Archive for the ‘Homework at the age of four’ Category

Campaign for the Book. West Cheshire Council Staff take Industrial Action.

This blog has developed organically over the course of two and a half years. My daughter is now six and a half. We are acutely aware of the damage that has been done by testing young children too much. And too much too soon, as has been evidenced by the mistakes made with the early versions of the Early Years Foundation Stage (which has now been reformed) – the coalition government’s proposed league tables for five year olds (which we managed as a grass roots campaign) to push back.

As parents we refused mostly wholesale the homework imposed on our child from the age of four – the testing and the tables. Instead we read stories to our daughter consistently and had conversations and followed and engaged with the guidance of fellow co-contributors to the book ‘Early Learning and the Erosion of Childhood’ which was published last year. We were in good company my daughter and I – collaborating with the best of early years educators internationally.

So it was an immense privilege for my daughter and I to stand on a picket line together with Alan Gibbons – children’s author today and founder of the ‘Campaign for the Book’. You see as parents we refused every test and measurement of our child that there was going – it came as no surprise to us that approaching the age of seven – our daughter has not only been awarded a prize for her descriptive writing at school – but is now amongst the VERY top of her class at spelling. How did that happen?

It happened in large part because as a family (and as a community) we love books. And accordingly, we love libraries. Stuff the tests. Libraries are free and have always been an important part of our culture. They are also a cheap, warm, safe and secure place to visit with small children (especially when the weather is cold or in the holidays).

So we supported our libraries today in Chester. West Cheshire Council staff (not just librarians) are currently taking industrial action see this link for video by David Holmes of the Chester Chronicle. It always amazes me how PR people in large organisations are often ignorant of the sheer unstoppable force of word-of-mouth communication. Alan Gibbons remembered how my Other Half campaigned on the miner’s strike twenty years before. There wasn’t much we needed to explain. Alan reminded us of how the U.K is twenty fifth in the Pisa rankings and planning to shut down many of it’s libraries. South Korea on the other hand I recall he said is number five on the Pisa list and they are opening more than one hundred new libraries.

So it seems as has so often been the case throughout history and across the world, those who love books are in the forefront of resistance to the canker that is the coalition. Joined in Cheshire West  by Home Care Workers, Housing Network Staff, Parking Enforcement Officers, Park Rangers, Central Control Officers, CCTV Officers, Streetscene Operatives, Children’s Home Staff, Social Workers and Family Support Workers.

Cameron and co. who on earth do you think you are fooling?

Council Staff are taking Industrial Action – UNISON PRESS RELEASE FOLLOWS:

Staff across all Council Services are currently on strike over the Easter holiday period. 100’s of staff have been forced to take strike action following the rejection by the Council of new proposals that would have avoided this disruption to services across the Borough. The Council by rejecting new reasonable proposals from the trade unions that would have avoided this strike – have only made matters worse.

The issue:

This Council, unlike most others in the North West, has decided to remove the pay enhancements staff receive for working weekends, bank holidays and overtime. They are also cutting the rate for working nights.

UNISON believes that paying more for working nights and weekends is fair and proper. It reflects the real cost of working 6 days, missing family life and of higher child care costs.

All major employers make such payments. We are not prepared to see ours taken away because of a financial crisis we did not cause. We are already suffering redundancies and a 3 year pay freeze, which has cut our real pay by over 10 per cent.

In addition to that – the Council have actively sought to undermine the strike action by offering double pay to people who are prepared to undermine their colleague’s action.

Other Councils have all managed to negotiate with the trade unions – no other Council has gone this far; and we believe this is an ideological attack on the workforce.

If the Council had put as much effort into resolving this dispute, as it has into undermining lawful action, we would not be in this position today. We hope you will understand why we are forced to take this action and you will support us in the fight.

SOURCE: west cheshire UNISON.

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Half term – politics, academies, PTA, eyfs parliamentary petition, coalition government and a child’s first year at school

As the coalition government sets about it’s business – coalition agreements on education and schools are analysed in the mainstream press but official statements on the future of the Early Years Foundation Stage compulsory Learning and Development Requirements remain noticeably absent.

The e-parliamentary petition system was de-activated by the U.K. administration around six weeks ago (due to the election, they said). But the election is over and the system hasn’t been restored. This has meant all the people who’ve approached me during that time wanting to sign the e-petition on the right of this page have simply been unable to register their protest. Democracy in action?

Yet another reason why people should meet together in person with academics to discuss the best strategies to adopt for early years education. The Open Eye conference I shall be attending in London next month seems to be gaining in importance all the time.

