February 16, 2011


Over the last three years we have produced a series of regular newsletters and the newsletter archive can be read online here. We hope to soon be sending out an update about new OpenEYE developments.

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Open EYE Welcomes the Cambridge Primary Review

October 19, 2009

The  Cambridge Primary Review, released last week, encouragingly made reference to pre-primary by recognising  the importance of the early years. The Report maintained that education for young children is too narrow, too prescriptive and introduced at too early an age. The Review finds that “The English insistence on the earliest possible start to formal schooling, against the grain of international evidence and practice, is educationally counterproductive. The Early Years Foundation Stage should be renamed and extended to age six, and early years provision should be strengthened in its quality and staffing so that children are properly prepared – socially, linguistically and experientially – for formal learning.” Extending the EYFS to the end of year 1 was the recommendation of the government’s own Early Education Advisory Group, nearly two years ago, as well as the suggestion that the school starting age should be reviewed. Gillian Pugh, a former head of the National Children’s Bureau, who chaired the Review, also confirmed this view saying that when children are introduced to formal learning too soon it can have the opposite effect, putting children off the whole idea of learning for a long time. She added “There is no research evidence that an early access to formal learning does children any good and a lot of evidence that it can actually do some harm.”

These views accord with those of the Open EYE Team and give substantial weight to our concerns. We have consistently expressed the view that the EYFS statutory framework for learning & development has the potential to be damaging to the emerging love of learning so inherent in the nature of the young child, with its developmentally inappropriate requirements.

Whilst Open EYE recognises the concerns of parents that children should learn the 3Rs, it is important to emphasise that these basic skills are easily achieved through a less formal and more age appropriate approach when children are given sufficient time, in a developmentally appropriate way. This fact is borne out by the reports from many European countries, where children start school much later, but where the 3Rs seem to present much less of a problem.

The Cambridge Review is highly encouraging to the OpenEYE group with its commonality with what we, and others, have been saying to the government now for two years; but which seems to have been systematically ignored.  The title of our film ‘too much, too soon’ seems to have hit the nail right on the head and, though the findings of this Review are all very encouraging, they will need to be ‘actioned’ before we can feel confident about any positive impact on improving the well-being and future success of our youngest children. It is gratifying to the Open EYE group to see the connectedness between early years and later now being given serious attention in an holistic way.

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.


Open EYE’s Submission to the National Union of Teachers’ Consultation on the Early Years

January 29, 2009

This submission of evidence to the National Union of Teachers’ early years policy review was invited by the NUT, following Open EYE’s formal presentation at the NUT early-years day colloquium held in London in December.

Prepared by Wendy Ellyatt, Richard House and Kim Simpson for the OpenEYE Campaign, January 2009

Developmental readiness: school starting age and the dangers of ‘schoolification’

OpenEYE is deeply concerned about the downward pressures on school starting. For many years, Britain has seen a relentless, surreptitious reduction of the school starting age without any informed public debate. We believe this to have been driven by an ‘economy-centred’ social-engineering agenda which has taken insufficient account of international research demonstrating the potential detrimental impact of these changes on young children’s well-being. 

Based on his Interim Primary Review report, Sir Jim Rose may now be about to recommend to a receptive government that early school starting (at age 4) become legally institutionalised in our schooling system. Please see the recent media reports: ‘Sir Jim faces revolt on September start for all’; ‘Let them start school when ready’; and ‘Born in summertime, when the living is easy. But what about the learning?’ – all articles in the Times Educational Supplement, 16 January 2009; and ‘Starting school at four “can lead to long-term harm”’, Daily Telegraph, 17 January).

Extensive research suggests that there are undeniably real dangers in starting formal learning too early, and that children who start later frequently do better in their long-term learning and development. UK secondary school students have slipped down international league tables for reading and maths standards. According to the 2007 PISA results, the UK has lost the top-10 positions it held for both subjects seven years ago. Finland, whose students only start formal schooling at the age of seven, consistently achieves significantly better results. Neurological studies demonstrate that learning ‘readiness’ is, in fact, an essential prerequisite of healthy learning, and that children who are pushed too quickly into areas or experiences for which they are not ready tend to lose the natural joy and motivation for learning – with possible life-long detrimental consequences. Boys, and children defined as special-needs, are particularly disadvantaged in a system that pushes them beyond their developmental abilities. Instead of experiencing themselves as empowered learners, they can all too easily see themselves as failures within the system.

