Archive for the ‘EYFS and coalition government’ Category

Phonics/reading test for five and six year olds rejected by the government’s EYFS review panel

Front page Times Educational Supplement today we find an interesting piece by Helen Ward entitled: “Phonics knocked off it’s perch by EYFS review”. in which Helen appears to be highlighting how the findings of the government-sponsored review panel appear to directly contradict coalition government policy on the reading test for five and six year olds. I’m saying ‘coalition government’ policy here – but actually the reading test is Conservative Policy and as far as I’m aware was never backed by the Liberal Democrats.

So we have a political controversy and I’ll say again what I’ve said before: The futures of young children are in danger of being sacrificed on the altar of political expediency.

Meanwhile Early Day Motion 1532 to rethink the Phonics Test has been signed by prominent Lib Dem, Labour and Green M.P’s but the Conservatives are noticeably absent from the list. So the phonics test for five and six year olds has been criticised by Phonics experts (such as Prof. Greg Brooks who signed the petition to Stop School League Tables for five year olds) – criticised by practitioners (see the international petition to Say No to the Phonics Test) and criticised by the government commissioned EYFS review panel. Yet the government is still going ahead with this. Orwellian, isn’t it?

I read a piece on the Educational Maintenance Allowance written by Aaron Porter formerly of the NUS in the Guardian yesterday. He seemed to be saying that Michael Gove and the coalition government either don’t know their own policies very well, don’t know what they are doing or that they are quite simply incompetent. I tend to agree.

 The major ideological objective behind many of these policies is to be blunt: to make people pay.  To make people pay for their schooling by allowing private companies to take over academies and elements of schooling, to make schools pay – and – because the policy is fundamentally educationally unsound – they are making our five and six year olds pay too.

There is another aspect of this (and forgive me for being so wordy readers) – which is the question of the private companies which are behind the organisation and creation of the phonics testing. The week before last the Times Educational Supplement ran several articles (for and against arguments) on the reading and phonics test for five and six year olds (although they were still referring to it as a test for six year olds). One of the comment pieces which supported the test was written by several authors some of whom were described as literacy trainers. I was prompted to respond to this with a readers letter which remained unpublished. Here it is:

“Very pleased to see more in depth coverage of the reading/phonics test this week. There were several simple points that I would like to highlight though.

Firstly can we please stop referring to the test as a “test for six year olds”?  A good number of summer-borns are set to be tested – and if our school is included in the pilot scheme – this would include my own five year old daughter. So it would be factually correct to call it a “test for five and six year olds”. Differentiating brings us closer to understanding how developmentally different children in Year One classes actually are.

Secondly - I was interested to read the piece by Ruth Miskin and Jenny Chew who are referred to as ‘literacy’ trainers. Amongst other issues raised in this piece we are reassuringly told “children need not be fazed by the requirements of the screening check”.  Does that mean that parents need likewise not be fazed by the £250,000 that the pilot scheme will cost? Or the fact that the government is refusing to tell us how much the scheme as a whole will cost, for reasons of commercial confidentiality as described in the Freedom of Information Act Query I submitted recently? Does that mean we need not be fazed by the fact that at least one of the authors of the article in question is not simply a ‘literacy’ trainer – but in addition appears to run a commercial enterprise, heavily marketing phonics materials and training packages across the country? Does that mean we don’t have to ask or answer questions about which companies are contracted to deliver these programmes and how? Are  we likewise not to be fazed by cuts in our libraries, arts and public services – which are directly relevant to children’s  ability to access books and communicate?   

Thirdly - I’m very glad to see the debate in the TES on the reading test – but most parents don’t read this paper – it (inevitably?) mainly addresses an elite audience. Your average parent at the school gate is not aware of the controversies surrounding the reading/phonics test. And even if they were – most of us do not believe we could change anything about it anyway. Even the most assertive parent – tends to crumble (in despair?) when faced with the many permutations of the adage that ‘teacher knows best’ in our society. Parents and their children continue to be excluded from a truly democratic discussion on education. They are disenfranchised and disempowered by the reading test plan – as they have been disempowered by the many other inappropriate measures foisted upon them in recent years.

