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.


3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by arwen_tiw on April 14, 2010 at 11:31 pm

    This all seems to me, basically, a traditionally Conservative approach to education – every indication that testing and measuring and over-regulation and standardisation are generally approved of, coupled with some nice meaningless politicking about choice. I wonder what in all of their above points mark them out from Labour’s policy even in their own eyes?


  2. Posted by Kim on April 13, 2010 at 10:53 pm

    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.


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