It has now been 20 days since the Save Childhood Movement’s Early Years Education Group launched the Too Much Too Soon Campaign with an Open Letter signed by 127 eminent early years experts and leaders. The letter argued that children in England start formal learning much earlier than elsewhere in the world, that they are subject to developmentally inappropriate pressures that damage their heath and wellbeing and that even the value of their play is now being undermined. It stated that boys and summer-born children are particularly disadvantaged by the current system and can carry the consequences throughout their lives.
We also launched the website www.toomuchtoosoon.org that provides a comprehensive list of the research evidence backing up the arguments.
The five core objectives of the campaign are to:
- re-establish the early years as a unique stage in its own right and not merely a preparation for school
- protect young children's natural developmental rights
- prevent baseline testing
- reinstate the vital role of play
- call for an English developmentally appropriate Foundation Stage for children between the ages of 3 and 7 (until the end of Key Stage 1)
The letter received enormous national coverage and support and we estimate that the signatories carried out about 25 interviews over the following two days.
We were deeply shocked, however, by the subsequent response of the DfE, with a spokesperson for Michael Gove initially saying that our signatories were ‘misguided’ and were advocating ‘dumbing down’. 'These people represent the powerful and badly misguided lobby who are responsible for the devaluation of exams and the culture of low expectations in state schools…We need a system that aims to prepare pupils to solve hard problems in calculus or be a poet or engineer — a system freed from the grip of those who bleat bogus pop-psychology about "self image", which is an excuse for not teaching poor children how to add up.'
This statement was later retracted, but not before it had been endorsed and re-tweeted by the Undersecretary of State Elizabeth Truss.
Ms Truss herself then wrote an article that suggested that by advocating a later start to formal schooling the signatories were 'outlining a vision for a learning-free world. In this utopia, children shouldn’t start learning until they’re 6 or 7'. In other words she herself believes that no real learning occurs before children go to school!
We found this an extraordinary statement from the person who is representing the sector. She went on to call the signatories the 'prophets of dumbing-down' who 'maintain a veneer of professional respectability' and called the group’s suggestions 'misguided, regressive, inaccurate and superstitious'. A strange accusation for a list of signatories that included eminent advisors, 17 professors, numerous PhD academics, the leaders of most of our major early years organisations, senior practitioners, well-known writers, early years campaigners and the heads of the major teaching unions.
The signatories were so incensed by the DfE’s remarks that we then sent a letter on their behalf to the Secretary of State requesting a formal list of his department’s arguments together with the supportive evidence. The letter was sent on 17 September and we have yet to receive any response (despite the fact that we copied in the Prime Minister’s Office, which acknowledged receipt within two days).
What became increasingly evident, as we watched the various interviews and saw the government’s responses, is that there is a deeply worrying lack of true understanding about the early years and an alarming lack of openness to dialogue. This is unacceptable in any field, but particularly so when we are talking about the rights and wellbeing of children. The signatories were requesting an open, balanced and fully informed debate, supported by the appropriate national and international evidence, which could then lead to a consensus on subsequent action. We do not consider it appropriate, or democratic, for government to simply dismiss anything that does not serve its own agenda and are shocked that this should be the case.
So we are moving on to building up the signatories to the online petition and preparing for the Day of Action on 30 October when supporters of the campaign will come together with other action groups supporting parental choice and from the primary sector to march past parliament. The group will then participate in a lobby to present a summary of its arguments and evidence, together with the petition signatories and comments, and will share its deep concern about the lack of respect and recognition given to the sector.
We are inviting everyone to join us on the day and to help us demonstrate that the early years is an extraordinarily important phase of life in its own right, that the learning that occurs during this period is of the highest level and that the best people to inform policy are those with practical or research-related experience who truly understand the developmental needs and potential of the young child.
We hope that you will join us.
Sign up for the Day of Action
The Save Childhood Movement
Early Years Education Group