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.



Exemptions process

November 30, 2008

As regular visitors to the site will know, Open EYE does not consider the applications process for exemptions from the EYFS learning and development requirements to be fair or adequate.

We are in the process of setting up a new website specifically to help both parents and providers who wish to apply for exemptions. It’s still in the early stages, but please visit and bookmark it, at

Meanwhile, the official government exemptions guidance can be found here.

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