Archive for the ‘Documenting our request for a parental exemption to the learning and development requirements of the EYFS’ Category

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 Since this blog draws on nearly two years work – and is now a historical document I hope a look back at previous blog posts can fill in some gaps here and put Dame Tickell’s Early Years Foundation Stage Review into context.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

Focus on writing blamed for fall in reading test results

I’m currently putting together a chapter for a book about the English Early Years Education system (and it’s shortcomings). The title I am writing to is:

 “A Parent’s Challenge to New Labour’s Early Years Foundation Stage”.

International researchers and academics such as Dr. Sebastian Suggate will also be making contributions to this forthcoming book. You can pre-order the book and/or register your interest at Hawthorn Press Early Years Education Series.

This work couldn’t be more topical right now. Today I woke up to the Independent headline: “Focus on writing blamed for fall in reading test results”.

The Indie piece is a response to Sats results. But there’s a direct link to early years education as the article reflects an underlying assumption, namely that children are ‘failing’ because they are not encouraged/trained/in literacy and numeracy well enough/early enough.

Taking into account all the research I’ve done so far and the opinions I’ve heard – I believe the problem we have is a very different one. We are in danger of pushing very young children too hard too soon. There is no evidence to suggest that pushing children of four or five to read and write too early will benefit their later learning and academic performance. In fact there are plenty of indications that if you do this in the education system – you will only serve to put children off learning. Possibly for life. A different approach is needed.

Researchers and parents who understand this – have been lobbying hard and pushing for a review of the Early Years Foundation Stage legislation for some years now.

Now a review of the Early Years Foundation Stage legislation is finally here. But we don’t yet know how effective it will be. Look out for my next post on this soon. 

I’ve made the link before and I’ll say it again. The Early Years Foundation Stage learning and development goals are the equivalent of ‘Sats’ for the under fives.

Read the Independent article here: Focus on writing blamed for fall in test results.

Government review of Early Years Foundation Stage. Interview with Sarah Teather Children’s Minister

Nursery World conducted a lengthy interview with the Children’s Minister Sarah Teather this week. See this link:

Sarah Teather on the  Review of the Early Years Foundation Stage

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.

DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION STATEMENT ON THE REVIEW OF THE EARLY YEARS FOUNDATION STAGE 

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:

The Early Years Foundation Stage, Sats testing and the Sats boycott

Mobile phones, walkie-talkies and a witch. Drawing by Laing Jr. Aged four years and eight months.

Why should those who oppose SATS testing consider signing the EYFS parliamentary petition I initiated? I’ve been asked to put together some background on this, so  here are some FAQs and hopefully useful links: (regular blog readers – I risk repeating myself here, I know). 

Q. Why sign? 

A. The wording of the petition has been carefully formulated. It represents a consensus of many early years practitioners who have accompanied and guided this blog from the early days.  This blog is now read by academics in the field on an international level – and I hope they would be quick to point out any factual inaccuracies or misconceptions in my writing and/or in the formulation of the petition. The ethics of blogging demands that I leave in place anything that I write here, save for minor changes and typo amendments – but updates and comments can be added should new information emerge. 

 Being the editor of a blog is particularly challenging – you don’t have a sub-editor on hand to correct your mistakes – in that sense it’s more difficult than working on a national newspaper. It does have one big advantage though. Skilled bloggers can write (and act) fast. We can dismantle what Nick Davies calls Flat Earth News. We can even sidestep vested interests and mainstream news agendas. We can break new ground and write material the dailies wouldn’t dare to print. 

So I’m getting this blog post out as soon as I can – incomplete as no doubt it is – the coalition government has just been formed at Westminster. We have a huge window of opportunity to influence future policy and the lives of our little ones for the better. 

The petition demand is this: 

“We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to change the sixty-nine compulsory Early Years Foundation Stage Learning and Development Requirements (targets applied to children from birth to five in nurseries, schools and other early years settings) to recommendations and guidelines only.” 

Perhaps the most important word in this sentence is the word compulsory. The learning and development requirements are statutory – unless settings gain an exemption ( a complicated and difficult process) – all settings be they nurseries, childminders or Sure Start centres – are obliged to conform to this legislation.  To my knowledge, no parents at all have succeeded in gaining what is called a “parental exemption” in a state-funded or private school. We believe we are the only parents in the U.K. to have applied and been refused a parental exemption in a state-funded school (the process was the impetus to start this blog and if you look back at the postings you will see I have documented this process in detail). 

Not particularly radical. We (a grassroots movement of parents, practitioners and academics originating in the internet community) hoped it was something that most people could agree with. We’re not asking for the learning and development requirements to be abolished, we’re not even asking for them to be reformed (although many of us hope that they will be) . The petition simply asks for them to become ‘guidance only’. Many of us felt that this simple, immediate first step would go a long way to protecting small children from such extensive performance pressure – and perhaps pave the way to more constructive change. 