Entry to primary school is already insufficiently flexible to take account of the widely accepted natural variability in children’s development; and we believe the Government’s drive towards ever-earlier standardisation is entirely the wrong approach for the early-years sector. English children are increasingly being labeled ‘difficult’ or ‘special needs’ due to the inappropriate demands of the curriculum to which they are subjected, and we know that this has a profound impact on their later learning. Instead of asking the question ‘why?’, we are, instead, condemning them to labels of failure, with all the subsequent loss of self-worth that this implies. Later tinkering with the resultant symptoms via ‘happiness’ lessons and ‘emotional literacy’ won’t begin to address children’s blighted well-being.

There are also major knock-on effects from the mandatory EYFS framework into the heart of young children’s worlds – that is, in the parental home itself. Are parents to be led or conditioned to believe that ‘reading simple words, sentences, sometimes with punctuation’ is what their children should have achieved by the time they go to primary school at 4? As a result, are they going to start putting more pressure on their 2, 3 and 4 year olds? And what about children who stay at home with their mothers, or fathers, and have no pre-school experience? Are they to be deemed ‘failures’ or somehow retarded, because they have been allowed to develop naturally, and without any cognitive learning pressures, in a loving home environment?

‘Goals and Outcomes’: the impact of the local authority outcomes duties and associated targets

In general, it is becoming increasingly clear that a crude targeting agenda, driven as it commonly is by an anxiety-driven mindset, routinely brings about the very opposite of its original intention. The targeting and testing agenda within education, for example, will tend in due course to create the worst of all possible worlds – for not only will any score improvements in the Government’s narrow statistical indicators themselves begin to stall or even deteriorate (this has already started to happen), but in the process, the very mentality (narrow, utilitarian, soulless, anxiety-saturated)  which has been imposed upon the system in order to ‘deliver’ the targets will have systematically compromised or even destroyed much that was of genuine value and quality in the pre-targeting era.

A manipulatively and expediently politicised targeting regime is also intrinsically distorting, not merely because quantitative indicators can never capture the complexities and subtleties of true service quality (especially in early childhood), but because the indicators themselves become more important than the qualities they are purported to measure (particularly when punitive ‘name and shame’ is the threatened result of ‘statistical ‘failure’). Thus, public service workers and politicians alike focus all their energies on meeting the crude targets, while the far more subtle and complex issues of true quality can so easily be ignored. Finally, the testing and/or targeting regime – as with all technocratic intrusions into human systems – leads to quite unpredictable side-effects which commonly do more net harm that, in turn, swamps any improvements that the targeting regime brings about (e.g. overall curriculum distortion, rampant teacher de-professionalisation, and stress cascading through the system, these being just three observable examples within education).

Pressurising schools and children to achieve specific goals and outcomes may ‘deliver’ the required, narrowly defined results, but at the tragic expense of children’s love of learning. Quoting from a BBC News bulletin reporting on the last NUT conference:

Tests and league tables have made England’s children the unhappiest in the Western world. Even nursery-age children were being taught to spell and write in readiness for the tests waiting for them at primary school. Very young children knew exactly what educational levels they had reached, and many stopped trying because they believed they were ‘dumb’, they said.

It is widely accepted that as soon as teachers are given externally imposed outcome targets, there is inevitable pressure on staff and managers to achieve them. Notwithstanding the Government’s insistence that they are there purely for ‘guidance’ alone, practitioners are not in reality at all reassured, as they are all too aware that learning in the early years is now embodied in a mandatory, statutory framework, with all that accompanies it. For that reason, staff are constantly in danger of slipping into using the Learning and Development ‘Requirements’ (note the term requirements) as check-lists – and are indeed being encouraged to do so by some local-authority personnel, commercial publishers and training providers. We are receiving constant reports from  around the country about the dire impact of the Local Authority outcomes duties on early-years practice. Moreover, this is particularly dangerous for those practitioners who do not have a mature, informed understanding of child development. Such a system almost inevitably de-skills such staff, and leads to the wrong kind of mind-set and practice with young children. OpenEYE is determined to identify where these practices exist, and to expose the negative impact of such requirements. We already have ample evidence of these kinds of processes actually happening on the ground, since the introduction of the EYFS last September.

