Archive for the ‘EYFS exemptions’ Category

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. 




EYFS exempt school wins ‘outstanding’ category at inspection.

See this Nursery World article for full report.

A Parent’s Guide to the Early Years Foundation Stage. “Notes for Parents in Reception”.

Yesterday’s Guardian contained several articles which highlighted how ‘family life’ issues will be central to decisions made in the next election. Some commentators are calling this a ‘Mumsnet’ election – meaning that decisive issues will include those most relevant to parents – and women.

Early years education should be somewhere near the top of this list. Not least because women in particular are over-represented at the school-and-nursery-gate as well as in the pre-school sector workforce. 

But yesterday’s paper offered no analysis of the impact on parents, women, families and early years practioners of  the Early Years Foundation Stage and EYFS Learning and Development Requirements. Why? 

Firstly, I suggest – although the issues are straightforward – (there is a broad consensus for reform of the sixty-nine compulsory learning and development requirements – which includes the work around the petition I launched – see this link – and if you haven’t done so already, please consider signing…) – the matter is hedged about with government bureaucracy and “spin”. So much so, that I believe many parents (and journalists too) simply can’t see the wood for the trees. 

There is also a lack of information and witness from the coal face of parenting . No-one appears to be documenting how parents and children themselves are experiencing the sixty-nine compulsory Early Years Foundation Stage Learning and Development Requirements.

 Whilst I do NOT claim to speak for all parents (and would never presume to do so) – I believe this blog steps in to fill a void. For example: 

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard people represent the view (both online, at the school, in the classroom and in person) that they know the EYFS learning and development requirements have their shortcomings (or are fundamentally flawed). People who express this view maintain the EYFS learning and development programme (including the learning and development requirements) is  still “workable” because “we don’t do things like that here”. Meaning that dedicated practitioners are able to mitigate the potentially harmful and/or damaging effects of the EYFS compulsory learning and development requirements. 

I doubt very much that this is possible. The government and local authorities sometimes give the impression each setting can interpret the framework and ‘facilitate’ learning in it’s own way. The government and local authorities maintain the framework allows for flexibility and protects the interests of the ‘unique child’ .  

In practice however, the realities of life in the classroom or nursery tell a different story. How do I know this? Let me count the ways… 

This week I  opened my child’s school bag to find a three page document entitled: 

“Notes for parents of children in Reception – Communication, Language and Literacy”. 

In the public interest (and with names removed) – I have decided to publish this document here. I believe it clearly shows that children, teachers, child care practitioners are simply not in a position to escape the EYFS learning and development requirements straitjacket, however well-intentioned teachers and practioners might be, and however hard they try. 

This document shows how a typical, committed and enthusiastic teacher might tackle the 69 EYFS learning and development requirements. It is not important that this document originates from a particular school. Since the EYFS is enforced everywhere (apart from those Steiner schools which have gained a partial exemption) – every nursery teacher will be forced to do this work, and produce a similar plan although of course they will each approach it in a different way. 

The first page of this document looks like this: (readers can enlarge any of these documents by clicking on them. The text is clear enough to be legible): 

Document photograph: Notes for Parents of Children in Reception. Communication, Language and Literacy. 13th. January, 2009

  Here’s the second page: 


Document Photograph. Communication, Language and Literacy: Notes for Parents of children in Reception. 13th. January, 2009

And the third.

Spellings, phonics and numeracy appear prominently in this document, taking up the first two pages. We are told “some children will be bringing home 3 or 4 words to learn each week…”

Parents are urged to ‘help their children learn the letter sounds’ using a three step method.

At this point I need to remind readers of our child’s age. Daughter is at present four years and four months old.

We are dedicated parents (with flaws, of course). Each night since she was about two without fail, we have enjoyed reading stories to our child. At least an hour every day and usually more. Other Half and Daughter do this together. They are currently giggling their way through extensive tracts of “The Hobbit”, “Pippi Longstocking”, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and the like. Most Saturdays we go to the public library. Babes loves her books.

