Archive for June, 2010

Open Eye Conference 2010. “The Child the True Foundation” Article in the Telegraph and Dr. Aric Sigman.

The international Open Eye conference I attended two weeks ago received coverage in the national media, including the Telegraph newspaper:

They chose the challenging headline “Ban Computers from schools until children reach age 9 says expert”.

Dr. Aric Sigman is quoted: “There is evidence to show that introducing information and communications technology (ICT) in the early years actually subverts the very skills the Government ministers said they want children to develop, such as the ability to pay attention for sustained periods”.

Dr Sigman is the author of the book: “Remotely controlled: How television is damaging our lives” and has recently published a new book.

In addition, Dr Sigman, who is an Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society, a Fellow of the Society of Biology, a recipient of the Chartered Scientist award from the Science Council and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine, has published scientific papers. Well Connected?: The Biological Implications of ‘Social Networking’, is published in the Spring edition of Biologist, Vol 56(1), the journal of the Institute of Biology.

The Telegraph article interestingly picks up on the lack of action of our coalition government:

 “The coalition government is reviewing which of its functions should be passed on to the Department for Education. Before the election, the Liberal Democrats said they would scrap the ‘nappy curriculum’.

Nick Gibb the Conservative schools minister has described it as a ‘bureaucratic nightmare’. A Department of Education spokesman said: No decision has been made yet on the future of the EYFS. Ministers are looking carefully at how best to strengthen the EYFS framework. We’re clear about the need to cut bureaucracy to free-up front line professionals in supporting young children’s development”.

All well and good. As I’ve said before –  whilst the government does nothing – parents and children are forced to do their dirty work for them and mop up the mess.


Bullying and the under fives

I’ve said it before: parenthood has got to be the toughest job on the planet. For every blessing there seems to be a huge and difficult challenge. We spent a glorious day at our Allotment Site Open Day yesterday welcoming visitors. Even the Lord Mayor spent ten minutes on our plot talking to us about what we were growing and why – lots of family on site as well – with two sets of grandmas and grandads and assorted school friends and fellow plotters. 

 Today we’re back at school – with a serious issue hanging over our heads. 

The word bullying can be emotive. From the limited amount of reading I’ve done so far – there seems to be a danger that what is perfectly normal behaviour in the under five age group can be misinterpreted. 

However from my contacts in the internet community and from talking to other parents in person across the country – it seems bullying in the under fives is much more common that many of us are prepared to believe. 

 Perhaps we need a definition here. Kidscape have a list of Possible Signs of Bullying. I’m going to slot in a few links to parent’s helplines at the end of this post – just in case there are any (other) any parents out there who are directly affected by these issues. And we need a (true) story here by way of illustration. 

Shortly after starting school – I bought a yellow long-sleeved PVC jacket for my daughter. You know – one of those hi-vis ones. We walk to school all year round and it really helped other people to see us – especially when the mornings got dark in the winter. It took me a while to find the right size for a four-year old. I also bought one for myself. Not very smart – but I’d rather we were seen and safe and they’ve been very useful. The material is strong and sturdy. 

After a while (I think about two months) – I noticed that the hood was missing from my child’s jacket. Here’s a photograph of the jacket.  

The yellow jacket with the ripped hood. Picture by Frances Laing

I asked my daughter what had happened – didn’t get a straight answer – so I assumed she had somehow been messing about and had caught it on a fence or something. 

In retrospect I feel that was a big mistake on my part. I failed to see a pattern which I believe has detrimentally affected her confidence at school and really upset her. Bear in mind readers our child is summer-born so at that point she was just four years and a few months old. 

Another month or so went by and my daughter told me that one of her classmates at school had tried to hurt her hand with a pair of scissors. At that point she also said the hood of her jacket had been ripped off by the same child. There followed numerous meetings with the school – and together with her teacher we talked about the measures that were being implemented as a gentle means of changing and improving behaviours in the class. 

Our child explained to us that this was a system of ‘Respect reminders’. Three respect reminders issued and a child has to do without their playtime. To date our child has none of these. 

There were several more incidents and additional meetings with the school. One day after school I picked my child up only to find she was in tears. On leaving school the child she had mentioned before had pushed her. The school apologised and told us they needed to be more careful about supervision at home time. On another occasion our child received a party invitation which was torn and damaged by the other child. 

Another incident I witnessed myself when I was standing at the school gate and from afar saw my daughter’s yellow  jacket flying up into the air. I asked my daughter what had happened and she told me that the child in question had thrown the distinctive yellow jacket over the fence. 

I’ve heard such incidents described as ‘relatively’ minor. I think that reflects a lack of empathy – and the incident with the yellow jacket stands out. If you’ve ever tried to rip the hood off a PVC jacket you’ll soon realise this involves quite a considerable degree of force. 

