share our views about this system. I think that’s the reason why I keep getting asked that question. 

It’s a false assumption, I believe and I’m only just coming close to all the reasons why some parents might feel unable to apply in the first place, or indeed unable to even speak about how  they feel – and indeed how the opposition to this system is growing all the time as like-minded individuals continue to find each other and come together.   

After the newspaper interview, after hanging up the phone – I realised I must have sounded quite dispassionate about it all. I suppose I wanted to be clear about what I was saying, stick to the facts, avoid being stereotyped as an “over-sensitive” mother and all that stuff, you know. 

I was aware that the journalist I was talking to was young, and not a mother yet. Not that you have to be a mother to understand young children and their situation – but you do need a certain kind of empathy, I believe.  And becoming a mother (as a famous photographer said recently – I can’t remember her name) can give you a different and important perspective on humanity itself.  

In addition to facts, feelings also constitute a truth. And for small children they are a very basic truth. Love, good food, play, support and the sheer power of the imagination being amongst the things they seem to need most.    

Back in December – Sue Palmer talked to the Morning Star newspaper and described the pressure put on young children with the EYFS learning and development requirements as “state-sponsored child abuse”.  (scroll down to see the piece the Star site works like that)   

Sue used to work in support of the National Literacy Strategies and now acknowledges the NLS was going in the wrong direction and that the compulsory learning and development requirements of the Early Years Foundation Stage and the ways in which the government are putting pressure on children are detrimental to their well-being. I write this with a sense of admiration – although I’ve never even met Sue – to be part of something like that and then to admit that you were going in the wrong direction – and to come out in public and say so – takes some guts.  An image of my namesake (St. Francis) springs to mind at this point – a merchant seaman a militarist and a capitalist – who experienced the “Turning” and became the patron saint of ecology.    

At the time I read the Morning Star piece – I still felt Sue’s words were extreme (with all my criticisms of the Early Years Foundation Stage, the Learning and Development Requirements and the Profiling). Not now.    

In fact I’ve recently heard what is going on – being described as ‘parent abuse’. In the sense that parents are being encouraged and put under pressure to make children do and learn things – that are not only developmentally inappropriate for their children  – but where it not proven that they will be of any benefit in the long run. And where it is NOT proven that they will not cause harm.  “parent abuse” because parents should never be put in this position in the first place.  

The Precautionary Principle springs to mind. Caring thinking parents are surely on safe ground if we ‘don’t do anything that might conceivably be harmful to our children’. That’s a tough one too as we all make mistakes, get tired, irritable, overwhelmed…But even the harmful effects of ‘tired, irritable and overwhelmed’ surely do not equal the harmful effects of an insistence on a consistent, ubiquitous government policy which is not backed up by sound, educational research – something which in essence is based on a lie.  

And if elements of this untruthful and damaging system which has been imposed on us – really do constitute ‘parent abuse’ – then as with other types of abuse – of course it will take each one of us a long time to even figure out what is happening – and an even longer time before we feel able to act on what we know and have learned – before we reach that safer, happier and healthier place of change. “The echoes come slowly”  as T.S. Elliott wrote. Too slowly for us it seems, but they do come.  

My day-to-day observations about this tell me some parents (and some teachers) are quite simply in denial. Margaret Morrisey, of the organisation “Parents Outloud” has commented on this blog to the effect that parents are being “brainwashed”.  

In denial, perhaps for reasons I can understand. And others, don’t feel able to speak about it, for fear they might lose their jobs, for fear they might be bullied, ostracised, succumb to the parental peer pressure of the performance culture we are all exposed to – for fear their children might be the ones who don’t get invited to their classmates birthday parties…?  

But the number of testimonies emerging from distressed parents, teachers and early years practitioners is increasing. Consider this one, which has been anonymised:  

“One student from a nursery on the campus of ************* University said she had spent the previous month giving one-to-one ‘coaching’ to a just turned five-year old boy who had done ‘poorly’ in his profile assessment. The Local Authority had visited the setting and requested that he receive extra tuition. She said he had a ‘miserable month’ and she felt so guilty. She mentioned another young mother who was a student at the university and was visiting her every week in an absolute state because her four-year old son wasn’t making progress with his reading and writing”.  

