Pen Green's response to revised EYFS

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Pen Green lists its objections to the proposed framework in its response to the Government consultation on the EYFS



We are registering our rejection of the revised EYFS. We are particularly concerned about the overall tone of the revised document, which is predominantly one of regulation and reduction.

The EYFS was a curriculum to be proud of in many respects. It stood up to international scrutiny as a balanced curriculum with some wonderful features. Margaret Carr (co-writer of the internationally renowned Te Whariki curriculum in New Zealand) was particularly enamoured of the phrase ‘enabling environments’ which has been lost in the revised version along with so many aspects which were both aspirational in terms of quality provision and inspirational for early years workers.

We would like to respond to the consultation with the following concerns.

Concern about the interpretation of the Tickell Review

The translation of critical issues from the Tickell review is flawed.  As Helen Moylett points out (Nursery World, 12-25 July) probably the worst omission is that of the ‘characteristics of effective teaching and learning’ which highlighted the importance of play and exploration, active learning, creativity and critical thinking as the basis for how children learn.  Dame Tickell clearly stated ‘these learning characteristics underpin all seven areas of learning and development’. The withdrawl of the strands of dispositions and attitudes, problem solving and creative thinking will, as Moylett asserts, result in ‘less rather than more affirmation of practitioners’ responsibilities to foster these key ways in which children learn – definitely not the intention of the review.’

The biggest difficulty with the EYFS was the way in which practitioners interpreted their role in ‘teaching to’ development matters and there was inappropriate use of the document. The answer is not to scale back the document in such a reductionist manner as to leave weak practitioners with an excuse not to strive for a greater understanding of child development and learning.  The revised EYFS needs to inspire practitioners, particularly those who need more guidance, to develop a greater awareness of how children learn. Practitioners need to be encouraged to work with the ‘whole child’ in the context of their family – something this revised document fails to do. Tickell also stated that the specific areas of learning feed into the prime areas of learning. This is not articulated clearly in the revised document. The emphasis needs to be on skilling up the early years work force. Frank Fields and Graham Allen clearly documented the need for effective early intervention. This cannot be achieved through a poorly qualified, poorly paid workforce.

The most effective aspect of the original EYFS was that it developed a culture which focuses on developing an understanding of how children learn and the vital importance of workers being in true partnership with parents. It encouraged practitioners to reflect upon their practice and to share reflection and discussion with colleagues and parents. The revised version will only serve to encourage a tick-box approach which will do little to develop practice and understanding

Positive points in the revised EYFS

The aspects, which we are pleased to see in the revised EYFS are:

  • an emphasis on partnership working between parents and professionals; although we qualify this with a concern about the way the workers are required to feedback to parents on the two year old and profile assessments which seems very ‘one way’. Practitioners need to be trained effectively to work in partnership with other adults including parents and this needs to be addressed in CPD for staff and teacher/EYP/nursery worker  training.
  • key person approach; although we qualify this by stating that we are concerned that this approach has been interpreted as a safeguarding role rather than a much wider role linking to the emotional support for the child and family and a secondary attachment figure for the child, which is so clearly important for children accessing day care/nursery.
  • an emphasis on the fact that children learn in different ways and at different rates; although we need to qualify this by pointing out that the way the development descriptors have been presented contradicts this statement.
  • a focus on PSED, PD and C&L following the Tickell review which mirrors the emphasis given by experienced practitioners working with the very youngest children; although we regret that much of the thinking that came from Birth to Three Matters that was fed into the EYFS has been lost in the revised document.  

Concerns about the language used

‘Educational programmes’(p3) - signifies a didactic approach to teaching and learning which is alien to effective early years practice which follows the interests, curiosities and dispositions of each individual child. The sentiment of ‘educational programmes’ does not include the inspiration to make children’s learning ‘effective, exciting and progressive’ (EYFS, 2007)

‘activities’ (p3) - signifies adult constructed tasks – all the research on effective early years practice suggests children’s ‘experiences’ as opposed to activities should be the focus

‘school ready’ - What has happened to the child’s right to be a 3 year old or a 4 year old, and to enjoy their unique childhood, rather than to being ready for the next phase of their statutory experience?

‘pre-school settings’ (p3) - puts the emphasis on ‘school preparation’ – whatever happened to ‘early years settings’ ?

‘positive environment’ (p4) - why change such a wonderful term as ‘enabling environment’ which puts the focus on the child’s experiences and how the environment supports the child’s learning?

‘reinforcing children’s experiences at home’ (p5) – ‘reinforcing’ is a behaviourist term signifying application of pressure as opposed to creating a deeper understanding of how the child learns and how workers and parents can work together to support children’s learning more effectively.

‘older age range’ (p6) – surely it has been established in the early years that we are considering stage not age?

‘moving and  handling’ – this language seems to aimed more at workers in an old people’s home? We do not believe it is appropriate or inspiring for early years workers.

‘planned purposeful play’ (p10) – this is the language of the dreadful ‘Desirable Outcomes’ document and is a retrograde step for early years. There is international recognition in the early years that play is the only way that young children learn (see Reggio approach and the emphasis placed on play in New Zealand and Scandinavia – three of the most respected early years traditions in the world). Play needs to be understood. Enabling children to learn through play does require a highly reflective staff to understand and support children’s play.

‘development and progress check’ – signifies a deficit approach to assessment. The purpose of assessment should be formative and developmental - a chance to celebrate and understand a child’s progress. This check seems to be there as a net to catch failing children and as such will not provide the spring-board that assessment for learning can offer for all children.