Frances Laing (editor of the international petition “Stop School League Tables for Five Year Olds”, parent, trained teacher, writer, blogger and journalist).

One last note on this: I had requested our own M.P. Stephen Mosley to sign the EDM to rethink the reading/phonics test for five and six year olds. In response Stephen referred to some research that allegedly backed up the validity of the test. I sent off an email this week to ask what the research resources are that he is referring to. I shall look forward to receiving a response and inviting readers to comment. Stephen writes in his letter:

“I would like to assure you that the education Minister Nick Gibb, M.P. has undertaken a great deal of reseach in this area and that the Government’s proposals are supported by high quality research evidence from across the world, from Scotland and Australia to the National Reading Panel in the United States. The inclusion of non-words in the test would mean that pupils would have to de-code words and ensure that they have not just memorised individual words”.

Somehow I’m not reassured by this but after all what do I and my partner know about the education of five and six year olds (I’m only the mother of one of them – and my partner is only the one who goes to the library every week with her and reads the stories every night…

 A note of heavy sarcasm creeping in there. At the risk of banging on boringly about this and in the event that I don’t receive a response from Stephen Moseley M.P about the research sources the government is using to back up their arguments about the reading test – can anyone else out there help me out in naming these research sources?  Ta.

Update:

Made a start with researching the research sources, here is the U.S. source which interestingly enough, advocates a ‘combination of methods’ to develop reading skills, and not just one - this includes comprehension and listening to a child read. Question: isn’t that what schools are already doing? So why spent a quarter of a million pounds on a pilot scheme and several million more on rolling out an entirely new programme?

Here is what the U.S. National Reading Panel had to say about one study they conducted (for the rest follow the link above):

“The panel also concluded that guided oral reading is important for developing reading fluency-the ability to read with efficiency and ease. In guided oral reading, students read out loud, to either a parent, teacher or other student, who corrects their mistakes and provides them with other feedback. Specifically, guided oral reading helped students across a wide range of grade levels to learn to recognize new words, helped them to read accurately and easily, and helped them to comprehend what they read.

By contrast, the panel was unable to determine from the research whether reading silently to oneself helped to improve reading fluency. Although it makes sense that silent reading would lead to improvements in fluency, and the panel members did not discourage the practice, sufficient research to conclusively prove this assumption has not been conducted. Literally hundreds of studies have shown that the best readers read silently to themselves more frequently than do poor readers, the panel members wrote. However, these studies cannot distinguish whether independent silent reading improves reading skills or that good readers simply prefer to read silently to themselves more than do poor readers. The panel recommended that if silent reading is used as a classroom technique, intended to develop reading skills and fluency, it should be done in combination with other types of reading instruction, such as guided oral reading”. (From U.S. Reading Panel Study).

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:

Stop School League Tables for Five Year Olds Early Day Motion. Petition Day Twelve.

Wow. It’s only twelve days since the international petition launch to Stop School League Tables for Five Year Olds and we already have a Parliamentary Early Day Motion, put together by Caroline Lucas M.P and her Parliamentary Research Team and supported by many, many petition signatories, parents, carers, teachers, researchers, lecturers, professors, writers and journalists. The Early Day Motion text varies only slightly from the petition text as you can see here: Early Day Motion to Stop School League Tables for Five Year Olds.

The second name on the Early Day Motion to Stop School League Tables for Five Year Olds is just as impressive as the first:  it is John McDonnell M.P. Thank you John. This is a very happy moment for me – although I can’t write fast enough!

Very pleased to see Netta Ford (N.U.T Birmingham and former President of this branch) having signed the petition too. She left a comment:

“Targets, testing and league tables have ruined our education system; they lower self-esteem and reduce learning to ticking boxes. They should be scrapped for all.”

So we need more signatories. Grass roots, rank and file – AND the big names. And more M.P’s signatories on the Early Day Motion to Stop School League Tables for Five Year Olds.

