Saturday, 9 April 2011

The Tickell Review of the EYFS: some first thoughts

I was outdoors in a primary school recently, and commented on a mature cherry tree in full blossom. The teacher replied, “I don’t think we ever really notice it”, and we spent a little while thinking of ways to get the children to look more closely at the tree – maybe having some small cuttings in vases, using magnifying glasses, and so on. The school is quite close to a thunderous road leading to the London docklands and Canary Wharf, yet there are also many small green spaces, canals and some beautiful mature trees which can go un-noticed by children and the adults around them.

It was a great project after the Second World War, replacing the dirty and gloomy houses and schools of the East End with light, glassy buildings built around garden courtyards, often planted with lovely trees. As with many great projects, it is easier now to see the failures, than to appreciate the successes. Patches of dog-roamed, dirty grass in the middle of blocks of flats no longer look nice: practically everyone prefers the newly-prettified Victorian terraces. 

I wonder if it is the same with the Early Years Foundation Stage. It was a grand plan, changing early years practice across ever sector in England, backed up with a lorryload of booklets, folders and projects. It is easy now to find fault with those bureaucratic excesses, and forget how practice has indeed been changed for the better.

The fact that so much of the EYFS is just part of the scenery now, as un-noticed as that cherry tree, is really a sign of its successes. Nobody seriously questions EYFS headlines like the importance of outdoor play, the vital role practitioners play in supporting children’s emotional development, or the importance of engaging parents.

The EYFS helped to make the early years workforce more professional, by emphasising the critical importance of early childhood, and by raising the status of our work. Yet strangely enough, it has also deprofessionalised us with its excessive detail and focus on compliance. With less guidance and fewer Early Learning Goals, there is a legitimate worry that the EYFS might now become too narrow. We need to keep an eye on that: but I think we should be more optimistic. Now is the time to put more energy into creative and inspiring approaches to the early years, and more trust in the professional judgement of practitioners.

First published in Nursery World