Archive for the ‘League tables for five year olds’ 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.

Nursery World headline: “Schools bribed to use phonics, M.P’s report says”. Phonics test for five and six year olds.

Nursery World publishes a piece on how schools have been ‘bribed’ to use phonics:

“In a report into overcoming the barriers to literacy, the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Education says that cash-strapped schools are being pushed into using synthetic phonics, because they are offered matched funding if they buy approved phonics products and training. It says that schools must buy resources from a small range of products from only one source.

The report emphasises that literacy policy should focus on instilling a love of reading to increase children’s motivation, well-being and attainment. The report, which is based on evidence from nearly 600 teachers and educationalists, says that the Government’s focus on synthetic phonics is at odds with the views of schools and education experts, who recommend a broad-ranging approach to literacy. “

In which the writer re-visits a socialist analysis of the English education system. Vgotsky at Marxism 2011.

This week I had the privilege of attending a packed seminar (around 100 people were present) with Jane Reed, NUT member at the cultural and political festival Marxism 2011. Jane introduced a seminar on “Vgotsky and how children learn”. All issues raised were relevant to the cuts in education : particularly the decimation of special needs provision and the much criticised Phonics test for five and six year olds – (the pilot alone will cost us a quarter of a million). You can obtain a recording of the session from Bookmarks bookshop.

Jane Reed speaks on "Vgotsky and how children learn". London, 2011

 
Speaking in an individual capacity Jane had been on strike this week. 

I’d never heard of Vgotsky before (although I’m a trained teacher in Adult Education). He was a Russian educational theorist and psychologist and his work is enjoying something of a revival right now amongst progressive teachers. It seems  highly relevant to Early Years Education and what is currently happening in the English educational system.

The session was an international one – with colleagues from the Czech Republic and Germany. Apparently the Vgotsky revival is showing itself in the States too (see the video below).
 
Jane’s talk focussed on the question: “What is education FOR?”. She spoke of an ideological attack which is currently taking place – which equates to an attempt to discipline teachers and students – an attack on teaching as a craft. She referred to a Department of Education quote: “students need to know their place again after 1968”.
 
Vgotsky wrote seven books in the 1920s and 30s in tsarist Russia and was particularly interested in children with special needs. His theories and practice are enjoying something of a revival amongst learning theorists and teachers right now –   not least because they emphasise the importance of ‘play’ AND the importance of learning in context – and the ways in which a child’s surroundings and the interactions in society and in a group –  influence how they learn.
 
Jane highlighted how Vgotsky’s theories and practice are directly relevant to early years education – the ‘tick-box’ system of the Early Years Foundation Stage and the Phonics Test  for five and six year olds. The much criticised Phonics Test includes ‘non-words’ – words completely taken out of context. 
 
There were many contributions from the floor including points made by a maths teacher, a drama teacher, and more than one special needs teacher. I spoke too briefly- I mentioned the relevance of this blog and the forthcoming Open Eye book “Dissent and the English Early Years Education System” – which I have contributed a chapter to – entitled:
 
 “A Parent’s  Challenge to New Labour’s Early Years Foundation Stage”. Fellow contributors to this book include Dr. Penelope Leach and Barry Sheerman, M.P.
 
The seminar was recorded and recordings are being made available at the Bookmarks Socialist Bookshop London. A Vgotsky study group also emerged from the seminar.
 
More on Vgotsky at this link: Vgotsky versus Piaget and in the videos below:


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Michael Rosen on synthetic phonics and a love of books.

Here is the very sensible Michael Rosen (who signed the international petition to Stop School League Tables for Five Year Olds) with his take on synthetic phonics, targets and creating a love of books:

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).

In which the writer considers the EYFS Review and only narrowly avoids the use of expletives…

It’s fairly standard these days for a government review to be ‘leaked’ in a targeted way to the press – before it is published. That’s how certain media machines work. Your average PR agency with any clout – knows that public opinion can be influenced by providing journalists with crease-free copy before the event. That is not to say that journos won’t regard ready made press releases with a critical eye – but your average hack is always pushed for time – there are huge cuts in the print industry and very little investment in investigative reporting – early years education is not an easy thing to write about and few writers are paid to be steeped in it.

Several articles on the Early Years Foundation Stage Review popped up yesterday. Amongst them in: Nursery World: Children and Young People Now and The Guardian

The Children and Young People Now piece tells us: “the government-commissioned review of the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) was informed by 3,300 submissions from organisations and practitioners…”. No parents then?

