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

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