OpenEYE consists of a unique, multi-disciplinary team of experts who have come together through a shared concern about Early Childhood in the UK. They have the support of an increasing number of childminders, parents, practitioners and teachers. Additional support comes from a prestigious group of international researchers, authors and early childhood experts. OpenEYE is an entirely voluntary group who give their time freely to the cause.
THE CHILD – THE TRUE FOUNDATION
‘The Freedom to be Myself’
OpenEYE held its second national conference in June 2010.
Each of the key speaking American professors – Kathy Hirsch-Pasek and Lilian Katz – made an eloquent case for playful learning before formal instruction, and Dr. Sebastian Suggate shared his research into early reading, showing that later readers who start at 7, by the age of 10, actually surpass those who start at 5.
The psychologist Dr. Aric Sigman spoke with a punch about the adverse effects of screen-based technology in the early years. He said, instead of screens that can induce ADHD, a child needs real experiences to create new neural circuitry in the brain that becomes intelligence and empathy.
By their questions it was clear that the roomful of teachers, parents and educators were, with us, committed protectors of the child’s right to a childhood of imaginative play uninvaded by politicians’ prescriptive curricula and harmful screens. A DVD of the conference is now available.
The same spectres of mechanistic and materialistic thinking that we are challenging in the Open Eye campaign, are now looming in America. The Alliance for Childhood has issued a statement of protest, signed by several hundred distinguished educators and academics, against the core standards for children just issued by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, which place heavy emphasis on language and mathematics. A familiar theme from UK is their condemnation of the long hours that very young children will be made to spend on cognitive work and didactic instruction, and the inappropriate standardized testing that will crowd out other far more important areas of learning.
Like Open Eye, they call for the creation of a consortium of early childhood researchers, developmental psychologists, paediatricians, cognitive scientists, master teachers and school leaders to develop comprehensive guidelines for effective early care and teaching that recognise the right of every child to a healthy start in life and a developmentally appropriate education.
The Cambridge Primary Review, released last week, encouragingly made reference to pre-primary by recognising the importance of the early years. The Report maintained that education for young children is too narrow, too prescriptive and introduced at too early an age. The Review finds that “The English insistence on the earliest possible start to formal schooling, against the grain of international evidence and practice, is educationally counterproductive. The Early Years Foundation Stage should be renamed and extended to age six, and early years provision should be strengthened in its quality and staffing so that children are properly prepared – socially, linguistically and experientially – for formal learning.” Extending the EYFS to the end of year 1 was the recommendation of the government’s own Early Education Advisory Group, nearly two years ago, as well as the suggestion that the school starting age should be reviewed. Gillian Pugh, a former head of the National Children’s Bureau, who chaired the Review, also confirmed this view saying that when children are introduced to formal learning too soon it can have the opposite effect, putting children off the whole idea of learning for a long time. She added “There is no research evidence that an early access to formal learning does children any good and a lot of evidence that it can actually do some harm.”
These views accord with those of the Open EYE Team and give substantial weight to our concerns. We have consistently expressed the view that the EYFS statutory framework for learning & development has the potential to be damaging to the emerging love of learning so inherent in the nature of the young child, with its developmentally inappropriate requirements.
Whilst Open EYE recognises the concerns of parents that children should learn the 3Rs, it is important to emphasise that these basic skills are easily achieved through a less formal and more age appropriate approach when children are given sufficient time, in a developmentally appropriate way. This fact is borne out by the reports from many European countries, where children start school much later, but where the 3Rs seem to present much less of a problem.
The Cambridge Review is highly encouraging to the OpenEYE group with its commonality with what we, and others, have been saying to the government now for two years; but which seems to have been systematically ignored. The title of our film ‘too much, too soon’ seems to have hit the nail right on the head and, though the findings of this Review are all very encouraging, they will need to be ‘actioned’ before we can feel confident about any positive impact on improving the well-being and future success of our youngest children. It is gratifying to the Open EYE group to see the connectedness between early years and later now being given serious attention in an holistic way.
A Commentary from the Open EYE Campaign
1 September 2009. The Open Eye Campaign has issued the following press release to mark the first anniversary of the Early Years Foundation Stage:
The Open EYE Campaign has continuing concerns about the EYFS, one year on….
(1) It is still far too early to say whether, taken as a whole, the EYFS has been successful or not. Not least, we will need to see a substantial number of post-implementation Ofsted reports to find out whether settings are being appropriately assessed and advised by Ofsted inspectors in relation to their interpretation of the EYFS.
(2) There are severe doubts as to whether practitioners are prioritising the quality of their settings in relation to children’s real developmental needs, rather than prioritising how many ‘brownie points’ they can earn from Ofsted. Whilst the two are not necessarily unrelated, choosing the latter over the former is likely to have dire consequences for children’s development.
