Archive for the ‘stop league tables for five year olds international petition’ 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. “

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.


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).

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

Public Meeting. Ellesmere Port Civic Hall. Cheshire West Against the Cuts. 16th. March, 2011.

Cheshire West Against the Cuts. Public Meeting Ellesmere Port Civic Hall. 16th. March, 2011.

What started out as a quiet week last week quickly became public and intensely political. Since my daughter was born five years ago – I’d scaled down public appearances and focussed on building a strong virtual presence. This blog has attracted  the attention of national mainstream press in recent months and years as regular readers will know. In touch with the Facebook group of Cheshire West and Chester Against the Cuts I was aware of a planned Public Meeting in Ellesmere Port.

The panel line-up featured Peter Middleman Regional Secretary of the PCS, Paul Nowak – Trades Union Council Head of Organising and Roger Bannister of Unison National Executive Committee (Chair: Kenny Cunningham West Cheshire Trades Council) but no women speakers. I made what I hoped was a jokey comment online about this, but then I had to put my money where my mouth was, muck in and join the line-up. With existing commitments I had less than half an hour to prepare. Don’t think I did too badly though as the audience of over a hundred people clapped at one point.

I deliberately introduced myself as having two jobs. One of them being a member of the ‘largest, non-unionized workforce in the U.K.’ – (mothers) which evoked some smiles of acknowledgement from the female delegates at the meeting.

There is a lot to say about what women are experiencing right now and I understand Merseyside Public Sector Alliance have supported the creation of a special women’s section to address the particular problems that women are facing. They say: “Women are two thirds of the work force in the public sector, often in part-time work. Job cuts will mean women and their families will face more poverty and inequality. With 500,000 public sector jobs to be axed as a result of the government’s spending review, it is likely that at least 325,000 of those losing their jobs will be women. In local authorities which will take the biggest cut – women make up 68 per cent of the workforce. The trade union movement needs to organise strike action to defend our jobs, pay and conditions”.)

Regular readers might be wondering why I’m picking these issues up on a blog entitled “A Parent’s Guide to the Early Years Foundation Stage”. Backtracking somewhat and in the interests of joined-up thinking – the Early Years Foundation Stage is a statutory and compulsory curriculum introduced by the last New Labour government for children between birth and five. During the past two years I’ve tracked the impact of this curriculum on parents, teachers and children and become part of a social movement which realises : some aspects of this curriculum have been useful, but as a minimum the compulsory nature of the learning and development requirements needs to change – there is an urgent need for reform. Not only does this type of measuring take up a great deal of time and money – it distorts children’s learning and the way in which children’s abilities are perceived (see previous blog posts) putting unnecessary pressure on children, and in many instances setting them up to fail before they have even started formal education.

But the compulsory EYFS learning and development requirements and the profiling in the year in which children turn five are only two of the forces putting unnecessary pressure on children, parents, carers and teachers. There is also the government’s recent attempt to introduce league tables for five year olds on a school-by-school basis AND the highly controversial reading test for six (and five year olds). All of England’s teaching unions have come out in opposition to this test see this link. Teaching Unions Oppose Reading Test. All of these measures have two things in common:

a) They have been much-criticised by education practitioners and experts internationally AND – they are costing us MILLIONS. We don’t know how many millions exactly as the government have refused to tell us (see my Freedom of Information Act Queries) – although we can make a fair guess judging by the huge sums paid out to education consultants and companies hired by local authorities to deliver such services) and we do know that the pilot scheme for the reading test alone will cost a quarter of a million pounds. Common sense tells us that this money could be far better spent elsewhere. AND

b) Such measures exert pressure downwards on the youngest of children and inevitably foster an environment where the dreaded ‘teaching to the test’ becomes more common.

So – at the meeting I spoke for ten minutes on the international campaign to “Stop School League Tables for Five Year Olds” . The campaign met with such resonance I believe because people were morally outraged that a government would target small children in this way with such an inappropriate measure. Strength of public feeling and publicity led to the government withdrawing the plan quite quickly, although I’ve left the petition in place as an ‘insurance policy’ if you like because I believe the government will try to implement this measure again perhaps later in the year. 

 What astounds me is how far removed the present government seems to be from people’s lives. At the Ellesmere Port Meeting I made several points which illustrated this.

Cheshire West Against the Cuts. Public Meeting Ellesmere Port 16th. March, 2011

 Firstly the latest news on cuts in nursery places. If you are a parent with a child under five who cannot find or afford a nursery place – then with the best will in the world you are limited in what you can do as far as paid work is concerned. Basta.