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

For those who missed the background – the EYFS ‘consultation’ and review has been marketed as something which will ultimately assist ‘disadvantaged’ children and their families. You will notice that I placed the words ‘consultation’ and ‘disadvantaged’ in inverted commas there…that’s because for lots of reasons documented in previous blog posts such as this one  I believe very few if any parents of ‘disadvantaged’ children would have been in a position to take part in the review. I might be wrong – but I don’t think so at this point. Ultimately perhaps we shall never know, as the publication of consultation responses is managed by the government – I can’t see any evidence to show that they will not cherry-pick consultation responses and publish them to suit themselves.

I suppose I came close to expletives yesterday (see my comments after the Guardian piece) when I read that the 69 targets were to be cut to just 17. In the year in which my daughter started in reception class – we lodged a request for a parental exemption for our child. I understand we were the only parents in England to do so. It was very clear to us that there were too many learning and development requirements – in the exemption interview we were asked to voice our objections to all of them. All sixty-nine of them. We thought this was a ridiculous request and a mechanism which simply served to silence dissent. The exemption process for parents is tortuous and I’ve documented it in some detail. See previous posts.  

What is never mentioned is that in fact every parent has the human right to apply for exemption (according to decisions made by parliament and documented on this blog) – but this right is no right at all – a school simply needs to say they don’t have the resources to provide alternative provision. And it would take a judicial review to change that situation – and how many ‘disadvantaged’ parents have the thousands of pounds needed to fund that?

And now, two years later here is the government commissioned review with an admission that they were wrong and that something about these targets-in-all-but-name needs to change. The near expletives in my Guardian comment (which I’m not apologising for) – came with the realisation of the damage the government has done to a whole generation of children.

And then there is the suggestion that children as young as two will be subjected to ‘developmental’ tests. To address this point – I say the following. We live in a country where many parents and children are put under immense pressure to perform. The pressure arises, not just between friends, neighbours, through television and the media (and later at school) – but because many parents lack confidence. Their ability to be confident in what they are doing is often whittled away yes, by the media, the parenting industry (all those companies trying to sell you products for your child)  and those around them –  by the false expectations that people increasingly have about what children should be doing by two. Those who really know children, will have seen children who are not talking by two, or barely walking by two and have no issues later at all. People nowadays are increasingly expecting too  much too soon.

And there is something else – I’m going to use some anecdotes for this one. I was shocked recently to see two mothers with six month old children (one of whom was quite clearly already overweight) – feeding their children whole bars of chocolate. An older auntie commented on this – and asked what the mother’s health visitor would say about that. The mother said with a proud boast: “Oh, I don’t tell her”.

And that says it all as far as I am concerned. Surely we should be aiming at building trust between health visitors and parents and a space in which parents feel they might be able to acknowledge real issues and ask for help if it is needed. I don’t think that ‘policing’ parents of two and a half year olds in this way is going to help build this trust. 

There were other important voices to be heard on the EYFS review this week:

Margaret Edgington, Richard House and Kim Simpson of the Open EYE campaign made a public statement on the EYFS review yesterday:
  
‘We welcome the move to a framework which is simpler, less bureaucratic and more easily understood. We also welcome the retention of the statutory welfare requirements and the general approach to early learning which the EYFS promotes.

However, Open EYE has consistently campaigned against the compulsory learning and development requirements for such young children, who do not legally have to attend any form of provision. Simply reducing the number of goals is not nearly sufficient, and there is still likely to be too much emphasis on measuring children against a narrow set of targets. The suggestion that some 5 year olds should be judged as below expectations on the proposed 3-point scale is particularly deplorable, and is rooted in a fundamental misunderstanding of the great diversity of young children’s development.  It will inevitably increase early labelling with the consequent impact on children’s confidence and self-esteem. We will continue to campaign for there to be no compulsory requirements for children below statutory school age.’

Let’s take a look at the bigger picture to finish. Bearing in mind that children in England already have to go to school much earlier than in many other countries such as Finland (countries which maintain much higher educational standards) –  compulsory school-age in England is four – I find  the targets and testing picture for a child between birth and five years disturbing. Here it is:

Age of Child and test implemented:

1) Two and a half:   ‘Developmental’ check carried out by health visitor

2) Between birth and the age of five: 69 learning and development requirements  to be fulfilled (now reduced to 17)

3) In the year in which a child turns five: Early Years Profiling carried out by reception teachers.

4) Early Years Profile results would have been fed into League Tables for Five Year Olds on a school by school basis (plan recently withdrawn by the government but indications that so-called Super League Tables will re-introduce it).

5) Reading/PhonicsTest at Five (not just six as the government would have it) but five – since a fair proportion of children are summer born like my own daughter. My understanding of this test is that if children fail it, it will be repeated in the term that follows.

Our young children are still being observed, tried and tested at every turn. What they need is support and space. And a quote from the Stop School League Tables for Five Year Olds petition:

“We’re supposed to love them not treat them like employees”.

