Archive for March, 2011

In which the writer considers the EYFS Review and only narrowly avoids the use of expletives…

It’s fairly standard these days for a government review to be ‘leaked’ in a targeted way to the press – before it is published. That’s how certain media machines work. Your average PR agency with any clout – knows that public opinion can be influenced by providing journalists with crease-free copy before the event. That is not to say that journos won’t regard ready made press releases with a critical eye – but your average hack is always pushed for time – there are huge cuts in the print industry and very little investment in investigative reporting – early years education is not an easy thing to write about and few writers are paid to be steeped in it.

Several articles on the Early Years Foundation Stage Review popped up yesterday. Amongst them in: Nursery World: Children and Young People Now and The Guardian

The Children and Young People Now piece tells us: “the government-commissioned review of the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) was informed by 3,300 submissions from organisations and practitioners…”. No parents then?

In fact there were some parents – and I was one of them. Since this blog draws on nearly two years work – and is now a historical document I hope a look back at previous blog posts can fill in some gaps here and put Dame Tickell’s Early Years Foundation Stage Review into context.

For those who missed the background – the EYFS ‘consultation’ and review has been marketed as something which will ultimately assist ‘disadvantaged’ children and their families. You will notice that I placed the words ‘consultation’ and ‘disadvantaged’ in inverted commas there…that’s because for lots of reasons documented in previous blog posts such as this one  I believe very few if any parents of ‘disadvantaged’ children would have been in a position to take part in the review. I might be wrong – but I don’t think so at this point. Ultimately perhaps we shall never know, as the publication of consultation responses is managed by the government – I can’t see any evidence to show that they will not cherry-pick consultation responses and publish them to suit themselves.

I suppose I came close to expletives yesterday (see my comments after the Guardian piece) when I read that the 69 targets were to be cut to just 17. In the year in which my daughter started in reception class – we lodged a request for a parental exemption for our child. I understand we were the only parents in England to do so. It was very clear to us that there were too many learning and development requirements – in the exemption interview we were asked to voice our objections to all of them. All sixty-nine of them. We thought this was a ridiculous request and a mechanism which simply served to silence dissent. The exemption process for parents is tortuous and I’ve documented it in some detail. See previous posts.  

What is never mentioned is that in fact every parent has the human right to apply for exemption (according to decisions made by parliament and documented on this blog) – but this right is no right at all – a school simply needs to say they don’t have the resources to provide alternative provision. And it would take a judicial review to change that situation – and how many ‘disadvantaged’ parents have the thousands of pounds needed to fund that?

And now, two years later here is the government commissioned review with an admission that they were wrong and that something about these targets-in-all-but-name needs to change. The near expletives in my Guardian comment (which I’m not apologising for) – came with the realisation of the damage the government has done to a whole generation of children.

And then there is the suggestion that children as young as two will be subjected to ‘developmental’ tests. To address this point – I say the following. We live in a country where many parents and children are put under immense pressure to perform. The pressure arises, not just between friends, neighbours, through television and the media (and later at school) – but because many parents lack confidence. Their ability to be confident in what they are doing is often whittled away yes, by the media, the parenting industry (all those companies trying to sell you products for your child)  and those around them –  by the false expectations that people increasingly have about what children should be doing by two. Those who really know children, will have seen children who are not talking by two, or barely walking by two and have no issues later at all. People nowadays are increasingly expecting too  much too soon.

And there is something else – I’m going to use some anecdotes for this one. I was shocked recently to see two mothers with six month old children (one of whom was quite clearly already overweight) – feeding their children whole bars of chocolate. An older auntie commented on this – and asked what the mother’s health visitor would say about that. The mother said with a proud boast: “Oh, I don’t tell her”.

And that says it all as far as I am concerned. Surely we should be aiming at building trust between health visitors and parents and a space in which parents feel they might be able to acknowledge real issues and ask for help if it is needed. I don’t think that ‘policing’ parents of two and a half year olds in this way is going to help build this trust. 