It is also emerging that Reception and Nursery Teachers in the maintained sector are finding the demands on staff to fulfil the new EYFS mandatory requirements for learning and development quite simply too much. (See, for example, ‘Rushed into Reception’  by Julian Grenier, Nursery World, 15 January 2009). Many Reception classes still practise the more formal approach to learning which, for many children, is totally inappropriate – especially for summer-born four year olds. OpenEYE considers the many changes which 4 year olds undergo on entry into primary schools to be totally unjustifiable, and often developmentally harmful. Changes from high staff : children ratios to much lower ratios, compounded by a major change of environment; 30 or so children in a class; new teachers; different ground rules; prescribed learning and, sometimes, even homework – all these changes seem to us to be bordering on ‘child abuse’ for sensitive young children.

Reception class teachers are indeed under particular pressure, and are being placed in what are frequently impossible situations. Not only do they have to manage a large group of children who have been exposed to developmentally inappropriate learning – with all the resultant behavioural symptoms and difficulties that ensue – but they also have to fulfil the Profile requirements for 30 children with 69 goals and three pieces of evidence for each, to provide for LEAs as well as for parents. In other words, we are talking of literally thousands of pieces of ‘evidence’ for around 30 children – which the late and much-missed Professor Ted Wragg rightly characterised as ‘just plain bonkers’.

The current EYFS exemptions process

The current exemptions process is enormously bureaucratic and difficult to understand. Schools and parents alike are left unclear as to what the implications of the process actually are. There is also currently no guarantee that those settings or parents who achieve exemption will be able to access the nursery education grant, and there are already confirmed incidents of NEG being refused to some applicants. The whole system seems to have been designed to deter anyone from actually taking it on.

OpenEYE is very concerned about this situation, and we are in the process of setting up a website devoted to helping those who wish to take on the exemptions process, at: We also have an active discussion group at:

The dangers of ICT in the early years

There exists mounting research evidence exposing the damage done – neurologically, psychologically and socially – by an increasingly dominant screen culture in children’s lives. The dangers are particularly acute for young children, and OpenEYE is extremely concerned about the uncritical embracing of ICT by the Early Years Foundation Stage guidelines and, more recently, by the interim Rose report on primary education. More specifically, a rapidly thickening raft of media reports and learned studies (not least, Dr Aric Sigman’s disturbing book Remotely Controlled, and his specially commissioned early-years report ‘Does Not Compute’ – see: ) is now relentlessly highlighting the compelling evidence about televisual screen culture’s multiple negative effects (for example, that TV is hampering the speech development of a growing number of pre-school age children), and Dame Professor Susan Greenfield’s recently expressed concerns about the physiological and psychological effects of ICT on children’s developing brains (cf. her important book ID: The Quest for Identity in the 21st Century, Sceptre, 2008; and Jane M. Healy’s Failure to Connect: How Computers Affect Our Children’s Minds, Simon and Schuster, 1998).

In 2003 the Chief Inspector of Schools, David Bell, admitted publicly that the verbal and behavioural skills of five-year-olds are demonstrably suffering. One recent survey discovered that 7 in 10 children have their own television, and three-fifths of children have a games console. In the Guardian of 19 January 2009, it is reported that British children spend on average six hours in front of televisual screens. In a recent issue of Nursery World (‘Observation tools: Lighten the load’, 15 January 2009), we even read that in the course of nursery staff making child observations, ‘The children can also access the laptop and participate in their documentation’. This extraordinary article is accompanied by a photograph of a staff member holding a young baby in one arm and making observations on a lap-top in the other.

Televisual culture is quite clearly a major public (ill-)health issue, as well as a growing fetter upon children’s successful education; and we would do far worse than to follow Professor Susan Greenfield’s advice and conduct major Government-sponsored, independent research into schools’  pervasive adoption of the ICT ‘screen culture’. In the mean time, OpenEYE strongly advocates adopting a strictly precautionary approach to ICT, and especially in the early years when young children’s brains and senses are still developing. We strongly recommend the immediate removal of all ICT-related guidance and compulsory requirements in the EYFS, pending a comprehensive independent report into ICT and early childhood experience.

The developmental difference between boys and girls

It is becoming increasingly clear from research and professional observation that, whilst there will always exist individual differences and exceptions to the general rule, boys’ and girls’ developmental trajectories are not the same; and it is therefore a grave error to enforce an over-intellectual, quasi-sedentary learning milieu on to young boys. Such developmentally inappropriate learning environments threaten to create what can become a tragic life-long disaffection from the joy of learning, and even ill-health due to unbalanced early-learning experiences. There is an urgent need for the Government to commission a genuinely independent report on this key issue – for the success or otherwise of any early-years policy framework might well depend on it. OpenEYE member Sue Palmer’s forthcoming book on boys is essential reading in this regard (see 21st Century Boys: How Modern Life is Driving Them off the Rails and How We Can Get Them Back on Track, Orion, May 2009).

Vocational as Well as Academic Training?

By 2015 it will be a legal requirement to have a team leader with the new Early Years Professional Status in every full day-care setting.  This requirement, with its stated aim by government to improve the standard of nurseries and to provide more opportunities for the disadvantaged, is mixed news for some quality early-years providers. Whilst the intention behind the professionalisation of early-childhood practitioners is to be lauded, and will hopefully raise the profile of EYE practitioners within the educational field, this is not unambiguously good news for all, especially those who already have high-level, specialised training. OpenEYE has concerns about the impact of these measures on existing settings, and questions whether the private and independent sector will be able to generate sufficient funds to pay all these new professionals.

Early-years practitioners (maintained or private) require the intuitive qualities needed for working with young children, for whom unbalanced, overly intellectual learning can be developmentally inappropriate and positively harmful. Although OpenEYE unequivocally supports the raising of overall standards, we are concerned to ensure  that UK professional training routes encompass the best in global practice. There are a number of highly effective early-years philosophies that command international recognition and status, and OpenEYE believes that such approaches, along with other high-quality vocational training such as the former NNEB qualification, should be carefully evaluated for what they can offer.

OpenEYE believes that this is an area that needs considerable further thought, and that what matters most for our youngest children is good adult role models, allied with practitioner creativity, sensitivity and psychological maturity. It may be that what is needed is a radical new approach to the form and content of EYE Teacher Training, and that we need to seek approaches that encompass both the intuitive and the intellectual. This will ensure that childhood is not eroded, whilst healthy foundations in learning and development are successfully established.

The rights of parents to choose

It is becoming increasingly difficult for parents in the England to choose how they want their children to be educated. That is in large measure because nursery schools are having to comply with statutory frameworks in order to be able to survive. Schools with alternative philosophies are struggling to maintain their integrity within an increasingly rigid outcomes-led system. At a time when primary schools are possibly soon to be freed up to develop more creative approaches, and when parents can increasingly choose how their children are educated, perversely, early-years settings and the parents of children who have not reached statutory school age seem to be having that choice progressively removed.

The advent of the EYFS raises in quite new and unprecedented ways issues of human rights and the state’s intrusion into family life. We have already discussed how it has been made extremely difficult if not impossible for anyone to achieve an exemption from the EYFS, and on any detached analysis, this appears to have been a deliberate intention in the designing of the so-called ‘exemptions procedure’. OpenEYE believes that every parent should have the right to choose the setting that is right for their young child, and the Government should celebrate, rather than undermine, such diversity. OpenEYE also believes that, where parents choose to keep their child in an early-years setting until the legal age at which compulsory education should begin, Government should take active and enabling steps to make this possible.

