Posts Tagged ‘parent’s guide to the early years foundation stage’

“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!


Coalition government annual school report, 2011. Part One.

Battle-fatigued is the phrase Special Educational Needs blogger Guerilla Mum Ellen Powers uses (she is currently sadly missing in action from her SEN blog). Come back Ellen – we need you. As I approach the end of term and contemplate a parents evening with my daughter’s soon-to-be Year 2 teacher – battle fatigued is how I feel too. There are some good things about our school. Our current headmistress who has been in post for a year – is one of them. But right now my over-riding feeling is – is there really any point going to a parent’s evening at all? It seems to me that despite the lip service paid the coalition government doesn’t really want parents to be involved in their children’s education – or in any discussion about what schools should look like.

According to this government parents can be tolerated as long as they confine themselves to the fund-raising clause in the PTA constitution and never mind about discussions on how their children are to be educated. We don’t need a discussion about it, we know what we are doing thank you very much. The problem is, they really, really don’t.

Still, I suppose that is what this blog is for, isn’t it? At least  I hope it is. I mean to change something for the better. (I hope.)

The battle-fatigued bit comes from looking back at many of the past years events. In our family we kicked off last year’s school summer holidays in style (sarcasm). A warning letter from the school governors floated through our letterbox – which accused me of  two incidents of ‘inappropriate behaviour’ at the school and threatened to ban me (and by implication my daughter) from the school grounds should another such ‘incident’ occur. From experience I know that ‘disciplinary’ letters such as this (solicitors or redundancy notices for example) – by accident or design – are timed to land on the recipient’s mat on a Friday (thus spoiling the recipient’s weekend) or just before the holidays. But knowing that didn’t help much at the time and I was left to worry about this letter for six weeks. I just couldn’t work out what the ‘inappropriate’ behaviour had been and neither could my Other Half (who had been there at the time).

So, when the holidays were over in the very first week of the new term of school – I made use of my rights as a parent to examine my daughter’s file. I found a letter in it which had never been sent, and therefore never received(we had not had an opportunity to respond to it). The letter was signed by a previous head and accused me of ‘inappropriate’ behaviour at my daughter’s parent’s evening in reception year, said that someone had expressed concern about the welfare of my child on that evening. If I hadn’t requested to look at the file, I would never have found that letter. I eventually gained a written apology from the school. The letter should never have been written.

I had thought back to what had actually happened that very first parent’s evening at school. My daughter was four. I remembered it quite clearly and my husband was there too. It was around the time our parental exemption to the early years foundation stage was rejected. It had been a horrible, horrible process – and I had become aware of the magnitude of the damage that English government policy was doing to children – I had just watched Fergus Andersen’s video “Too Much too Soon”. On the way to the school in the local nursery I’d seen a poster to collect money for the troops in Afghanistan and both things just set me off – it was all, well to use a word differently – just inappropriate. The worst thing was, I felt there was nothing, nothing I could do about any of it. And there was such an urgency to it. So much happens in the early years and it is over so quickly.

In fact I hardly spoke at all at that parents evening. The reason was that I spent most of it in floods of tears and couldn’t get a word out. I remember quite quietly through the tears saying three words ‘leave her alone’ (meaning my daughter – meaning leave her to be, play, without the constant measuring and target-setting – meaning leave all the children alone) and that was pretty much all I said. My daughter (being four) cried too – (we are very close and she started because I was crying probably). I remember carrying her out – we were both in tears. The previous head (who no doubt was no friend of mine due to the fact that we were the only parents in England to apply for a parental exemption for our child to the EYFS targets) – there must have been a complaint about this and someone had written a letter about it which was never sent. A complaint.  Despite seeing a parent and child in tears at the school, no-one offered us any assistance at the time and there was no phone call the next day to even check we were okay. And someone was concerned about my child’s welfare? Nothing was said about what had happened afterwards at school and at the time no assistance or discussion was offered at all. I put it down to embarrassment at the time.

