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The EYFS Review – part two – The Impossible Curriculum

This is part two of the posts about the Tickell, or Early Years Foundation Stage, Review. In part one I have looked at the quantitative and qualitative data which was gathered during the consultation phase. Here in part two I’ve considered the 46 recommendations in detail and how these might affect practice in the Early Years. The report can be found here.

Arguably the biggest change recommended is “that personal, social and emotional development, communication and language and physical development are identified as prime areas of learning in the EYFS.” (page 21). Note that CLL has lost Literacy, which would appear as one of the “four specific areas in which the prime skills are applied: literacy, mathematics, expressive arts and design, and understanding the world.” (page 27). Problem solving, reasoning and numeracy has been re-replaced with mathematics. I feel this is a shame. To most people “mathematics” inevitably means numerical calculations rather than the much broader areas of spatial awareness, patterns and shapes.

Three characteristics of effective teaching and learning are recommended: “playing and exploring, active learning, and creating and thinking critically” (page 27) This is so children’s learning can be supported effectively by all practitioners, whether that is a play worker or childminder. This highlights one of the most thorny issues of the EYFS. It is a generalised curriculum trying to be ‘one size fits all’ which is very difficult. Make it too woolly and it will be open to misinterpretation (intentionally or otherwise). Make it too prescriptive and risk excluding sections of the childcare community. Whether defining characteristics of effective teaching and learning will solve this remains to be seen.

In part one I highlighted the fact that the EYFS doesn’t call for extra paperwork – it’s a perception that ‘everyone else’ has, from Local Authorities to Ofsted representatives. This is recognised on page 28 and on page 31 it is recommended that the paperwork should be “kept to an absolute minimum”. Who will be brave enough to be the first to buck the trend and ditch meaningless forms which don’t inform practice or support the child?

It has been recommended that the number of early learning goals (against which a child is assessed at the end of Reception Year) be reduced from 69 to 17. These are to be judged using a “simple scale” (page 31) of emerging, expecting and exceeding and link more closely to the National Curriculum. These do seem to contain a lot of statements for one early learning goal (page 72), but they have been grouped together in a sensitive and sensible manner.

Another very sensible decision is to allow mobile phones to still be used in settings (page 39). The vast majority of settings already have policies about mobile phones. After all, it is the way in which they are used which is the problem, not the phone itself.

The second recommendation (page 13) is that the framework remains statutory across the early years. The argument being that if it isn’t statutory then the areas of greatest deprivation, and therefore greatest need, will suffer the most. Having worked with a number of children’s centres around the country I would whole heartedly agree and think this is a thoroughly laudable recommendation.

Interestingly, when referring to independent schools opting out, Dame Tickell has suggested that they should not be exempted, and that the argument that all independent provision is superior to other provision is still to be proven (page 14).

Hopefully the recommendation on page 17, that the EYFS is available in more formats, more easily, will mean that we can get paper copies again. I sincerely hope so! My final copy of the EYFS separated from its spine during training on Saturday.

It is very encouraging to see parents and carers getting special mention (page 18). When Dr Margy Whalley spoke at the North West EYP Conference in March this year, she had plenty of good reasons for why this is good practice. Dr Whalley enthusiastically encourages home visits and has multiple examples of their benefits. At the moment I am reading Kate Wall’s book ‘Special Educational Needs and Early Years’ where she emphases the ‘partnership’ being a joint decision making one, including planning and assessment, if it is going to be truly beneficial.

However, I feel a little sad that there has to be a specific recommendation to give parents an overview of the EYFS when they start (page 18). I had imagined that this was good practice and would be happening as a matter of course in most settings.

The recommendation for a 24 – 36 month summary of a child’s development – written in conjunction with the Health visitor – screams “extra statutory assessment” and ” more paperwork”. In addition there is the question of access to health visitors and how parents will view this, particularly if they already have some concerns, but don’t want their child ‘labelled’. The hope that the practitioners will be allowed to exercise some judgement in this matter is optimistic. Adding an extra page to the ‘Red Book’ is a good idea, but this set of recommendations are best suited to parents who are engaged with their children’s learning and development already. Are they going to reach those families who are difficult to engage already and are sometimes the most disadvantaged?

Although the praises of the children’s centres and their work is truly sung on pages 25 and 26, the Review falls short of actually giving any recommendations, which is an opportunity missed.

It is recommended that written risk assessments be removed (page 41) – is this too much other way? This appears to be in response to childminders concerns that they are under the same regime as large childcare companies (see part one of EYFS review) and doing written risk assessments every day is clearly too onerous. Hopefully this wont tempt settings ‘not to bother’ with risk assessments, because they only have to be produced if asked for.

