Archive for the ‘Open Eye Conference 2010’ Category

League tables for five year olds.

Michael Gove’s plan to introduce league tables for five year olds has given rise to a flurry of protest letters in the print edition of the Times Educational Supplement today – among them this one by Margaret Edgington of  Open Eye which I’m taking the liberty of re-publishing here:

Five years old is no age for an ‘audit’

Letters | Published in The TES on 10 December, 2010 | By: Margaret Edgington

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 Michael Gove’s latest policy initiative (“League tables for five year olds”, December 3) betrays a woeful ignorance of young children and what their parents want for them. It also indicates that he is likely to ignore Dame Clare Tickell’s Coalition-sponsored review of the Early Years Foundation Stage, which is due to make recommendations on early-years assessment and the Profile.

At the end of the reception year, some children are nearly a year younger than others (some being almost six and others, who were born in late July and August, still four) and many are just beginning to learn English language.

To compare individual children at this point in their life is appalling enough. It is therefore hard to imagine what would lead someone to come up with the idea of comparing, school by school, the scores of such young, vulnerable children. Surely the teaching unions in England will stand together and support headteachers and teachers to mount a strong campaign against this highly damaging proposal.

Margaret Edgington, On behalf of the Open EYE steering group, Leicester.


Government review of Early Years Foundation Stage

The long-awaited review of the Early Years Foundation Stage legislation has now been announced. The review has already been the focus of considerable media attention this week and I intend to continue analysing what the government is saying and reactions to this announcement over the next few weeks.

The language originally used by organisations which criticised the compulsory learning and development requirements of the EYFS is beginning to be co-opted by government. In an interview on Woman’s Hour this week – the government minister is now describing the system as too ‘prescriptive’. This is the same word used by the parents whose experiences were recorded in Fergus Andersen’s excellent video of the Open Eye conference in 2008. 

We are the only parents to our knowledge in a state-funded school to have applied for (and been refused) a parental exemption to the EYFS for our child. I have documented and written about this tortuous process and our experiences with the EYFS for almost a year now on this blog. We applied for a parental exemption in August last year on ‘moral, educational, philosophical, political and religious grounds’. We were refused a parental exemption – the school indicated they didn’t  have the resources to arrange it. They could not refuse us on moral grounds as we had the ‘cogent set of beliefs’ that parliament required. More importantly – they couldn’t disagree with us on moral grounds because we were right.

As I have already said publicly – the fact that the learning and development requirements were and are compulsory – goes against the findings of internationally acknowledged educational  research about the early years. The evidence is overwhelming.

As human beings – and experientially – from caring and watching the educational development of our child very closely – we felt the rightness of respecting our child’s development and refused to push her too hard too soon.

As our child reaches the last week of her very first year at school – (she is now four years and eleven months old) – we are reminded how from the early days we refused to do the ‘homework’ that was sent home in her school bag throughout the year. We trusted our child to learn through play at her own pace.

 We discussed this measure often as a family and came to the conclusion that the EYFS material she was getting , and the spelling tests – were inappropriate to the developmental stage she was experiencing. I’ve published some of the homework on this blog with the names removed.

If the EYFS should continue in it’s present form – I would recommend that any parents concerned about this should refuse to cooperate with the system as we have done. We now know there is no legal obligation for a child of non-compulsory school age to do homework. Creating the impression that compulsory homework is a good idea for a child of four is wholly counter-productive. 

 For reasons of political expediency the government has yet to acknowledge that they have made a mistake with the learning and development goals and that the system is flawed. Perhaps the government will never acknowledge this.

As parents we are prepared to forgive, but we will not and should not forget. This will not be the last time that a government will ignore international research in favour of  ‘spin’ and political expediency.

 We used all the mechanisms that were at our disposal (as parents on a modest income) to voice our principled stance. We used all the mechanisms we had at our disposal to protect our child from being exposed to a policy that we knew was educationally unsound.

Time and time again we reinforced the idea with our child that it was fine to learn about something when you were ready to learn about it. We made it clear that at the age of four – the only ‘job’ a child should have is simply to play.

When the EYFS parental exemption process failed – we explored the remaining avenues we had. To change the law and protect our child we would have had to do a judicial review (which would cost around £49,000).

The government is now purporting to analyse how the EYFS affects ‘disadvantaged’ families. What choices do ‘disadvantaged’ families currently have but to accept this flawed and damaging system? As I’ve said publically – this is a human rights issue. Find me a  family in Britain today that could afford to do a judicial review at a cost of £49,000.

Having been refused a parental exemption for our child I launched a parliamentary petition calling for the compulsory learning and development requirements to be reformed. They should become recommendations only. This was a modest demand around which there is a considerable consensus in the educational and parenting community.