Parents.  You know enough about taking responsibilities into your own hands. In the absence of effective action it is up to us to set our politicians, our headmistresses and masters, teachers and early years practitioners straight here and in doing so, contribute to changing this culture. Some of them really need to wake up to this quickly:  if a four or five year old can’t read or write yet – it really DOES NOT MATTER. They will catch up. They just need to be given a chance – without the constant pressure.  

And with a general election looming – it’s the perfect time to set our candidates straight with a vote for reform.  

But more than that. We need to question the whole notion of the “under-performing school”. The term is frequently used as a short-hand in the absence of any analysis of why a school is said to be “under-performing” (see Jessica Shepherd’s recent piece in the Guardian “What does the election hold for education policy”. ) and indeed in the absence of an analysis of the values and scales of measurement of the organisations and government departments  who are seeking to maintain they are “underperforming”.  

Historically we know governments have always sought to exercise control over education systems and many have gone to extreme lengths to issue propaganda to achieve these goals. I studied German history as a first degree – which included the study of Fascism and Education.  I speak fluent German, lived in Germany for ten years – experienced the fall of the Berlin wall and the aftermath. From these two very different perspectives – I lived and learned exactly what it means for a government and a political system to gain control over children in schools – why educational propaganda exists in the first place. As far as the Early Years Foundation Stage Learning and Development Requirements and the Profiling is concerned – it is highly significant to me that unless they choose to home educate – parents and children cannot escape from this system. 

Why not home-educate?, I was asked recently. That’s fine if that’s your choice and something you are in a position to do. But why should parents be forced into that situation when quality state education is not just an obligation but a human right? It’s something we pay for with our taxes, isn’t it? 

And so we fight for hope. For the truth. The picture, may I suggest, goes like this:  

The human and educational connections between the early years in childhood and young people’s later educational, vocational and academic achievements are not yet being drawn and emphasised strongly enough. On a basic level – we are using a system of measurement for our youngest children (the Early Years Foundation Stage Learning and Development Requirements and the Profiling) which has been criticised and discredited by international research. It is widely acknowledged that pushing children like this too early in life is likely to put them off education altogether. And it often does.  

It sounds incredibly simple  – but it seems this simple idea needs saying:  

One of the reasons why children don’t appear to be fulfilling their potential as people, and as individuals who learn well, with enthusiasm and throughout their lives – is not because they can’t read and write at five, or four, or that they are not being trained hard enough – it’s because they are being pushed too hard.    

This notion applies just as much to Sats as it does to the Early Years Learning and Development Requirements and the Profiling.  

And one of the reasons why so many give up on education or don’t do well later – is what happens to them in the early years.

Education, the election and the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS)

I’ve always said to my four year old child that education is a joy. Gordon Brown in contrast tells us it’s a “key election battle ground”. But if education has been reduced to the status of a political battle ground then the Early Years Foundation Stage is nothing less than political dynamite.
 
And I’m waiting for it to blow.
 
Shadow schools secretary Michael Gove is quoted in today’s “Guardian”  online. He is disparaging about Lib Dem policies and calls them  “eccentric”.
 Cameron says: “I choose to accentuate the positive and talk about what we will do and the leadership we’ll bring…”
(Picture: “Good Advice for the Government?” Frances Laing)
My views on this: the arrogance of some of these politicians is truly breathtaking. The word “policy” signals an intention after all. If we, the electorate are not to base our decisions on policies – what do they want us to base our decisions on? Personality? How nice the suits are that our three ‘political boys’ are wearing on election day?
Okay, we all know that policies are frequently modified and changed after the election. But they are, after all a public declaration of a party’s intention.
Every playground bully knows if you want to make your enemy feel small you try to marginalise them. Calling them “eccentric” is one way of doing that, isn’t it? 
The latest polls say the Liberal Democrats are in with a real chance. So now the knives are really out for Nick Clegg. The Liberal Democrat manifesto is the only one that at least acknowledges the need to reform and to ‘slim down’ the Early Years Foundation Stage. (See previous posts….).
 
Labour still upholds the misconception that the Early Years Foundation Stage curriculum and the learning and development requirements are “play-based” . 
 
