Debbie's draft for the TES blog for the EY petition

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Susan Godsland

Debbie's draft for the TES blog for the EY petition

Post by Susan Godsland »

Posted: Mon Mar 19, 2007

Introduction to the issues worrying Early Years practitioners in both the state and voluntary sectors [TES blog]

Written by Debbie Hepplewhite at the request of some Early Years staffroom contributors
18 March 2007

An online petition was started on the TES Early Years staffroom forum on 6 March 2007.

The petition: (in red)

*to revamp completely the Foundation Stage Profile and remove the expectations for observations and evidencing

*to discuss the various issues regarding curriculum content, delivery, provision and ethos in foundation stage settings and key stage 1

*to challenge the current teaching climate particularly in early years and to hold local authority and early years advisers to account for their pedantic and inflexible attitudes and 'advice'

*to examine the need - or otherwise - for formal target-setting and tracking particularly for children who do not even have to attend a state institution yet!

*to challenge the notion that it is acceptable for teachers to be covered in classrooms by teaching assistants in order to facilitate paperwork requirements (PPA)

*to implement systems of 'upwards evaluation' whereby those in authority over us are accountable for their man-management and advice - and to ensure that there are mechanisms in place for challenging those in authority (in other words the processes and legislation which exist do not support natural justice - we would suggest that there are no effective processes to hold those in authority to account)

Comment and Context:

TES Early Years online forum contributors have offered numerous arguments as to why the Early Years statutory - or soon to be statutory - documents are not acceptable in their current format. The main disquiet is a consequence of the accompanying statutory assessment requirements and the manner in which these are policed. The government needs to differentiate between appropriate material for training and information purposes and appropriate material for national assessment purposes. Many practitioners have described with dismay the requirement to observe children “obsessively” and then record in detail the children’s activities and conversations to provide evidence to “justify” professional judgements for the Foundation Stage Profiles. There are many issues here, not least being the need to question the very necessity of providing such a large number of very detailed descriptions of attainment for children who are under 5, who learn and change rapidly and who do not even have to attend school as yet!

In contrast, the national assessment requirements for the six years of formal education of key stage 1 and key stage 2 amount to teacher assessment in reading, writing, maths and science by the end of Year 2 (age 7) and written tests in reading, writing, maths and science at the end of Year 6 (age 11). How can it be that for pre-schoolers (including in voluntary settings where practitioners may not be qualified teachers) onerous planning, assessment and evidencing is required with the stipulation that local authority advisers, moderators and Ofsted inspectors are allowed access to schools and early years settings to scrutinise, moderate and pass judgements on teachers’/practitioners’ records? Working under such conditions can feel intolerable as if Big Brother is constantly ‘watching’ and ‘judging’ provision and practice, and attempting to create uniformity despite the many different contexts in which we work.

Further, an early years’ practitioner’s ‘lot’ is one of chance according to the policies of the local authority advisers. Some advisers urge minimal requirements for ‘evidence’ for the Foundation Stage Profiles, whereas other advisers stipulate specific numbers of pieces of evidence which can amount to a ludicrous burden. Regardless of the interpretations of requirements by individual advisers, a time management study would soon show that the management of the Foundation Stage Profiles is nothing short of onerous - and yet much of it is arguably unnecessary. The most common early years’ phraseology throughout the land is, “Is this enough?”

Practitioners describe how their planning and practice is completely skewed by the requirement to observe and record in order to provide evidence - and also how they loathe this undertaking. It is not a straightforward matter of merely observing and recording for general records because these observations have then to be matched with the numerous objectives stipulated in the profiles themselves - per child. This is enormously time-consuming. A visit to any early years setting will reveal adults with clipboards in hands or post-its in pockets observing children at the expense of interacting with them or teaching them.

HMI called upon those with responsibilities at local authority level to, “review the number and range of assessments teachers undertake during Year R” and called upon schools to, “review the number and range of assessments required during Year R, considering the use made of information subsequently in Year 1” (Transition from the Reception Year to Year 1, An evaluation by HMI, May 2004). Did the government choose to ignore HMI’s wisdom? Interestingly, following national curriculum reforms in Sweden in 1998, a subsequent evaluation noted the impact on the measurement and assessment processes of pre-schools. The evaluation showed that assessing goal attainment in relation to GOALS TO STRIVE FOR and goals TO ATTAIN became blurred and concluded: “Evaluating the individual child's performance in relation to goals to attain IS IN CONFLICT WITH the intentions of the curriculum and the reform. It is thus important that the differences between GOALS TO ATTAIN and GOALS TO STRIVE FOR are clarified and DISCUSSED AT ALL LEVELS OF RESPONSIBILITY IN THE SYSTEM.” Can we indeed learn from this model of observation and understanding and can we, in this country, have discussions at all levels?

The laudable attempt of people in authority to ensure good provision for our youngest and most vulnerable children has, in reality, created hardship, disquiet and disaffection amongst those providing care. Increasingly, many practitioners and teachers will simply not take up full time posts in order to avoid the responsibility for the Foundation Stage Profiles and accompanying planning regime.

What is also apparent through the TES online forum is that providers have many different teaching styles and philosophies and these differences are clearly not respected by those in authority. People are increasingly told exactly how they should be establishing and organising their settings and then they are judged according to this formula. Whilst the rhetoric of this government is entirely about the individualism of children with its quest for personalised learning, no equal respect is paid to the adults’ individualism or the uniqueness of context of every early years setting. Is it really necessary for settings to conform to the government’s early years advisers’ vision or should settings genuinely belong to their local communities?

The government, in effect, is giving contradictory messages in terms of its desire for uniformity, conformity and individualism. Most worrying of all is the overall belief of providers that they can do nothing to challenge or change this scenario except leave the profession, downsize or conform. Is this what parents would want?

We call upon those in government to discuss the issues raised in this petition urgently and to refrain from establishing further statutory requirements for the early years pending discussions.

Current government documents: ... ok_web.pdf ... et_web.pdf ... /goals.htm (List of the early learning goals ‘in a nutshell’)

Note: There are a number of articles, past and present, written by leading educationalists, journalists and interested parties in support of the suggestion that the implementation of the Foundation Stage Profiles and the more recent EYFS (Early Years Foundation Stage - birth to five) are evidence of unacceptable, unnecessary and inappropriate government legislation and assessment expectations which are increasingly being foisted upon those in the teaching and caring professions:

Ted Wragg’s observations, June 04: ... 37,00.html

Melanie Phillips’ observations, March 07: