Select Committee on Education and Employment Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum from the Early Years Trainers Anti Racist Network (EY 06)


  1.1  We submit our evidence below. It focuses specifically on our objective—to counter racism. It is an important time to be considering racial equality issues as a consequence of the report of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry. This stressed the need to address the learning of racist attitudes and behaviour at the youngest age, from pre-primary school upwards.

  1.2  We wish to give oral evidence to the Committee.

  1.3  We have organised this evidence as follows: "Early Years Education"—with general comments, followed by specific comments on the terms of reference and, finally, "Recommendations".


General comments

2.1  It is now well established that the early years are critical for the learning of attitudes, including racial attitudes, in young children. It is therefore very important that all young children in early years education, whether they live in multiracial or largely white areas of the country, are provided with positive opportunities to learn to value and respect one another. It is, however, equally important to recognise that racism, racist attitudes and behaviour, are firmly embedded in our society. Young children may enter early years education holding racist attitudes that they have already learnt. Although such attitudes may not be expressed overtly—there are all sorts of "messages" given to children as to what can be said and not said in front of adults in authority—the reality is that they may be in the early stages of believing they are superior to others based on such things as skin colour differences, culture, religion and language. These issues have specific implications for how early years education is organised and practiced.

  2.2  The report of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry demonstrated how institutional racism may be manifested. It also drew attention to the early age that children learn racial attitudes and the consequent need to work with children "at the youngest age", "from pre school upwards". Racist attitudes were not only responsible for the death of Stephen Lawrence, who was black, but also for the situation that led to his murder and which his alleged white murderers now find themselves in. Both black and white people are clearly damaged by racism, although in different ways.

  2.3  Much of the existing early years practice concentrates on celebrating festivals, valuing bilingualism and providing a range of resources that reflect our multicultural society but seldom addresses racism and its manifestations. This ad hoc approach is insufficient. We believe that a strategic, structural and comprehensive approach examining and addressing all practices and procedures is essential if racism is to be effectively addressed and removed. We believe most practitioners, advisers, trainers and policy makers are not hostile to the issues but many really do not know what to do in practice. They have not yet had the opportunities to consider what might be anti racist practice, either through training or reading the available literature.

  2.4  For at least the last 20 years an increasing number of people, some organised in formal groups or as individuals, have been concerned that issues of racism were not being adequately addressed in the early years. There has been scant recognition of the underlying practices and procedures that perpetuate racial inequality. The fact that "diversity" and "multiculturalism" seldom recognise the racial hierarchy of cultures, languages and different ethnic groups of people has, until recently, been largely unrecognised.

  2.5  Over the years there have been changes in the way communities from minority ethnic groups have been treated, both nationally by government and in early years practice—moving from initial concepts of "assimilation", through "integration" and finally moving towards "equality". This has been due to several factors:

    —  the 1976 Race Relations Act, which made racial discrimination unlawful;

    —  the establishment of many groups identifying the relevant issues, lobbying the government, proposing legislation, writing articles, making videos, organising conferences/workshops, establishing networks for sharing ideas and information;

    —  members of the above groups working with national training organisations and voluntary organisations to change the curriculum and practice to address racism;

    —  the 1989 Children Act requiring local authorities to respect a child's "religious persuasion, racial origin, cultural and linguistic background". The accompanying Guidance identified the need for people working with young children to be aware that "children from a very young age learn about different races and cultures" and will be capable of assigning different values to them. It raised other important issues including the need to keep ethnic data to ensure the services are operating in a non-discriminatory way.