I don’t believe this is the case. I base my beliefs not only on my own experience and observations as a mother, but also on the information I have gained using the Freedom of Information Act and material I have from parents, school and nursery practitioners across the country. 
 
Labour’s second major selling point for the Early Years Foundation Stage was supposed to be that it “ensured the same goals and principles are used in every form of childcare” – the evidence I have seen makes me think this is not the case.
Since much of New Labour’s credibility still depends on “education, education, education” – I guess the knives of New Labour’s  “spin” machine will be out for me too before long.
I’m ready.  
 
Comments from Open Eye members on the new OFSTED Supplementary Guidance in the latest Open Eye newsletter provide further enlightenment on these key issues:
Independent Consultant Margaret Edgington said:
 
 
“In the newly published OFSTED  Supplementary Guidance for inspectors of early-years settings, it is alarming that children are clearly now being expected to have reached all of certain (please note) non-statutory statements on the highly contentious Development Matters grids (see p. 14).
 This directly contradicts the EarlyYears Foundation Stage (EYFS) practice guidance booklet, where it states quite unambiguously that the development grids are ‘not exhaustive’ and ‘should not be used as a checklist’ (page 11).
 
 
It is of major concern that non-statutory grids are now being used to judge children both as individuals and as groups, and that OFSTED is now giving official guidance of this kind.
 One can only presume that they are ‘delivering’ what they know is the DCSF’s real intention, notwithstanding the reassuring rhetoric in the guidance booklet.
 
 
This ominous development confirms the Open EYE Campaign’s worst fears about the learning and development requirements of the EYFS framework, and the way in which they are actually being used as a developmentally ‘normalising’ device for very young children, thus directly contradicting the EYFS’s increasingly disingenuous looking claim that the framework also honours ‘The Unique Child’. 
 
 
We have heard from several nursery teachers who are having pressure placed on them by head teachers because the children in their classes are judged to have made insufficient progress, and they therefore need ‘to push them harder’. These children have commonly been in nursery class for just 1½ terms, are still only 3, are often learning English as an additional language, and still lack the confidence to speak to adults or join in with activities.
 
 
Pushing such children will merely generate further anxiety, leading these children to withdraw even more. In short, OFSTED inspectors using this new guidance may only make matters worse for such children. I see the distress on the faces of many of the practitioners I work with: I find it hard to believe that we have come to such a state of affairs, and I fear that neither of the major political parties will do what is necessary to rectify this situation.
 
 
However, practitioners are increasingly beginning to question the statutory learning goals and the development-matters statements, with the reality of their impact on the ground really beginning to hit home. To be clear, Open EYE is not, and never has been, ‘anti EYFS’ per se; but we are strongly against highly damaging age-related expectations and targets being set for such young children.”
University lecturer and Steiner teacher Dr Richard House and Montessori nursery owner Kim Simpson on this point:
 
 
“We have major concerns about the way in which the subtleties and complex qualities of children’s unique developmental paths are being summarised in crude quantitative ‘scores’, which are then used as the basis for practitioner ‘interventions’ and policy-making. This is tantamount to a normalising ‘audit culture’ mentality surreptitiously colonising the lives and very psyches of our youngest children, and in this regard it is chilling to read in the new Ofsted guidance that “‘The important comparison is whether children… have a scale score of six or more on each scale.’
 
 
A truly ‘toxic cocktail’ is then created, with this audit-driven ideology combining with the widespread and understandable focus on early-years settings obtaining an ‘Outstanding’ grading from Ofsted.
 
 
This in turn is having a strong impact on practice, with practitioners’ unquestioningly complying with what Ofsted is expecting, and the associated pedagogical practices.
 
 
With so much in the Early Years Foundation Stage being centrally stipulated in ‘grids’ and ‘scale points’, there is an insidious lack of basic trust in professionals’ competence that so easily generates such unthinking compliance, and which cannot but be dis-empowering and de-professionalising.
 
 
A reformed Early Years Foundation Stage framework needs unambiguously to emphasise the importance of ‘following the child’ and enabling children to develop healthy dispositions and attitudes as a first principle, and in a way that is not then directly contradicted by other aspects of the statutory framework.
 
