The Early Years Foundation Stage – One Year On

September 2, 2009

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.