Saturday, 7 May 2011

Misunderstandings and falsehoods abound when it comes to the "nappy curriculum"

It is just as well that you're here and you don't have to rely on the rest of the media to inform you about the Early Years Foundation Stage. Following their guidance would be like relying on Jill Murphy’s picture book Whatever Next! to get you to the moon with a couple of cardboard boxes.

When I had a Google News Alert streaming the latest news stories on the Tickell Review of the EYFS onto this blog; some of those stories were most interesting.  The first problem that seems to have faced the media is how to make sense of the numbers. To be fair, this is hardly surprising. Dame Tickell herself, usually admirably direct and clear, came up with the following baffling claim: “there is clear and unambiguous evidence that outcomes for young children are improving. Notwithstanding this, less than half of children (44%) are still not considered to have reached a good level of development by the end of the year in which they turn 5.” I had to read that a fair number of times to untangle all those nots.

This led the Daily Telegraph to state “44 per cent of pupils in England currently start compulsory education without the basic social, communication and language skills needed to make a success of school.” That makes it sound as if nearly half of all children are seriously unprepared for the move into Key Stage One. But in fact, the 44 per cent figure refers to the proportion of children who have not achieved 78 points in the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile and at least 6 points in all the scales associated with the Personal, Social and Emotional and Communication, Language and Literacy areas of learning.  That measure is a pretty high level of development; many of those 44 per cent of children are developing and learning perfectly well. But you wouldn’t think so from the Telegraph’s further comment, that “almost four-in-10 boys and a fifth of girls are unable to hold a pencil or write legible letters by the age of five, while almost half of all children struggle to concentrate or pay attention.” The actual statistic is that 44% of boys do not score six points of more in the Writing scale of the EYFS. Does that mean the same as not being able to hold a pencil? Of course not.

The education editor at England’s biggest-selling evening paper, the Express and Star, is more impressed with early years practice: “I have seen some fantastic and really inspiring practice in several early years’ settings recently, but to make a real difference we have to ensure that is followed through until children are five and six and think about preparing our environment and our pedagogy rather than the children.” This is a fair point – but it isn’t clear that the writer realizes that the EYFS covers children up to the end of the Reception Year.

Much less impressive are the strange comments in the Economist, which told its readers that the EYFS sets out “69 skills that nursery staff and childminders must impart to their charges before they toddle off to school.” Those "69 skills" are in fact the Early Learning Goals in the EYFS (actually a mix of skills, attitudes and knowledge). Who else, other than the Economist, pictures those children, rising 6 year olds about to start Infant Schooling, as toddling off to school?  Readers are also informed that “Ofsted was given power to inspect not only nurseries but even childminders, who typically care for a baby and a couple of toddlers in their own homes. The national curriculum was extended to cover three-year-olds, and Ofsted judged harshly those who failed to take a register twice a day (even though it would be immediately obvious if one of three children were missing).” Exactly how the National Curriculum was extended to three year olds is not explained (do they mean the EYFS, which covers all children from birth to six years old?). Does anyone know a childminder who was rebuked by Ofsted for failing to take a register twice a day?

 I could go on, and a quick search online will uncover many more misunderstandings and falsehoods about the so-called “nappy curriculum”. How can the general public make a sensible judgment about the quality of early years education and care, which is funded by significant amounts of their money, when there is so much misinformation about?

A shorter version of the piece was first published in Nursery World