Posts Tagged ‘EYFS exemptions’

“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!


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.


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. 



How much does the Early Years Foundation Stage cost to run?


With news of threatened nursery closures across the country – a series of financial questions spring to mind. How much did/does the Early Years Foundation Stage cost to set up and how much does it cost to run?

My thinking is: if the Early Years Foundation Stage Learning and Development Requirements and the Profiling are fundamentally flawed –  as the likes of Dr. Sebastian Suggate seem to be suggesting with his research – why are we still spending so much money on them? Surely this is money which could be channelled into saving child care settings and nurseries?

And indeed, where does this money come from? Where does it go? How much is spent on ‘consultancy’ and ‘materials’ for example?

Since the Early Years Foundation Stage was introduced – a whole industry has sprung up around it. Google ‘EYFS materials’ and you’ll find everything from specially designed computer programmes for measuring children with a software tick box system…to a list of books and guidance manuals that have been written to help parents, teachers and practitioners  ‘understand’ how to do the EYFS. There’s at least one specially designed magazine on the market.

It is notable that in the communication vehicles of these EYFS industries (websites/blogs/magazines) the writers and editors have often ceased to talk about the concept of ‘early years education’ at all. They tend to talk about the ‘Early Years Foundation Stage’ as if it were exactly the same thing as ‘early years education’.  

But it isn’t the same, is it? Education is education. Educational theories are many, varied and constantly changing. They are supposed to be informed by educational research and consensus between researchers.

The Early Years Foundation Stage is a political and administrative programme that is supposed to facilitate and strengthen early years education.  But it is not education itself – as many of these EYFS industrialists appear to think it is.

I wonder what our EYFS industrialists – (the ones who produce magazines – videos – theatre productions and training courses to support EYFS doctrines)  will do if the legislation changes. They may find themselves without an income. Wouldn’t it be wise for them to look ahead now to a possible change of direction?

And I believe the legislation will change, possibly as soon as May, with a new government – or a hung parliament. If you ask me the main motivation for the change will be – the need to save money in schools and nurseries.

See these Nursery World pieces for more  topical background – and here’s Dawn Primarolo our Children’s Minister peddling predictable New Labour Spin:

Opinion Minister’s View

Five Nurseries withdraw from funded places scheme

Threatened Nursery Schools Unite on funding plan

Letter of the week in Nursery World

I’m letter of the week in Nursery World this week. Thanks to everyone who has written in with comments on this blog. To read the letter, follow this link:

And here’s the copy itself:



‘I am keen to learn from the experience of those at the sharp end,’ writes David McVean, new Director of Curriculum Development QCDA, in his letter about the exemption process from the EYFS (4 March).

Okay, David. To my knowledge, we are the only parents in a state-funded school to have applied (and been refused) what they call a ‘parental exemption’ to the Early Years Foundation Stage Learning and Development Requirements.

We applied last August, with the ‘cogent set of beliefs’ demanded by the Government. (I am a Quaker and my other half is an atheist). I also documented our application and the entire process on a popular grassroots blog at

Disappointing, David, that you feel comforted by the ‘tight’ timeframe and the fact that ‘an applicant is only exempt once a decision is made by the Secretary of State’.

Our feelings as parents and as a family, put bluntly, are as follows.

The parental exemptions process is a farce and an infringement of the human rights of any child.

Any parent who looks up to, trusts or relies solely upon the advice (and spin) of the Government or Secretary of State to ‘educate’ their child is, in our opinion, in a very sorry state indeed.

For reasons of political expediency, the Government is unable to admit that the EYFS learning and development requirements are, educationally speaking, a huge mistake. Soon after the election they will be changed, but too late for many of our children.

Our child started school at just over four years. In the first week she was sent home with homework in her school bag. We have enjoyed reading together from an early age but wholly reject the developmentally unsound EYFS targets the Government has tried to impose on us. So, for the past six months, homework has stayed in the school bag. Since she is of non-compulsory school age, we see no reason why we should do it.

The school, thankfully, has at last realised that as a family we are not gullible enough to swallow Government propaganda about EYFS profiling. Last week our daughter won a prize at school for best portrayal of a character from a storybook. Aged just four, she chose Pippi Longstocking.

David, to use a well-worn but still effective phrase, ‘we weren’t born yesterday’! Stop your ‘spin’. Like Pippi, the many movements to abolish the EYFS compulsory learning and development requirements and the profiling are now strong enough to lift a horse with one hand.

