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 Since this blog draws on nearly two years work – and is now a historical document I hope a look back at previous blog posts can fill in some gaps here and put Dame Tickell’s Early Years Foundation Stage Review into context.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


Stop league tables for five year olds. International petition launch.

It started quietly with a solid and thoughtful consensus. It became an international petition. It changed government policy. Aim high. Join us and sign it at the end of this post: 

“The U.K. government is proposing to begin publishing school league performance tables for England’s five year olds on a school by school basis.

We, the undersigned believe that such an unprecedented development puts both young children and their teachers, parents and carers under unwarranted pressure that is distinctly unhelpful – especially for children at such a tender age. We believe such tables to be divisive and unnecessary, and that they generate all manner of unintended and unforeseeable consequences that do far more harm than good”.



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. 



Early Years Foundation Stage. Election Packages.

Early Years Foundation Stage. Election Package.

So. There we have it. My ‘in’ box is spilling over with press releases from every organisation I can think of.

It seems many of us are considering how we can make our voices heard in the (carefully orchestrated) media mayhem which is the general election.
The teaching unions appear to have voted in favour of a Sats boycott, to take place on May 10th – just days after the next government is due to come into power.
Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said national tests for 10- and 11- year olds “contravene the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child”. Sats reduced children to “little bundles of measurable outputs trained in a mechanistic model of education” she said.
The media at large hasn’t yet got to grips with the fact that the Early Years Foundation Stage learning and development requirements contain a similarly potentially destructive dynamic. They are far worse than Sats – in my view simply because they are being imposed on very young children, some of whom can’t even speak yet.
A bunch of professors have got their act together on education and written a lengthy letter in the Times Educational Supplement. Personally, I always wondered why there seemed to be a huge rift between what prominent early years educational researchers were saying and what the government was doing – until I realised that the government simply wasn’t listening.
Now, the profs in question are trying to MAKE them listen  – by demanding a new, independent research body.  See the link at the end of this post.
My own little bundle fended off any attempts to be “measured” today, thank goodness. She elected to paint this treasures box with the drawers closed whilst singing to herself for an hour or so. When the box was dry we couldn’t get the drawers open. No matter.
Read the Profs TES letter at this link:

“No grounds for learning to read at five” says researcher. Nursery World

See link to recent Nursery World article here.

Mumsnet and the Early Years Foundation Stage discussion thread

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Some have said the next election will be a ‘Mumsnet’ election. As a parent I sometimes frequent chat boards – for advice, help, support or simply for fun. Yesterday I started a thread at the social networking site Mumsnet about the parliamentary e-petition I launched recently. The text of the petition is quite simple and reads as follows:

“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”.

As readers can see the first signatory on my petition was Dr. Richard House.

The subject matter of the discussion thread I’d started was actually fairly boring. The petition itself is not particularly challenging. It isn’t the first parliamentary e-petition on the subject and it won’t be the last. The downgrading of the EYFS learning and development requirements to recommendations only is by no means a radical demand. I’d thought it was something that many people could agree upon.

Not so, it seems. I’d been warned by other mums that the Mumsnet site is notorious for it’s bullying posters but even I was shocked by some of the reactions I encountered there. On the very first day, personal attacks were vicious and almost exclusively negative. I wondered why – finally coming to the conclusion that in some parenting ‘cultures’ dissent is simply not permitted. What does this say about families and the impact of the EYFS Learning and Development Goals on our educational and political culture as a whole? What does it say about parental peer pressure?

I’d suspected for a long time that many parents have swallowed government propaganda on EYFS wholesale. Someone like me who has acquired a thick skin can just about hold their own in such a debate (and fight back) but what about all those parents out there who can’t or who are struggling to understand the implications of the EYFS Learning and Development Goals?

What about parents  who have misgivings about the Learning and Development Goals, backed up by their own instincts and their own experiences with their own children?

What about the parents who are not strong enough to face such an onslaught? Those who are just too busy with coping to face it? Let me know your thoughts on this one. (And I promise not to shout you down).

To view the Mumsnet thread follow this link.

To sign the parliamentary petition go to this link.

Update 15.22 p.m.: Taking a welcome break from this Mumsnet thread now. I feel as a discourse on EYFS and early years cultural politics it speaks for itself…

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

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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.