 Secondly – there are the impending cuts in disability living allowances. My Other Half  has worked in Welfare Rights for thirty years currently for the Council who have seen one thousand job cuts already – as I mentioned at the meeting – he was awarded the Employee of the Year Award a few years ago and his team likewise gained several awards. I went to the awards ceremony and in the awards ceremony brochure he and his team were highly praised for the millions of pounds they had brought into the area with their work. Other Half filled me in on the frightening scenario we are now facing – and I read out his comments at the meeting:

“A quarter of all the government’s spending cuts are coming to benefits and tax credits. It has already started in October with cuts to help with mortgages causing more homelessness…it continues in April with deep cuts to housing benefits and tax credits which mainly affect people in work on low incomes (including our own family)..

 …it continues in April 2012 – with the abolition of long term incapacity benefit – which will affect a billion disabled people who will lose £90 a week or so from April 2012 – where at least twenty five per cent fo disabled people are going to lose their disability living allowance..(including me).”

 Thirdly – in the meeting I tried to illustrate the impact of impending or completed cuts in provision for children with special educational needs. For this I referred to Guerrilla mum’s blog. Guerilla mum and journalist Ellen Power has two children with special educational needs and has written an excellent book about “Surviving the special needs jungle”.

Ellen tells us: “I have commented regularly about the limp and woolly provision currently available to unstatemented children with SEN through the school action and school action plus categories of the graduated response process of our current system for meeting SEN. Yet the new system promises to scrap these classifications replacing them with a new tier of provision. Children will be ‘lumped together’ in this category, with some receiving pastoral care because they are disadvantaged, and others receiving support for SEN through ‘better teaching’ and schools sharing best practice. Also, the voluntary sector will be brought in to carry out so far unspecified roles. Remember, this new system will be implemented by health and education services that have undergone savage cuts and will draw heavily on untrained support from the voluntary sector. I don’t believe it is possible to improve provision for children with SEN and disabilities by cutting specialist services and replacing these with an untrained voluntary sector”. 

Cheshire West Against the Cuts. Public Meeting Ellesmere Port. 16th. March, 2011

The debate was lively and constructive – impossible to go into detail on all the issues covered – so this is a subjectively selective report of mine. I came across some astounding new information at the meeting via some NUT members:

The government is allegedly giving schools £20,000 each for simply considering academy status. If this is true it’s no wonder that consultation processes with parents and PTA’s are not what they should be.

Also heard from some former students of Christleton High School which has gained academy status. The price of school trips they said has already shot up – presumably making life even more difficult for children from low income families.

 As well as the huge demonstration which takes place this Saturday in London – there are many other ways of continuing to make your voice heard. Google March Against the Cuts. It’s the largest TUC backed march for decades. Sat 26th. And after the march it seems we’re going to need to keep making our voices heard.

Last but not least, there were several Labour Councillors at the meeting. They met with some criticisms of Labour’s seemingly ineffectual stance to oppose the cuts.

Tabling of Early Day Motion 1532: Rethink phonics based reading test for 6 and 5 year olds.

I spent World Book Day yesterday waiting for news of the tabling of an Early Day Motion in parliament to oppose the Reading Test for Six (and Five) Year Olds which the government is planning to introduce, via a pilot scheme in three hundred schools across the country at an initial cost of a quarter of a million pounds.

 My five-and-a-half year old daughter went to school yesterday morning with stretchy snakes in her hair clutching a book of “Monsters” – having written a book mark with the word “Medusa” on it.

The proposed reading test has been much criticised by experts in phonics (see previous posts) and the new Early Day Motion is already gathering support. Not only is it a waste of money and unhelpful to children, but it also diverts resources away from more sensible specialist measures (such as speech therapy) that some children might desperately need. Following the success of the petition to Stop League Tables for Five Year Olds let’s hope we can turn the reading test plan to stone too.

 Here’s the text of Early Day Motion 1532. It’s self-explanatory – and a link to the page where it is to be found on the Westminster site. It should appear in the official list next week, so please get ready to ask your own M.P. to sign it:



  Annette Brooke
  Mr Barry Sheerman


     That this House endorses the views of many early years experts in calling for a rethink on the introduction of a phonics-based reading test for all 6 year olds; believes that phonics can play a crucial part in reading but that a simplistic exclusive focus on phonics can distort children’s learning and limit the breadth of their experience; believes that reading should be enjoyable and that children need to look for meaning as they read in order to develop fluency and understanding; and further believes that young children need to have highly trained teachers with an understanding of child development and that such teachers are best placed to identify children who are not reading at an appropriate level for their age and level of development through appropriate monitoring and observation.

And at the grass roots, there is also an international petition with further information. See this link:

International Petition: Say no to Phonics Test for young children