She is progressing at her own pace. She is not of compulsory school age. On the very first day of school last September (as I think I mentioned before) we found  a ‘reading record book’ in her school bag. We felt it was age-inappropriate and have now stopped stressing out about filling it in.

There is a lot to say about speech and language acquisition. Speaking two languages as I do I feel our daughter is getting along really well with this, but it is way too early to start on the programme that is being suggested in the  document shown here.

The document tells us: “Some children will be bringing home 3 or  4 words to learn each week”. (Perhaps this measure will not include our child?).

But if she is not included, how is she going to feel? On page two we are told that “All of the children will be continuing to read independently each day and in their small independent reading groups on a weekly basis“.

What about those children who are nowhere near ready to “read independently”?

Page Two also tells us about “target words”. The government in their ‘spin’ has consistently avoided using the word “targets”. But on page two here is that word again, quite clearly expressed.

And then there is the “Super Spelling Time” mentioned on Page One of this document. At our parental exemption application meeting our local authority maintained that the EYFS learning and development requirements did not include the “testing” of children.

In the meeting my response to the local authority was that one could write whole Phd. dissertations about our understanding of testing. What’s important here I feel (as one blog reader commented) is that children know when they are being tested. Whether or not you present it to them as a test.

“Super Spelling Time” sounds like a well-intentioned attempt to get to grips with the sixty nine compulsory learning and development requirements of the Early Years Foundation Stage.

May I suggest though, that in reality it is nothing other than a spelling TEST.

Parents are told: “Children will have a go at writing the words/letter sounds that they have been practising with you at home“.

Our position is currently that our child is not ready to “practise words/letter sounds at home”. We will not be forcing her to do so. And I know from my communications with other parents across the country that we are not the only parents with this stance.

Yesterday I showed the documents to a retired early years practioner friend of mine. Her comments included the observation that a vast number of parents would not have the time or inclination to read it.  She felt many parents would get the document, glance at it, feel overwhelmed and/or pressured – put it in a drawer and then hope the whole thing would go away…

“What is robot-talk?” my friend said “There’s no explanation here”. “What about those parents who themselves struggle with literacy, or for whom English is a second language?”.

As far as the term “phonics” is concerned – my own thoughts are of course I know some of the background to these systems myself, having taught adult literacy and gained a degree in German. But I also know there are different systems of phonics. More importantly there are criticisms of these systems too.

But it seems desirable ‘parental contributions’ in schools are now limited to fund-raising and baking cakes. We are not required to comment on how our children are being educated. The EYFS learning and development requirements are set in bureaucratic ‘educational’ stone. Until and unless government policy is changed. Here’s that petition link again.

A final observation about the document I’ve shown here. It shows a tiny portion of the huge swathe of paperwork necessary to uphold the EYFS learning and development requirements system.

Readers may recall that every single one of the governors at our school refused our parental exemption request.

Although I maintain that decision was morally unsound (they could have made a stand – come out of the closet for the sake of justice – they could have  stood up to government pressure) – a part of me understands very well why some of them might have thought that granting a parental exemption was impossible. If it takes this much organisation and paperwork to uphold the sixty nine compulsory learning and development requirements – how much more paperwork would a parental exemption entail? But the thought of this just makes a further mockery of the so-called parental ‘right’ to exemption. It is no right at all. As yet no local authority or state school taken the risk  of supporting a parental exemption.  The system is a farce. The right exists on paper only.

I’m finishing this blog post now. It’s my birthday and I’m getting the ingredients ready to make a birthday cake with my daughter when she gets home.

I feel there are many more questions and issues to discuss around the documents that I’ve published today. So I’m throwing this open to you now, my readers.

 I hope this blog post is useful and/or challenging for parents and early years practitioners alike. I’d be particularly interested to find out more about what other parents, (including parents  of summer-born children) are experiencing. Do send me a message via the contact section. Please specify if you would like me to publish  anonymously.

Being a parent in a target-driven culture (Early Years Foundation Stage)

[picapp src=”d/6/c/d/Refund_Offered_For_a192.jpg?adImageId=7604108&imageId=6916483″ width=”500″ height=”343″ /]

In the last two weeks everything seems to have moved very fast. Last week I attended my daughter’s first parent’s evening. We made it very clear how we felt about the learning and development targets of the Early Years Foundation Stage which are being imposed on us.

