Posts Tagged ‘Dr. Richard House’

“Too much too soon – early learning and the erosion of childhood” Book Launch

Two copies of the book I wrote a chapter “Too much too soon – early learning and the erosion of childhood” for reached me through the post yesterday. No exaggeration to say almost everyone I know would like to read it (and I wish I had hundreds of copies to give away for that reason). It has been described by Professor Janet Moyles said:  “Surely the most important book on children’s learning and well-being published this year”. Here is the link again if you would like to buy or order it for your local library: “Too much too soon – early learning and the erosion of childhood”. Follow the links for a complete table of contents – that way you can see exactly what you are buying. There is so much ‘meat’ in and around the book – the launch feels like a slow burn so over the next few weeks I’ll keep readers posted on activities around it. Feedback on the book of course very welcome!

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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

 

New Year’s Reflections – Early Years Foundation Stage Learning and Development Requirements

  

My Babes when she was two. Picture Copyright Frances Laing. All Rights Reserved.

A Sunday in January. I’m waiting for a national newspaper to phone about the e-petition. Fighting off a head cold – it’s a good time to put my thoughts in order…  

I started this blog on August 4th. 2009. I mention this because I’ve learned that timescales are important in early years education. On August 4th. my daughter was three years and eleven months old. She was just about to make the transition from nursery to a state-funded primary school. She is summer-born.  

Why did I start writing this blog anyway? The story goes like this: whilst working part-time  I gained my Post Graduate Certificate in  Adult Education at the University of Wales in 2003.  Course members and colleagues were drawn from diverse fields. They included trainee teachers in adult education working in Sure Start projects. I started out teaching Basic Skills, and offering Social Sciences and German. As part of the course we completed an exercise and devised a curriculum for parents on health education. (I recall we got some excellent marks for that assignment, but at that time parenting was a theoretical exercise for me). Job and personal circumstances changed. In 2003 I was 38 years old – I’d written off the idea of ever ‘settling down’ and thought it most unlikely I would ever have a child).  

But I did. At the age of forty I married my atheist husband at a Quaker wedding and about a year and 49 hours in labour later we were graced with our wonderful daughter. To say the first year was hard is the understatement of the century for me. Six weeks after the birth (both me and Babes still struggling with breastfeeding, my back so painful from the epidural that I needed help to lift my child) my Other Half experienced numbness on one side of his face.  After nearly a year of repeated hospital visits and tests (we took the advice of our health visitor and took Babes along with us) Other Half was diagnosed with a chronic disability. We were lucky in that he  can still work full-time in an area closely related to disability rights. His team has won a prize for outstanding work in welfare rights.  

I’m telling you this reader, because I want you to know I understand that every parent has joys and challenges. And that’s directly relevant to the EYFS and they ways in which parents are dealing with it.  

By the time the EYFS framework was made statutory, my child was three. As a new mother in those first few years, with all the challenges we had, my feet hardly touched the ground. I was on a fast learning curve. At that time I knew quite a bit about the adult education system,  but I felt, precious little about early years education. My Other Half is a great dad (he’s the one who reads the stories). He has two grown up children. But I was still a relatively new mum. However one thing I knew well. My child.  

Due to our circumstances I started to focus again on my writing, and became a card-carrying member of the NUJ three years ago. As part of my Post grad Certificate in Education – I had been required to engage in what is called ‘Reflective Practice’. To write journals and ‘critical incidents’ about my own educational progress and that of my students. Blogging can be a reflective practice too. It seemed to be the perfect synthesis of learning, journalling and writing and opened up a digital universe.  

I believe in what they call ‘life-long’ learning. I will always try to help my child enjoy learning. It’s a great gift. As a mother when I first encountered the Early Years Foundation Stage I couldn’t see anything wrong with it. A framework was needed. That couldn’t be a bad thing. But something bothered me, so I kept writing, researching, learning and documenting facts and experiences on this blog.  

The name of this blog is carefully chosen. “A parent’s guide to the Early Years Foundation Stage”. A blog for parents. I’d searched for information for parents about the Early Years Foundation Stage framework. There was quite a lot. Most of it though, was written by government departments or schools. And there was one significant thing about the government information I came across that caught my eye. It was completely uncritical of the EYFS framework. Something wasn’t right. I don’t use the word ‘propaganda’ lightly, but I’ll use it here.  

The journalist in me began to ask the searching cultural and political questions as to why this propaganda existed.   I wanted to put something else out there. As a Quaker and a member of the NUJ (adhering to the NUJ code of conduct and ethics) the writing needed to be as close to the truth as I could manage. My truth. A child’s truth. The truth of what governments are doing to childhood.  

