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Chester J30 strike rally draws crowds. June 30th. Strike Action.

Cheshire West Against the Cuts. Strike Rally. Town Hall Square. Picture Frances Laing.

At least three hundred people were a constant outside Chester Town Hall this afternoon – in attendance at the strike rally, organised by Cheshire West Against the Cuts and supported by the Trades Council.

Banners in evidence included NUT, PCS, UNISON, FBU, CWU and UCU.

Chester Town Hall Strikes rally. J30. Picture by Frances Laing.

Assembling for the Cheshire West Against the Cuts Rally to support the strike. Chester Town Hall. 30th. June. Picture by Frances Laing.

The election. The Conservative manifesto on education and schools. Early Years Foundation Stage?

Early Years Monsters. Election battles 2010. Picture by Frances Laing

I’ve pledged to examine the party manifestos each day this week with relevance to the Early Years Foundation Stage and the much-criticised EYFS compulsory sixty-nine learning and development requirements – which are in danger of putting the under fives at risk of ‘teaching-to -the-test’.

Today it’s the Tories turn. It’s half past ten and the Tory manifesto itself hasn’t been launched yet, so I’m looking at the draft first. It’ll be interesting to see which points are present or missing in the final version later in the day…

Having looked through the draft manifesto in it’s entirety – I can find no direct mention of the Early Years Foundation Stage legislation. I therefore conclude – that like the Labour Party – the Conservatives are avoiding the subject. Neither acknowledging the extent of the mess now made of early years education nor how they plan to clear it up. It’s too much of a hot potato, politically speaking.

Early Years education in general seems to crop up in two sections in the draft manifesto:

2.2. ” A Rigorous Curriculum and Exam System” and
2.11 “Helping Families to Balance their Lives”

Here are the Tories key pledges (my numbering)

1) Promote the teaching of systemic synthetic phonics and ensure teachers are properly trained to teach using this method (2.2. draft manifesto)

2) To provide parents with the reassurance they need that their child is making progress, we will establish a simple reading test at the age of six

3) We will overhaul the Key Stage Two tests and make exams more robust and rigorous by giving universities and subject academics more power over examinations…

4) A Conservative government will reform school league tables so that schools can demonstrate they are stretching the most able and raising the attainment of the less able. We will publish all performance data currently kept secret by the DCSF…

5) We will establish a free online database of exam papers and marking schemes so that parents, teachers and academics can see for themselves how exams have changed.

6) (From 2.1.1 Helping Families to balance their lives)
“We support the provision of free nursery care for pre-school children and we want that support to be provided by a diverse range of providers – including the many childminders and private, voluntary and independent nurseries which are currently being squeezed out of the system..In government we will review the way the child care industry is regulated to ensure that no provider is put at a disadvantage.

My comments on the above points:

1) Can’t see anything wrong with this system of phonics teaching as such – although some educationalists would disagree with me here. It isn’t the only system for teaching phonics I understand, so I’d be interested to know why the Tories have homed in on this one in particular. Makes sense that teachers have training here.

2) Reading test at the age of six? That’s new. I’m unclear as to why they have chosen this age. Since the Tories don’t say whether they will reform the Early Years Foundation Stage or not in their manifesto – we simply don’t know at present whether the reading test will be an additional measuring tool or whether it will operate instead of Early Years Profiling and the learning and development requirements. In that sense and without some clarity about whether or not the Tories are keeping the EYFS this point is meaningless.

3) Overhaul the Key Stage Two tests? Once again, no clarity. They don’t explain how or whether this means they will abolish them entirely.

4) There are many problems with school league tables and teachers involved in the Sats boycott will know about them first hand. In my view there are parallels between Sats and the EYFS system of profiling.

Both systems require teachers to show that children have ‘improved’ under their care. I believe such performance pressure can lead to the manipulation of data on pupil’s ability. Albeit unintentional perhaps…I suspect with Sats AND the EYFS that children are sometimes recorded as having fewercapabilities initially – schools and nurseries can then show through their stats later how much they have ‘improved’ in the school year – institutions will then look good in the league tables. Is that what we understand by ‘education’?

6) Once again the Tories stop short at saying that it is the overly bureaucratic EYFS learning and development requirements and the EYFS profiling that have ‘squeezed’ providers out of the system. Is their pledge to ‘review the way the childcare industry is regulated’ a pledge to reform or abolish the EYFS? We all need to know the answer to this question!

There’s a lot more to say about this, but I’d like to get this blog post published and check in with the final version of the Tory manifesto later in the day…

Update: The final version of the Conservative Manifesto doesn’t differ markedly from the draft as far as education is concerned so I’ve left the above comments in place.

The Early Years Foundation Stage. Parental input and early reading

Interesting that the editors at ‘Children and Young People Now’ have recently deemed criticisms of the Early Years Foundation Stage learning and development requirements important enough to warrant taking on a blogger who appears to be dedicated to the subject.

It’s high time the ‘educational’ press took these matters more seriously. I’ve been wondering for quite some time why I appeared to be the only parent journalist who was analysing and commenting critically on the EYFS.

I was intrigued to read Children-and-Young-People -Now- blogger Charlotte Goddard’s  comments on my last post. Charlotte is a mother of one child aged two and blogs as ‘media mum’ on the Children and Young People Now magazine site.

Perhaps I would gain more blog traffic if I were prepared to be a journalist who is controversial for the sake of being controversial. But in this case, I just can’t stomach that. Because, we are, after all talking about our children’s futures.

