Government review of Early Years Foundation Stage

The long-awaited review of the Early Years Foundation Stage legislation has now been announced. The review has already been the focus of considerable media attention this week and I intend to continue analysing what the government is saying and reactions to this announcement over the next few weeks.

The language originally used by organisations which criticised the compulsory learning and development requirements of the EYFS is beginning to be co-opted by government. In an interview on Woman’s Hour this week – the government minister is now describing the system as too ‘prescriptive’. This is the same word used by the parents whose experiences were recorded in Fergus Andersen’s excellent video of the Open Eye conference in 2008. 

We are the only parents to our knowledge in a state-funded school to have applied for (and been refused) a parental exemption to the EYFS for our child. I have documented and written about this tortuous process and our experiences with the EYFS for almost a year now on this blog. We applied for a parental exemption in August last year on ‘moral, educational, philosophical, political and religious grounds’. We were refused a parental exemption – the school indicated they didn’t  have the resources to arrange it. They could not refuse us on moral grounds as we had the ‘cogent set of beliefs’ that parliament required. More importantly – they couldn’t disagree with us on moral grounds because we were right.

As I have already said publicly – the fact that the learning and development requirements were and are compulsory – goes against the findings of internationally acknowledged educational  research about the early years. The evidence is overwhelming.

As human beings – and experientially – from caring and watching the educational development of our child very closely – we felt the rightness of respecting our child’s development and refused to push her too hard too soon.

As our child reaches the last week of her very first year at school – (she is now four years and eleven months old) – we are reminded how from the early days we refused to do the ‘homework’ that was sent home in her school bag throughout the year. We trusted our child to learn through play at her own pace.

 We discussed this measure often as a family and came to the conclusion that the EYFS material she was getting , and the spelling tests – were inappropriate to the developmental stage she was experiencing. I’ve published some of the homework on this blog with the names removed.

If the EYFS should continue in it’s present form – I would recommend that any parents concerned about this should refuse to cooperate with the system as we have done. We now know there is no legal obligation for a child of non-compulsory school age to do homework. Creating the impression that compulsory homework is a good idea for a child of four is wholly counter-productive. 

 For reasons of political expediency the government has yet to acknowledge that they have made a mistake with the learning and development goals and that the system is flawed. Perhaps the government will never acknowledge this.

As parents we are prepared to forgive, but we will not and should not forget. This will not be the last time that a government will ignore international research in favour of  ‘spin’ and political expediency.

 We used all the mechanisms that were at our disposal (as parents on a modest income) to voice our principled stance. We used all the mechanisms we had at our disposal to protect our child from being exposed to a policy that we knew was educationally unsound.

Time and time again we reinforced the idea with our child that it was fine to learn about something when you were ready to learn about it. We made it clear that at the age of four – the only ‘job’ a child should have is simply to play.

When the EYFS parental exemption process failed – we explored the remaining avenues we had. To change the law and protect our child we would have had to do a judicial review (which would cost around £49,000).

The government is now purporting to analyse how the EYFS affects ‘disadvantaged’ families. What choices do ‘disadvantaged’ families currently have but to accept this flawed and damaging system? As I’ve said publically – this is a human rights issue. Find me a  family in Britain today that could afford to do a judicial review at a cost of £49,000.

Having been refused a parental exemption for our child I launched a parliamentary petition calling for the compulsory learning and development requirements to be reformed. They should become recommendations only. This was a modest demand around which there is a considerable consensus in the educational and parenting community.

The petition was closed down by the government during the general election campaign – weeks before the closure date which was requested and publicised – and the week before an important international conference that I attended last month where it was expected that I might have secured publicity to obtain at least another thousand signatures. There’s democracy for you.

 I have yet to receive a response to this petition (which is just one of numerous petitions on the EYFS over the past few years).

Too often the experiences of parents are dismissed as ‘anecdotal evidence’. Why are they of lesser value than a governmental focus group or think tank?

On the one hand it seems parents are paid lip service to as ‘primary educators’. On the other hand they are often expected to hand over their parental authority to the ‘experts’ who are said to ‘know better’. The experiences of the past year confirmed my belief that those who are supposed to know better – often don’t. Parents need to continue to educate and empower themselves, especially now that brutal cuts are being imposed across the early years sector.

I care very much about education. Not simply for my own child, but for all children. I hope my daughter will look back at this blog archive in the years that come and understand that what we were fighting for is the joy of education – a gift – which of all the gifts we might give her – might possibly be the most precious thing she will ever have. As many parents who are labelled ‘disadvantaged’ will tell you – knowledge is power – and the ability to access information and communicate will see you through many of the difficult challenges life will throw at you.

I am very honoured to have been asked to join international researchers to contribute a chapter for a book on the English Early Years Education system. The title of my chapter will be: “A Parent’s Challenge to New Labour’s Early Years Foundation Stage”. I hope I can do it justice.

Since the government has requested parents to share their views on the Early Years Foundation Stage – I am forwarding this blog post to the Department of Education. I’m sure readers will be interested to hear any responses received. All comments on this blog are moderated.



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