There were other important voices to be heard on the EYFS review this week:

Margaret Edgington, Richard House and Kim Simpson of the Open EYE campaign made a public statement on the EYFS review yesterday:
  
‘We welcome the move to a framework which is simpler, less bureaucratic and more easily understood. We also welcome the retention of the statutory welfare requirements and the general approach to early learning which the EYFS promotes.

However, Open EYE has consistently campaigned against the compulsory learning and development requirements for such young children, who do not legally have to attend any form of provision. Simply reducing the number of goals is not nearly sufficient, and there is still likely to be too much emphasis on measuring children against a narrow set of targets. The suggestion that some 5 year olds should be judged as below expectations on the proposed 3-point scale is particularly deplorable, and is rooted in a fundamental misunderstanding of the great diversity of young children’s development.  It will inevitably increase early labelling with the consequent impact on children’s confidence and self-esteem. We will continue to campaign for there to be no compulsory requirements for children below statutory school age.’

Let’s take a look at the bigger picture to finish. Bearing in mind that children in England already have to go to school much earlier than in many other countries such as Finland (countries which maintain much higher educational standards) –  compulsory school-age in England is four – I find  the targets and testing picture for a child between birth and five years disturbing. Here it is:

Age of Child and test implemented:

1) Two and a half:   ‘Developmental’ check carried out by health visitor

2) Between birth and the age of five: 69 learning and development requirements  to be fulfilled (now reduced to 17)

3) In the year in which a child turns five: Early Years Profiling carried out by reception teachers.

4) Early Years Profile results would have been fed into League Tables for Five Year Olds on a school by school basis (plan recently withdrawn by the government but indications that so-called Super League Tables will re-introduce it).

5) Reading/PhonicsTest at Five (not just six as the government would have it) but five – since a fair proportion of children are summer born like my own daughter. My understanding of this test is that if children fail it, it will be repeated in the term that follows.

Our young children are still being observed, tried and tested at every turn. What they need is support and space. And a quote from the Stop School League Tables for Five Year Olds petition:

“We’re supposed to love them not treat them like employees”.

Update the same day – an insightful comment from A. (who asked me not to publish names). Thanks A! Comment copy follows:

” Thank you and good luck with your camapaign.   A quick story…..one of our boys was asked to leave the library where he was sitting Key Stage 1 tests some years ago. He couldn’t manage the  paper (‘late’ reader). He couldn’t de-code words and writing was a real struggle. He was 7 years old.   ‘There, there dear, you make your way back to the class and do some drawing for a little while’ said the well-meaning teacher (or something along those lines).   He was – and is – a very ‘bright’ boy, whatever that means!   But this early experience – and the requirement to ‘perform’ –  really knocked him back and set him apart from his peers.  He felt stupid and he felt a failure.  He hated ‘tests’ and clammed up immediately.   A few years later – and with lots of support from us as parents, he regained his confidence and he’s now set to achieve mainly As in GCSE exams.    There was never a big problem – it was just too soon at 7 years.   His brain wasn’t ready.   GCSEs are just the first hurdle –  ASs and A2s are another ball game altogether –  and then the whole issue of universities and university fees etc  Our son aged 17 has applied on-line for part time jobs at Tescos, Sainsbury and others –  he has 11 GCSEs – mainly A grades but he gets rejected on-line – he is already losing confidence and dreading the rejection.  It’s especially worrying for him now his friends have managed to get jobs.  Our youngsters deserve a chance when they are very young – and they also deserve a chance when they are teenagers entering the adult world.  Why not offer him a job?  If he doesn’t perform he can be asked to leave – but for goodness sake give the kid a chance!   There is no perfect system but we need to be open to ideas and we need to listen to a range of views from parents as well as the ‘experts’ who teach. Most people have life experiences they can bring to the debating table,  but for some reason people are not very open-minded.”