Update the same day – an insightful comment from A. (who asked me not to publish names). Thanks A! Comment copy follows:

” Thank you and good luck with your camapaign.   A quick story…..one of our boys was asked to leave the library where he was sitting Key Stage 1 tests some years ago. He couldn’t manage the  paper (‘late’ reader). He couldn’t de-code words and writing was a real struggle. He was 7 years old.   ‘There, there dear, you make your way back to the class and do some drawing for a little while’ said the well-meaning teacher (or something along those lines).   He was – and is – a very ‘bright’ boy, whatever that means!   But this early experience – and the requirement to ‘perform’ –  really knocked him back and set him apart from his peers.  He felt stupid and he felt a failure.  He hated ‘tests’ and clammed up immediately.   A few years later – and with lots of support from us as parents, he regained his confidence and he’s now set to achieve mainly As in GCSE exams.    There was never a big problem – it was just too soon at 7 years.   His brain wasn’t ready.   GCSEs are just the first hurdle –  ASs and A2s are another ball game altogether –  and then the whole issue of universities and university fees etc  Our son aged 17 has applied on-line for part time jobs at Tescos, Sainsbury and others –  he has 11 GCSEs – mainly A grades but he gets rejected on-line – he is already losing confidence and dreading the rejection.  It’s especially worrying for him now his friends have managed to get jobs.  Our youngsters deserve a chance when they are very young – and they also deserve a chance when they are teenagers entering the adult world.  Why not offer him a job?  If he doesn’t perform he can be asked to leave – but for goodness sake give the kid a chance!   There is no perfect system but we need to be open to ideas and we need to listen to a range of views from parents as well as the ‘experts’ who teach. Most people have life experiences they can bring to the debating table,  but for some reason people are not very open-minded.”

Early Years Foundation Stage Review: Demonstration 26th. March, 2011.

Demonstration Against the Cuts. Saturday 26th. March, London.

The results of the Early Years Foundation Stage Review have been announced today. Rest assured readers, I do intend to share my thoughts with you all on this front – as soon as I can. However, in the meantime – I’m sharing this photograph – sized up so that you can see the detail of it. 

We were three of the (four hundred thousand) people on the demonstration on Saturday, travelling in a Unison coach. My daughter wore this waistcoat with an important message on the back. We mingled with the NUT contingent on the demonstration and hundreds of people read the message, photographed it, commented on it and talked to us about it. One teacher on the demonstration liked the message so much that she gave my daughter an NUT banner as a present. The banner reads: NUT: Education Cuts Never Heal.

Later that week my daughter took the banner and some photographs into school. Taking part in the demonstration, talking to people and being with friends – was very motivating for her. She especially enjoyed reading all the marvellous and colourful banners from everywhere in the country. 

It was a day about making the connections. The people reading our message made the connections straight away, especially the teachers and the many nursery assistants and classroom staff at the demonstration. And the accompanying messages were very simple: that the league table plan was, and is – ridiculous and far too costly – that with people power – we can achieve change and bring the coalition government down – that we don’t need more league tables, more testing and more bureaucracy – that our coalition government has no mandate from the people to do what it is currently doing and what the government is doing is not backed up by common sense or research evidence – despite what they are trying to tell us with their patronising, slick, media machines.

And we were there on Saturday and saw the demonstration with our own eyes. Nowhere did we see any hint of aggression or violence from the crowd. But for my daughter it was an illustration of the police state we are living in. We saw the helicopter overhead which accompanied us along the entire route. We saw the police (sharpshooters?) – craning their necks from the Westminster windows. We noticed how our mobile phone signals were interfered with for at least two hours in the vicinity of Westminster – how we were herded off along the embankment and how the nearest tube station to Westminster was closed to us at very short notice by the police.

And we noticed the gaps in reporting of the event when we returned – the alternative narrative which didn’t come across in Commander Broadhurst’s pseudo-friendly Tweets to us all: Conflating numbers: have 149 people really been charged with violent offences: no.

And because it is important and highly relevant in terms of accessibility and equality – I’d like to thank one kind person from the coach who waited for us at the tube station and indeed on every corner helping us with our trolley on the demonstration. With multiple sclerosis in the family and a small child – we experience attending such events as a huge challenge and without some solidarity from those around us it is very difficult – and four hours walking is a long stretch for little legs too.

And so the issues stay remote for the Eton school boys that say they are ‘governing’ this country – but they come together in our lives. They are real for us. We made a splash on Saturday. And now the TUC needs to listen to the membership – the majority are clearly ready for radical action – not just another demonstration.

See also today’s Guardian piece: UK Uncut arrests threaten future protests, lawyer warns