Ministers' early-years changes meet with hostility

21st October 2011 at 01:00
A leading authority criticises paring down of the Tickell review

Unease about one of the Government's key changes to early-years education tipped into downright opposition this week when leading researchers described the move as a "backward step".

The Pen Green Research Base - one of the most respected research centres in the country - said the Government's revised plans for the early years foundation stage (EYFS) are not suitable for children under five.

The centre's hostile reception to the slimmed-down EYFS is particularly important because the base in Corby enjoys an international reputation for its expertise and is leading a Department for Education project to spread best practice in 16 areas across England.

Pen Green criticised changes made by ministers to recommendations in the Tickell review, published earlier this year. The widely welcomed review said the EYFS needed to be slimmed down because it had become too cumbersome, with teachers asked to assess children in 69 early-learning goals.

But the Government wants to pare back guidance even further by replacing Tickell's four-page overview of young children's learning characteristics with just a single paragraph.

According to Pen Green, this is a step too far. In its response to the Government consultation on the changes it said: "We believe that the document does not translate accurately the Tickell review ... The worst omission is the 'characteristics of effective teaching and learning' which highlighted the importance of play and exploration, active learning, creativity and critical thinking as the basics for how children learn.

"We see the introduction to the new EYFS and reduction of the original EYFS as a backward step, which ignores an internationally held perspective of the early years which places a central emphasis on play."

Kate Hayward, assistant director of Pen Green, told TES that the focus on slimming down was the "big problem".

"The early-learning goals were just one-sixteenth of the whole curriculum and the whole debate has been polarised around that, which means we have lost a lot of things that were very helpful about the original EYFS," she said. "The whole tone now is very regulatory and there is more emphasis on school readiness."

The EYFS was introduced for all those working with pre-school children in 2008, but soon attracted criticism for being a "tick-box" exercise. The Tickell review suggested that the profile should be slimmed down so that reception teachers assessed children on 17 skills, instead of the original 69.

One of the review's most popular moves was to make explicit the importance of children's learning characteristics, which it said should be assessed and included in the profile document.

Other experts in the field have also criticised the Government's desire to slim down guidance even further, and said the move will shift the focus to older children.

Megan Pacey, chief executive of Early Education, said: "We felt the Tickell review was really good and at this point in time we are very disappointed with the consultative statutory guidance.

"What they see as a change of words and simplification can change the meaning quite significantly. There is now a trend towards school readiness; it is very much something for three and four-year-olds and the whole birth-to-three age group, particularly those under 12 months, barely features."

The Government consultation closed at the end of September. The new framework is not due to be introduced until next year.


Herman Ouseley, former chair and chief executive of the Commission for Racial Equality, and Jane Lane, an advocate worker for racial equality, have said that the proposed EYFS framework should be accompanied by guidance on how to counter discrimination and support children who may be affected by it.

They also said it is vital that the new framework includes a way of collecting ethnic data on children, and that this is monitored to enable analysis of outcomes for different ethnic groups.

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