Wendy Ellyatt, Richard House and Kim Simpson, 21 January 2009

Open EYE responds to the interim Rose report

December 16, 2008


Sir Jim Rose’s interim report for the Independent Review of the Primary Curriculum

The Interim Rose Report on primary education impacts the pre-school early childhood realm with politically expedient recommendations that should be challenged and resisted, argues the Open EYE Campaign


Jim Rose’s interim report for the Independent Review of the Primary Curriculum was recently published. Though the report’s remit is centrally about the primary sector, there are also some limited direct ventures into the early-years sector that deserve critical examination, and it is with the latter that this press release is primarily concerned.
To be fair to Jim Rose and to the government, it is crucial, first, to disentangle the kind of informed critical analysis offered here from the blatant politicised propaganda contained in what the Times Educational Supplement leader writer rightly refers to as ‘hysterical press reporting’1 by congenitally anti-Labour newspapers and commentators, who would find a way of rubbishing whatever Sir Jim came up with. There are certainly aspects to the interim report that are encouraging from Open EYE’s standpoint, like giving attention to the ‘bloated’ primary curriculum and to the importance of oracy; Rose’s noble concern to free up the primary school system from prescriptive control; and the explicit attention given to the question of children’s social and emotional well-being. However, there are three key aspects of the report that deeply concern Open EYE – which we discuss below under the headings of: The Missing Review of the EYFS Literacy Requirements; The Question of School Starting Age; and The Place of Information Technology in the Curriculum.

1.  The Missing Review of the EYFS Literacy Requirements
In a Press Notice dated 30 June 2008 and titled ‘SIR JIM ROSE TO REVIEW GOALS ON EARLY LITERACY’,2 we read that ‘Children’s Minister Beverley Hughes today announced that Sir Jim Rose has been asked to review two of the milestones set out in the Early Years Foundation Stage as part of his review of the primary curriculum. The review will now consider whether two statements on developing literacy strike the right balance between giving children a good start in literacy skills and supporting a smooth transition from the early years into Key Stage 1 of primary school.’ Although Open EYE maintains that there are other equally questionable goals, the two goals under question here are:

• Use their phonic knowledge to write simple regular words and make phonetically plausible attempts at more complex words;
• Write their own names and other things such as labels and captions, and begin to form simple sentences, sometimes using punctuation

We are told that ‘The Primary Review will look at how appropriate these aims are for children around age five, when evidence shows it is realistic for children to achieve them, and how we make sure that children progress well, and smoothly, between the EYFS and Key Stage 1 in primary school.’ (our italics) In a footnote, we are further told that ‘These statements are already contained in the existing Foundation Stage, and evidence from Foundation Stage Profile data shows that 46% of children already achieve the first of these, and 30% achieve the second, even before the EYFS comes into effect. Sir Jim’s review of the primary curriculum is due to report by the end of March 2009.’ Minister Beverley Hughes is also quoted thus: “We have always said that we will keep the EYFS under review, which is why I have asked Sir Jim Rose to look at two of the early learning goals on children’s literacy at around the age of five,3 and report on how well they support a smooth transition into Key Stage 1 of primary school.” (our italics)

The fanfare about a ‘government climb-down’ with which much of the media greeted Minister Hughes’ announcement only served to camouflage and obscure the degree of grudging equivocation contained in the announcement. In the above italicized text, we see the blatant biasing of the Department already in evidence – with their reassuringly telling us that ‘…evidence shows it is realistic for children to achieve [the goals]’. To the contrary, any dispassionate analysis of the available research evidence would view this as a statement verging on the disingenuous, as the bland assertion is offered without any substantiation. Our own review of the so-called ‘research evidence’ shows quite conclusively that it does not begin to support the assertion that the minister is making here.4  Note also that Rose is not asked by the minister to review the developmental appropriateness of the goals in the context of children’s development (which she could easily have requested), but merely to ‘report on how well they support a smooth transition into Key Stage 1 of primary school’. In this single statement, the ‘schoolifying’ agenda cascading into the early years is laid bare for all to see – all that seems to matter to the minister is ‘a smooth transition to schooling’ for young children, and not the developmental appropriateness per se of the learning goals.