Q. What is the connection between SATS testing and the Early Years Foundation Stage learning and development requirements? 

A. This is startlingly simple – and at the same time, very complicated

I’m going to talk in plain English first – and then throw in a few fairly high-brow academic references. I trained as a teacher in Adult Education (P.G.C.E) and became interested in Early Years Ed when I had my first child nearly five years ago. 

I had been trained in what they call “reflective practice”. In short this means you become aware of what you know – and what you don’t know – and then add to this knowledge using the best available information and research. You are constantly reflecting, learning and updating what you do. 

This was also my approach to being a parent, and still is. I wanted the best information and the best research for my practice and to help me do the toughest job on the planet. Being a parent

At the beginning, and rather naively – I suppose – I trusted the then (Labour) government that it would do the same thing in our education system. That it would follow best, reflective practice in early years education. 

To my horror, I realised the then government was ignoring an important international research consensus which is now ‘fronted’ by Dr. Sebastian Suggate and others (if that is, consensus can be ‘fronted’ by anyone…). Dr. Suggate will be speaking at a conference in London in June – if you’re an early years practitioner and/or a parent or other interested party – there’s still time to get there and hear him. I’ll be there too. You can read a short description of Dr. Suggate’s research at this link scroll down to find: Early Reading Instruction: does it really improve reading in the long term?

In my own words now: what Dr. Suggate is saying (and judging by the comments which come from his office – he seems to keep a close eye on this blog, so I’m hoping he’ll set me straight soon enough if I’m in danger of misrepresenting him – what he is saying (again in my own words) is: 

  • Children do not benefit from being forced* to learn to read or write as early as four (or five).

Not only do they not benefit from being forced* to learn to read or write as early as four (or five) but there is a now real danger (backed up by other research sources) that their enthusiasm and appetite for learning, literacy and books may be harmed if they are confronted with “too much – too soon”. Their confidence is in danger of disappearing if they are pushed too hard, too early.

 So, if you’re a children’s writer, for example – you may have spent your whole life encouraging children to read books. You may be campaigning hard to encourage older children to read – and secure more resources for them to do so. But – what you are trying to do is simply being undermined by what is happening to children in schools and nurseries in the Early Years. It really is as starkly simple as that. And once again the Emperor has no clothes. Joined up thinking is needed. 

Dr. Suggate’s research backs up what many parents and carers already instinctively knew

Tabloid newspapers have propped up the mistaken conception for too long that there is something wrong with children who can’t read and write by the age of five. Many parents have been brainwashed and betrayed by Blair (and later Brown’s) notion of ‘education, education, education’ and many parents have had their confidence undermined for too long. 

 One reason why this blog is called: “A Parent’s Guide to the Early Years Foundation Stage”. It’s an attempt to strengthen and communicate with parents, in particular those parents who really care about education, learning and yes – BOOKS. 

That’s what prompted me to emblazon my tricycle with Michael Rosen’s comment yesterday. He said: 

“…We have neglected cognition to a point that we have politicians talking about schools as if we all know how children learn. Do we? Do they? Central to learning is the LEARNER. The learner is the one who makes the meanings, so the question is what environment can we create in which they can best make meaning? It’s through discovery, investigation and invention. What we see are diktats, instructions from Central Government directed at practitioners. That’s counter-productive.” 

This comment applies to SATS, but it could equally be applied the Early Years Learning and Development Requirements too. The compulsory EYFS learning and development requirements are SATS FOR THE UNDER FIVES. They are Dikats too, from central government – directed at practitioners – and – as many critics have said so often – they are counter-productive. 

*My use of the word ‘forced’ will no doubt be hotly contested. I might substitute the word ‘co-erced’. The point is, the system and the requirements are compulsory. Children cannot opt out. Practitioners cannot opt out. Schools cannot opt out. Each child, whether they meet the EYFS ‘targets’ or not – will be psychologically affected by the  fact that they exist. There are some excellent quotes from Dr. Richard House which accompany previous blog posts on this point.  

Here are the links to the statutory information about the learning and development requirements and the goals. This is followed by the Open Eye analysis of them in a video by Fergus Andersen. 

STATUTORY FRAMEWORK FOR THE EARLY YEARS LEARNING GOALS – DCSF 

THREE MINUTE OPEN EYE VIDEO ANALYSING THE EARLY LEARNING GOALS AND WHY THEY ARE DETRIMENTAL TO CHILDREN. FEATURES DR. PENELOPE LEACH AND THE NATIONAL UNION OF TEACHERS