OpenEye January Update

Items from the OpenEye January 2012 Update
We were astonished to see that the government’s response, far from being sensitive to the items so clearly highlighted by the Tickell consultation, was then so poorly and inadequately thought through. The additional one month’s further consultation announced by Minister Sarah Teather ends on the 19th of January and we urge all practitioners to look at the details of the response and to join with us in voicing deep concern about the situation. 

 We really understand that such documents are challenging for ordinary teachers to wade through, but the details that lie within them set the parameters that we will all then have to abide by. We believe that our youngest children deserve to be protected from the unintended consequences of such ill-informed and questionable policy-making.

The OpenEYE Steering group had the following letter published in the recent Nursery World:


The Government’s consultation on the EYFS has exposed huge divisions within the early years sector, with very few questions receiving a decisive answer or clear majority view. Concerns included the introduction of a compulsory ‘progress check’ for two-year-olds, the ‘school readiness’ issue, the literacy goals, and the introduction of three levels (emerging, expected and exceeding) in the Profile. The Government’s response suggests that respondents’ viewpoints have been over-ridden by the views of unnamed ‘experts’ and workshop participants. Moreover, the Government is only proposing to publish guidance in the areas of completing the two-year-olds’ check and the EYFS Profile, along with a ‘development chart’ for birth to five, indicating that assessment and data collection are set to dominate.

 We urge all practitioners to look beyond the rhetoric, and ask: can we really have a genuinely play-based approach, which values each child as a unique individual, when there is an ‘expected’ level of development to reach by the end of the reception year? When the issue of the three levels was brought up in the workshops, it was ‘recognised that for data collection purposes it was important to have a simple system’. It is this very kind of normalising simplicity that has ruined education for many children and teachers. Please participate in the new consultation (deadline 19 January), and reject all the compulsory early learning goals in principle.

OpenEYE co-founder Richard House has written a comprehensive critique of the consultation that you can read here
Nursery World published the following summary:

Why I believe the plans for EYFS reform don’t make the grade

A Critical Commentary on Reforming the Early Years Foundation Stage (the EYFS): Government Response to Consultation (publ. 20 Dec 2011)


The Government’s response to its EYFS consultation was published on the 20th December, when few practitioners will have been expecting important Government pronouncements. The document, Reforming the Early Years Foundation Stage, can be found here.  I believe the document to be ill-thought through and inadequate, and it deserves to be strongly contested. 

(1)    Introduction
The introduction of reductions in bureaucratic EYFS demands and a more workable exemptions process is welcome. However, it is mystifying why the principle of professional autonomy is conceded for risk assessment, yet is denied in other professional pedagogical areas. The Department’s (DfE) claim that ‘The EYFS framework has helped improve outcomes for children’ is highly problematic, as the term ‘improved outcome’ denotes children developing certain ‘capabilities’ sooner rather than later (in order to be ‘ready for school’). Yet many argue this ‘earlier is better’ ideology to be severely compromising of young children’s age-appropriate development. 

(2)    Nomenclature
We read of ‘the expected level of the goals’, thereby advocating the holding of ‘expectations’ about how young children should develop. There is also the now perennial misrepresentation of play, with the DfE referring to ‘adult-led play’ and ‘guided play’ – again, geared to a ‘schoolifying’ agenda.

(3) Programmatic ‘Development’
If the schooling system is to function manageably, practitioners must ensure that children reach what the system deems to be acceptable development and ‘school readiness’ by age 4. The needs of the schooling system therefore determine expected developmental pathways, rather than the system being responsive to children’s natural and diverse development. There is an inherent incompatibility between ‘responding to each child as an individual learner’ and statutorily laying-down ‘expected levels of development’ by 5. The new ‘development chart’ from birth to age five will feed this programmatic approach to development; and there are also grave dangers of pathologically labelling children at age 2.

(4) ‘School Readiness’
The DfE claims that respondents’ concerns about the ‘school readiness’ emphasis are ‘unwarranted’, as ‘school readiness should be understood in a broad sense’. Yet this strategic widening of the definition does not remove or ameliorate the content of what is currently happening under the ‘school readiness’ umbrella, and which critics strongly question. That pre-school children ‘need to be introduced to formal learning’ is a view which many authorities reject. 

(5) Diversity, and a Fundamentally Split Field
Detailed analysis of responses reveals a field fundamentally split on a range of key issues, rendering inappropriate the Government’s determination to impose a single legislative framework. Given such fundamental disagreement, it is very difficult to justify imposing a standardised statutory curriculum. 