There were other dimensions to this too and I believe the other reason why I had been so upset is that on some subliminal level I knew that something else was wrong. Several months later I discovered that my daughter had been bullied at school on many occasions in reception year – (see previous posts) – she was bullied in Year One too. Incident number two of alleged inappropriate behaviour it turned out  had been me practising an anti-bullying technique with my daughter at the school gate: (“stop don’t do that” – in a loud voice). It has been a long, long road. But there are no more tears now.

No more tears – not least because last summer holidays both myself and my daughter signed up to a black belt martial arts programme. We’ve both been training for a year now. There are a lot of stereotypes around about martial arts. Good martial arts schools come with a code of conduct that is way beyond any disciplinary code children might learn in school, as far as I’m concerned. Still not sure I’ll ever measure up to it, but it is something to strive for. I’ve had a rude awakening realising some of the behaviour that some children get way with in (and out of) school, that’s for sure.

No more tears, because the growing movement of people who really care about young children’s education (and want to discuss the content and direction of it)  is getting stronger by the minute. Part Two of the Coalition Government Annual School Report follows as soon as I can.

For a (very cross) headmistress’s view on the things the coalition government is getting wrong, read this week’s TES article by Kenny Frederick head of a school in east London : “How to stop a bulldozer and not be crushed”.

Kenny writes: “Combine the pensions debacle with the frequent pronouncements from the education secretary about how much harder GCSEs should be, then add on the warnings that the new Ofsted framework will ‘raise the bar’ once again, the fact that secondary school floor targets are being raised to 50 per cent and the 200 plus “failing” primary schools are going to be taken over by academies and you can see what is making my blood boil…”

In which the writer begins to deconstruct an ‘ideological assault’ directed at early years settings in England, children, parents, families, people with disabilities and the NHS. With the help of a public meeting against the cuts in Northwich, Cheshire.

Felicity Dowling. National Union of Teachers. Public Meeting Northwich Cheshire West Against the Cuts. May 24th, 2011. Photograph: Frances Laing.

The phrase ideological assault may help us understand what is happening to and in our society. For understanding is half the battle. To begin, readers I’m offering two single word definitions from a rather elderly edition of the New Shorter Oxford English dictionary for your consideration: 

Ideological: A system of ideas or way of thinking pertaining to a class or individual, esp. as a basis of some economic or political theory or system, regarded as justifying actions and esp. to be maintained irrespective of events.

Assault: 2. An attack by spiritual enemies; temptation to evil.

Public Meeting Cheshire West Against the Cuts. Northwich, England, 24th. May, 2011. Speakers Felicity Dowling. National Union of Teachers and Andy Ford member of Unison union regional committee and NHS employee (speaking in an individual capacity). Photo: F.Laing

The context is not simply the public meeting against the cuts which took place in Northwich, Cheshire, last month. The context is our whole lives. The entirety of this blog, since I began writing it two years ago and certainly the chapter of the book I have just completed – fellow contributors to the book include members of Parliament and Early Years Experts across the planet. The book, soon to be published will be called: “Dissent and the English Early Years Education System”. For without dissent there is no democracy. AND I’m not just mentioning this book for a publicity plug – I’m mentioning it because every  one of the issues mentioned in this blog post – and the book – directly affect every young child in this country.

Young children need health care and until and unless that provision is made secure – the huge  proposed investments in Phonics programmes and School League Tables – which have already been called into question by international researchers and academics – should again be called into question too. Joined up thinking.

I say: the ideological assault we are facing is Orwellian in nature. War is Peace. In a response to campaigning constituents in a letter dated 20th. May (see previous post) – elected representative Conservative M.P. for Chester Stephen Moseley declared: “…there are no cuts in the National Health Service and in fact NHS funding has been increased by the coalition government”.

Watch the video featured at the end of this post and Dr. Ron Singer who clearly states: “There are going to be huge reductions in what the NHS provides…not only are we facing the biggest reorganisation in the history of the NHS (the NHS and Social Care Bill) but at the same time we are also being asked to save or create ‘efficiencies’ of twenty billion pounds over four years (about twenty per cent of the total budget and for England about twenty-five per cent of the total budget”).

War is Peace.