  2.6  With the election of the new government and its focus on early years there have been significant changes to address the structural underlying racism:

    —  all early years services were brought together in an integrated whole with the establishment of early years development and childcare partnerships (EYDCPs) in every local authority. This meant that, for the first time, issues of equality could be viewed and assessed overall rather than in the previous incoherent way;

    —  the 1997 Guidance for early years development partnerships required all plans to cover the "equal opportunity strategy";

    —  the 1998 Guidance required more detailed information, referred to the needs of refugees and Travellers and highlighted a "Framework for Equality" contained in our publication "Planning for Excellence". The DfEE sent a copy to every EYDCP. This identified the responsibilities of partnerships, services and early years settings to implement racial equality in practice. The framework consists of six components each with a list of suggested action points;

    —  the 1999 Guidance cited specific and detailed criteria for evaluating the plan for equality including:

      —  a policy for equality;

      —  an implementation plan covering what is to be done, by whom and when, how children facing obstacles in accessing services will be reached, how everyone will have equal access regardless of their ethnicity or competence in English;

      —  a monitoring mechanism to evaluate the effectiveness of the policy (the results of which will be required in the next plan);

      —  how the partnership consults with minority ethnic group families; and

      —  details of training of staff on equal opportunity issues and implementing the equality section of the plan.

    —  early excellence centre bids to the DfEE have to operate equal opportunity policies in line with our Framework;

    —  Sure Start has clearly defined principles for equality embedded in its organisation and practice and addressing racism is fundamental in all projects, wherever they are sited;

    —  groups will be consulted on writing the standards for assessing equality issues in inspection/regulation;

    —  the principles applied to the new early learning goals refer strongly to "race" issues, although not sufficiently applied in the goals to themselves.

  2.7  It is our experience that, in general, most people have accepted the need to address racism in early years services. But it is unlikely to happen in reality if it is not a requirement to do so. Although it may be recognised as important, there is so much else requiring to be done that that it may not be established as a priority in the absence of such a requirement. It may not be built into practices and procedures. But the fact that the DfEE has built into its Guidance for EYDCPs increasingly more effective requirements for equality to be implemented is having its effect. For the first time many partnerships are beginning to develop detailed implementation programmes. We do not believe this would have happened if it had been on a voluntary basis. However, some partnerships remain reluctant to take the matter seriously. This is too important an issue to be left to the whims of individuals and partnerships. It is therefore critical that the DfEE, together with other national agencies such as the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), the Teacher Training Agency (TTA), award giving bodies in the further education and voluntary sectors and OFSTED adopt an approach to equality that is mandatory. Such an approach need not, and should not, be punitive, threatening or crassly insensitive. But the firm requirement is essential if the process of breaking down the cycle of learning racism at an early age, that the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry identifies, is to be possible.

  2.8  It is no longer tenable to deal with racism in the early years in an ad hoc way. It must be addressed strategically and comprehensively from national government to every setting. The foundations of this programme are now being established. Although there is still a long way to go, addressing the practices and procedures that perpetuate racism is now firmly on the British national agenda. What is now needed is a national commitment to a supportive, and sensitive training programme, with concomitant national and appropriate funding, to implement anti racist practice in the early years.


The appropriate content of early years education, taking into account the recently published QCA Early Learning Goals

2.9  The former Desirable Learning Outcomes (DLO) did not address racial equality issues adequately. The recent Early Learning Goals go some considerable way to rectifying this. We welcome the following changes in the approach:

    —  children's names in the examples reflect our multicultural society more realistically;

    —  strong principles about exclusion and disadvantage because of "race", culture, religion and home language, and children, parents and practitioners working together in an atmosphere of mutual respect are established;

    —  there are "essential" requirements to understand equal opportunities legislation;

    —  practitioners should plan to meet the needs of children from all cultural backgrounds, of different ethnic groups, including Travellers, refugees and asylum seekers and from diverse linguistic backgrounds;

    —  the learning environment should provide a supportive environment, free of harassment where racial stereotypes are challenged;

    —  there is a whole page section on English as an additional language;

    —  all parents are to be made to feel welcome, valued and necessary.

  None of these were in the consultative draft.

  The goals themselves are also an improvement. However, they do not go as far as we would wish. They do not provide opportunities for children to begin to consider the effects of racist attitudes and behaviour and to unlearn any racist attitudes that they may have already learnt.