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Parents and children are in the thick of all this, as usual – mopping up a political mess. Many schools face an uncertain future due to budget cuts. Will the proposed plan to create more academies draw money away from state schools? Meanwhile there is a noticeable absence of discussion about education itself and the naked emperor of the compulsory Early Years Foundation Stage learning and development requirements.

Namely this: in any other field of research or government – you would expect government policies to be based on the best available international research consensus. Here we have an international research consensus telling us there are no advantages to pushing young children to read and write at a very early age (as the EYFS compulsory learning and development requirements are doing). And this consensus is being ignored by our government.

On the ground here, there are some rays of sunshine. For the first time ever – we have a Parent Teacher Association. The first meetings were well attended – full of enthusiastic, discerning (and critical) parents. I can’t say much about this here obviously, but it’s a positive development and I feel I can say we’re working on joining the National Parent Teacher Association. This site must be useful for any parents to look at, there’s so much useful information on it, including a nifty “Ten Pointers to Success” for your PTA – so I’m including the link here.

On the internet there’s been some discussion about the ways in which academies might benefit children under five. Some are under the impression that if parents create their own schools they can avoid the pressures of the compulsory Early Years Foundation Stage Learning and Development Requirements. Unfortunately this isn’t the case. As the law stands all settings are required to meet the demands of this compulsory system – unless they undergo the tedious, labour-intensive and as things stand – tortuous process of applying for a settings exemption. So we need to change the law. Easier said than done, isn’t it? I’ll let readers know as soon as the petition is up and running again…

Homework at the age of four?

Our school is ‘reviewing’ their current Homework policy – ‘looking to identify set days on which homework will be set and collected in by teachers’. We’ve received a note in our daughter’s school bag. There’s a table to fill in and a comments box:

The table looks like this. (There are boxes for parents/carers to tick ‘please tick appropriate box with regard to time spent on homework activities’ – and a comments box at the end of the sheet of paper for additional comments).

—————————————————————————————

Homework Focus     Not enough     Correct Amount        Too Much

Spellings

Reading

Maths

Topic

———————————————————————————————

‘Homework’ is a subject very relevant to criticisms of the Early Years Foundation Stage Learning and Development Requirements and the EYFS profiling which I believe is completed at the end of a child’s first year at school and so I’m sharing our responses to this ‘homework’ questionnnaire with readers of this blog. Here they are:

Firstly, we’re really glad that a school such as ours should be reviewing their homework policy. This may be a positive development. It must be a difficult and time-consuming task coordinating the facilitation of learning for a large number of children. We can see the need for practical ways of doing things.

However, as parents we can’t help thinking that a tick box system like this is not the answer. Whether you are conducting a simple survey like this, or compiling research evidence for a  Phd – answers and results received from questionnaires depend on which questions are asked in the first place.

So let’s look at the assumptions behind the form. The tick box we are faced with appears to assume that all parents agree it is a good idea to give a child of four or five  ‘homework’ in spelling, reading, maths and/or a topic.

As parents our approach is as follows: our child is four, and at the moment we feel that the six hours of formal learning she receives at school is quite enough. When she gets home – we would like our daughter to play. And to learn through free play. At four years and four months that is her job. (And at five, her needs may be different).

At the moment though, we try to provide activities and resources for her to do this. Reading stories, visiting the city library, constructing buildings with blocks e.t.c. visiting our allotment, growing vegetables, spending time with grandma and grandad. Talking to people/friends/neighbours. Walking. Listening to music. Dancing. Making the tea together. Stroking and talking to the cats. Sitting by the fire drawing pictures. Doing nothing in particular. Watching a film. Just having the time to “be”. And so it goes on. Everyday life.

Our situation provides evidence of the essential weaknesses of the system of Early Years Foundation Stage Learning and Development Requirements (and the accompanying EYFS Profile with the profile points which nursery teachers are required to gather evidence for at the end of the first foundation year at school). Namely the following:

In our daughter’s class (of thirty or so children – not sure of the exact numbers) – the children vary in age. There will be summer born children like our daughter – currently aged four. But there will also be older children in the class too. Sometimes children that are nearly a year older than our own child. Children who are five years old, for example (or older?)

It is quite clear to us that these children will inevitably find themselves at a different developmental stage than our own child. And that is absolutely fine. Each child develops differently and we would like to think they can do this at their own pace.

However, at present, as far as  ‘homework’ is concerned – the statutory Early Years Foundation Stage targets and the EYFS profiling appear to mean that teachers are expected to bring each child up to the same standard. The profiles are statutory. They are an obligation for the school.  