 
More generally, it is becoming increasingly clear that there are effectively two quite distinct EYFS’s that are misleadingly being conflated into one – namely, one which offers ‘guidance’, and one which imposes ‘statutory goals’.
 
 
Much of the extant positive rhetoric about ‘the Early Years Foundation Stage’ non-discriminatingly refers to it as if it were  one unified framework, when in reality it manifestly isn’t.
 
 
 For whilst in reality, many practitioners would say they are in favour of the Early Years Foundation Stage guidance, at the same time those same people have major difficulties with the statutory framework.
 
 
Thus, for the DCSF to proclaim the alleged success of ‘the EYFS’ is grossly misleading, and amounts to cherry-picking just those ‘mom ‘n apple pie’ aspects of the framework with which no-one would take exception.
 
 
We believe that the relentless assessment of children, target by target, is threatening to destroy children’s deep sense of autonomy, at perhaps the only time in their young lives when they will have the opportunity to experience a profound sense of genuinely self-directed, relatively autonomous learning.”
 
My thoughts on this: For anyone who may still doubt that children under five are being exposed to such ‘targets’  – there are those (as yet uncharted) pieces of paper which pop up in school bags across the country…
 Here’s just one example (F.L): “Targets for Reception Class. Picture Frances Laing”.

 
 

Manifesto policies, finance and the Early Years Foundation Stage

“The big arguments about ‘Growth and a debt heading for £1.4 trillion by 2014’ went untouched. (One viewer’s verdict on the first ever televised-party-leader-election debate last night). Is this true?

The fantastic thing about this blog  is the number of parents, early years education practitioners (running into the hundreds now) and teachers who have contacted me with their views on this with regard to the Early Years Foundation Stage legislation. I’m hoping you’re all going to continue to carry on helping me out with information as I try to shine a torch into the very dark, huge cupboard that is Early Years Finances. I can’t see the whole picture yet. But what have we got so far people?

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Well. Leaving aside for one moment blatantly obvious and sensible ways of cutting costs (i.e. save 100 billion on Trident) – let’s look at where we  are standing right now and what some people fear if Labour loses the election. Many of us fear there will be cuts in important projects such as Sure Start.

Personally, I think whichever party gets in – there will be massive cuts in public services. Perhaps the most important job we can all do now is look beyond the election – think about what the money has been spent on so far – and analyse where money has been wasted. Maybe we need to er…prioritise? And I don’t think that means scrapping Sure Start.

For a long time – I have tried to quantify exactly how much the Early Years Foundation Stage programme has cost us. As a journalist this really isn’t an easy task. Tracking M.P’s expenses wasn’t easy either (as I’m sure my colleague Heather Brooke will confirm) – but in the end it boiled down to facts and figures and a set of accounts. The cultural and human cost of backing the much-criticised early years learning and development requirements is something we will probably never be able to quantify, of course. But we can try counting the monetary cost, can’t we?

Journalists who specialise in Early Years Politics are few and far between. I could speculate on the reasons for this. Maybe some journos don’t see it as real work – not like jetting off to a war zone. (Journos of this ilk have obviously never had to deal with a toddler tantrum).

 No seriously, a colleague once told me there aren’t many journos in this field – because the early years education sector is complex and really difficult to understand. That’s also my view and yet another reason for writing this blog. As a parent journalist – it felt ridiculous to me that my child was taking part in an education system that I didn’t understand in it’s entirety. I’m sure I’m not the only parent who feels like this. Do I digress? Or is that relevant for a blog called “A Parent’s Guide to the Early Years Foundation Stage”?

As detailed in previous blog posts – every parent has the right to see their child’s records. (See this post to find out what happened when I requested ours under the Freedom of Information Act). So any parent who wanted to look at their child’s records could do that. What parents will probably see if they do this (as I did) is a series of post-it notes (or similar – pieces of evidence) which are matched up to a large table of targets (the government prefers to call them requirements). Records and reports at the end of the year are the ‘result’ of this system of recording. Anyone disagree with me on this out there so far? Feel free to add enlightening comments via the comment link at the beginning of this blog post. Peer reviews welcome.

