The Child – The True Foundation: conference report

June 15, 2010

‘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.


EYFS philosophy invades America

June 3, 2010

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.

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

Special Parliamentary Commitee meeting on EYFS

May 23, 2008

On May 21st, the Children, Schools and Families Parliamentary Committee (chaired by Barry Sheerman MP) held a special evidence-gathering meeting on the EYFS, arising in part from Open EYE’s meeting with Mr Sheerman in January. Coming hot on the heels of 70 MPs having signed EDM # 1031 raising Open EYE’s concerns, a welcome window of opportunity now exists for a comprehensive, dispassionate investigation into EYFS.

The Times newspaper of May 22nd reported that in a document ‘shelved’ by her Department, Ms Hughes’s advisors recently strongly advised the revision of EYFS’s more developmentally inappropriate literacy Learning Requirements. Every Committee meeting witness expressed shortcomings about the age-inappropriateness of some EYFS Learning Requirements. Other press reports of the event were released by the Press Association, by the Daily Telegraph, and by the Daily Mail (please scroll down to second article – Ministers press ahead with toddler curriculum – on the Daily Mail page).

Needless to say, Open EYE will let our website visitors know when there is more news about these exciting Parliamentary developments.

A video of the meeting is available at the UK Parliament website, although it appears that video accessibility is limited on this site.

A helpful and comprehensive report on the concerns raised at the Select Committee meeting has been published in Nursery World magazine.

The magazine also reports on a new Open EYE initiative to devise an alternative, more child-centred and developmentally appropriate framework that could replace the EYFS; and in a published letter, an up-to-date perspective is given on the campaign’s hopes in the light of the Select Committee’s special meeting on EYFS.

Meanwhile, a report by Melanie Defries in the latest issue picks up on the human-rights issues raised by the EYFS.


The campaign continues…

May 5, 2008

The problem with Toddler Technology

The Open EYE campaign co-organised a sell-out event in Stroud, Gloucestershire last week, in which Dr Aric Sigman presented the research-based evidence that suggests the EYFS’s ICT requirements might be developmentally harmful to young children. The event was picked up by The Times in an article entitled  ‘Technology for toddlers’ scheme risks creating a screen-addict generation. One of the attendees kindly submitted a summary of the talk, which you can read here.

Early Day Motion

The Early Day Motion on the EYFS is now up to 67 signatures. Please check and see if your MP has signed, and if not, write to ask for their support.


The Open EYE petition on the Downing St website is slowly climbing towards a top ten position (currently at number 17 out of well over 6,000). Please sign it if you haven’t done so, and spread the word!

Steve Biddulph

Big thanks to childcare expert Steve Biddulph, who has given us permission to post on the web the address he recorded for the Open EYE conference. You can find it on the Conference page of this site.


Early Day Motion

March 28, 2008

Early Day Motion (EDM) 1031, which notes the concerns of Open EYE and asks for an independent review of the EYFS, has to date been signed by 55 MPS from 7 different parties including the Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties, with signatories still being added. You can take a look at the EDM here. Please write to your MP and ask them to sign if they haven’t already done so!

Latest news

February 15, 2008

Melinda Messenger – Celebrity Mum of the Year in 2003 has Joined us 

Anyone who happened to see BBC 1’s “One Show” last week will have already noticed that Melinda Messenger has joined the campaign. Melinda has 3 children, aged 7, 5 and 4. Morgan, her eldest, did one year in the State system but when Melinda realised that he was being asked to hold a pencil and learn to read, aged only 4, she decided that this was quite literally “too much, too soon” and withdrew him. All 3 are now being educated in the Steiner system. Next week Melinda will be doing an interview with Natasha Kaplinsky on Channel 5 news to support the campaign. She is also hoping to get along to the conference at some point tomorrow.

International Conference Tomorrow – Almost Fully Booked

There are only one or two more spaces left for tomorrow’s conference so if you do wish to come, do ring or e-mail Alison Moore on 07802 659 882 / as soon as you can.

Open EYE Petition passes the big 5,000!

We’ve been hoping to be able to announce at the conference tomorrow that we have 5,000 signatures. Well, now we can! If you haven’t yet signed up, please do so and let’s keep the number (and the ranking – currently 35th out of over 8,000) climbing. It’s at and only takes a few seconds. Thank you very much.

More media

We are expecting quite a bit of coverage in the weekend papers so do look out for the Times, the Telegraph and the Mail. Also there was a brilliant letter in today’s Independent EDUCATION supplement! – we couldn’t have summed the case against the EYFS better ourselves.See below.


The Independent, EDUCATION, Thursday, 14 February 2008, p. 2


Referring to your Leader (“An oppressive system that is failing our children”, The Independent, 8 February), constant testing and objective setting does not just begin when a child starts school. The Government in their wisdom has decreed that all children attending “child care settings” outside the home, including day nurseries, play schools, before- and after-school clubs and childminders, should follow the statutory framework for the Early Years Foundation Stage. The age frame is from birth to five years old.My daughter, who is a childminder, finds herself having to plan, deliver, and assess early-learning goals laid down in the statutory framework, which requires that by the age of five children should: write simple, regular words and make phonetically plausible attempts at more complex words; read a range of familiar and common words and simple sentences; begin to form simple sentences; and use mathematical ideas and methods to solve practical problems.

Apart from the fact that not all children are competent learners from birth, surely expecting every child to be reading, writing and doing simple arithmetic by five is setting many perfectly normal children, and their carers, up for failure.

My daughter finds that the young children she cares for are often chronically tired, as they start their day at 7am, then go into a school-type setting that does not allow for an afternoon nap, and are not picked up by their working parents until around 6pm. When she picks them up in the afternoon they have had their fill of planned educational offerings, and want to sleep or relax in front of the television (as many adults would wish to do after a hard day’s work). They are rarely interested in arts and crafts work, music or cooking, which my daughter tries to interest them in so that her portfolio will look good for the Ofsted inspectors. Whatever happened to unstructured play time, and allowing children to discover the world in their own way and time? This constant imposition of targets is not only unnecessary, but could be counter-productive.

p>Dr Robert Heys, Ripponden, West Yorks