We’ve been in touch with anti-bullying initiatives about this, and now understand that each school is required by law to have a fully functional anti-bullying strategy. I’ve seen this and discussed it with school staff. I’ve pointed out standard strategies appear to have very little in them which is tailored to small children and children under five. For example, it’s fine to give older children the option of phoning Childline, but if you are four years old, you can’t.  

Together with our child’s teacher, we have practised anti-bullying moves with our child. Saying  ‘no’ in a loud voice. Making sure you tell someone – mum, dad, friend, teacher, headmaster, helper. Making sure that your child knows you don’t need to be polite or friendly to someone who is being horrible. You have the right to say ‘no’. We know what bullies want is to make you feel bad so the way you react is really important. 

Difficult though all this has been, we were hoping we had worked something through and the problem was resolved. The last thing we wanted is for a child, any child to be labelled. I’m absolutely certain that happens often enough already. 

However we were called in last week for another meeting. We’re three weeks away from the end of term and the school is considering how the classes are going to be made up next year. We were given the ‘option’ of being able to move our child to a different class. 

We made it clear that since our child has suffered a knock in her confidence due to these issues, we feel strongly that she should stay with her friends and that it is the child who has shown anti-social behaviour who should be moved away from her.   

The background power dynamics we understand too. As far as the school leadership is concerned it is easier to pressurise the parents of a ‘nice’ child – who are already concerned  – than it is to tackle the parents of a child who shows more challenging behaviour. But that doesn’t make it right. 

Bullying is a systemic problem. It thrives on secrecy and people being too intimidated to speak out. 

As this blog shows – children who are bullied in the early years are not alone. Their parents are bullied too. Bullied by the compulsory Early Years Foundation Stage learning and development requirements. I recall the letter from our local authority which signalled that our application for a parental exemption was refused in August last year – the local authority included a helpline number – supposedly to assist in finding another school. 

Of course the authority knew full well that since the compulsory learning and development requirements are imposed on all settings – there was literally nowhere else for us to go. 

There is so much evidence now from academics and child-care specialists on an international level that changes to the Early Years Foundation Stage learning and development requirements need to be made. 

The learning and development requirements system puts small children under pressures that they clearly do not need. It’s my belief that this pressure makes existing problems with behaviour and discipline worse than they would otherwise be. We understand that girls and boys are affecting differently. 



Kidscape Anti-bullying hotline

Consuming kids. Campaign against the commercialisation of childhood.

Wanted to slot this in between blog posts about the Open Eye conference as it is so relevant to bringing up children in this day and age. From the campaign against the commercialisation of childhood. You can find the other six parts of this excellent film on You Tube.

New website: The Unique Child Network. Open Eye Conference “The Child – the true foundation” London, 2010.

 News from the Open Eye conference: A new networking site is under construction by one of Open Eye’s members which aims to bring together people worldwide who are concerned about the increasing rigidity of educational systems and wish to ensure that future models:
– recognise and fully support the unique potential and wellbeing of each child
-promote learning as an organic, natural process
-celebrate the importance of diversity in skills and abilities
-consider passion and purpose the primary target
-are responsive to the learning needs of the future
– are not compromised by political agendas.
The site is called the Unique Child Network
A subscription-based professional and academic site is also being planned.
For more information (and to become one of the first test members!) visit this link:

Open Eye Conference. “The Child – the True Foundation”. London 12th. June, 2010.

Open Eye Panel. Chairperson Margaret Edgington addresses the Open Eye Conference "The Child - the True Foundation". London 12th. June, 2010. Photograph Frances Laing.

What’s that expression? “If you want to get something done, ask a busy person.” I travelled to London at the weekend to attend the Open Eye conference on early years education, taking my press card with me . Here’s a picture of the Open Eye panel. The clock reads quarter past five and after a day jam-packed with fascinating and useful information – the panel were still interacting with an audience of over a hundred and twenty people – all of whom exuded a particularly striking brand of dedication and patience. 

Dear readers – I’m not going to give you a straightforward report of this conference – I’ll leave that to others. (The conference was filmed in it’s entirety and a DVD will be available before too long from Open Eye). 

The strength of blogging (I hope) is the element of subjectivity, raw news and a grass-roots eye view of things. So I’m going to try to communicate what I think parents would most like to know about the issues raised, conversations had and topics covered over several reflective blog posts. After all, this is “A Parent’s Guide to the Early Years Foundation Stage”, isn’t it? 

Bear in mind readers I’m still in the thick of parenting a child under five myself. So blogging is punctuated by the daily realities of the journey to and from school (by bike) and everyday happenings – the first ever Sports Day for my Little One (yesterday) and the first ever social event of our newly created Parent Teacher Association(last night)…  

More often than not parents I chat to on the corner of the street are keen to know why I went to London at the weekend – why the conference took place – and more about the Early Years Foundation Stage statutory learning and development requirements and how their children may be affected. 