Many parents (like us) are counting costs too. Some parents need to get out to work  as soon as they can after their child is born. Some parents (like us) need to send their children to school at four. No ideological judgement on all this – by the way –  we’re in the middle of a recession, people need to eat and the bills need to get paid.

Parents may need the Working Family Tax Credit to get by. They may need the ‘free’ fifteen hours child care which many local authorities offer when their children are three.

As far as the election and the macro budget is concerned though – we need to know that this ‘free’ child care isn’t really ‘free’ at all as one early years practitioner pointed out in the comments box after my last blog post. Kim said:

“First the Labour Party, then the Liberal Party and now the Conservative Party make these idealistic claims that ‘they support the provision of free nursery care for pre-school children’.

The current ‘so-called’ nursery grant is for education and not just for ‘care’. However what politicians continue to fail to understand is that, however much rhetoric gets bandied about, nursery education is not currently ‘free’, any more than the Emperor wore clothes! For nursery education genuinely to be free, then the nursery education grant (NEG) would need to cover the cost to Providers of delivering nursery education, sufficient to enable them to remain financially viable.

With the NEG running at less than 50% of the amount required for high quality nurseries to remain in business, then it is disingenuous of any political party to claim that it is ‘free’.

With the current financial crisis it would be irresponsible if not impossible for government to cover the full cost of a nursery place, which means it is time for whoever forms the next government to come clean; own that the NEG is a subsidy only (not free) and suspend the new Code of Practice which bans the charging of ‘top-up-fees’ by private, voluntary and independent nurseries.

Many nurseries are closing, or considering closure for these very reasons and the very thing which Labour have so vociferously claimed for years ‘high quality nursery education for all’ is in real danger of collapsing.”

On the very first day my child went to school – nine months ago – I wore a sweatshirt about this blog. I wondered how other parents and carers would react. I was pleasantly surprised when a nursery provider came up to me and congratulated me for wearing it. See this post: Since then I’ve exchanged a few words with this gentleman at the school gate and we’ve talked a little about how expensive the Early Years Foundation Stage has been. But last time I spoke to this person – I’m not sure I really understood what he was saying.

Does all this mean that nursery providers have to stump up fifty per cent of the cost of implementing the Early Years Foundation Stage programme? Said gentleman and I had a conversation about how expensive the implementation of the Early Years Foundation Stage Profiling was. The nursery provider reckoned that spending money on that – was taking away money that could be spent on children who really needed it. Does that make sense to anyone else?

 Because it makes sense to me…it confirms what I’ve been thinking about the elements of the Early Years Foundation Stage i.e. the learning and the development requirements and the profiling – basically that they were (and are) a huge, expensive,  party-political PR stunt that had little if any real benefits for young children.

Back (or forward) to Sure Start. If the EYFS learning and development requirements and the profiling are reformed, modified or even abolished – won’t that mean that more funding is available to uphold existing and much-needed Sure Start projects? (Or is that point such a blindingly obvious and necessary one that it hasn’t occurred to any of the party leaders?)

Read this archived blog post for views on Why Sure Start is failing to deliver on it’s promises

The Liberal Democrat Manifesto on the Early Years Foundation Stage.

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For a while there, I was dreading having to write that none of the three major political parties of Britain had mentioned the EYFS (The Early Years Foundation Stage) in their election manifestos. And then Nick Clegg surprised me with “Change that works for you”.

I listened to the audio version of the Liberal Democrat Manifesto today. It’s about an hour long. The Lib Dems start by making it clear this is a policy document for Westminster. Of course Wales and Scotland determine their own policies on education. That’s very relevant to debates on Early Years politics as the Welsh version of the EYFS is very different from the English one (the Welsh one is more progressive).

This is what the Lib Dems have to say about the EYFS:  (Standards and the Curriculum section)

“We will replace the bureaucratic Early Years Foundation Stage with a slimmed down framework which includes a range of educational approaches and enough flexibility for every young child”.

There you have it. FINALLY an acknowledgement from one of our political parties that the EYFS as it stands is NOT working. I’ll be picking my child up from school today with fresh hope in my heart. Even if they don’t get in to government – the issue has been firmly placed in the political arena at last.

