International Petition to Stop League Tables for Five Year Olds continues.

As a real mum of a real five year old I have real issues to deal with. This week Babes was off school ill with a bad cough which gave us a chance to pull back a little to reflect. Left to her own devices (and without the unnecessary pressures of tedious homework worksheets) Babes writes whole books and letters at home – she is writing a diary and quite spontaneously constructed a poster to “Stop the Government”. (I blame the parents…smile). I explained to her that whilst we probably can’t stop the government entirely – (this might not be such a good idea – after all she might want to be a Member of Parliament herself one day) – what we can do is try to change government itself and make it more accountable. And readers, with the international petition to Stop League Tables for Five Year Olds – it appears that is exactly what we have been doing.

The international petition to “Stop School League Tables for Five Year Olds” and the many friends, supporters and alliances we have made in launching it –  have apparently prompted the government to change it’s stance on league tables. Don’t be fooled, readers. The fight is not over – and despite this apparent shift in the government’s position – I am not yet closing the petition and I am still urging people to sign.

As an important aside: there is also a question of when and where this important international petition is to be handed over. Yesterday I phoned ten Downing Street – intending to email an interim copy of the petition to David Cameron. I explained I was a mum with a poorly child and disabilities in the family and would prefer to send a missive by email (as I couldn’t get to the post office. Told you I was dealing with real issues here). Of course the Prime Minister does not have an email address (silly me, how could I even assume that) and so I couldn’t send him a link with the interim signatures. So dear readers and petition signatories, it looks like when this petition is officially handed over, it will need to be either handed in personally, or sent by post. Suggestions as to how to do this on a post card please (or in the comments box of this blog). Thanks.I had thought that it would be the handing over of the petition that would be the historically important act. However – perhaps even more important that handing it over is the very existence of the petition and the coming together of the people who have signed it.  

Back (0r forward) to that very important word – apparently. What are the facts? Well, most journalists realise that if you ask too many critical questions it’s likely that you will not be given an interview or statement by the organisation you are interested in. You contact the government press office and you don’t receive a response or they decline your request for an interview. So to find out the answers to your questions you might try the Freedom of Information Act. Or you might try asking your sources.

I have had a few questions about the proposed plan to introduce League Tables for Five Year Olds which  remain unanswered. As readers will recall the proposed plan was presented in a Coalition Business Plan last November. Some readers I have spoken to had never encountered a government business plan before. This is an important issue. The question here is: What is/was the democratic status of such a plan? It surely clearly cannot be described as policy – as it has not been discussed by the political parties in question. It has also never been discussed by the general public. It cannot be described as a coalition agreement. So what exactly IS the status of such a plan and how can it be seen as democratic? More questions than answers I know but it is important to ask them.

Then there are questions about the apparent change in the government’s position on this . The original coalition business plan was due to be reviewed in November. (Again I’m not sure how the review of proposals which have never been discussed by parliament or in the public realm, or within the machinery of a political party – can be described as democratic either – but there you go).

The original coalition business plan in which the League Tables for Five Year Olds idea was put forward – was due to be reviewed in November 2011.  But that was before the international petition to Stop School League Tables for Five Year Olds was launched and before this petition was signed by grassroots and professionals in their hundreds – and before the petition featured in the national and international press (The Times Educational Supplement, Nursery World, The Guardian and The Friend the international Quaker journal).  And it was before Early Day Motion 1258 was initiated.

Most readers and signatories I’ve spoken to understand that the international petition has galvanised a change in the government’s position. It is however not a change that has been publicly or democratically discussed. Instead of discussing the issue publicly the government appears to have ‘leaked’ the news to a strategically important professional newspaper in early years. Nursery World. Here is a reminder of the statement that was given to Nursery World:

“A spokesperson for the DfE said last week, ‘We will not publish Early Years Foundation Stage Profile data at school level. The draft transparency section of the DfE business plan suggested that achievements of children at the end of the EYFS might be published at school level, in addition to data already published on children’s attainment at the end of the primary school phase. This is not the case and will be made clear in the final published version of the business plan.’

Nursery World comments: The revised version of the department’s business plan is due by April.

Can we look at the words of this statement (assuming it is correctly recorded) very carefully for one moment? The education business plan is now being referred to as a ‘draft transparency’ plan. This is significant. The words ‘suggested’ and ‘might’ are used here. My understanding of this situation is as follows: the democratic status of this plan was unclear to start off with as I said earlier in this post – I believe it was never described as policy and never properly democratically discussed. As part of these never-democratically-discussed-plan a proposal was put forward (which was not labelled as provisional or subject to democratic debate) – to introduce School League Tables for Five Year Olds using Early Years Foundation Stage Profile data. I cannot see any evidence which suggests that this proposal was a draft proposal or subject to democratic debate. I might be wrong on this one, if I am please let me know…indeed feel free to pick me up on any factual inaccuracies or typos –  that is what my Strikethrough button is for after all…

So according to Nursery World this plan is now due to be reviewed in April. WHY? Why suddenly April and not November as was originally planned?

More questions:  a few blog posts ago – I shared a Freedom of Information Act query with readers that I sent to the Department of Education. I wanted to know how much this proposed plan would cost. To date I haven’t received a response. So just to recap once again – the (now-described-as-a-draft-plan) – was not democratically discussed in public using accountable democratic procedures. It is questionable to describe this plan as ‘policy’. The proposed plan which originally had a set review time frame (November) has apparently now been changed. This hasn’t been democratically discussed either, to my knowledge. Or is there something I’m missing? After all, I’m only the mum of a five year old – and brains of mums-of-five-year-olds are often rather foggy aren’t they? (more than a hint of sarcasm there).

And then there is the question of costings. To date, we have no idea how much this proposed plan would have cost us. And the government is refusing to tell us.

Readers if I haven’t convinced you yet that it is really important to carry on keeping this petition in the public eye (and to keep asking people to sign it) – then please read Pat Gordon Smith’s comment on the last blog post which I’m including here. Pat had an excellent insert in last weeks Nursery World which I really enjoyed reading. It was about ‘Listening to Children’ and made a link between this petition, government policy and listening to children. Pat reacts to the news of the government’s apparent change in approach on league tables for five year olds by saying:

That is, of course, great news in terms of the immediate future. But there’s a deeper and still worrying implication here. While the DfE spokesperson says that school league tables will not now happen, there is no reassurance about how the EYFSP is to be used. The Department’s initial proposal for league tables suggests that children’s profile ‘results’ will be monitored for their progress towards the government’s outcomes – measurable early success in literacy and numeracy – not for their intended purpose as a tool by which to celebrate each young child’s achievement and provide a helpful signpost for teachers in KS1. The EYFS was designed with children’s needs and outcomes in mind (see Wendy Scott’s comment on the petition); the government’s approach suggests that they’re not interested in this. What this implies is that EYFSP results are likely to form the basis for future policymaking that will be to the detriment of young children – probably at the beginning of a second term should the government or just the Tories win the next election. Use of the profile or any other form of information-gathering as a tool for policymaking is to be expected, and is one of the reasons why the profile was always problematic. I am now very concerned that it will be used to further political aims that are manifestly against the best interests of young children. This is all speculation and so very difficult to act on – potential league tables are much easier to protest against – but I urge everyone to keep their eyes firmly on this. With a stated government policy to have all children reading by age 6, young children have been targeted as the fall guys in the drive to fix low attainment levels further up in the school. Their freedoms are under attack.”

Here is that petition link once again, please don’t leave this blog without signing it and adding a comment. Thanks (F.L)


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