It’s scary but exciting to know I’m not writing into a vacuum the way I appeared to be when I first started writing this blog – readership is still growing. 

Open Eye Conference. 12th. June, 2010.

For the benefit of those who couldn’t make it down to London – here’s the conference line-up in brief: 

-Opening Ceremony
– Chairperson’s remarks
Professor Kathy Hirsh-Pasek Ph.D
“Playful learning and the devaluation of the word play in an achievement orientated society”
Dr. Sebastian Suggate, Ph.D
“Early Reading Instruction -: does it really improve reading in the long term?”
Professor Lilian G. Katz. Ph.D
“Engaging Children’s Minds and Hearts”
Dr. Aric Sigman, Ph.D
“We’ve moved on – but have our children?” screen based technology in the early years.
Open Eye Panel. Wendy Ellyatt, Margaret Edgington, Dr. Richard House, Lynne Oldfield, Kim Simpson.
You’ll find more about the background of the speakers at this link:
I’m going to leave it there today – as the school ‘bike’ is looming. More  tomorrow.


EYFS Parliamentary electronic petition update. Open Eye Early Years Conference.

 During the election and the formation of the coalition government I’d been keeping a very close eye on the EYFS parliamentary e-petition. The petition had been closed down for around six weeks. During this time the site displayed a message saying that all petition deadlines would be extended to compensate for the closure.

I hadn’t done a lot of work on the EYFS e-petition as this blog continues to get a fair amount of traffic and there was a drip, drip effect anyway –  but I did have a list of prominent educationalists (and parents) who were waiting for the EYFS e-petition to open again in order to sign.

(By the way if you’ve ever wondered why I keep repeating words and phrases like this, it’s due to a magic mechanism called SEO – of course  content is ultimately king – but SEO does help traffic-building. Readers know I like to interrupt serious issues with a picture – so here’s another one of the new boys on the block clutching their shiny parliamentary folders…)

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With the Open Eye conference coming up this Saturday, of course I would have been able to ask a lot more people to support the EYFS e-petition. But our government has now apparently changed it’s mind again – and closed the EYFS e-petition down anyway. (It’s a good job schools don’t do that with things like sports days, isn’t it? There’d be hell to play with the parents, I’m sure).

Anyway, creating an e-petition is fairly simple but it can take up to a week to be processed by No. 10 – so there is no chance of doing another one in time for the conference.

I was disappointed about this at first but then I heard about a BIG, NEW and EXCITING project to be launched by Open Eye at the conference. it’s a bit hush-hush at the moment so stay tuned. I’ve packed my press card and plan to blog (a bit) from London.

 Not reams of copy though – as I’ll need time to digest what I’ll be learning myself too – and I’m not fond of Twitter, I’m afraid, so don’t ask me to text, PLEASE. I’m in it for the long haul after all – my own child is only four and she’ll have to grapple with the politics of education for some time to come. I’m sure the background information I’ll be getting will keep me (and hopefully the readers of this blog) going for quite some time.

 I asked No. 10 for an official statement about the EYFS E-PETITION. Their webmaster said: 

“As mentioned on the website, with a new Government in place a review is taking place of online services, including e-petitions. We are committed to improving the e-petitions process and are looking at ways of ensuring that it functions as part of a cohesive approach to public debate and transparent government. A full announcement on how we plan to use these and other services across Government will be made as soon as this important work is completed.”

 “Existing e-petitions, submitted to the previous administration, will not be carried forward to the new administration as part of this process. We will welcome resubmission on issues of concern to the improved e-petitions system when it is launched later in 2010. As mentioned on the website, with a new Government in place a review is taking place of online services, including e-petitions. We are committed to improving the e-petitions process and are looking at ways of ensuring that it functions as part of a cohesive approach to public debate and transparent government. A full announcement on how we plan to use these and other services across government will be made as soon as this important work is completed”.

So it looks like the grassroots is going to have to try again, doesn’t it? I’ve asked No. 10’s webmaster to let me know when they’re ready for action. Are they up to date with their press cuttings and reading this?

Incidentally, when an e-petition is created, the government is obliged to publish a response to it. Readers may be interested to see what the responses to previous EYFS e-petitions have been. There have been quite a number of them over the past few years. Here are some archive links to some of them, together with responses from our elected representatives:

Link to Anti-EYFS childminder’s  (1,400 signatures)

Anti-EYFS petition government response

Open Eye e-petition 7,800 signatures

Government response to Open Eye e-petition

For more EYFS petitions, see this link to the government’s archive:

I wonder what they’ll have to say about my petition which has appeared on this site? Since it has now been closed we should all get a government response to it before too long. I’ll link to the response here. Before I make my sandwiches for the trip to London here’s a pleasing shot of our “A” team (our elected representatives) in the garden:

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