(6) Supplementary Information and Practice Guidance
‘Many respondents felt that there was a need for supplementary information and practice guidance…’, with these proposed documents all designed to render the EYFS more ‘deliverable’. Yet many practitioners contest significant aspects of the EYFS; and the list of new planned materials amounts to a roll-call for all that is most controversial in the EYFS – e.g. instructing practitioners on how to ‘deliver’ the widely contested Profile more effectively; and codifying child development with a ‘chart’.

(7) ‘Revision’ of the Early Learning Goals
Most disturbingly of all, the DfE claims to be responding to consultees’ concerns about the content of the literacy and numeracy ELGs, assuring us that ‘these have been the main focus of further consideration and revision’. Regarding literacy, ‘respondents suggested there was too much emphasis on reading and writing at too young an age.’ Yet scandalously, this unambiguous consultation finding bears no relation to the changes the DfE is proposing. Far from the literacy goals being reigned back in response to consultees’ concerns, in reality they will be at least as onerous and developmentally inappropriate as the previous goals – and quite possibly more so.  

Regarding mathematics, no pretext, based on respondents’ views, is provided to support the proposed changes. The term ‘experts’ is repeatedly used, and we are entitled to know who these anonymous ‘experts’ are exerting such an influence on the DfE. Overall, the DfE has substantially ratcheted up the ‘left-brain’ cognitive demands being foisted on to young children through their proposed changes to the Mathematics ELGs.

(8) Assessment: The EYFS Profile and the Progress Check
‘Some respondents expressed concern that categorising children under the three terms “emerging”, “expected” and “exceeding” was labelling them unnecessarily’. The DfE invokes ‘discussions with parents, teachers and experts in workshops’ to allay these concerns, yet they make no attempt to respond to the substance of the concerns. The DfE takes ‘widespread calls for greater exemplification and explanation about how to use the new EYFSP to assess children’ as justification for the existence of the Profile, rather than seeing these requests as symptomatic of the Profile itself being flawed, with the consequence being anxiety-driven calls from practitioners who find it unworkable. 

Regarding the ‘progress check’ at 2, ‘Online consultation feedback was mixed, but in workshops where this issue was addressed there was strong support for the progress check…’. This is a totally inadequate response to concerns raised by respondents – as if those principled concerns can be simply ignored by invoking un-minuted ‘workshop conversations’ in which departmental officials no doubt orchestrated the discussion in their required direction.

(9) Ofsted
To the question, ‘…Should the Government introduce a system similar to Welfare Notices for breaches of the learning and development requirements?’, we find under one-third of respondents agreeing to Ofsted having these powers. Yet the Department construes this clear negative result as denoting ‘no clear consensus of opinion on this issue…’! The DfE will clearly have its way, willy-nilly, making no attempt to inquire into the reasons for such disquiet in the sector about these proposals.

(10) Deafening Silence in Relation to ICT 
Finally, it is a major dereliction of the DfE’s duty of care that no reference is made to ICT’s inclusion in the compulsory EYFS curriculum. It is mystifying that no reference is made to this issue, when many authorities believe that these technologies harm young children, supported by a wide range of corroborative research evidence. 

Richard House, MA (Oxon), Ph.D., C.Psychol., AFBPsS, Cert.Couns.
 University of Roehampton, London 


Sue Palmer’s article 
Sue Palmer’s article ‘Too Much, Too Soon’ also challenged the literacy proposals.
“A few years ago, I was invited to give evidence to a government Education Select Committee on early years practice and was delighted that all bar one of the other experts there agreed heartily that some of the literacy requirements were a case of ‘too much too soon’.  

So when a revision of the EYFS was announced last year, I felt sure they would be radically overhauled.  I also expected – and it proved to be the case – that literacy targets would be one of the most controversial aspects of the consultation. 

So I’m stunned to see the requirement to write in sentences is still in the proposed revised EYFS.  Which early years experts recommended this to Sarah Teather’s committee? Why was the majority opinion of practitioners who responded to the consultation ignored? Who are the cruel, mad people pushing this nonsensical target that’s bound to skew practice in ways that can damage children?  

There are many other aspects of EYFS that worry me immensely (along with most early years practitioners I meet). The writing target is simply the one I personally feel most qualified to comment on, and a particularly clear illustration that England has taken a seriously wrong turn in terms of early years policy. 

As another Scandinavian practitioner put it, ‘How can you make a law about how little children should learn?”

Sue Palmer is a literacy specialist, author of Toxic Childhood: how the modern world is damaging our children…and what we can do about it and a founder member of the OpenEYE campiagn.


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