The language used to describe each area of learning – lacks inspiration for the practitioners and for the child. Can we not be brave enough to speak about a love for and joy in literature, and an appetite to seek for more? About the excitement, risk and passion experienced in expressive arts?

Omitting much of the explanatory text included in the original EYFS - particularly around the depth, the spirit and the profoundness of play, and about exploring and active thinking means that nothing now exists to underpin the importance of developing practitioners’ fundamental knowledge and understanding of the ways in which children learn.

We refute that the learning and development requirements set out on page 5 (ensuring school readiness and reinforcing children’s experience) are ‘informed by the best available evidence on how children learn’. Who is being referenced here? What evidence is being cited?

Concern that the emphasis in the revised document will be counterproductive in achieving stated aims

•    Reduction in paperwork – we feel that the paperwork requirements around risk assessments have been ridiculous and support this issue being addressed. However, the documentation of children’s learning is a key part of effective early years practice. Our 100 year tradition of narrative observations to inform how we support children’s learning cannot be disregarded. Supporting practitioners to ‘notice, recognise and respond’ (New Zealand curriculum) through detailed observations is essential. The lack of support for effective documentation in the revised EYFS will lead to poorer practice. Early years practitioners need time to complete their documentation in line with the PPA time given to teachers in schools. The reflection and dialogue between professionals that is essential for good early years practice was missed out of the original EYFS and is positively discouraged in this revised document.

•    Narrowing the gap – we feel that the reductionist approach to assessment will not lead to the narrowing of the gap between disadvantaged and better off children. Reducing summative assessments to two occasions when parents are ‘informed’ of a child’s progress is not enough. Dialogue should be happening on a daily basis between parents and workers and in depth discussions about the child’s progress should take place at regular times, preferably during home visits.  Our ‘Making Children’s Learning Visible’ assessment tool allowed parents and workers to see on an individual child’s chart where progress had been made. Workers and parents discuss how to support the child’s learning more effectively using this data. A one off two/three year old developmental check will not create the review of learning necessary to impact on narrowing the gap.

•    School readiness -  Tickell stated the need to think about the un-readiness of schools and we feel the emphasis needs to be placed on Reception class practitioners being prepared for four year old children and knowing how to support their learning. International evidence clearly shows that formal learning at too young an age is counterproductive (Cambridge Review). The needs of the child must be at the centre of planning and the provision of high quality services.

•    Inspiring the workforce – the tone of the revised document is one of regulation and prescription. There is nothing of the balance of the original EYFS which ensured a rounded curriculum through the 16 areas (see sheet attached illustrating how we have used these areas to connect with Pen Green practice and celebrate the depth and breadth of the curriculum we offer). There is nothing promoting the citizenship that we so surely need after a summer of riots across the country. Nothing about a sense of community or sense of belonging.

•    Why are the welfare requirements all in the same document? In schools the curriculum has a special place and the statutory requirements and regulations are in a different document. This adds to the regulatory feel of the revised EYFS.

•    Supporting the learning and development of boys – some of the descriptors could be counter-productive. For example many four year old boys will not have matured sufficiently to have complete control over their bladder and bowel movements (see Brazelton for the many reasons as to why having this as an early learning goal could be very damaging for boys)

•    An opportunity missed to underline the critical importance of aspiring towards a graduate led and trained workforce. The evidence that highly trained practitioners make the most difference to outcomes for young children in early years settings is irrefutable (EPPE Study). In simplifying both the language used and the content of the EYFS, the effect is to reduce the complexity of what is being documented – the entitlement of the youngest children – and to lose the thoughtful and reflective nature of the original framework.

•    Change to 3 prime areas and 4 specific areas of learning and the guidance that ‘each area of learning and development must be delivered through planned, purposeful play and through both adult-led and child-initiated activity’ loses the fundamental principle that children learn through an interweaving of their play and exploration, active learning and creative thinking.

Concern about the way the document has been produced

•    We are really concerned at Pen Green about the level of debate that has taken place in the formulation of this revised document. There is a lack of overall detail and a lack of deeply considered detail, which makes it much less useful to parents as a curriculum document. The strength of the EYFS was that is was deeply considered by many experienced researchers and practitioners and drew from our 100 year history of excellent nursery education in the UK and internationally respected and universally accepted curriculum documents such as Te Whariki (New Zealand).

•    We are disturbed that the consultation for the revised document came out on 6th July when most early years practitioners are facing one of their busiest times in supporting transitions for children and families. It is also the start of the summer period when many people are on annual leave. This follows a pattern in the publication of contentious Government documents. We cannot avoid being sceptical about the timing of this review. The format of the consultation on-line feedback sheet is also very limiting and does not allow for critique of the conceptualisation of the curriculum.

The EYFS is still young. Although it presented a challenging approach to the curriculum for early years, we welcomed the recognition this curriculum was given and the continuity it gave to children’s learning and development from 0-5 years. We, along with many other practitioners, have embraced many of the ways of working which the framework advocates, and the opportunities for reflection it encourages. It would seem too soon to be making such sweeping changes and lose the value of many hours of training, thinking and reflection, and the improvements to provision that the document has made happen.

The overwhelming feel of this document is one of regulation and prevention of children ‘slipping through the net’. We feel that this review has missed an opportunity to inspire the early years workforce with a useable document that sets the tone for a shared ethos around developing relationships and understanding child development. In our view, such a missed opportunity will set the learning and development of young children back and create less not more opportunities for affecting the very issues that the Government is striving to address.


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