Personally, I’m glad to be able to write freely about this (no-one is paying me to write this blog), and I don’t have to ‘pay a piper’ in any way, as I imagine some journalists writing about Early Years politics are subtly required to do…yet another reason why this country needs independent bloggers who are not attached to a particular publication, may I suggest… 

But on a practical level I don’t have any child care right now it’s the Easter hols – and I could do with some time away from the computer screen – so forgive me if my own analysis stops here for the moment. However (and at the risk of being mistakenly labelled a Steiner-supporter – which as you all know has happened before) – I’m offering you all some feedback from Dr. Richard House (just received by email) his comments on the  early reading question and Charlotte Goddard’s post are englightening, I’m sure you’ll agree.

 May I make clear to readers once again – I’m NOT a Steiner supporter – I just think that Dr. House talks good sense and thank you to both Dr. House and Charlotte for taking the time to communicate. Long live a truly democratic debate and let’s all hope the views of parents feature more prominently in the ‘educational’ press in future. Especially the views of the many parents who are critical of the EYFS.

Here’s the quote from Dr. Richard House:

“Charlotte’s point is an important one, and deserves a full response. It would be foolish to argue that either every child, or no child, is unduly harmed by an early introduction to literacy learning; and to the extent that Charlotte is saying that, I agree. But I believe that we are speaking about deep archetypes of childhood and children’s development here, and from that kind of perspective I think it is legitimate to make generalised statements about child development, whilst acknowledging that it would be absurd to insist on the archetype being mechanistically and insensitively applied to every single child! 

   Charlotte wrote that “I certainly got a lot of enjoyment out of my reading”. However, the problem with using data on children’s enthusiasm for or enjoyment of early literacy, as an argument in favour of it, is that many, if not most, children tend to do (and often enjoy) what they know will please the adults/parents around them; and unfortunately we are all caught up in a “hyper-modern” culture in which both parents and mainstream thinking peddles the quite unsubstantiated ideology that it is somehow helpful if young children get a “head” (!) start in the learning stakes (just listen, for example, to informal conversations between parents who are locked in thinly-veiled competitive discussions about whose child is furthest ahead in their learning and capabilities – I’m sure we’ve all heard them). People like Sebastian Suggate and the Open EYE campaign strongly believe that the opposite is the case, and that if children are taken or coaxed, however unwittingly, into unbalanced cognitive-intellectual learning at too young an age, it has quite possibly life-long consequences for both their all-round development and their attitudes and dispositions to learning.

   Charlotte also speaks about “the “richness” of language found in books that children read”; yet what she has to demonstrate is why on earth it is in any way helpful for a child’s overall long-term learning and development for them to be encountering words like “ingots”, “alibi” and “cache” at the age of 4? – and nothing that she has written here remotely shows how this could conceivably be the case, i.e. why there is some developmental advantage to be gained from a child learning these words at the age 4 rather than at, say, 7 or 8.

   Finally, campaigns like Open EYE do tend to take up a robust position on these issues that may at times sound rhetorical and single-minded; but this is in large part because we are immersed in a culture that is giving exactly the opposite message to ours, and the contrary position we are taking up is an absolutely necessary one in order to inject some kind of balance into the culture-wide debate on these issues. And if we are anything like right in our concerns, then it would be tantamount to be “fiddling while Rome burns” to be adopting “cautious” and “equivocal” positions on these matters”.

You can read blogger Charlotte Goddard’s criticisms of Sebastian Suggate’s letter in Children and Young People Now magazine at this link:

Early Reading and the Early Years Foundation Stage

 Read Sebastian Suggate’s letter on early reading in Nursery World at this link: Early Reading and the Early Years Foundation Stage


DCSF staff expenses cost tax payers more than 7 million

Headline in Children and Young People’s Now today. DCSF  staff expenses cost tax payers more than 7 million.

Is testing really necessary? Blair’s place in history…

This week (as part of their series, “Winning Women’s Votes”)  Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour focused on what might sway women’s vote at the general election.

On Wednesday, Jenni Murray and guests (Dr Mary Bousted, General Secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers and Gillan Low, President of the Girls’ Schools Association and head of a top-performing independent girls’ school in south west London) looked at education – tackling the question “Is testing really necessary?”

The programme asked what an incoming government “should do about measuring progress in schools”.

 Woman’s Hour introduced the programme like this: “Labour came to power in 1997 with the slogan ‘education, education, education’. It went on to introduce compulsory literacy and numeracy hours in primary schools, staking its reputation on raising educational standards. Ten years later the General Teaching Council said: “England’s pupils are among the most frequently tested in the world, but tests in themselves do not raise standards. Today some of those tests have gone, though others remain. School league tables based on test results have not escaped controversy”.

I listened to the programme, (drawing parallels between the proposed Sats boycott and the Early Years Learning and Development Requirements) and sent the following comment by email along with information about this blog. The comment hasn’t been broadcast (yet). This is what I said:

“High time that this fundamental question is asked. Blairite policies (“Education, education, education”) were Orwellian. They had little to do with education in it’s true sense – and (like the war on Iraq)  had much more to do with Blair’s (party political) ambitions and political expediency.

No mention was made in today’s programme of the effects of the Early Years Foundation Stage Learning and Development Requirements and EYFS Profiling on children as young as four and younger. Despite government assertions that there is no ‘testing’ in the EYFS system – the realities on the ground in schools are very different. Early Years Practitioners are describing this compulsory system as: Testing-in-all-but-name.

See also this quote sourced from an early years practitioner:

 “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 do 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 ”

Listen to the Woman’s Hour programme here (Listen Again facility).

See also my news blog – Tony Blair, the war in Iraq and the history books

Happy New Year…EYFS parliamentary e-petition

I’m going to sign off from this blog over Christmas. Back in the new year with renewed vigour (I hope)…

Don’t forget to sign the parliamentary e-petition  (see the link on the right)…