It was an upsetting evening. We’d put enormous effort into applying for the exemption – and were refused – not because our application didn’t stand up – (we applied on religious, moral, educational and philosophical grounds)…but basically because the school said the resources weren’t there to make alternative arrangements(see previous posts). So we had no choice but to deal with the situation – which is not the same as saying we accept it. We don’t. We are not going to push our child to meet targets which are not backed up with a sound educational basis and research. I’m sounding like a broken record at this point, I know.

Practically speaking – what this means for us is that we sometimes don’t fill in the reading book (with it’s targeted readers geared towards the EYFS Learning and Development Goals) which is sent home with our child. Our child is still attending non-compulsory schooling – so we are not obliged to as far as I can see.

We read stories together every night, but our child is just four and three months and we are not going to do anything which comes even remotely close to destroying her love of words. We really feel that striving towards some externally-imposed (and compulsory not optional) targets is not the way. So I have said to the school that what the government is doing (and what our local authority is asking schools to achieve) is counter-productive in that sense.

On a brighter note I was really glad to get away for the weekend with family and child and had registered for the “Being a Quaker Parent” course at Woodbrooke Quaker College. Although our group agreed on a confidentiality clause there are some aspects of this weekend that I can write about. See Questioners Garden Time for links to food and sustainability.

We looked at how, as parents we can deal with a target-driven culture in general. A fellow parent recommended a book to me which I shall try and chase up. I will try to post the title here.

At the school gate yesterday another parent pressed a newspaper cutting into my hand. I managed to find the link to what she was showing me on the Times Online website.

It’s a letter written by the Head of Infants of Radlett prep school in Hertfordshire. Further evidence I believe that the compulsory nature of the EYFS learning and development targets are not the way.

I’ve heard some people who support the EYFS learning and development goals say that their teachers can ‘bend’ the requirements so that they don’t have a negative effect on their children. My response on this is to say, well ‘yes’ but these compulsory targets don’t just affect the relationship between teacher and pupil – they also affect the relationship between peers and between parents. I’ve already met parents who’ve swallowed the government propaganda wholesale and actually believe that if their child doesn’t meet the targets on time, they have failed as parents and their children will be disadvantaged in life.

Peer pressure can be a positive thing but in this instance it quite definitely isn’t. When these issues come up I’ve had to explain to my child that she is nearly a year younger than some others in her class and that it is perfectly fine for her to be doing different things. I’m careful to praise her achievements whatever she does.

The Wall.

Twenty years since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Times have changed and so has education. I’d like readers to listen to the words of this song again. After our experiences with the Early Years Foundation Stage Learning and Development Goals and the exemption process – I think I’ve finally understood what Pink Floyd were trying to say.

Statement on rejection of EYFS Parental exemption request

Quite a number of readers have asked to see the public statement we made when our exemption request was rejected. The statement was published in the Quaker international journal “The Friend” last week. Here it is:

“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, a member of Wirral and Chester (Quaker) meeting, received a letter from her child’s state-funded school saying: ‘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’.

Frances told the Friend: ‘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.’

Reader responses to Early Years Exemption ‘Challenge’

And another one – this time from Arthur. Arthur – I’ve lifted your words out of the comments section as they really do hit certain nails on the head…thanks for the feedback. F.

Arthur says:

 “All well and good, except that you probably won’t be able to find another school within the state system that is prepared to accept an exempt child and is close enough for you.

When Tony Blair said his government’s priorities would be “Education, Education, Education!”, we all thought he meant more books, equipment and teachers and smaller class sizes. How wrong we were. Instead, we get a large army of civil servants producing reams of rules and regulations about how children should be taught and the things they should be able to do by a certain age and a small army of inspectors making sure that the schools and child care providers follow those rules.

I suppose we couldn’t really expect anything else from an over ambitious accountant and his probation officer side kick (who has now been replaced by a career politician with a reputation for not listening to objections).”