When Her Majesty's Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw criticised the declining quality of nurseries today by comparison with the higher "level of development" reached in 2008, perhaps he did not realise that was pre-Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS). In 2008, the year the legislation took effect, the press discovered that there had been no academic research. A study was belatedly commissioned from the Institute of Education, University of London so as to justify the "learning and development requirements" that were to be imposed for the first time in history on very young children.
Alas, the report found that early cognitive teaching has no effect on improving later literacy skills, and that the soft, non-cognitive experiences of previous nursery practice were more beneficial for children's all-round development. The government therefore suppressed the report but, to its embarrassment, it was unearthed by a Parliamentary Freedom of Information request by Annette Brooke, then Liberal Democrat spokesperson for children. Nevertheless, the government persisted with the EYFS, although thousands of practitioners resigned in protest.
Its next ploy was to bring in schools inspectorate Ofsted to silence any remaining objectors. How sad it is to learn so many years later that the vast behemoth of the EYFS, costing millions and requiring the retraining of nursery workers, has resulted only in lower standards. Sir Michael, it would seem that what nurseries need is not more regulation but infinitely less: time for genuine play to allow the subcortical brain to unfold in its natural and more complex way, as in Germany, Finland and Scandinavia, where education is shaped by the profession.
Grethe Hooper Hansen, Retired teacher and co-founder of Early Childhood Action, Bath.