Frances Laing, http://www.parents

– Letter of the Week wins £30 worth of books

EYFS exempt school wins ‘outstanding’ category at inspection.

See this Nursery World article for full report.

Opposition to Early Years Foundation Stage learning and development requirements in state schools

Alongside all the supportive comments received on this blog, in the ‘real’ world and in the internet community at large – comes the inference on Twitter that I’m nothing but a nervous (and neurotic?) mother, a secret Steiner supporter and that my “guru” is Dr. Richard House (only if you’re very, very bored should you seek out ‘Thetis Mecurio’s caustic and patronising comments on Twitter or search for EYFS on Twitter at this link). 

Were circumstances in the English education system different – I might find such responses  amusing. The word “guru” just doesn’t figure in a mindset like mine. Namely because I know how dangerous it is to regard anything or anybody uncritically. Nervous I am. Quite rightly so – given the current state of early years education.

It’s possible I’ve had a sense of humour bypass and not noticed – but there is something decidedly unfunny about attempts to mask or marginalise the  extent of opposition to, and criticisms of  – the Early Years Foundation Stage Learning and Development Requirements – regardless of who the perpetrators of this particular brand of misinformation are. Here’s why.

I’ve always believed that people have a right to good quality education. And that this right belongs to everybody – not just those parents who have access to a sufficient income to send their children to a private school. It’s a human right that people have fought for for hundreds of years and it’s also the reason why our child attends a mainstream state-funded school.

Steiner schools (and Steiner parents?) it seems have access to the resources/man-and-woman power to question and challenge the Early Years Foundation Stage Learning and Development Requirements – to secure exemptions and to craft an alternative. Good luck to them. They have vested interests. As we all do.

But where does that leave the millions of children in state-funded schools who will still have to suffer the consequences of the potentially damaging Early Years Foundation Stage Learning and Development Requirements? What about us

I’d like to put the following prediction on record. At the next election – with a change in government, and as a response to public pressure – the EYFS system will be reformed as a priority. I’d like to predict that at the latest in the early autumn as a first step the 69 learning and development requirements will be “downgraded” to recommendations only. Further changes will follow.

The huge (and as yet uncharted – millions?) that have been invested in setting up the Early Years Foundation Stage learning and development requirements system, it’s accompanying bureaucratic machine and the EYFS-charting-and-research-educational-gravy-train-industrial-monster it has spawned will then start to be dismantled. Public funds which must amount to millions will have been wasted. Millions which could have been spent securing real improvements in the lives of children living in poverty – wasted.

Let’s get this straight. Early years experts across the board (including many teachers) have been calling for reform of the EYFS learning and development requirements system for several years now. They are doing so because they are concerned about securing the best possible education system that we can achieve. Something that will encourage children to learn. Something that avoids setting children up to fail. Do state schooled children deserve less than the best?

On an international level, the English insistence on pushing children to read before many of them are ready is increasingly, nothing but a bad joke.

Much has been made of the notion that the EYFS system and the EYFS Learning and Development Requirements benefit financially and socially excluded families in particular. This brand of ‘spin’ is particularly offensive to those who of necessity rely on the state system.

I’ve yet to come across concrete evidence (not spin) to support the view that the EYFS learning and development requirements system is of real benefit to socially and financially excluded families. Disagree? Send in your views – I’d like to see them.

Our government does not want to back down from a policy that does not work so close to the next election (for reasons of political expediency not because the policy is right or educationally sound).

On the subject of Steiner schools – I’m enclosing a link to a recently published report on the implentation of EYFS by Steiner representatives. See report and links in this Nursery World article.  I haven’t read the report  yet – it’s over forty pages long – but my initial reaction when I heard about it was disappointment. It seems Steiner schools have produced the report in consultation with the Department of Children, Schools and Families. In the first instance I felt that working together with the DCSF like this might create the impression that the system is still workable. And I’m not sure it  is.

However as I said, I haven’t read it yet. When and if I do  and choose to write about it , critically as a journalist – I trust those who have accused me of being a secret-Steiner-supporter – will finally get their facts right. I respect the right to freedom in education – Steiner philosophies are one part of the opposition to the EYFS learning and development requirements but our own lives presently remain firmly rooted in a state education system.