How adviser's Twitter remark reignited early years row

Government adviser's claim that he 'wouldn't have time' to read key research fuels distrust of policymakers among early years community

Amy Gibbons

Primary school child

"Kind of [you] to offer, but I wouldn't have time to read [it], and it's not something I'm actively working on."

It was a quick answer from a former government adviser, but it reignited a fierce row involving early years experts – leaving maths consultant Helen Williams "speechless".

The controversial remark came from Kristopher Boulton, who advised the government on the new Early Learning Goals (ELGs). He was responding to a suggestion that he read research into the development of spatial awareness in the early years. 

Related: Decision to scrap 'important' early years goal defended

Background: Proposed new Early Learning Goals - full details

Viewpoint: Want to boost science and maths? Teach spatial skills

The backlash that followed betrayed deep-set feelings of frustration among the early years community. It is no secret that teachers are craving a sense of security following a major shake-up of the system in recent years – including the introduction of the controversial Reception baseline assessment, and the revised ELGs as part of the early years foundation stage. 

The community expects the changes to be well-informed, but some felt Mr Boulton's comments implied that, despite being tasked with advising the government on the crucial issue of children's development, he was not interested in reading up on the evidence. 

Helen Williams, a maths consultant, said that "someone who doesn’t have time to read the early years maths research shouldn’t really be advising the [DfE] on the ELGs", while Ruth Swailes, a school improvement adviser, said: "I’m quite surprised, as someone who advised on the changes, that you haven’t the time to read this research. Surely the changes should be research-informed?".

Simon Smith, headteacher at East Whitby Academy, added: "God forbid people informing government would be aware [of] all the evidence rather than the evidence that suits."

It is not the first time that early years staff have felt let down by the people steering government policy.

Last year, more than 1,850 early years academics, organisations and teachers signed an open letter calling for Ofsted’s controversial Bold Beginnings report to be withdrawn, saying it was “flawed and biased”.

The report, published in 2017, said that Reception year was a “false start” for many children. It shocked many of those working in early years, who saw it as a push for more formal education in Reception.

When asked what he meant by his comments, Mr Boulton told Tes: "The expert group was convened nearly two years ago, and I haven't been asked for any involvement since.

"Helen wasn't asking if I had done any reading at the time I was involved, she was offering to send me research to read now, despite my no longer being involved (I wasn't involved in or consulted on the more recent changes).

"I understand the confusion, given her response, which implied I hadn't been doing the necessary reading at the time."

When asked if he had read the research referenced by Dr Williams, he said: "I'm not doing any work with the [ELGs], and haven't been for a long time, so this isn't currently an area of focus for me. If that were to change in the future then I would consume any and all research voraciously."



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Amy Gibbons

Amy Gibbons

Amy Gibbons is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @tweetsbyames

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