Nowhere in any government EYFS or schools document could I find anything truly reflective. I’m sure that most of the nursery and school staff we encountered on our travels had good intentions, but it was clear to me that many had stopped considering whether or not the EYFS learning and development compulsory requirements were a good idea. Alarm bells rang in my head. This approach had very little to do with what I understood by education.  

And there was more. No-one appeared to be documenting the experiences of parents and children on the coal face of early years education. With the Early Years Foundation Stage and with the EYFS Learning and Development Requirements. That’s not surprising at all – given the realities of parenting. We only have one child under five. Parents who have several children and who are struggling to hold life, loves and jobs together are doing really well if they muddle through successfully on a day-to-day basis. You don’t have the time, the energy or the money to write a dissertation about it!  

When I started writing this blog, back in August last year I could hardly believe the realities of the EYFS learning and development requirements. We applied for a parental exemption and honestly thought it was possible to succeed. I now believe it is highly unlikely that any parents could succeed with this process for lots of reasons. The guidance documents are thirty-five pages long. The process is difficult to understand and takes time. There are no support mechanisms to guide parents through the process. It’s stressful. Also, many parents just don’t feel confident enough to question what the nursery staff, the teachers and the government are telling them. And by the time you have got your head around what is happening, your child is through the early years system and you’ve got more, new and different challenges to face.  

But the most significant thing here is: parents like us don’t stand a chance of gaining an exemption for their child in a state-funded school because the government doesn’t want us to succeed. Why not? Well – if they allowed us to gain exemptions – (in our droves) – it would be the final and conclusive admission that government education policies are fundamentally flawed.  

The government wants to win the next election. They don’t want to admit that the “education, education, education” Tony Blair (and later Gordon Brown) was talking about had very little to do with education in the truest sense.  

What’s interesting and important though, is that criticisms of the EYFS learning and development requirements span ALL political parties and all types of school. EYFS exists in private schools and nurseries, independent settings, faith schools, at child minders. It even affects families who choose to home educate. (Some parents who home educate send their children to childminders on a part-time basis).  

In the letter from our local authority which told us the school had refused our exemption application – Cheshire West and Chester local education authority took the liberty of trying to give  us the impression that we were free to go elsewhere with our child (to seek another school). They enclosed a phone number for an education help line to help us choose one.  But they knew that the EYFS learning and development guidelines apply at ALL nursery settings and all schools (unless that it the setting itself gains an exemption – some Steiner schools have done this as I’ve mentioned before on this blog – but we wouldn’t choose to send our child to a Steiner school and there isn’t one of these within a hundred miles of where we live anyway).  

Where do parents of young children go, when, (late at night perhaps) they need advice and/or support on pre-school parenting? We know they often turn to telephone helplines, and ‘talk’ to peers via the internet.  

Discussion threads such as the one I started at Mumsnet appear to reveal how little some parents understand about the Early Years Learning and Development Requirements. If there is a shortage of unbiased information, indeed, how can we know and understand the issues properly?  

Journalists and the rest of the media are partly to blame here of course. How many sensationalist headlines have you seen which give you the impression it’s outrageous when children can’t write whole sentences by the age of five? The truth of that is: it isn’t a scandal. Children all learn and develop differently at different times.   

Education policy does not fail because children aren’t schooled early enough – it fails because children are hot-housed too soon and are in danger of stopping engaging with education systems altogether in later life.  Is this what governments really want?  

Much has been made of the notion that the Early Years Learning and Development Requirements benefit so-called ‘deprived’ children and families in the first instance? Is this really true? Who is documenting how much money has been spent creating and upholding  the EYFS system? We find ourselves in the middle of a recession which  is hitting families hard. Safe and adequate housing is a huge and very basic issue. Homes are being repossessed at an alarming rate. What is the sense in prioritising the writing of ‘complete sentences with punctuation’ over safe, adequate and affordable housing (and food, for that matter)?   

The Mumsnet thread is ‘robust’ to put it politely. I’ve been told that I’m ‘deranged‘ by fellow posters. Posters have tried to call my integrity into question (I’m telling ‘porkies’ with  the parliamentary petition…). Posters have tried to say I’m a follower and supporter of Steiner schools and Anthroposophy. The fact is, I’m not. I’m not Steiner trained. We don’t send our child to a Steiner school. I’m familiar with some of Rudolf Steiner’s work (I lived in Germany for ten years) – but I haven’t read a great deal of it.  

