Thursday, 9 October 2008

Confusion over the Early Years Foundation Stage

Now that the Early Years Foundation Stage is statutory, discussions about it seem more confused and heated than ever. Fortunately, some interventions can be safely ignored by people who like to consider matters for more than a moment or two, like the Sunday Telegraph’s continual criticisms of the “nappy curriculum”, seemingly oblivious to the fact that the EYFS covers the whole early years phase up to the end of the Reception Year. Given that not long ago readers of the Telegraph were packing their seven year olds off to boarding schools, it seems a little odd that they now object to a curriculum for five year olds. 66% of respondents said that they were against the “nappy curriculum” on a recent MSN poll – an extraordinary result that suggests one in three people support a curriculum designed around the diaper.

Objections that the guidance on ICT will somehow poison the development of young children can also be safely ignored. Most parents of toddlers will know how much they enjoy technology, and there is no evidence that moderate use of computers, electronic toys or watching TV harms children’s development. It is fair to say that children’s development is not helped by excessive TV watching or computer use; equally many children really enjoy well-made children’s programmes and benefit from good-quality ICT resources. Sensible parents and early years practitioners understand the importance of moderation; ICT is not a kind of poison.

Confusion also seems to have arisen between the welfare requirements of the EYFS, and the guidance on development and learning. There have always been welfare requirements for children in daycare; they have not changed significantly with the new EYFS, and I would argue that they play an important role in protecting children from the worst types of unsafe and harmful care. Lax regulation goes along with poor standards of care, as is the case in the United States.

Similarly, when people object (rightly, in my view) to the inappropriate level of some of the Early Learning Goals, they are criticising Goals which have been in place since the original Curriculum Guidance for the Foundation Stage was published. I do not understand why this has been prompted by the EYFS. But the bigger point is that many of the Goals are set far too high for many children, and they need to be changed.

The EYFS offers many positive messages about the importance of play, attentive care, and good quality environments for learning indoors and out for children, and for that reason I welcome it. However, there is also excessive detail about development and learning and this is absolutely unhelpful as it deprofessionalises early years practitioners. This type of over-prescription, along with the level of inspection from Ofsted, might even kill off creativity in the development of early childhood education and care in England. Once the key commitments of the EYFS become bedded into early years practice, it will be essential to reduce the size and complexity of the document. Early years practitioners need more scope for professional judgment.