We have more than a few things helping us along here. For further reports try to beg, borrow or even buy (it’s expensive!) a copy of this weeks Times Educational Supplement. And keep an eye out for the issue in the national (and international?) news.

Once again here is that international petition link:

International Petition to Stop School League Tables for Five Year Olds

And the link for the Early Day Motion to Stop School League Tables for Five Year Olds.

Government review and ‘consultation’ on the Early Years Foundation Stage launched.

I mentioned in the previous post that I’m currently writing a chapter for a book which analyses the English Early Years Education system. Since we’re the only parents in the U.K. to our knowledge to have applied and been refused an exemption to the Early Years Foundation Stage learning and development requirements in a state-funded school I’ve got quite a lot to say about this issue as you can imagine! Stay tuned to this blog for more. Parents have until 30th. September to take part in the ‘government consultation’. Parents, practitioners, childminders – if you wish to take part in the ‘consultation’ and tell the government what you think – follow the link at the end of this post.

And here is the official government line as embraced on YouTube:

Access the Government ‘consultation’ on the Early Years Foundation Stage

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.

Open Eye Conference 2010. “The Child the True Foundation” Article in the Telegraph and Dr. Aric Sigman.

The international Open Eye conference I attended two weeks ago received coverage in the national media, including the Telegraph newspaper:

They chose the challenging headline “Ban Computers from schools until children reach age 9 says expert”.

Dr. Aric Sigman is quoted: “There is evidence to show that introducing information and communications technology (ICT) in the early years actually subverts the very skills the Government ministers said they want children to develop, such as the ability to pay attention for sustained periods”.

Dr Sigman is the author of the book: “Remotely controlled: How television is damaging our lives” and has recently published a new book.

In addition, Dr Sigman, who is an Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society, a Fellow of the Society of Biology, a recipient of the Chartered Scientist award from the Science Council and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine, has published scientific papers. Well Connected?: The Biological Implications of ‘Social Networking’, is published in the Spring edition of Biologist, Vol 56(1), the journal of the Institute of Biology.

The Telegraph article interestingly picks up on the lack of action of our coalition government:

 “The coalition government is reviewing which of its functions should be passed on to the Department for Education. Before the election, the Liberal Democrats said they would scrap the ‘nappy curriculum’.

Nick Gibb the Conservative schools minister has described it as a ‘bureaucratic nightmare’. A Department of Education spokesman said: No decision has been made yet on the future of the EYFS. Ministers are looking carefully at how best to strengthen the EYFS framework. We’re clear about the need to cut bureaucracy to free-up front line professionals in supporting young children’s development”.

All well and good. As I’ve said before -  whilst the government does nothing - parents and children are forced to do their dirty work for them and mop up the mess.

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:

Coalition government, Sats and the Early Years Foundation Stage

I broke the news that we had a new Prime Minister (called David Cameron) to my daughter over breakfast today. She was disappointed.

She wanted her acting headmaster to be Prime Minister because she “liked him”.  

“There’s an argument for that”, I said, simply. (He laughs a lot and is very good at listening to small children).

I emailed No. 10  with congratulations today (and a request that the e-petition system be restored now that a new government has been formed).

Wanting to signal our opposition to the Sats tests and our solidarity with teachers who are boycotting the tests I found a quote by Michael Rosen and tied it to the back of my Pashley tricycle so that everyone would see it on their way to school:

Michael has joined Authors against Sats. The quote reads: 

“…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.”

I believe Michael hasn’t voiced an opinion about the compulsory Early Years Learning and Development Requirements yet, I’ve emailed him too to ask if he’ll sign the e-petition when it is up and running again.

In the meantime I’ve received an important and interesting comment from Dr. Sebastian Suggate’s office about reading aloud. (He’s the one who has conducted important new research which shows that children do not benefit from being forced to learn to read early – (my words not his) – read the comment from Dr. Sebastian Suggate here

Find out more about Authors Against Sats here – and read Michael Rosen‘s Mumsnet web chat on Sats in full here.

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