Open Letter

On Friday 30th November 2007, the Open EYE campaign was launched with an open letter, published in the TES:

We the undersigned share a profound concern about England’s ‘Early Years Foundation Stage’ (EYFS) legislation, which becomes law next autumn. We believe EYFS to be fundamentally flawed in conception, with net harm likely to be done to young children due to the framework’s contestable assumptions and unintended consequences.

Young children learn most naturally and effectively through a subtle balance of free play, movement, rhythm, repetition and imitation. An overly formal, academic and/or cognitively biased ‘curriculum’, however carefully camouflaged, distorts this learning experience; and an early ‘head-start’ in literacy is now known to precipitate unforeseen difficulties later on – sometimes including unpredictable emotional and behavioural problems.

Legally enshrining a model of child development disrespectfully allows no space for very different but equally plausible developmental frameworks –which would, for example, fundamentally question EYFS’s programmatic blending of broad developmental milestones with ‘early learning goals’ (especially around literacy); EYFS’s emphasis on ‘adult-directed’ as opposed to free-flow play; and the appropriatness of ITC in early learning. The age bands and associated age-related goals in the EYFS are also quite arbitrary, with little if any coherent developmental rationale; and to impose a compulsory legal framework on what are pre-compulsory school-age children may well have profound civil rights implications.

Research increasingly suggests that prescriptive intrusion by government into education has not improved standards to any marked extent, and may be narrowing and ‘over-mechanising’ children’s learning experiences, inducing needless anxiety and, at worst, a major diminution in children’s enthusiasm for learning.. Young children’s needs in particular are substantially compromised by an ‘audit and accountability’ ideology. Caring for babies and toddlers is profoundly personal, involving immeasurable qualities like attunement and responsiveness. A ‘one-size-fits-all’ framework, necessitating copious record-keeping, risks substituting bureaucracy for care.

We therefore call on the government:

– to commission an urgent independent review of EYFS, allowing diverse conceptions of child development to flourish without undue compromise;

– to reduce the status of EYFS to ‘professional guidelines’, free of legal compulsion, so safe-guarding the professionalism and freedom to practice of practitioners who have principled objections to the framework.

Many people feel unable to speak out against EYFS for fear of career reprisals, with others feeling helpless to influence government thinking. The DfCSF may therefore be unaware of the level of opposition that exists to EYFS throughout the field.

We call upon practitioners, academics, administrators, teacher-trainers and parents to join us in our OPEN EYE Campaign for the very heart of childhood. Further details can be obtained from r.house@roehampton.ac.uk

Signed by (in alphabetical order):

Fergus Anderson, independent film-maker
Sally Barnes, writer and consultant on early years education
Camila Batmanghelidjh, psychotherapist, founder and director of Kids Company
Dr Teresa Belton, former Chair of Play for Life
Professor Tim Brighouse, former Commissioner for London Schools
Richard Brinton, Managing Director, Hawkwood College, Stroud
Dr Onel Brooks, Research Centre for Therapeutic Education, Roehampton University
Christopher Clouder, co-founder of the international Alliance for Childhood
John Dougherty, children’s author, former teacher
Dr. James A. Dyson, Anthroposophic physician, psychologist and school doctor
Margaret Edgington, Early Years Consultant
Dr Marilyn Fryer, C.Psychol. The Creativity Centre Ltd.
Melanie Gill, child forensic psychologist, Commonsense Associates
Sally Goddard Blythe MSc.FRSA, Director, The Institute for Neuro-Physiological Psychology, Chester, author of The Well Balanced Child
Aonghus Gordon, Founder/Director of Ruskin Mill College
Grethe Hopper Hansen, educational consultant, former chair of S.E.A.L.
Sylvie Hétu, co-founder, Massage in Schools Programme (MISP)
Dr Richard House, Research Centre for Therapeutic Education, Roehampton University
Graham Kennish, Kindergarten teacher-trainer
Alfie Kohn, author and lecturer
Dr Penelope Leach, Psychologist and author of Your Baby and Child
Jean Liedloff, author of The Continuum Concept
Professor Del Loewenthal, Director, Research Centre for Therapeutic Education, Roehampton University
Dr Christine Macintyre, Educationalist, author of Understanding Children’s Development in the Early Years: Questions Practitioners Frequently Ask (Routledge)
Dr Peter Martin, Principal Lecturer in Counselling Psychology, Roehampton University
Mildred Masheder, Educationalist, author of Positive Childhood
Dr Brien Masters, Director, London Waldorf Teacher Training Seminar
Melinda Messenger, television presenter & personality, parent
Gabriel Millar, poet, grandparent
Bel Mooney, writer
Professor Emeritus Janet Moyles, Anglia Ruskin University, author of Beginning Teaching: Beginning Learning
Nick Oakley-Smith, Chair of Council Wynstones School, Learning & Development Consultant
Lynne Oldfield, Kindergarten teacher-trainer, author of Free to Learn
Sue Palmer, educational consultant and author of Toxic Childhood and De-toxing Childhood
Ken Power, Chair of College of Teachers, Wynstones School, Gloucestershire
Tom Raines, Editor of New View magazine
Skeena Rathor, Brain Development Teacher
Veronika Robinson, editor of The Mother magazine
Dr Dorothy Rowe, Psychologist and writer
Sami Timimi, Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, Visiting professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Lincoln University
Emma Tyer, Parenting consultant
Murray White, primary headmaster for 29 years, now UK representative for the International Council of Self Esteem
Sir John Whitmore, ‘BeTheChange’ conference convenor
Sarah Woodhouse, Right from the Start

Post-deadline signatories:

Sally Barnes, writer and consultant on early years education
Camila Batmanghelidjh, psychotherapist, founder and director of Kids Company
Dr Onel Brooks, Research Centre for Therapeutic Education, Roehampton University
Christopher Clouder, co-founder of the international Alliance for Childhood
John Dougherty, children’s author, former teacher
Dr. James A. Dyson, Anthroposophic physician, psychologist and school doctor
Aonghus Gordon, Founder/Director of Ruskin Mill College
Alfie Kohn, author and lecturer
Jean Liedloff, author of The Continuum Concept
Dr Peter Martin, Principal Lecturer in Counselling Psychology, Roehampton University
Melinda Messenger, television presenter & personality, parent
Professor Emeritus Janet Moyles, Anglia Ruskin University, author of Beginning Teaching: Beginning Learning
Nick Oakley-Smith, Chair of Council Wynstones School, Learning & Development Consultant
Skeena Rathor, Brain Development Teacher
Sir John Whitmore, ‘BeTheChange’ conference convenor
Sarah Woodhouse, Right from the Start

Letter published in the Times Educational Supplement, 30th November 2007

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