Early Years Foundation Stage Review: Demonstration 26th. March, 2011.

Demonstration Against the Cuts. Saturday 26th. March, London.

The results of the Early Years Foundation Stage Review have been announced today. Rest assured readers, I do intend to share my thoughts with you all on this front – as soon as I can. However, in the meantime – I’m sharing this photograph – sized up so that you can see the detail of it. 

We were three of the (four hundred thousand) people on the demonstration on Saturday, travelling in a Unison coach. My daughter wore this waistcoat with an important message on the back. We mingled with the NUT contingent on the demonstration and hundreds of people read the message, photographed it, commented on it and talked to us about it. One teacher on the demonstration liked the message so much that she gave my daughter an NUT banner as a present. The banner reads: NUT: Education Cuts Never Heal.

Later that week my daughter took the banner and some photographs into school. Taking part in the demonstration, talking to people and being with friends – was very motivating for her. She especially enjoyed reading all the marvellous and colourful banners from everywhere in the country. 

It was a day about making the connections. The people reading our message made the connections straight away, especially the teachers and the many nursery assistants and classroom staff at the demonstration. And the accompanying messages were very simple: that the league table plan was, and is – ridiculous and far too costly – that with people power – we can achieve change and bring the coalition government down – that we don’t need more league tables, more testing and more bureaucracy – that our coalition government has no mandate from the people to do what it is currently doing and what the government is doing is not backed up by common sense or research evidence – despite what they are trying to tell us with their patronising, slick, media machines.

And we were there on Saturday and saw the demonstration with our own eyes. Nowhere did we see any hint of aggression or violence from the crowd. But for my daughter it was an illustration of the police state we are living in. We saw the helicopter overhead which accompanied us along the entire route. We saw the police (sharpshooters?) – craning their necks from the Westminster windows. We noticed how our mobile phone signals were interfered with for at least two hours in the vicinity of Westminster – how we were herded off along the embankment and how the nearest tube station to Westminster was closed to us at very short notice by the police.

And we noticed the gaps in reporting of the event when we returned – the alternative narrative which didn’t come across in Commander Broadhurst’s pseudo-friendly Tweets to us all: Conflating numbers: have 149 people really been charged with violent offences: no.

And because it is important and highly relevant in terms of accessibility and equality – I’d like to thank one kind person from the coach who waited for us at the tube station and indeed on every corner helping us with our trolley on the demonstration. With multiple sclerosis in the family and a small child – we experience attending such events as a huge challenge and without some solidarity from those around us it is very difficult – and four hours walking is a long stretch for little legs too.

And so the issues stay remote for the Eton school boys that say they are ‘governing’ this country – but they come together in our lives. They are real for us. We made a splash on Saturday. And now the TUC needs to listen to the membership – the majority are clearly ready for radical action – not just another demonstration.

See also today’s Guardian piece: UK Uncut arrests threaten future protests, lawyer warns

Conservative Party Policy, EYFS review and statement on the reading test for five (and six year olds).

Received some important post this morning from our Member of Parliament. I have my own views on this, but decided it might be interesting to hear reader’s comments first. Your thoughts, readers?

Update added 29th. March (realised that the scanned version of this letter had a piece missing) here is the important missing bit – important because it refers to the phonics testing – click on the image to read it:

Changing Education Paradigms. Sir Ken Robinson

I was made aware of this video recently – changing paradigms in education.

Women take budget fight to Downing Street

Morning Star. Women take budget fight to Downing Street.

Women lie down to block road outside Downing Street in protest against devastating budget cuts

The first mainstream news report on this incredible women’s action against the cuts.

DAILY MAIL reports women lie in road outside Downing Street to protest against devastating budget cuts.

Women Against the Cuts. Direct Action in Downing Street.

From UK Uncut –  message received on Facebook twenty minutes ago : “It just got real – roughly 20 women are locked together in arm tubes at all the main entrances of Downing Street to block the budget.”