The Early Years Foundation Stage, Sats testing and the Sats boycott

Mobile phones, walkie-talkies and a witch. Drawing by Laing Jr. Aged four years and eight months.

Why should those who oppose SATS testing consider signing the EYFS parliamentary petition I initiated? I’ve been asked to put together some background on this, so  here are some FAQs and hopefully useful links: (regular blog readers – I risk repeating myself here, I know). 

Q. Why sign? 

A. The wording of the petition has been carefully formulated. It represents a consensus of many early years practitioners who have accompanied and guided this blog from the early days.  This blog is now read by academics in the field on an international level – and I hope they would be quick to point out any factual inaccuracies or misconceptions in my writing and/or in the formulation of the petition. The ethics of blogging demands that I leave in place anything that I write here, save for minor changes and typo amendments – but updates and comments can be added should new information emerge. 

 Being the editor of a blog is particularly challenging – you don’t have a sub-editor on hand to correct your mistakes – in that sense it’s more difficult than working on a national newspaper. It does have one big advantage though. Skilled bloggers can write (and act) fast. We can dismantle what Nick Davies calls Flat Earth News. We can even sidestep vested interests and mainstream news agendas. We can break new ground and write material the dailies wouldn’t dare to print. 

So I’m getting this blog post out as soon as I can – incomplete as no doubt it is – the coalition government has just been formed at Westminster. We have a huge window of opportunity to influence future policy and the lives of our little ones for the better. 

The petition demand is this: 

“We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to change the sixty-nine compulsory Early Years Foundation Stage Learning and Development Requirements (targets applied to children from birth to five in nurseries, schools and other early years settings) to recommendations and guidelines only.” 

Perhaps the most important word in this sentence is the word compulsory. The learning and development requirements are statutory – unless settings gain an exemption ( a complicated and difficult process) – all settings be they nurseries, childminders or Sure Start centres – are obliged to conform to this legislation.  To my knowledge, no parents at all have succeeded in gaining what is called a “parental exemption” in a state-funded or private school. We believe we are the only parents in the U.K. to have applied and been refused a parental exemption in a state-funded school (the process was the impetus to start this blog and if you look back at the postings you will see I have documented this process in detail). 

Not particularly radical. We (a grassroots movement of parents, practitioners and academics originating in the internet community) hoped it was something that most people could agree with. We’re not asking for the learning and development requirements to be abolished, we’re not even asking for them to be reformed (although many of us hope that they will be) . The petition simply asks for them to become ‘guidance only’. Many of us felt that this simple, immediate first step would go a long way to protecting small children from such extensive performance pressure – and perhaps pave the way to more constructive change. 

Q. What is the connection between SATS testing and the Early Years Foundation Stage learning and development requirements? 

A. This is startlingly simple – and at the same time, very complicated

I’m going to talk in plain English first – and then throw in a few fairly high-brow academic references. I trained as a teacher in Adult Education (P.G.C.E) and became interested in Early Years Ed when I had my first child nearly five years ago. 

I had been trained in what they call “reflective practice”. In short this means you become aware of what you know – and what you don’t know – and then add to this knowledge using the best available information and research. You are constantly reflecting, learning and updating what you do. 

This was also my approach to being a parent, and still is. I wanted the best information and the best research for my practice and to help me do the toughest job on the planet. Being a parent

At the beginning, and rather naively – I suppose – I trusted the then (Labour) government that it would do the same thing in our education system. That it would follow best, reflective practice in early years education. 

To my horror, I realised the then government was ignoring an important international research consensus which is now ‘fronted’ by Dr. Sebastian Suggate and others (if that is, consensus can be ‘fronted’ by anyone…). Dr. Suggate will be speaking at a conference in London in June – if you’re an early years practitioner and/or a parent or other interested party – there’s still time to get there and hear him. I’ll be there too. You can read a short description of Dr. Suggate’s research at this link scroll down to find: Early Reading Instruction: does it really improve reading in the long term?

In my own words now: what Dr. Suggate is saying (and judging by the comments which come from his office – he seems to keep a close eye on this blog, so I’m hoping he’ll set me straight soon enough if I’m in danger of misrepresenting him – what he is saying (again in my own words) is: 

  • Children do not benefit from being forced* to learn to read or write as early as four (or five).

Not only do they not benefit from being forced* to learn to read or write as early as four (or five) but there is a now real danger (backed up by other research sources) that their enthusiasm and appetite for learning, literacy and books may be harmed if they are confronted with “too much – too soon”. Their confidence is in danger of disappearing if they are pushed too hard, too early.

 So, if you’re a children’s writer, for example – you may have spent your whole life encouraging children to read books. You may be campaigning hard to encourage older children to read – and secure more resources for them to do so. But – what you are trying to do is simply being undermined by what is happening to children in schools and nurseries in the Early Years. It really is as starkly simple as that. And once again the Emperor has no clothes. Joined up thinking is needed. 

Dr. Suggate’s research backs up what many parents and carers already instinctively knew

Tabloid newspapers have propped up the mistaken conception for too long that there is something wrong with children who can’t read and write by the age of five. Many parents have been brainwashed and betrayed by Blair (and later Brown’s) notion of ‘education, education, education’ and many parents have had their confidence undermined for too long. 