(3) The issue of the literacy goals has not been addressed at all, despite continuing complaints and representations from across the early years field (including a recent public admission by strong EYFS supporter, Bernadette Duffy, that the literacy requirements have no research base), and the Rose Review’s missed opportunity to recommend that these controversial goals be held back for at least a year – when all the evidence and informed opinion points to it being the correct and appropriate change to make. For example, the recent ‘Early Education’ (EE) questionnaire results, based on the QCA’s EYFS survey, has thrown up significant disquiet about the literacy requirements of the EYFS. In addition, the EYFS recommendations made in the recent Select Committee’s report underline these concerns – viz.: ‘…we draw the Department’s attention to the near universal support for the reconsideration of the Early Learning Goals directly concerned with reading, writing and punctuation’. This further belies the current claims about the alleged ‘universal embracing’ of the EYFS.
(4) We are also very concerned, however, that as many as 7 in 10 of respondents to the EE questionnaire did not question the EYFS literacy goals. This suggests that there may well have been a kind of compliant, uncritical acquiescence to the state’s imposed but misguided model by many early years staff – a possibility that has concerned Open EYE all along.
(5) There has been a woeful lack of precision about what the term “EYFS” is actually referring to in virtually all public discussions about the framework, and it has increasingly become a non-discriminating generic term (rather like ‘hoovers’ for ‘vacuum cleaners’). There is much in the practice guidance which, as a framework, can be a useful resource as long as the age-related grids are not taken too literally. However, this usefulness should not be used as an expedient smokescreen for obscuring those politicised aspects of the compulsory framework which are highly contentious, have no evidence base, and which many practitioners and academics are continuing to challenge strongly.
(6) The recent QCA’s EYFS questionnaire survey is inadequate and methodologically flawed, with questions that are non-sensical, and leaving little if any space for critical comments about the EYFS to be made by practitioners. Any results it produces must therefore be treated with extreme caution.
(7) Re childminders: approaching 1,000 citizens have now signed the Downing Street petition asking that the EYFS be dis-applied in the case of childminders. The government has responded with extraordinary complacency to the precipitate decline in the number of registered childminders, at a time when it is arguing that we need a growing supply of childcare places. It seems that the government simply dare not admit the obvious – i.e. that the concerted decline in registered childminders since EYFS was introduced is directly linked to the inappropriate bureaucratisation and ‘schoolification’ of childminding that the EYFS introduces. Recent Ofsted documentation for childminders also explicitly states that childminders have a legal requirement to provide an ‘educational programme’ for their children. This represents yet another ratcheting-up of the insidious ‘schoolification’ of early childhood experience, which many authoritative commentators, including Open EYE, believe to be undermining the psychological foundations of a healthy childhood.
(8) The one completed attempt to date to apply for a principled exemption from EYFS, by a childminder from Warrington, was summarily refused, and for reasons which are very difficult to understand. Whilst this is being pursued with the Department, it does confirm Open EYE’s fears that the EYFS exemption process has been deliberately designed to make it virtually impossible for anyone to succeed in negotiating it successfully. Following the recent concession on exemptions for Steiner settings, as a matter of equity, it is essential that any other settings which object philosophically or pedagogically to the statutory EYFS learning requirements can also be granted exemption, for the Steiner movement’s concern that the literacy, numeracy and ICT requirements are inappropriate is shared by many non-Steiner practitioners throughout the field. Open EYE would also hope to see a positive response to any exemption application made on the grounds of a deeply held personal conviction, whether of institutional or parental origin, as this would demonstrate a true commitment to diversity and parental choice in matters of education.
(9) As predicted by Open EYE, the non-statutory, age-related development matters grids are being used to represent normal development – in spite of the fact that they are deeply flawed, and in some cases non-sensical. Children are now being routinely assessed against these grids, and local authorities (through the LA outcomes duty) are making judgements about settings based on the numbers of children who appear to achieve well. Children and settings deemed to be failing are targeted for extra support. This ‘audit culture’ should have no place in early years, where children’s development is naturally varied, and where any pressure is likely to cause anxiety and damage to self-esteem.
(10) Finally, it is concerning that, far from encouraging the school starting age to remain at 5 and beyond, there is now a new policy arising out of Sir Jim Rose’s recent primary review, to get children into school as soon as they are 4. This is highly regrettable, and there is certainly no research evidence to support such a policy shift. It also strongly suggests that the recommendation by the government’s own Early Education Advisory Group, that the government should review school starting age and extend the EYFS to the end of year 1, is being ignored by the DCSF.
END OF PRESS RELEASE
Open EYE has now submitted our final response to the Rose Report. Please click on the link below to open the pdf file with the full text of our submission.
In the meantime, the campaign against the statutory nature of the learning and development requirements of the EYFS continues apace. We hope that the new Minister for Children, Young People and Families will be open to our concerns.