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”.

 
 
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