In the light of this ministerial ambivalence, equivocation and subterfuge with the facts, perhaps it should come as no surprise that  that there is no mention whatsoever in Rose’s interim report of the two writing goals that minister Beverley Hughes reluctantly agreed should be reviewed by Rose. At the time of publication of the interim report last week, over five calendar months had elapsed since the government’s announcement of a review of the controversial EYFS learning goals. One can only question why a matter felt to be so urgent for the many thousands of  people who signed Open EYE’s Downing Street petition is being treated with such a lack of urgency. If those concerns are indeed valid, then many thousands of young children across England are at risk and quite possibly being damaged by enforced and developmentally inappropriate early literacy learning. When added to the highly equivocal attitude to the review, as described above, this (lack of) priority that Jim Rose and the government have given to this grave issue surely speaks volumes about their degree of openness to amending the framework.

2.  The Question of School Starting Age
From the report’s accurate observation that summer-born children entering reception are commonly treated as immature in comparison with their older classmates, giving rise to lack of confidence and self-regard with consequential limits on others’ expectations and their own, it is a quite incomprehensible non-sequiteur of a leap in logic for Rose then to recommend entry into reception class for four-year-olds in the September following their fourth birthday. Why not recommend that summer-born four-year-olds should start school in the September following their fifth birthday, thus avoiding such potential negative effects? The 1870 Act of Parliament made this clear with its compulsory school-starting age set at 5, not 4. Moreover and most tellingly, the Government’s own Early Education Advisory Group also recommended a later start to primary in its recent report.5
The actual rationale given in Rose’s report for summer-born children starting school the September after their fourth birthday is that, ‘Based on sound research, such as the Effective Pre-School, Primary and Secondary Education project (EPPSE), and plans to provide earlier access to nursery provision, the Review proposes a single point of entry to reception class in the September immediately following a child’s fourth birthday.’ Yet the EPP(S)E research, whatever else it might prove, does not provide any rationale whatsoever for this policy proposal. The only other rationale given – that of ‘plans to provide earlier access to nursery provision’ – is entirely to do with political expediency. It’s no coincidence that within days of Rose coming out, the government’s welfare reforms followed, with the extraordinary proposal for ‘preparing’ single mothers of one-year old children for going back to work6 – and with this, in turn, coinciding with a new Unicef study showing that full-time childcare for very young children is harmful.7 It is quite clear, then, that there exists no reliable evidence base underpinning this far-reaching decision about school starting age, and it is difficult not to conclude that it is driven by factors other than the age-appropriate needs of young children. There does exist, however, considerable research evidence that points towards a very different recommendation for school starting.

3.  The Place of Information Technology (ICT) in the Curriculum
There must also be major concerns about computer and ITC skills becoming ‘central pillars’ of primary education – just at a time when the speed at which children are growing up is being widely recognised as a major cultural concern. It is also likely that too much screen-based technology at an early age can interfere with some children’s ability to acquire literacy skills, and with all children’s capacity to read for pleasure (which ensures the practice necessary for true literacy).
The rationale that Rose gives for this extension of ICT – that children of this age are already computer literate, so why not simply acknowledge, work with and reinforce this trend? – is expediency of the worst kind.8 To the contrary, the fact that young children are so immersed in a technology that a great deal of research is now showing is harmful in all manner of ways to their development should be an argument for reducing it in the schooling system, and for giving children positive empowering experiences of the world that are real and relational, rather than ‘virtual’ and technological. Given what to many is the outrageous presence of ICT in the EYFS framework,9 this latest embracing of ICT for young children again suggests that cultural expediency is the driver for school policy making, and not the developmentally appropriate well-being of young children.

More generally, whilst Open EYE warmly welcomes Rose’s increased emphasis on play in the early primary years, and his expressed concerns about the testing regime (in  which he tellingly goes beyond the strict remit given to him by Minister Ed Balls), there are major concerns about the statement on page 5 that ‘progress is goal related, the goals of learning must be explicit in order to guide planning and teaching’. These are indeed the values and assumptions of the ‘New, Audit-Driven Utilitarianism’ in education – but these audit-culture values are not only fundamentally incompatible with many of the more laudable aspirations in Rose’s interim report, but their cascading down into the early years is a catastrophe-in-the-making for young children, and threatens to render their early experience deeply age-inappropriate.