The petition was closed down by the government during the general election campaign – weeks before the closure date which was requested and publicised – and the week before an important international conference that I attended last month where it was expected that I might have secured publicity to obtain at least another thousand signatures. There’s democracy for you.

 I have yet to receive a response to this petition (which is just one of numerous petitions on the EYFS over the past few years).

Too often the experiences of parents are dismissed as ‘anecdotal evidence’. Why are they of lesser value than a governmental focus group or think tank?

On the one hand it seems parents are paid lip service to as ‘primary educators’. On the other hand they are often expected to hand over their parental authority to the ‘experts’ who are said to ‘know better’. The experiences of the past year confirmed my belief that those who are supposed to know better – often don’t. Parents need to continue to educate and empower themselves, especially now that brutal cuts are being imposed across the early years sector.

I care very much about education. Not simply for my own child, but for all children. I hope my daughter will look back at this blog archive in the years that come and understand that what we were fighting for is the joy of education – a gift – which of all the gifts we might give her – might possibly be the most precious thing she will ever have. As many parents who are labelled ‘disadvantaged’ will tell you – knowledge is power – and the ability to access information and communicate will see you through many of the difficult challenges life will throw at you.

I am very honoured to have been asked to join international researchers to contribute a chapter for a book on the English Early Years Education system. The title of my chapter will be: “A Parent’s Challenge to New Labour’s Early Years Foundation Stage”. I hope I can do it justice.

Since the government has requested parents to share their views on the Early Years Foundation Stage – I am forwarding this blog post to the Department of Education. I’m sure readers will be interested to hear any responses received. All comments on this blog are moderated.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New website: The Unique Child Network. Open Eye Conference “The Child – the true foundation” London, 2010.

 News from the Open Eye conference: A new networking site is under construction by one of Open Eye’s members which aims to bring together people worldwide who are concerned about the increasing rigidity of educational systems and wish to ensure that future models:
– recognise and fully support the unique potential and wellbeing of each child
-promote learning as an organic, natural process
-celebrate the importance of diversity in skills and abilities
-consider passion and purpose the primary target
-are responsive to the learning needs of the future
– are not compromised by political agendas.
The site is called the Unique Child Network
A subscription-based professional and academic site is also being planned.
For more information (and to become one of the first test members!) visit this link:

Open Eye Conference. “The Child – the True Foundation”. London 12th. June, 2010.

Open Eye Panel. Chairperson Margaret Edgington addresses the Open Eye Conference "The Child - the True Foundation". London 12th. June, 2010. Photograph Frances Laing.

What’s that expression? “If you want to get something done, ask a busy person.” I travelled to London at the weekend to attend the Open Eye conference on early years education, taking my press card with me . Here’s a picture of the Open Eye panel. The clock reads quarter past five and after a day jam-packed with fascinating and useful information – the panel were still interacting with an audience of over a hundred and twenty people – all of whom exuded a particularly striking brand of dedication and patience. 

Dear readers – I’m not going to give you a straightforward report of this conference – I’ll leave that to others. (The conference was filmed in it’s entirety and a DVD will be available before too long from Open Eye). 

The strength of blogging (I hope) is the element of subjectivity, raw news and a grass-roots eye view of things. So I’m going to try to communicate what I think parents would most like to know about the issues raised, conversations had and topics covered over several reflective blog posts. After all, this is “A Parent’s Guide to the Early Years Foundation Stage”, isn’t it? 

Bear in mind readers I’m still in the thick of parenting a child under five myself. So blogging is punctuated by the daily realities of the journey to and from school (by bike) and everyday happenings – the first ever Sports Day for my Little One (yesterday) and the first ever social event of our newly created Parent Teacher Association(last night)…  

More often than not parents I chat to on the corner of the street are keen to know why I went to London at the weekend – why the conference took place – and more about the Early Years Foundation Stage statutory learning and development requirements and how their children may be affected. 

It’s scary but exciting to know I’m not writing into a vacuum the way I appeared to be when I first started writing this blog – readership is still growing. 

Open Eye Conference. 12th. June, 2010.

For the benefit of those who couldn’t make it down to London – here’s the conference line-up in brief: 

-Opening Ceremony
– Chairperson’s remarks
Professor Kathy Hirsh-Pasek Ph.D
“Playful learning and the devaluation of the word play in an achievement orientated society”
Dr. Sebastian Suggate, Ph.D
“Early Reading Instruction -: does it really improve reading in the long term?”
Professor Lilian G. Katz. Ph.D
“Engaging Children’s Minds and Hearts”
Dr. Aric Sigman, Ph.D
“We’ve moved on – but have our children?” screen based technology in the early years.
Open Eye Panel. Wendy Ellyatt, Margaret Edgington, Dr. Richard House, Lynne Oldfield, Kim Simpson.
You’ll find more about the background of the speakers at this link:
I’m going to leave it there today – as the school ‘bike’ is looming. More  tomorrow.


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…

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.