Challenging Government Policy-Making for the Early Years: The ‘Open EYE’ Campaign

By MARGARET EDGINGTON (Educational Consultant), DR RICHARD HOUSE (Roehampton University, London), LYNNE OLDFIELD (Steiner Teacher-Trainer) and SUE PALMER (Educational Consultant and writer)

A group of prominent early-years authorities has recently launched the ‘Open EYE’ campaign (www.savechildhood.org), raising serious questions about the impending compulsory Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) framework, and initiating in turn a wide-ranging debate about the legitimate role of government intervention in early childhood. With a forthcoming national conference, a strongly supported Downing Street petition, and the assiduous lobbying of Parliament, our aim is to persuade the government to reconsider this flawed legislation.
Some aspects of EYFS are laudable. We are certainly not against government intervention in the early-years sphere per se, and we appreciate the resources that government has recently devoted to the field. However, several aspects of the impending EYFS legislation are strongly contra-indicated by existing research – most notably, the highly problematic EYFS literacy goals. Foundation Stage Profile data indicate that most children are unable to achieve these goals by the end of reception year. Children taught to read and write at 6-7 commonly achieve literacy competency quickly and easily, and with far greater enjoyment.
In a revealing letter written to ‘Open EYE’ last month, minister Beverley Hughes asserts that the six areas of development in the EYFS framework ‘are equally important’ – thereby assuming that literacy, problem-solving, reasoning and numeracy are of equal importance for this age-group as are (for example) physical, social and emotional development. Yet crucially, there exists no research evidence whatsoever to indicate that these six developmental competencies are ‘equally important’ for this age group. Indeed, to the contrary, evidence strongly suggests that for children under 6, certain kinds of development are far more important (e.g. physical and social development) than are others (e.g. cognitive development).1 The compulsory EYFS framework is therefore based upon a quite erroneous view of child development, with no research evidence to support it.
From the original ‘Desirable Outcomes’ and Foundation Stage to the new EYFS, the demands have become increasingly prescriptive and more demanding for both practitioners and children; and from September 2008, the Statutory Guidance states that all providers, ‘regardless of type, size or funding’, ‘must by law deliver’ the learning and development requirements (italics added). This quite unprecedented compulsion is particularly distressing for settings such as the Steiner Kindergartens, which have developed a highly effective ‘holistic’ early-learning approach over many decades right across the globe.
There are also wider concerns. The compulsion enshrined in the legislation at what is a pre-compulsory schooling age not only contradicts principles of educational diversity, but raises profound issues of civil liberties and the parental right to choose the kind of early-learning experience parents wish for their children. There are also grave concerns about a flawed consultation process, and the cascading of the ‘audit culture’ right into the earliest of years, where its values, practices and accompanying mentality are singularly inappropriate.
A very important public/private-sphere boundary may have been crossed in this legislation, and we intend to bring these grave issues to the attention of Parliament, in the hope that a much-needed re-assessment of the legislation will, with MPs’ support, be granted by the government. For the state to define what is ‘normal’ child development, and then to enshrine this in law, is a dangerous and quite unprecedented development in modern political life.

1 See the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, ‘Early Years Learning’, Report 140, June 2000

This article first appeared in The House Magazine: The Parliamentary Weekly, No. 1244, Vol. 33, 14 January 2008, page 27. Reproduced here by kind permission of the publisher, Dod’s Parliamentary Communications.

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