  2.10  Personal, social and emotional development talks about enabling children to have a positive sense of themselves, of positive images being needed in books and displays and of opportunities for play and learning that takes account of children's particular religious and cultural beliefs. The goals include children developing respect for their own cultures and those of others, understanding that people have different needs, cultures and beliefs which need to be treated with respect and that they can expect others to treat their needs similarly.

  2.11  Language and literacy talks about working where necessary with bilingual workers but there is no reference to children's home language being valued.

  2.12  Mathematical development talks about children using a means of communication other than spoken English in understanding specific mathematical concepts.

  2.13  Knowledge and understanding of the world talks about encouraging "critical thinking" and for practitioners to have relevant training to improve their knowledge, skills and understanding. The goals include children being able to know about their own cultures and beliefs and those of others.

  2.14  Creative development talks about using resources from different cultures to stimulate different ways of thinking and accommodating specific religious and cultural beliefs relating to forms of art and representation.

  2.15  But while these changes are welcome the fact remains that racism and the need to address it in the early years, as stressed in the report of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry, is absent. The good principles stated earlier on in the text are insufficiently followed through in the goals.

  2.16  What is now needed is detailed nitty-gritty of how antiracist practice is implemented in early years settings with relevance to the goals. The action points for early years settings contained in our Framework should form the basis of reviewing the goals in the light of addressing racism in more positive ways.

The way in which it should be taught

  2.17  Children learn best when all ideas, theirs and those who are "teaching" them, are listened to and respected. They are likely to be willing to evaluate their attitudes and beliefs in an atmosphere of mutual respect, acceptance and openness. Formal directive teaching situations are unlikely to be conducive to such opportunities. Considering attitudes, including racial attitudes, and expressing ideas need to be undertaken sensitively, caringly and with respect for each child—not in a threatening way to any child personally. Opportunities for such discussion should be offered to all young children to build up their confidence to express themselves and to form the basis for future effective learning. Learning to be intellectually curious and to be critically aware of the world around them are important learning skills and facilitate the process of coming to terms with racial attitudes and behaviour. Operating in a "no-blame culture" where it is recognised and accepted that everyone has had different experiences and opportunities to consider issues of equality makes progress possible.

The kind of staff that are needed to teach it and the qualifications they should have

  2.18  We believe that all staff working with, and caring for, young children should be committed to implementing racial equality. This means ensuring that job descriptions should refer to work to be done to implement equality and person specifications should refer to the need for the commitment to do so. It cannot, at this stage, be expected that everyone will know what this means in practice but with commitment there is the basis for effective learning. For more senior staff, and certainly for trainers, advisers and partnership development staff, there needs to be further person specification—to have the understanding, knowledge and skills to be able to implement equality in practice.

  2.19  With regard to the qualifications needed there is great diversity in the training required in further education, initial teacher education and the voluntary sector. While both further education and voluntary sector courses nearly always have requirements to address equality issues and anti discriminatory practice this is not so in initial teacher education. This is a serious issue, particularly with regard to recently qualified teachers, as the TTA document on training and curriculum standards for new teachers fails to address equality issues such as racism. This means that teachers, however great their expertise in facilitating some aspects of learning in children, will be less likely than voluntary or further education sector trained staff to be familiar with equality concerns. Some teachers will, of course, have taken it upon themselves to develop expertise on equality or may have had in service training in their local education authorities. But this will not be automatic. We are not saying that teachers will not know about these issues but are less likely than others to have had opportunities to do so.

  2.20  Basically all qualifications should include training on equality issues, how inequalities arise and are perpetuated and how, in practical ways, work should be done with young children and their families. As stated earlier this should be done in sensitive, non-threatening and supportive ways that students can understand and accept.

The way quality of teaching and learning in the early years is assessed

  2.21  In February 1999 we submitted evidence to your Committee Inquiry into the work of OFSTED. Your report stated that there were very few submissions about the early years and that, in view of the recent government review of the organisation and regulation of early years and its implications for inspections, you would be returning to the subject as part of this wider inquiry. We hope that you will take account of our original evidence, bearing in mind recent changes, for example, the new QCA document on early learning goals replacing the Desirable Learning Outcomes. The points we made are, in our opinion, still entirely valid. If you wish me to send you a copy of the original evidence please let me know.