In conclusion, we might well ask when are we going to have a policy-making process that puts the developmentally appropriate needs of young children before the needs of the economy, political expediency and the like? The case for a cabinet place for a minister whose exclusive charge is the well-being of young children is getting ever stronger.

1.  ‘Don’t take fright at Sir Jim’s terms’, TES editorial, 12 December 2008.
2.  ‘Sir Jim Rose to Review Goals on Early Literacy’, Department for Children, Schools and Families, 30 June 2008, retrievable at: (retrieved 13/12/08)
3.  A new phrase has crept into statements coming from the DCSF which, in view of the vital importance of avoiding a ‘too much, too soon’ approach, is deeply worrying: this is the phrase ‘…children around age five’. When children are being targeted with specific learning goals, this cannot responsibly be defined using terms that are so imprecise as to be essentially meaningless. In practice, the term ‘around the age of five’ encompasses children as young as four (if summer-born 4 year olds) and others who are nearly six –  with such age-disparate data then being used to inform the Early Years Profile assessment on which future policy is based. This approach fundamentally misunderstands the huge difference that just a few months can make at this age, let alone well over a year;  and it cannot possibly therefore give rise to clarity of judgement in policy-making.
4. See Richard House, ‘Research – You Can Prove Anything’, Early Years Educator, 10 (6) (October), 2008, pp. 17-21.
5.  See Kim Morrison, Letter to the Editor, ‘Rose curriculum report raises many questions, The Times, 11 December 2008.
6.  ‘New benefit rules “too soft on jobless”’, Daily Telegraph, 10 December 2008.
7. See ‘All-day nurseries can lead to behavioural problems, says Unicef’, Evening Standard, 11 December.  See also Steve Biddulph, Raising Babies: Why Your Love is Best, Thorsons, 2006.
8.  It has also not gone unnoticed the extent to which ITC commercial interests are profiting massively from the wholesale invasion of our schools with all the paraphernalia of ITC.
9. See Aric Sigman, ‘Does Not Compute: Screen Technology in Early Years Education’, Open EYE Special Report, 2008 downloadable at:

***End of Press Release***

A shorter version of this Press Release is also available from Open EYE

Open EYE condemns the Government’s response to its petition

December 5, 2008

Open EYE believes that the government’s response to our petition on the Downing Street Website is inadequate and fails to address our concerns about the learning and development requirements of the EYFS.

We have issued a press release outlining our reaction, the full text of which is as follows:

Open EYE Condemns the Government’s Response to its Downing Street Petition on the Early Years Foundation Stage

In December 2007, a Downing Street petition expressing concerns about the government’s impending Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) was launched by the Open EYE Campaign for Open Early Childhood Learning, along with Open Letters published prominently in The Times and the Times Educational Supplement. A response has finally been received from the government to the petition, which was signed by approaching 10,000 citizens, when hard-copy signatories are included in the total.

In our original petition, it was argued that the compulsory EYFS’s Learning and Development Requirements ‘may harm children’s development; they will restrict parents’ freedom of choice in childcare and education; and their assessment profile requirements may place an unnecessary bureaucratic burden on those who care for young children’. In the light of these concerns, we urged the Prime Minister ‘to commission an urgent independent review of the mandatory EYFS policy framework, and to reduce the status of its learning and development requirements to “professional guidelines”.’

Because of the overwhelming support our core concerns have attracted, we feel strongly that the government’s response to the petition is wholly inadequate, and does not begin to address the concerns that have been raised not only by our campaign, but independently by early years experts, practitioners and parents across the country. In effect, they have ‘brushed aside’ those concerns when they could, at the very least, have acknowledged that they were worthy of consideration and review.

