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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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