 One reason why this blog is called: “A Parent’s Guide to the Early Years Foundation Stage”. It’s an attempt to strengthen and communicate with parents, in particular those parents who really care about education, learning and yes – BOOKS. 

That’s what prompted me to emblazon my tricycle with Michael Rosen’s comment yesterday. He said: 

“…We have neglected cognition to a point that we have politicians talking about schools as if we all know how children learn. Do we? Do they? Central to learning is the LEARNER. The learner is the one who makes the meanings, so the question is what environment can we create in which they can best make meaning? It’s through discovery, investigation and invention. What we see are diktats, instructions from Central Government directed at practitioners. That’s counter-productive.” 

This comment applies to SATS, but it could equally be applied the Early Years Learning and Development Requirements too. The compulsory EYFS learning and development requirements are SATS FOR THE UNDER FIVES. They are Dikats too, from central government – directed at practitioners – and – as many critics have said so often – they are counter-productive. 

*My use of the word ‘forced’ will no doubt be hotly contested. I might substitute the word ‘co-erced’. The point is, the system and the requirements are compulsory. Children cannot opt out. Practitioners cannot opt out. Schools cannot opt out. Each child, whether they meet the EYFS ‘targets’ or not – will be psychologically affected by the  fact that they exist. There are some excellent quotes from Dr. Richard House which accompany previous blog posts on this point.  

Here are the links to the statutory information about the learning and development requirements and the goals. This is followed by the Open Eye analysis of them in a video by Fergus Andersen. 

STATUTORY FRAMEWORK FOR THE EARLY YEARS LEARNING GOALS – DCSF 

THREE MINUTE OPEN EYE VIDEO ANALYSING THE EARLY LEARNING GOALS AND WHY THEY ARE DETRIMENTAL TO CHILDREN. FEATURES DR. PENELOPE LEACH AND THE NATIONAL UNION OF TEACHERS

Advertisements

3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Sarah Clark on May 13, 2010 at 8:28 pm

    I so often hold back from commenting rather than adding my agreement at the end of every post, but every so often I have to pop up and thank you for writing this. You are, as always, spot on!

    This : “Not only do they not benefit from being forced* to learn to read or write as early as four (or five) but there is a now real danger (backed up by other research sources) that their enthusiasm and appetite for learning, literacy and books may be harmed if they are confronted with “too much – too soon”. Their confidence is in danger of disappearing if they are pushed too hard, too early.” This line concisely and articulately links the testing mentality and the attitude of mistrust that causes more and more abstract task-teaching in our schools and other care settings. Teaching to the test, assesment for the purpose of care-provider congratulation and/or the labelling children, total dictatorial control of what can be taught when and a lack of provision for unique individuals – how could SATs and the EYFS not be linked?!

    Reply

  2. Posted by Jon Gore on May 13, 2010 at 1:23 pm

    Hi Frances

    I have followed this blog for the last few months and I want to offer my support.

    By day I am a self-employed management consultant, lucky enough to work part time so I can spend a lot of time at home with my 3 year old daughter and 3 month old son. I am an avid reader of books on child development and how parents and educators can impact that, when my sleep-deprived brain allows it.

    For the last few years I have been considering a career change into childcare for a while, and am actually enrolled on a EYPS course, but government pressure on the sector has so demotivated and outraged me that I am, at least temporarily, shelving my plans. Having worked in the commercial sector for the last 10+ years I am only too aware of how targets distort people’s behaviour, and how easy it is to simply tick all the boxes whilst delivering what is actually a poor quality services. In fact, the more boxes there are to tick, the easier it is to do this. 69 legally binding targets… don’t get me started. The reason I was (past tense) passionate about childcare was not to deliver a government curriculum which I do not buy into. I wanted to learn from the experts, from the children, from the parents, and allow that to inform my own philosophy on childcare. I do not believe I can do that under the current structure.

    Ironically, my daughter should be fine with it all. With her genes she should thrive under the pressure and narrow focus of ticking boxes and passing exams. My wife and I both sailed through exams and maths degrees. She already loves the abstract tasks of adding, subtracting, wordplay, rhyming etc, and already shows amazing concentration and perseverence in setting herself a challenge and achieving it. But that doesn’t mean that I support the pressure that will be placed on her.

    All I want for her is to be happy and supported to learn and achieve what she wants to. All I want for myself as a parent is to be self-aware enough to recognise when I am interfering in that process and putting her under adult pressure, and humble enough to change my behaviour. I am fundamentally against political interference and determined to do the little I can to fight against it – at the moment that is simply keeping informed, using my vote and supporting Open EYE. I am such a fan of their campaign and the respectful way in which they are conducting it, and so unimpressed at the predictably narrow and blinkered response from the last government.

    Looking forward to meeting you at the conference next month.

    All the best
    Jon

    Reply

    • Posted by Frances Laing on May 13, 2010 at 2:18 pm

      Thank you so much for this insightful and helpful comment, Jon. Look forward to meeting you at the conference too – and hope the petition is up and running again soon – now that the coalition government is on the way…
      Best
      Frances

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: