Education articles/petition (2010) archive

The following article appeared in the Friend an international, independent Quaker journal in September, 2009

The EnglishEarly Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) is a curriculum for children from birth to five. It became statutory in September 2008.

It’s the first time the government has imposed such an extensive legal framework on early years settings(including any Quaker schools with early years facilities). 

We are the first parents in the U.K. to have requested a parental exemption fromthe EYFS statutory Learning and Development Requirements on “moral, educational, religious,philosophical,ethical and political” grounds in a state-funded school. 

Our story began in the summer of 2008. We witnessed our wonderful childminder experience the increasingly bureaucratic and intrusive EYFS monitoring process and wrote our first exemption request letter. But the framework wasn’t statutory then. 

 In September 2008 our child changed settings to attend the nursery attached to our chosen primary school. A disability in the family meant we really needed stability. I was terrified of problems cropping up with the new setting. The nursery staff seemed dedicated. We suppressed our worries for a whole year.

 Until that awful day at the end of this nursery year (2009) when a brown envelope was thrust into my hand. It was a ‘report’. The descriptions in it bore little resemblance to the three year old child I knew and loved. 

I did more research (using the Freedom of Information Act). I ‘talked’ to ‘Open Eye’ (the national Campaign for an Open Early Years Education) and fellow parents online. I created a blog to publicise the issues:

 The bigger picture came together. The EYFS welfare and health and safety requirements are sensible, but the statutory learning and development targets are setting children up to fail. How many four year olds do you know who can: “write their own names, captions, and begin to form simple sentences, some of them with punctuation” – as the compulsory targets demand? Have you ever seen a four year old punctuate?

 I believe it is in the public interest to speak out about these experiences. Childminders, nursery and school staff are being pressured into an increasingly narrow way of working – the statutory goals force them to look for the 69 EYFS learning and development targets in the first instance – and not the whole or ‘Unique’ child – as the government’s rhetoric would have us believe.

 Teaching young children hard for a limited period of time to attain fixed targets like these does not benefit their educational development in the longer term as Dr. Penelope Leach explains so well in the short and beautifully crafted video which you can access from the Open Eye website:

 Open Eye described the exemptions process as ‘tortuous’. I can understand why people might not be able to endure it. In a difficult meeting with the school and local authority I declared my Quaker values: “Respect the law of the State but let your first loyalty be to God’s purposes”. I do not believe the learning and development goals of this statutory framework are ‘God’s purpose’ for any children. Put simply they are ‘too much too soon’.

 On the face of it, it is up to the school to make the decision to grant our exemption. But inevitably they’ll come under pressure from the government and the local authority to do what is politically expedient. What the government is insisting on is morally unacceptable.

  At first I didn’t realise why Open Eye campaigners and fellow journalists seemed so interested, enthused and excited about our exemption application. In carrying this weighty concern it seems we may help establish a precedent which could change the law.

The following statement was published in the International Quaker Journal “The Friend”.

Copy follows:

The first parental exemption request to the compulsory Learning and Development Requirements of the English Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) curriculum has been refused.

 Frances Laing, member of Wirral and Chester Meeting received a letter from her child’s state-funded school which stated: “The school feels…it would not be possible to make satisfactory accommodation for (your child’s) educational provision and for that of the rest of the children within the delivery of the Early Years Foundation Stage curriculum”.

 The mother of one said: “We applied for the exemption on ‘moral, religious, ethical, philosophical and political grounds’. I referred to Advice and Queries in our request: Respect the law of the state but let your first loyalty be to God’s purpose  – I did not believe it was God’s purpose for my child, (or any other children under five) to be subjected to the sixty-nine compulsory learning and development targets.

 The government has created a straightjacket for all children, and all nursery and school staff. Neither the school nor the local authority could argue with the principles of our objection. Our objections constituted the ‘cogent set of beliefs’ which Parliament stated is necessary for an exemption to be permitted on ‘philosophical grounds’.  The only excuse they could come up with not to accept our request was administrative… they don’t have the resources to deal with an exemption.

 The truth about the parental exemptions process has now been revealed – it is a farce –  and a violation of our children’s human rights. For more information see Frances Laing’s blog:


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