Early Learning Goals group ‘unrepresentative’

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The Department for Education has come under fire after a Freedom of Information request revealed little early years sector representation among those involved in reviewing the EYFS early learning goals.

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The names on the list include experts in primary teaching, and even one secondary maths expert, leading to comments that there are very few practitioners involved with direct experience of working with pre-school children.

There is also disquiet that some of those consulted include commercial providers, such as Jolly Phonics and Ruth Miskin Training.

While there are names that might be expected, such as Gill Jones, deputy director of early years at Ofsted, Sue Robb from Action for Children, Sir Kevan Collins from the Education Endowment Foundation, and James Bowen from the NAHT, there are others whose expertise lies more with older children.

Early years academics on the list include Professor Ted Melhuish from Birkbeck University, Sandra Mathers from Oxford University and Professor Iram Siraj from the Institute of Education, UCL.

The FOI request was made by Nathan Archer.

Author and teacher Sue Cowley, one of the founders of Firm Foundations, told Nursery World, ‘Although there is a wealth of research and other expertise here, it’s surprising to see so few practitioners with current hands-on experience of working in an early years setting. I was surprised to see commercial providers of services and materials included on the list.’

She said there was ‘clearly a focus on the maths and literacy aspects of the EYFS and the focus of the input seems to be mainly on Reception-age children and ignores the fact that the early learning goals are the end point of a complex phase that runs from birth to age five. I was surprised to see the lack of any input from parents or groups working with parents – this is a non-statutory phase and it shouldn’t therefore be left to educationalists or politicians to make all the running.’

On Twitter, early years consultant and trainer Kym Scott said, ‘DfE is not being transparent about who is advising on new ELGs [and] the sector deserves to be informed about who is shaping its future. Some people have had to resort to FOI requests for this. I don’t think phonics companies who stand to make millions from their products being sold on the back of what [the] new EYFS framework says should be advising [Government] on what said framework should contain. They will make a fortune out of what they advise for literacy.’

She added, ‘Of course [we] must hang fire [and] see what the actual ELGs look like. However, despite SOME eys names on here, I do worry that others will give a very particular steer that doesn’t match with promises from the DfE that the new ELGs would reflect the latest evidence on child development.’

A separate FOI request, which asked for the names of those that were involved in reforming the EYFS, produced a response with a longer list of names. In response to a query about ‘commercial interests involved’, the DfE said, ‘There is no commercial interest to be gained by individuals or organisations invited to express their views and provide comments on the Early Years Foundation Stage reforms. The EYFS is a statutory framework, owned and written by the DfE.’

This separate FOI was made by John Wadsworth, senior lecturer in Early Childhood Education at Goldsmiths, University of London.

Nursery World also understands that the department has been holding talks separately with other individuals and organisations not included on the list.

Beatrice Merrick, chief executive of Early Education, said the FOI requests revealed ‘quite a lot of unease in the early years sector about what is going on behind closed doors at the DfE in relation to the promised review of the early learning goals.

‘While the list of names in these FOI responses show that many knowledgeable early years experts have been involved, there are also many whose expertise is in primary teaching, not the early years.

‘This will only add to concerns that – intentionally or inadvertently – top-down pressure may lead to revisions that undermine the current EYFS, which was carefully constructed after extensive consultation with the early years sector and review of the research evidence on child development.

‘Many will note two major omissions in the list: one is the almost total absence of those with current experience of teaching in the Reception year, and the other is the lack of official representation from Early Education – the only early years representative body specifically representing early years in schools (although some of the individuals involved are of course our members).

‘However, that list does not tell the whole story: the DfE has been having conversations with many other individuals, including ourselves.

‘We hope they are listening to the extensive feedback we have provided and that the revised ELGs which finally emerge for piloting and consultation will be entirely consistent with the well-established principles and practice of the EYFS.’

For the full list of names, see box below.

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