And as far as we know, the same homework ‘tasks’ are being put into the school bag of each child in the school (Update: Apologies for this very obvious mistake readers – of course I meant to write  ‘in the class’ here and not ‘in the school’. The ethics of blogging demands that I leave the original sentence as it stands and introduce an update here. F.L.) . We’re assuming that each child in our child’s class is given the same ‘homework’  to do in their school bag each week.

As far as the ‘Super Spelling’ session is concerned (detailed in a previous post) parents are asked to ‘practice’ spellings at home, which will be ‘tested’ in school). Once again, this appears to show that the same criteria are being applied to all children in the class across the board, regardless of age and developmental stages. 

As parents – what we are being asked to do by the school is to judge our child according to the same criteria which are also being used for much older  children. We are not willing to do this, it is educationally and developmentally misguided.

Our child is a full year younger than some other children in the class. She is also of non-compulsory school age. She is not required to complete homework as far as we can see.

There is more than enough evidence amongst early years practitioners and researchers internationally to show that pushing young children too hard too soon does not benefit them in the longer term and may put them off learning altogether.

All of these issues leave us all with practical problems to solve. Issues like these will be shared by many parents across the country.

How many parents in state schools open their child’s school bag to find ‘homework’ and a ‘reading book’ ?

 How many of these parents suspect that their child is just not ready for the work which is being set for them?

 How many of the parents who feel this way are assertive enough to do or say anything about this?

 How many (or how few?) of these parents are able to write the realities of this situation down and publicise it?

 We are both working parents. In a recession we suggest that there may be many parents out there who cannot afford to wait until their child is five to send them to school.

So given all these issues – including the educational ones – we, as parents are faced with several dilemmas.

 Do we ignore the ‘homework’ which is placed in our child’s bag each week (as we feel much of it is age inappropriate)? If we do this, what happens to our child when she is AT school?

We are not obliged to practice spellings with our child at home which will then be ‘tested’ and ‘marked’ each Monday at school. (Although the ‘testing’ and the ‘marking’ goes under a different name). Our child is of non-compulsory school age.

In writing down feedback for our school and all others interested in the future of education it has often been inferred that we are somehow overly-anxious parents who are concerned that our child will not meet the Early Years Profile ‘targets’. (And we know they are ‘targets ‘in all but name).

To set the record straight  (again) – the opposite is the case. Our child is confident and happy. She learns well partly because we have given her the space and time to learn – to learn in her own time – when she is ready. We have complete confidence in her abilities.  Our vote of ‘no confidence’ is firmly placed in the boxes marked ‘system’ and ‘government’

During the course of the past two weeks I have received some feedback from early years practioners across the country. Two separate sources. The first said:

In order to complete the 69 ELGs the child must first achieve the 39 DM targets or they can’t be awarded the ELGs (Early Learning Goals) and some authorities are putting pressure on reception teachers to achieve all 9 points (117) which include NC levels. It is actually a post code lottery what expectations and criteria are placed on teachers and children…

And the second source: “There is considerable pressure on reception teachers to raise achievement in the EYFS.  The ‘Local Authority Outcomes Duty’ sets targets for local authorities to meet. In other words they have to increase the scores on the EYFS Profile, which is completed at the end of the Early Years Foundation Stage, when children are aged between 4 years 10 months and 5 years 10 months  (and have to ‘narrow the gap’ between the 20% of children who perform least well and the rest) – this year difference in age is obviously very significant.  It is true that different Local Authorities are interpreting this pressure in diverse ways and are applying different rules/expectations to practitioners. These could be described as the ‘unintended consequences’ of EYFS, but I’m not sure how unintended it all is.  The reality is – it is a postcode lottery. Some local authorities (LAs) have more experienced early years advisers, who are able to resist and mediate the pressure, and other LAs do not. There is also pressure from OFSTED inspectors who have been given some guidance, I only discovered today, which says things about ‘age expected levels’! This is not actually in the EYFS… 

My own parting thoughts on this. I had occasion to go into the school reception office the other day – I glanced at the behavioural standards for children and the school which are framed and displayed on the wall. They included the phrase:

“We do not cover up the truth”.

As parents we have experienced the shortcomings of the Early Years Foundation Stage learning and development requirements system first hand. 

We are now experiencing the shortcomings of the Early Years profiling system and the difficulties this presents for children, teachers, parents and schools.

I believe the truth has already been been covered up for far too long.