You can find a full explanation of Lib Dem policy on education at this link:

Complete Liberal Democrat manifesto Scroll to 40:50 minutes to hear the section on curriculum and “A better education”.

The election. The Conservative manifesto on education and schools. Early Years Foundation Stage?

Early Years Monsters. Election battles 2010. Picture by Frances Laing

I’ve pledged to examine the party manifestos each day this week with relevance to the Early Years Foundation Stage and the much-criticised EYFS compulsory sixty-nine learning and development requirements – which are in danger of putting the under fives at risk of ‘teaching-to -the-test’.

Today it’s the Tories turn. It’s half past ten and the Tory manifesto itself hasn’t been launched yet, so I’m looking at the draft first. It’ll be interesting to see which points are present or missing in the final version later in the day…

Having looked through the draft manifesto in it’s entirety – I can find no direct mention of the Early Years Foundation Stage legislation. I therefore conclude – that like the Labour Party – the Conservatives are avoiding the subject. Neither acknowledging the extent of the mess now made of early years education nor how they plan to clear it up. It’s too much of a hot potato, politically speaking.

Early Years education in general seems to crop up in two sections in the draft manifesto:

2.2. ” A Rigorous Curriculum and Exam System” and
2.11 “Helping Families to Balance their Lives”

Here are the Tories key pledges (my numbering)

1) Promote the teaching of systemic synthetic phonics and ensure teachers are properly trained to teach using this method (2.2. draft manifesto)

2) To provide parents with the reassurance they need that their child is making progress, we will establish a simple reading test at the age of six

3) We will overhaul the Key Stage Two tests and make exams more robust and rigorous by giving universities and subject academics more power over examinations…

4) A Conservative government will reform school league tables so that schools can demonstrate they are stretching the most able and raising the attainment of the less able. We will publish all performance data currently kept secret by the DCSF…

5) We will establish a free online database of exam papers and marking schemes so that parents, teachers and academics can see for themselves how exams have changed.

6) (From 2.1.1 Helping Families to balance their lives)
“We support the provision of free nursery care for pre-school children and we want that support to be provided by a diverse range of providers – including the many childminders and private, voluntary and independent nurseries which are currently being squeezed out of the system..In government we will review the way the child care industry is regulated to ensure that no provider is put at a disadvantage.

My comments on the above points:

1) Can’t see anything wrong with this system of phonics teaching as such – although some educationalists would disagree with me here. It isn’t the only system for teaching phonics I understand, so I’d be interested to know why the Tories have homed in on this one in particular. Makes sense that teachers have training here.

2) Reading test at the age of six? That’s new. I’m unclear as to why they have chosen this age. Since the Tories don’t say whether they will reform the Early Years Foundation Stage or not in their manifesto – we simply don’t know at present whether the reading test will be an additional measuring tool or whether it will operate instead of Early Years Profiling and the learning and development requirements. In that sense and without some clarity about whether or not the Tories are keeping the EYFS this point is meaningless.

3) Overhaul the Key Stage Two tests? Once again, no clarity. They don’t explain how or whether this means they will abolish them entirely.

4) There are many problems with school league tables and teachers involved in the Sats boycott will know about them first hand. In my view there are parallels between Sats and the EYFS system of profiling.

Both systems require teachers to show that children have ‘improved’ under their care. I believe such performance pressure can lead to the manipulation of data on pupil’s ability. Albeit unintentional perhaps…I suspect with Sats AND the EYFS that children are sometimes recorded as having fewercapabilities initially – schools and nurseries can then show through their stats later how much they have ‘improved’ in the school year – institutions will then look good in the league tables. Is that what we understand by ‘education’?

6) Once again the Tories stop short at saying that it is the overly bureaucratic EYFS learning and development requirements and the EYFS profiling that have ‘squeezed’ providers out of the system. Is their pledge to ‘review the way the childcare industry is regulated’ a pledge to reform or abolish the EYFS? We all need to know the answer to this question!

There’s a lot more to say about this, but I’d like to get this blog post published and check in with the final version of the Tory manifesto later in the day…

Update: The final version of the Conservative Manifesto doesn’t differ markedly from the draft as far as education is concerned so I’ve left the above comments in place.