For the record – I am critical of Steiner philosophies and educational practices – at the same time I believe the re-evaluation of what Rudolf Steiner had to say in the light of our contemporary knowledge and best educational practice may be a valuable exercise. I’m not going to reject ANY sources of information that I believe may have something to offer in our understanding of what is happening to Early Years Education.       

I’ve been told by fellow posters on Mumsnet that the EYFS learning and development  requirements are not ‘compulsory’. I asked Dr. Richard House for his opinion on this today. I said: “people were trying to argue that ‘nothing happens to children if they don’t meet the goals“. (Of course we know that children are not expelled from school, for example).  

Dr. House said:  

“This assertion (i.e that ‘nothing happens to children if they don’t meet the goals’ F.L) is a complete misunderstanding of the implications and the effects of the EL goals – for the key point is that their very existence has all kinds of effects on their children, that simply would not occur if the goals did not exist. Or put differently, a very great deal will inevitably have happened to children in the course of their not meeting the goals to which practitioners/teachers are aspiring (and of course the same goes for children who do meet them).  

 To give just a few examples:  

 Because of the local authority Outcome Duty, and the way that the pressure from the DCSF and Ofsted works, pre-school practitioners/teachers are under constant pressure to try to ensure that their children meet the stipulated goals. This is the nursery-level equivalent of the now completely discredited “teaching to the test”, and it is nothing short of catastrophic that very young children are being exposed to such a fear-driven regime. The literature that now exists on how targets unhelpfully distort professional practice is enormous and incontrovertible, and it cannot be denied that the Early Learning Goals are indeed ‘targets’ in all but name, which will in turn inevitably distort the practice of early-childhood practitioners/teachers. Add to this, first, that many of the targets are age-inappropriate, and, second, that the very idea that it is legitimate to have generalised targets for young children’s learning anyway is contraindicated by the evidence, and we can see how the EYFS’s learning-goals approach is fundamentally flawed in both conception and content, and is likely to impact negatively on considerable numbers of children. In no conceivable universe can the latter situation be described as ‘…nothing happens to children if they don’t meet the goals’.  

 Also, we have to consider the impact on those children who do not reach the stipulated goals. Practitioners/teachers will tend to experience a range of emotions in the face of children not meeting the goals – not least, in terms of anxiety; and young children pick up on these feelings psychodynamically and are deeply affected by them. At worst, children will know at some level that they have failed – with all the knock-on effects in terms of damaged self-esteem, turning off from challenging learning, etc. Moreover, with a predominantly young early-years workforce that is notoriously under-trained, and therefore not likely to possess the personal confidence and authority to avoid unquestioning compliance with state-imposed injunctions, there is little if any prospect that practitioners themselves will be able to forestall such unintended negative outcomes of the learning-goals regime. Again, then, in no conceivable universe can the latter situation be described as ‘…nothing happens to children if they don’t meet the goals’.  (Source: Dr. Richard House).

I’m running out of time.  We’re all running out of time.  A week, a month a year, can be a very long and crucial time in a young child’s life. We need to change this now. If you do nothing else, please sign the petition I initiated. Here’s the link. Thank  you.

The Archbishop of Canterbury on children’s lives today

I can’t remember the last time I sat down and read a whole book (many of us with small children will be in a similar space, I’m sure). 

Dr. Richard House (Professor of Roehampton University and author of many dozens of publications on child psychology and therapeutic approaches) was the first person to sign my parliamentary petition. 

The least I can do is to sit down with his latest missive and digest it. His latest  book is called Childhood, Well-being and a Therapeutic Ethos…and I ordered it yesterday. The blurb says:

“All is clearly not well with children’s well-being in the Anglo-Saxon West, as witnessed by a steady stream of research reports that place children’s well-being in the UK and the USA very near, if not at, the bottom of international tables. This mounting cultural and political concern for children’s well-being has been buttressed by high-profile media interest in the “toxic childhood” theme popularized by author Sue Palmer, and highlighted in the Open Letter published by the Daily Telegraph; and the chapters in this important new
book arose directly from the addresses given by prominent Open Letter signatories to an expert seminar organized by Roehampton University’s Research Centre for Therapeutic Education in December 2006.

The Archbishop of Canterbury wrote the forward to the book. Rowan Williams describes what is currently happening in our culture:

‘No-one can now ignore the fact that a serious debate about the welfare of children has at last begun in our society. And, appropriately, it has started to open up a wider debate about the nature of learning and even the nature of human maturity. The essays in this collection are significant not only for what they say about childhood but for what they invite us to think about human growth and wellbeing in general.’

– Dr Rowan Williams, The Archbishop of Canterbury