Open EYE’s rejoinder to the government’s response falls under seven headings. To summarise, we assert:

first, that the aim of ‘ensuring that every child in [practitioners’] care is able to benefit from the advantages that good quality and consistent care provides’ cannot be achieved by legislation or published guidance – rather, it is achieved by sensitive and knowledgeable practitioners, which we do not have in every setting in England at the moment;

secondly, that the government’s invoking of ‘research’ to support its case is at the very least misleadingly one-sided, and, at worst, a complete denial of the mass of international research which offers a more balanced and different view of early childhood development with its subsequent enhanced learning outcomes – such as the Scandinavian models;

thirdly, that there is a considerable gulf between the vested interests working for, and in collaboration with, government, and those vociferous concerned voices who have no other motivation than that of ensuring that young children are enabled to enjoy their childhood free of the pressures that come from a goal-driven system;

fourthly, that one of Open EYE’s central concerns, the requirement to teach towards inappropriate literacy and numeracy goals, is comprehensively ignored in the government’s response;

fifthly, that with extraordinary complacency, the government statement ignores the collateral impacts of the local authority outcome requirements, and the well-documented negative effects they are already having on both the quality of practitioners thinking, and on early-years practice on the ground;

sixthly, that the Government deliberately misleads when it claims that ‘the only statutory  requirement to write anything down is that practitioners must complete an EYFS profile for each child in the year they turn five’. Why, then, do many recent OFSTED reports ask providers to: ‘explore ways of recording observations of children’s progress, linking these to the Early Years Foundation Stage and identifying children’s next steps in learning’? (OFSTED inspection of a childminder – 18.11.08);

finally, that the Department’s so-called ‘exemptions procedure’ is a fig-leaf of an exercise, which has been quite deliberately, even cynically designed in order to deter anyone from applying – and those that have applied for exemption are already being refused.

There are many other tell-tale indicators that we could invoke, like the precipitate and sustained decline in the number of registered childminders since the pending introduction of EYFS.

As it passes its first birthday, Open EYE will be redoubling its efforts to persuade government and other political parties to review the mandatory requirements for learning and development set out in the EYFS framework. Specifically, over the coming months, Open EYE will be:

assisting and supporting any early-years provider who wishes to seek exemption from the EYFS, and will monitor and publish the detail of the procedure, in order to expose to public scrutiny the extent to which the process is open and achievable;

holding lobbying meetings in Parliament to galvanise and build upon the almost 100 MPs who have signed Annette Brooke’s Early Day Motion # 1032;

pusuing the theme of ‘schoolification’ of the early years, couched as it is within the wider cultural concerns about children growing up prematurely in modern society;

pursuing the accumulating research showing the negative effects of Information and Computer Technology (ICT), on young children, and strongly challenging its uncritical and enthusiastic enshrinement in the EYFS framework;

taking up major and mounting concerns about boys’ development and learning, and ways in which the compulsory EYFS process is imposing developmentally inappropriate demands upon them.

Open EYE has always consistently maintained that our issues are not with the Welfare Requirements (which are essential for safeguarding children) or with the Guidance aspects of the EYFS (which can be a valuable resource for all those involved in caring in the early years). We are, however, dismayed that the government’s response to our substantial petition and cacophony of concerned voices does not begin to address the challenges we have raised about aspects of the EYFS. We also conclude that, as the government with all the resources and expertise at its disposal is unable to make even the beginnings of a viable defence of its legal framework, this strongly suggests that it is indeed fatally flawed – and Open EYE will continue to attempt to persuade government to realise that our concerns are genuine, and have childhood firmly placed at their centre.


DCSF Rocked by New Open Letter and Lead Report in The Times on EYFS ‘Concessions’

July 24, 2008


The Times newspaper leads today with an article featuring Open EYE‘s less-than-impressed response to the DCSF’s new labyrinthine and unduly complex exemptions procedure. In the same issue, the letters page also features a new Open Letter orchestrated by the campaign’s Richard House, Graham Kennish and Kim Simpson, following our first letter published in The Times last November. This new Open Letter makes the case that the government’s recent alleged ‘concessions’ amount to little more than ‘crumbs thrown at the table’, and leave in place mandatory early-years practices which are widely believed to be inappropriate for many children. The letter is signed by over 80 notables across education and related fields, including such prominent figures as:

Sir Christopher Ball, Steve Biddulph, Professors Tim Brighouse, Pat Broadhead, Tricia David, Rita Jordan, OBE (Emeritus), Lilian G. Katz (USA), Susie OrbachPat Petrie and Sami Timimi – and Jean Liedloff, Alfie Kohn, Dr Penelope Leach, Michael Morpurgo OBE, Philip Pullman, Sue Palmer and Tim Smit.