Thirty five people were present at the public meeting in Northwich, Cheshire – some of them NHS employees. Amongst them Felicity Dowling of the National Union of Teachers and Andy Ford, member of Unison  Trade Union Regional Committee.Felicity Dowling, who works with children in the field of Special Education Needs (SEN) described a barrage of cuts on the battle field:

Early Years Consultants privatised and cut from 17 to 12 in her area. An overall reduction in special educational needs funding, affecting play areas, toddler groups, access arrangements, cuts in basic provision such as the lack of special chairs – a three year staff pay freeze in schools – along with cuts of pay and weekend work.

Felicity stressed the importance of talking for small children – and how cuts in the ‘Every Child a Talker’ (see this link for similar cuts elsewhere) grant will impede their progess. Cuts in Sure Start provision…disability provision all gone. People not being able to pay for child care. “Who is going to pay for a specialist teacher?” she asked.Felicity also spoke in some detail about the pending National Union of Teachers ballot for strike action on the issue of pay, conditions and pensions and deconstructed some popular myths about the cuts;

MYTH ONE:  The cuts exist to save money (academies and ‘free’ school cost vast amounts and in the long run will be more expensive to maintain – the cuts Felicity said ‘are not about money they are about politics and the way the government sees the public sector’).

MYTH TWO: “We are all in this together” – (72 per cent of the cuts described by Felicity impact on women and small children).

MYTH THREE: “Nothing we can do will make a difference” – (when soldiers came back from the Second World War they wanted a better world – Felicity refers to the letters written by her own father – they had the determination to build a better world and many of their generation pushed to found the NHS – a system free at the point of need).

Felicity urged the audience: “Don’t think things will stay the same – if they get away with this  – they will come back for more – Cameron will come back for the forests too”.

Andy Ford, member of Unison Trade Union Regional Committee and speaker on the panel is an employee of the NHS national blood transfusion service and highlighted  the need for the general public to support NHS workers – if blood transfusion support workers didn’t work for three days then ‘a lot of people would die’. 

Andy stressed the proposed ‘reforms’ in the NHS were firstly, the ‘wrong reforms at the wrong time’ and secondly ‘bad for patients’. ‘Bad for patients’ because the principal of universal health care – free at the point of need – is due to be abolished with the proposed reforms. 

We are facing a ‘privatisation like never before’ even Thatcher ‘did not attack the NHS’ he said.Andy described a lack of public accountability where ‘any willing provider can provide healthcare’ – the trade union position was ‘a clear defence of social medicine rather than the market’.And the market was a huge and lucrative one – the NHS budget in Rochdale alone was 300 million.

Andy spoke about how prices and tariffs for operations are not true prices, for example for children’s heart surgery. A surgeon from the John Radcliffe hospital surgeon said to him “What am I supposed to do – turn these people away?, I can’t do it…” – there would be a tendency for privatised companies to pick easy operations. Without the NHS people with cancer would bankrupt themselves.

Andy Ford, Unison Regional Trade Union Representative addresses the public Meeting in Northwich May 24th, 2011- organised by the coalition "Cheshire West Against the Cuts". Photograph: Frances Laing.

Private finance initiatives were unsustainable – locally in Whiston debt servicing of the PFI cannot be met from the market. If the market were a true market then PFIS would be allowed to go bankrupt. The first duty of a PFI is to service and pay debts…By contrast in Scotland there is no market for services. MRSA was unknown before Thatcher and deregulation. Regular cleaners had always been present. In Wales Plaid Cymru took cleaning services back in house and this led to improved standards. 

Discussion at the meeting kicked off with a few voices saying that some people were in ignorance of the extent of the cuts – but by the end of the meeting – an impressive and detailed list emerged and the recognition that we can’t wait until 2015 and a general election to take action. 

One union delegate’s summary of cuts in West Cheshire included those made in Children’s Centres and home care facilities – together with an assault on staff terms and conditions summed up by the motto: “keep council tax down and screw the staff”.

I gave a short account of attendance at the Multiple Sclerosis Society Regional Meeting in Preston last month – and the week of action against assessors ATOS. The M.S society is currently in the forefront of the ‘Hardest Hit’ campaign which highlights how people with disabilities are being detrimentally affected by the proposed Welfare Reform Bill.

