Saturday, 21 January 2012

EYFS review: Lord Ouseley and Jane Lane "shocked and disappointed" by lack of emphasis on racial equality

In a powerfully-written submission to the Tickell Review, Lord Ouseley (former chair of the Commission for Racial Equality) and Jane Lane (advocate worker for racial equality in the early years) express their strong concerns about the proposed new framework. They argue firstly that there should be stronger requirements to monitor incidents of racial discrimination, and secondly that with the loss of all the materials that were included the original framework, practitioners will lack guidance on how to promote racial equality and take on discrimination. (You can read their response as a Google Document, or see the full text pasted at the end of this post.)

The original EYFS, for all its flaws, did include some very useful guidance around issues like racial equality - so one wonders where practitioners will turn now. The whole issue is always in danger of going quiet. Yet, as they argue, the recent conviction of Gary Dobson and David Norris for the murder of Stephen Lawrence raised many troubling questions, not least how deep are the roots of attitudes like their violent hatred of black people and other ethnic minorities?

Why don't early years settings and schools do more to challenge and change such attitudes in children and young people? Probably because staff feel worried about getting something wrong, and lacking overall in confidence and guidance. So it would seem that the best way forward would be to add more training and time to talk to the guidance that already exists on paper. Instead of which, the proposal is to take away the minimal amount of guidance that was in the EYFS pack - and perhaps send, albeit unintentionally, the message that this is no longer a priority.

In her recent interview with Vikram Dodd, Doreen Lawrence expresses her anger and disappointment about the coalition government's failure to tackle racism seriously.

Reading Jane Lane and Herman Ouseley's response to the EYFS consultation is like taking a fortifying draft that knocks out that complacency.


January 2012.
Comments by Lord Herman Ouseley and Jane Lane*
(As before, our comments only concern issues of racial equality)


We are shocked and disappointed that the specific points (among other important points) that we raised in our submission and comments to the DfE in September 2011 have not been addressed.

We wrote :

We believe that it is vital :

  • to extend the equality aspects of the EYFS statutory framework by requiring effective ethnic monitoring mechanisms to identify any potential discrimination and

  • to provide effective practice guidance on racial equality issues to accompany the Framework.
This is in order to ensure that all children are treated equally, wherever they are educated and cared for in their early years and are prepared and provided with positive and constructive opportunities to learn to accept one another as equal and valued members of our society.

In the light of :

  • the many examples of racial inequality and discrimination in our society and

  • research evidence over 50 years of the early age that children learn their attitudes to differences between people,
our pertinent recommendations should be seen as positive and helpful ways of identifying and removing any racial discrimination, and beginning the process of preventing any negative attitude formation at the beginning of children’s lives.


Earlier this month the high profile case of the convictions for the murder of Stephen Lawrence drew much media attention. This included questions as to how, why, where and when the appalling racially prejudiced attitudes and behaviour of the two defendants had arisen in the first place.

But such attitudes leading to violence are only one aspect of the racism and the institutional racism in our society, as defined in the Macpherson Inquiry into Stephen Lawrence’s murder. Our specific concern is in the way racism is perpetuated in subtle, deeply entrenched and largely unconscious ways and that it is not yet seriously recognised for the insidious danger that it is - the way in which racially prejudiced attitudes may be learnt and imbibed so unconsciously. The Macpherson Report defined this sort of racism, in its definition of institutional racism, as ‘unwitting’ and ‘thoughtless’. It is this particular form of racism that the EYFS needs to address and which the latest DfE/EYFS document singularly fails to do.

As we identified in our last two submission papers (September 2011 and September 2010), evidence over 50 years shows that the early years of children’s lives, long before they attend formal schooling, are the time when their attitudes to those who are different from themselves begin to develop. Evidence also shows that, unless young children are provided with positive opportunities and experiences to learn to respect such differences and value one another equally, then they may, in our society, learn to be racially prejudiced. Such prejudice may in some instances develop into racial discrimination, hatred and violence as they grow older. Young children are like sponges in absorbing the values, attitudes, judgements and stereotypes of all that is around them. Attitudes are learnt and perpetuated from generation to generation, often unconsciously and unrecognised.

So the Lawrence case is a wake-up call for those of us who work with and care for young children. We need to consider how best we can take action to provide them with regular and constructive opportunities to learn positive attitudes and behaviour to differences between people and to unlearn any negative attitudes and behaviour that they may have already learnt.

It is of great credit to those writing the original Early Years Foundation Stage that the importance of raising these issues with young children was raised and identified in the Guidance. It is this vital aspect of the EYFS that is no longer a part of the new EYFS and therefore no longer available to policy makers, trainers and practitioners.

In addition, since our 2011 submission the implications of the 2010 Equality Act have become more apparent. One local authority, Essex, has stated that, with regards to advice, support and training for the Early Years sector in equality issues, their line is to focus very much on the requirements of the Equality Act directly, particularly as the Equality Duty applies to any organisation that is carrying out a ‘public function’.  The delivery of the free early education entitlement is viewed as a public function on behalf of a local authority. This is important in recognising the critical involvement and responsibility of all early years settings receiving the entitlement, whether statutory, private, voluntary or independent, to comply with the Equality Duty. It should not be seen as onerous or a burden but as a way of breaking down barriers to every child having an equal chance in life.



We urge the Secretary of State and the DfE to reconsider their decision not to issue Guidance to accompany the EYFS and, in the light of our continuing comments and the questions asked after the conviction of Stephen Lawrence’s murderers, to recognise the responsibility of government to provide support to enable all children to grow up with positive opportunities to learn to respect and value one another and any differences between them. Practical Guidance, as originally devised to accompany the Framework, should be crucially supportive of this objective.


We urge the Secretary of State and the DfE, in order to comply with their duties under the Equality Act, to require local authorities to devise effective ethnic monitoring mechanisms, including the collection of relevant ethnic data, to identify any racial discrimination in the way early years settings are organised and their services delivered.

NB. We would be happy to offer support and advice to the DfE in furtherance of our recommendations.

Member of the House of Lords
Chair of PRESET (PRESET Education Trust)
Former Chair of the Commission for Racial Equality
email :


Advocate worker for racial equality in the early years
Associate, National Children’s Bureau
77 Baker Street, Reading RG1 7XY

email :
telephone/fax : 0118 959 7834

Author of Young children and racial justice – taking action for racial equality in the early years – understanding the past, thinking about the present, planning for the future (2008). National Children’s Bureau.