  2.22  Regarding point (1) on page 2 of our original evidence, we enclose a copy of our publication "Inspecting for Excellence" that was the topic of our summer conferences.[1]

  2.23  In view of the government's commitment to equality of access and opportunity in government organisations it is critical that the issue of ethnic monitoring and evaluation of both applications to be OFSTED trainers and to be trained as OFSTED inspectors is comprehensively undertaken.

  2.24  The report of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry drew specific attention to the urgent need to address the learning of racist attitudes and behaviour by very young children and stressed the need for specific and co-ordinated action from pre-primary school upwards. There is therefore a clear responsibility for OFSTED to take equality issues very seriously and require inspectors to be trained on these issues and for the framework to require them to inspect them effectively.

  2.25  With regard to the recent announcement that OFSTED will be responsible for all early years inspections we make the following points:

    —  Some of the inspections conducted by local authorities under the 1989 Children Act were really effective in addressing racial equality, in ensuring that providers understood what was meant by it in practice and of offering equality training for providers. Many were far better than those inspections conducted under OFSTED section 5 inspections. It is important to learn from these experiences and to ensure that good equality practice is incorporated in the new procedures.

    —  All inspections, whether "light touch" or not, should address equality issues fully. A one day visit by one person is insufficient to assess this.

    —  We believe that new head of the early years arm of OFSTED should be experienced in the field of early years and should understand how equality issues can be put into practice throughout early years practices and procedures.

  2.26  We wish to stress that all assessment should be done sensitively and supportively. In the field of racial equality there are many apprehensions, fears of being "accused" of being racist and past experiences that may have induced guilt and paralysis. It is important to recognise this. It is only in a positive atmosphere that people are willing to consider their practice and attitudes constructively. It is therefore essential that all assessment operates in this way.

  2.27  Self assessment, within the same ethos, also provides opportunities to examine previously held cherished ideas in constructive ways. Reflecting on practice in the light of critical reading and opportunities to consider a variety of viewpoints, rather than defensive reactions, is a goal worth striving for.

At what age formal schooling should start

  2.28  By starting school at a later rather than an earlier age children will be provided with more opportunities in an early years setting, with its positive staff/child ratios, to discuss and explore issues of racial attitudes and equality under the personal, social and emotional development goals.

  2.29  Similarly, children learning English as an additional language will have a longer period to learn to be confident in English and be able to address its written form, prior to embarking on the formal aspects of the National Curriculum.


  3.1  The DfEE should continue to pursue its requirements for partnerships and plans to address equality issues in detail. It should not approve any plan that fails to develop practical implementation procedures as required in the 1999 EYDCP Guidance criteria.

  3.2  Similarly the DfEE should not approve any application to be an early excellence centre unless it has a fully developed implementation programme to address equality issues.

  3.3  In the 2001-2002 EYDCP Guidance the DfEE should extend its partnership requirements for equality to include a requirement for all early years settings to have a policy for equality, an implementation programme and a monitoring/evaluation mechanism.

  3.4  The government, possibly through the DfEE, must provide or facilitate and fund effective, supportive, non-threatening anti racist training for all early years workers so that all the above can operate in practice.

  3.5  All government agencies staff (DfEE, QCA, TTA, OFSTED) involved in the early years should be provided with effective, supportive training on the issues of racism in the early years so that they can ensure the implementation of racial equality in all early years services and settings.

  3.6  The new arm of OFSTED must address racism, including racial equality (and not just cultural diversity) issues both in its training of trainers and of future inspectors, as well as in the formal inspection framework. Ethnic monitoring and evaluation of applications for trainers, inspectors and those awarded inspector status should be required.

  3.7  The early learning goals should be elaborated to give detailed practical help to practitioners as to how to implement anti racist practice.

  3.8  The Teacher Training Agency must come into line with regard to the DfEE Guidance requirements and prepare new teachers to be able to implement racial equality in early years settings.

Early Years Trainers Anti Racist Network

December 1999

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