 As promised at the beginning of this blog post here is Dr. Ron Singer with the clearest account of the ideological assault I’ve heard so far: 

Cheshire West Against the Cuts delivers 6 questions to M.P. in week of action against Atos Origin.

Cheshire West Against the Cuts in a highly visible protest on the gateway roundabout to Chester. Picture Frances Laing.

In the interests of joined up thinking on policy and politics – I’m continuing to post on the cuts protests. Yesterday saw Cheshire West Against the Cuts demonstrate outside Stephen Mosley M.P’s office as part of a week of action against Atos Origin. The group was formed in response to the coalition government’s programme of cuts.

Cheshire West Against the Cuts member Sam Oxford said:

“These cuts are unnecessary and ideologically motivated, we have seen the top 1000 richest people become 18% richer in the last year. Whilst cuts are being delivered to the poorest and most vulnerable in society. This government has given Atos Origin a £300m contract to reassess those who claim disability benefits, and has targets for Atos to meet.

Anyone who knows a disability benefit clamaint knows how hard it is to meet the criteria initially, and this just contitutes a vicious attack on the most vulnerable. Many have quoted the phrase ‘death by a thousand cuts’ as there are too many cuts happening to mention them all, but our set of 6 questions highlights the main issues we’re fighting for and demonstrating against. Cheshire West Against the Cuts group is growing by the day and we urge more people to get involved, we’ve set up a facebook group an anyone is welcome to join”.

The 6 questions given to Stephen Mosley are:

1. If the tax gap is estimated to be 123bn a year why are you cutting 81bn over 4 years instead of collecting it? If you collected all taxes due there would be no need for any cuts.

2. With 5 million on the council house waiting list and 2.5m unemployed, why doesn’t the government build affordable, environmentally friendly housing which would create jobs and relieve the waiting list?

3. Mervyn King said the roots of the global crisis were rooted in the financial sector. How do you justify passing the cost of it on to working people when the Sunday Times Rich List has increased its wealth by 18% in one year of your government?

4. Under your proposals not one hospital will remain in the hands of the NHS. How can it not be privatisation by stealth if you make the NHS unable to perform its function without relying on the private sector?

5. How can you justify spending money on bombing Libya while cutting public services? This is clearly an ideological choice to cut and not support the public services.

6. Do you agree that children’s special educational needs do not disappear because the definition of who qualifies changes? Your proposals cut out those whose needs relate to emotional, cognitive and social factors. Are they to sink or swim?

Len Morris Chair of Blacon Disability Group in Chester told me:

 “By cutting benefits in the long  term people with disabilities are going to suffer more. They will not be able to pay bills. People who have properties are not going to be able to repair them as it is expensive”.

The Chester protest links up with hundreds of others across the U.K. this week. Chester has traditionally been dubbed a ‘royalist’ city – but with the facade of conservatism comes a proud heritage of dissent. Local protestors are keeping up a very well informed  ongoing dialogue with their elected representative and the protests are not going away.

In my view the two industries on which the city’s economy is currently based: tourism and finance – do not necessarily benefit local residents and council tax payers as much of this money appears to flow directly into the pockets of large retail chains and multi-nationals. 

There is a steady flow of ‘spin’ which attempts to convince local council tax payers that services are not deteriorating. The realities are very different – not least because the proposals for welfare reform – are hitting people on a local level too. Midwives groups too have come out this week protesting against the cuts.

There is so much more to say about this – but I’ll leave you with two links. The first the Guardian verdict on the march:

Hardest Hit March, London.

And second the BBC News coverage of the hardest hit march.

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

Conservative Party Policy, EYFS review and statement on the reading test for five (and six year olds).

Received some important post this morning from our Member of Parliament. I have my own views on this, but decided it might be interesting to hear reader’s comments first. Your thoughts, readers?

Update added 29th. March (realised that the scanned version of this letter had a piece missing) here is the important missing bit – important because it refers to the phonics testing – click on the image to read it:

Women lie down to block road outside Downing Street in protest against devastating budget cuts

The first mainstream news report on this incredible women’s action against the cuts.

DAILY MAIL reports women lie in road outside Downing Street to protest against devastating budget cuts.