The 1:30 teacher to child ratio in reception classes is to be re-reviewed (page 30) because there is not enough ‘clear evidence’ to say this ratio is too high. Is the lack of evidence a demonstration of the hard work teachers have put in to ensure children aren’t penalised? For children to go from a ration of 1:8 to 1:30 in a matter of weeks, as well as coping with a change of setting, change of key person, change of routine and going from being the ‘big boys and girls’ to being the smallest in the setting again must be incredibly difficult. Maybe this should be reviewed from the child’s perspective first?

Overall the Dame Tickell appears to have listened carefully to the practitioners and educators who have been involved in the Review of the EYFS. There are lots of common sense recommendations and I can certainly recognise some of the dilemmas, such as Ofsted requirements sometimes being at odds with the EYFS. The bigger challenge may be that producing one curriculum for such a diverse set of child care situations – and pleasing everyone – may be impossible.

The summary of the recommendations start on page 56 of the Review report.

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The EYFS review – part one – much ado about nothing?

So, the long awaited EYFS Review is out and being pored over by one and all. I thought it might be interesting to see what line of attack the media had on this one. Supportive? Derisive? Outraged?

The TES decided to go front page here and then misunderstood Dame Tickell’s view on phonics here. The Times went for the “nappy curriculum”, as did the Guardian, who focused on the exclusion of independent schools here. The Sunday Times (News Review, page 9) has a reasonably balanced overview, although I’m not sure that prior to the EYFS all “little ones would stay at home, having stories read to them, being taken to the playground and having friends over to play”.

Certainly in the media there have not been many objections or calls for a petition to stop the Review. So all in all, has it been Much Ado About Nothing?

I’m going to approach this by looking at the two aspects separately. First the statistics and information from the online questionnaire, literature review and qualitative study. The next post will look at the recommendations that have been made from these. This is because I think its important to understand where the recommendations have come from and the sort of things that practitioners (whether that is a play worker, teacher, childminder or early years practitioner) have asked for.

The EYFS Report on the Evidence (2011) can be found here and the Tickell review (2011) can be found here.

One of the impressive things is that over 3,300 people responded to the online questionnaire. That is a lot of people. However, it is still only 0.7% of the total workforce (DfE, 2010). Not even 1% of the early years childcare staff have had their voice heard.

Chapter one gives a brief overview of the situation so far. Chapter two deals with the welfare (mandatory) requirements of the EYFS and how these have already affected practitioners. The views reported here are diverse and many ‘depend upon the situation’. So, for example, doing a risk assessment for a setting which has an annual trip is very different to a risk assessment for a childminder who is out every day. But both situations are governed by the same piece of legislation.

The thorny issue of transition is dealt with at the end of chapter 3, highlighting the sorts of ‘top down’ pressure that many reception classes feel.

On page 35 (Chapter 4), 4.18 the biggest myth of the EYFS is laid bare. The EYFS does not call for extra ‘paperwork’. It asks for observation based assessments and planning. According to the review, the demand for paper comes ‘other sources’, for example the inspectorate or Local Authority. This is something which I have challenged practitioners on many times. “Where does it say in the EYFS that you have to fill out A4 folders of observations every week?” and, more importantly, “How does the child benefit from this?” Thank goodness this issue has been explicitly stated in the review.

The EYFS Profile is criticised by practitioners for being too bulky and time consuming. It is suggested that the results are not used by the Year 1 teachers (although, in my personal experience this is an educational law – “no educator will trust the summative reports of the previous key stage”) and that only a third of parents receive them. Combine this with the “highly subjective” and “wide variation” (page 37) that headteachers report and you can see why this has been targeted for change.

The key person, which was controversially included as a mandatory requirement, has been accepted by practitioners and parents alike. Although, understandably, teachers who have 30 key children are not so keen!

Chapter 6 deals with training and development of the workforce. The good news is that training levels are rising and more nurseries have level 6 (degree qualified) practitioners. Even better is the finding that Early Years Professionals (EYPs) are improving the quality of care and education that children are receiving. The biggest complaint was that training was patchy and not of a high enough quality. In many ways this is really good news. It means that practitioners are demanding more in depth, challenging courses and are really recognising the benefits that these courses bring.

What does this tell us about the sorts of things that practitioners have asked for? The underlying theme appears to be that, in general, the EYFS is well used and well respected. The additional ‘paperwork’ is more a demand from other sources than a requirement of the EYFS. There are some accepted good practices, such as key person. Levels of qualified practitioners has risen and is continuing to rise. The EYPS has been shown to improve outcomes for children.

What has been asked for is clarification in some areas, such as the EYFS Profile and smooth transition between settings.

In general this is a balanced Review, albeit based on the views of practitioners who had internet access and felt strongly enough, one way or the other, to respond. So maybe not ‘Much Ado About Nothing’, more ‘As You Like it’.

References:

DfE (2010) Childcare and early years providers survey 2009. London: DfE

Brooker, L., Rogers, S., Ellis, D., Hallet, E. & Robert-Holmes, G. (2010) Practitioners’ experiences of the EYFS. London: DfE.

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