Education. The ‘election battleground’ and the Early Years Foundation Stage.

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After having dropped my four-and-a-half-year-old off at nursery today I met with news of the Labour Party manifesto launch in Birmingham. 

Gordon Brown has told the Times Educational Supplement education is a ‘key election battleground’. The Labour Party want to conquer ‘middle England’…hey wait a minute. That’s us they’re talking about, isn’t it?

I’m taking the three party manifestos in turn and highlighting key points – through the prism of the Early Years Foundation Stage and the much criticised compulsory sixty-nine EYFS learning and development requirements.  

On the way I’m going to bear something in mind. Jessica Shepherd of ‘The Guardian’ wrote about the Sats boycott last week:  There were some interesting reader responses online. Among them Bruyere’s comment:

” I am not sure there is open and honest debate in schools on this matter. I think many of my colleagues are reluctant to criticise the system in which we work and its effects. Equally, parents are not engaged politically with the issues in education and most are concerned with knowing and understanding the progress of their own child rather than how teaching to the test could be failing them. There is a lack of engagement with these issues and a tacit acceptance that change is impossible. In fact the only time schools are really in the headlines is during school closures! Why is this essential article tucked away at the tail end of the online paper? It should be right at the top in the headlines, a main issue for debate between the parties particularly at this crucial pre-election stage”.

 Quite right, Bruyere! As an aside, (almost!) of course the election is, amongst other things –  a feminist issue – because women are still responsible for the bulk of domestic work and housework. We still provide most of the child care on offer, especially in the early years. I’ve posed the question before – how many dads or male carers do you see regularly on the school run? The majority of child minders are women. Female workers are over-represented (and often badly paid) in nurseries and primary schools. And to top it all –  not one of the major parties has seen fit to put a woman forward for the post of PM.

So as our  three lads (Gordon, Dave and Nick) start to slug it out  –  they can’t escape a simple fact. Mothers are still prime movers (and shakers) in the education and upbringing of our children. Ignore the lionesses at your peril, boys.

I’ve yet to look at the one hundred page Labour party manifesto in full in great detail. I used to be a member. First started canvassing for them when I was fourteen years old – (thirty years ago). Labour politics had always been part of the family. My father was a labour councillor for thirty years. I found myself at one stage on a North Wales constitutency party branch. But the war on Iraq changed all that. I just couldn’t stomach the lies. I digress.

 From the policy content previews I’ve managed to get hold of – I understand Labour makes no direct mention of the Early Years Foundation Stage legislation. Instead they say:

“From September 2008 we introduced a play-based early learning framework designed to help teachers and professionals in all schools, nurseries, children’s centres and registered childminders give children the best possible start in life”.

Note the attempted re-branding of the Early Years Foundation Stage and the learning and development requirements as a ‘play-based’ curriculum – a description that many early years researchers and practitioners would disagree with. The attempted re-branding is clever though. Does the Labour Party suspect they will be forced to reform the Early Years Foundation Stage learning and development requirements? Is this the reason why the EYFS is not being mentioned by name in the manifesto? So that if Labour win (or lose) they can argue in future they have always backed a ‘play-based’ curriculum? My own feeling is that if they come into power they will scrap the EYFS entirely. The system (and in particular the profiling) is simply too expensive.

If you look carefully at the Labour link page, you’ll find other policy issues relevant to the under fives, their parents and their carers:

The Labour Party: Supporting Families and the Early Years

None are more significant to this blog than the question of summer-born children. This policy document tells us:

“We will offer parents, particularly those of summer born children the choice of when their child starts primary school. In the September after the child turn four the parents will be able to choose from either 25 hours free childcare or starting school.”

This issue continues to be a ‘battleground’ for us as a family. It’s not an academic issue for us- because our child IS ‘summer-born’. The above paragraph creates the impression that Labour will be offering a choice for parents. Of course the ‘choice’ is no ‘choice’ at all – since the EYFS learning and development requirements (which are now criticised and discredited by international research) apply across the board. There is no escape from their potentially negative consequences unless you home educate. Don’t send your child to school until they are five and as things stand you will still face the EYFS learning and development requirements at childminders and nurseries – except in the very few settings that have succeeded in gaining a settings exemption. 

  Link to Times Educational Supplement article: Gordon Brown tells the “Times Educational Supplement” education is a ‘key election battleground” (includes list of the “ones that got away” – the education policies that were lost to party-political horse trading”).

Read the 100 page Labour Party manifesto here – see page 25 for early years policies


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Frances Laing on April 12, 2010 at 6:16 pm

    Oh – great comment Arwen. You’ve hit the nail on the head I feel – “certain that they wouldn’t say so at this stage lest everyone else laugh at them for starting the whole mess in the first place – but certainly would be an obvious cost cutting exercise and it’s good to see them being wary about how they speak of it!”

    It’s the conservatives who launch tomorrow, so over the next few weeks, as you say, we shall see.
    Best to you


  2. Posted by arwen_tiw on April 12, 2010 at 6:07 pm

    An interesting read as always!

    I have to say, I would be very interested in whether Labour really would downgrade OR scrap the EYFS if they were in power for another term – part of me doubts it, and is CERTAIN that they wouldn’t say so at this stage lest everyone else laugh at them for starting the whole mess in the first place – but it certainly would be an obvious cost-cutting exercise and it’s good to see them being wary about how they speak of it!

    Looking forwards to reading more of your thoughts on how education is being dealt with in the following weeks – and hoping, of course, that it really is. You are so right about the lionesses…


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