Sunday, 18 May 2008

EYFS Review - Open EYE and Parliament's Children, Schools and Families Committee

The media-friendly Open EYE campaigners are (justifiably) pleased with their latest success, which is to get the Children, Schools and Families Committee at Parliament to discuss the Early Years Foundation Stage on Wednesday 21st May.

Here's my submission to the committee. If you want to do the same then you need to email Susan Ramsay - csfcom@parliament.uk

Dear Ms Ramsay

I understand that the Early Years Foundation Stage will come under scrutiny from the Children, Schools and Families Committee next Wednesday, 21st May, and that the Committee would be interested in written submissions.

I am the headteacher of a nursery school and children's centre (Kate Greenaway, in Islington, London); I am also engaged in research and staff development and training work as a doctoral student (part time) at the Institute of Education. Although the views I express below are informed by this, they are my personal views.

I have a number of concerns about the EYFS, which I will detail below, and which I have previously made public during the consultation phase and since. However I believe that on balance, the EYFS is not the damaging framework which it is being made out to be, and that whilst I would wish for changes and improvements in some respects I think that it will on balance improve the quality of early childhood education and care in England.

I have tried to keep my comments brief.

Over-regulation

My understanding of international research is that weak regulation goes hand in hand with poor quality early childhood services, the USA being perhaps the most notable example. The EYFS will effectively bring together an appropriate level of regulation, within the context of stated principles around children's entitlement to play and high levels of care (including a key person system). There are many further important principles, one of which is that Steiner and Montessori schools should be allowed to offer their distinctive approach to early years education and care. My understanding is that there is ongoing and satisfactory dialogue between the DCSF and these sectors to ensure this. The further objection to regulation is that it unduly constrains the freedom of private operators of nurseries. My view is that tighter regulation is essential to improved quality. Children deserve better quality than they receive in many private nurseries (with, of course, notable exceptions - there are good private nurseries, but both the EPPE research and Ofsted inspection system indicate that there is a statistically significant difference in the quality of the maintained sector compared to the private, in favour of the former).

As the state supplies considerable funding (both through the tax credit system, and the NEG) it can reasonably expect good quality and legislate for this.

For the future, I think that government should aim for a better qualified early years workforce, to include early years specialist teachers and with continued encouragement for nursery staff to gain degree-level qualifications. As the workforce becomes better qualified, it is reasonable to expect that the extent and detail of regulation could then be reduced.

Over-formal curriculum

In my view, there are a number of the early learning goals (especially in the area of reading and writing) which are inappropriate for young children. Their impact can then extend backwards through the system and encourage inappropriately early attempts to teach children formal reading and writing skills at too young an age. In effect these are left over from the old Foundation Stage. With the introduction of the new EYFS, the opportunity should have been taken to remove them. I also think that in extent and detail, the "Development Matters" section of the EYFS is unhelpful. However it should be noted that this section is advisory, not statutory. The EYFS places a statutory duty on providers of early education to promote play, to work closely with families, and to develop a key person system. The EYFS training I have been involved with has emphasized the principles and commitments, and has stressed that the "Development Matters" section is for guidance only.

A "toxic childhood"

Objections to the EYFS also seem to see it as part of a larger picture of how society is making childhood "toxic" in the UK. Whilst it is right to be concerned and vigilant on this front, my view is that currently the expansion of Children's Centres and early childhood education and care is making a very positive difference to the lives of many families and wider communities. There are many reasons why it is difficult to bring up children in today's conditions; there are also many aspects of children's and families' lives which are much, much better than they used to be in the days when the state took virtually no interest in early childhood services. The "toxic childhood" discussion also seems to me to end up essentially as an expression of age-old fears amongst some middle class people that their happiness and their children's prospects must be defended against a nasty and growing mob of barbarous others. I want to keep this brief; I have commented previously on this here.