DCSF Rocked by New Open Letter and Lead Report in The Times on EYFS ‘Concessions’

July 24, 2008


The Times newspaper leads today with an article featuring Open EYE‘s less-than-impressed response to the DCSF’s new labyrinthine and unduly complex exemptions procedure. In the same issue, the letters page also features a new Open Letter orchestrated by the campaign’s Richard House, Graham Kennish and Kim Simpson, following our first letter published in The Times last November. This new Open Letter makes the case that the government’s recent alleged ‘concessions’ amount to little more than ‘crumbs thrown at the table’, and leave in place mandatory early-years practices which are widely believed to be inappropriate for many children. The letter is signed by over 80 notables across education and related fields, including such prominent figures as:

Sir Christopher Ball, Steve Biddulph, Professors Tim Brighouse, Pat Broadhead, Tricia David, Rita Jordan, OBE (Emeritus), Lilian G. Katz (USA), Susie OrbachPat Petrie and Sami Timimi – and Jean Liedloff, Alfie Kohn, Dr Penelope Leach, Michael Morpurgo OBE, Philip Pullman, Sue Palmer and Tim Smit.



EYFS – Too Much, Too Soon; EYFS exemptions – too little, too late

July 23, 2008

The new Open EYE campaign film, TOO MUCH TOO SOON, is here:

Meanwhile, you may have seen that the Children’s Minister, Beverley Hughes, recently and belatedly announced a procedure whereby settings can apply for exemption – providing, of course, that they can (a) find the relevant page on the DCSF website, (b) understand the procedure, and (c) clear all the hurdles. To save you the trouble of hunting it out, you can find the information here. See what you think.

“Hidden” research casts more doubt on EYFS

July 14, 2008

Research commissioned by the Department for Children, Schools & Families – but then left unreleased by the Department until a Freedom of Information Act request forced its disclosure – has raised further questions about the Early Years Foundation Stage, according to a report in Monday’s Guardian.

Meanwhile, anyone who missed the recent edition of ‘The Learning Curve’ on BBC Radio 4 on Monday 7th July, can listen to it here. The programme begins with a follow-up item on the EYFS, with Margaret Edgington of the Open EYE steering group, Lib Dem Shadow Minister for Children, Annette Brooke MP and DCSF Early Years adviser Professor Ted Melhuish discussing the EYFS and its discontents. Well worth a listen.

Dept for Children, Schools and Families EYFS announcement, 30th June 2008

July 3, 2008

OpenEYE considers the 30th June statement by Children’s Minister Beverley Hughes of the DCSF to be quite inadequate in face of:

  •  the approximately 7,500 signatories to its Downing Street petition;
  •  the serious concerns of her own early-years advisors expressed in a jointly signed letter to her;
  •  the Parliamentary Early Day Motion (# 1031) now signed by over 80 MPs;
  •  the grave concerns about some of the EYFS Learning Requirements shared by all eight professional witnesses who gave evidence to the recent special meeting of the Parliamentary Select Committee;
  •  the devastating critique by the Independent Schools Council in their letter to her; and
  •  the stream of cogent and detailed concerns expressed by international and UK professionals, parents, educational bodies and coalitions such as ourselves, on radio, TV and in all major newspapers.  

Just two out of 117 profile scale points were mentioned in the Department’s announcement, and these are only to be reviewed, and then only in 2010, rather than immediately suspended as a sensible precautionary move. Given the widespread view across the early-years field that these requirements are developmentally inappropriate and potentially harmful, it is both arrogant and irresponsible for government to be gambling with our children’s well-being in this way, when simply to suspend these requirements pending the results of further research was an eminently feasible option.

With regard to exemptions, Minister Hughes would appear to have conceded that the primary legislation passed in 2006 cannot continue to be ignored. Until her announcement, she had steadfastly refused to allow whole settings to seek exemption from any of the Learning and Development Requirements, yet this was quite explicitly provided for in the original legislation. However, with the stipulation of a two-year time limit, her concession appears to be grudging, for it still goes against the intention of the original 2006 legislation – and as we suggest below, it may still be calculated to avoid it.

The proposed time-limited exemption is only for ‘particular elements’ (yet to be clarified), it is conditional on an unknown application process, assessed through the QCA, under unknown criteria by an Ofsted inspector, and only where ‘the majority’ of parents support it.         

The final approval will then presumably be in the hands of the same Minister who has shown herself to be intransigently committed to pursuing the incompatible strategy of legally imposing an Outcomes Duty on all LEAs and forcing them to pursue the EYFS targets laid down each year, while incongruously continuing to insist that there are no tests, no ‘curriculum’, and no goals, and that everything is ‘flexible’, ‘aspirational’ and based on play.

If any settings do succeed in negotiating this bureaucratic exemption procedure, such settings, pursuing a quite different pedagogical philosophy, will then be ‘monitored’ throughout the two years, presumably by the same Ofsted which will be simultaneously enforcing LEA pressure on all practitioners to increase their childrens’ profile scores by the time some of them are only 4 years old. The complete absence of clear criteria by which those same Ofsted inspectors would determine whether an exempted setting is a ‘successful’ setting, leaves those practitioners open to two years of stress and uncertainty – and this may well be enough of itself to ensure that settings don’t even attempt to start going down the exemption route. 

More generally, not that long ago, the very idea that nurseries would have to apply, cap in hand, to a government department for exemption from a government-imposed developmental framework for pre-compulsory school-age children would have been seen as utterly unthinkable. 

OpenEYE continues to challenge Beverley Hughes and the DCSF to produce a single piece of convincing and methodologically sound research evidence or professional support for the statutory imposition of target-driven literacy and numeracy goals on the under 5’s. For its part, Open EYE can produce at least 32 recent research studies and statements from professionals and educational groups which indicate such a strategy to be ineffective, unjustifiable or, more importantly, that it has potential harmful side-effects for a child’s longer term confidence, feeling of self-worth and future academic achievement