Memorandum submitted by the Open EYE Early
In this submission of evidence on the EYFS,
we briefly describe the genesis and aims of the "Open EYE"
early years campaign. Our Points of concern document forms
the heart of this submission, and we also include three of the
many articles that have been published in the professional literature
about the campaign and its core concerns.
The "Open EYE" Campaign was launched
last November with a lead front-page report in The Times and
an Open Letter published in the Times Educational Supplement,
signed by many prominent authorities on children and the early
years, including Steve Biddulph, Penelope Leach, Camila Batmanghelidjh,
Sue Palmer, Bel Mooney, Dorothy Rowe, and Professors Tim Brighouse,
Del Loewenthal, Janet Moyles and Sami Timimi. "Open EYE"
is a body of concerned early-years professionals from a wide range
of educational approaches and political affiliations who share
a number of concerns about the EYFS framework which is due to
become law in September.
It is excellent news for everyone who has the
well-being of young children at heart that the Children, Schools
and Families Committee is holding a special oral evidence session
to inform their decision about whether a full Committee investigation
into EYFS is needed. If indeed there are significant shortcomings
in the new frameworkwhich we sincerely believe there arethen
it is far better that they are highlighted and rectified now,
rather than waiting for several years, over which time a substantial
amount of damage might have been done which could then take considerable
time to undo.
The "Open EYE" campaign has always
been scrupulous in emphasising that we are not in principle "anti-regulation",
and have never been "anti" EYFS in its entirety. Rather,
we have always been careful to highlight certain aspects of the
framework which we believe to be deeply problematic, particularly
around the Learning and Development Requirements and its audit
and assessment proceduresconcerns which we have subsequently
discovered are shared by many practitioners and parents throughout
the country. We believe that it is important to distinguish clearly
between uncritical support for the EYFS in its entirety, and our
own position of significantly qualified, carefully discerning
support for a framework that, while good in parts, has inappropriately
overreached itself in some key respects.
We believe that this is a time for putting aside
all vested interests and "party-politicking", and for
everyone involved in these deliberations, including ourselves,
to be open to the possibility of being mistaken. We have faith
in a politically non-partisan process whereby experienced MPs
can objectively scrutinise the EYFS based on the available evidence,
and recommend sensible and workable changes if they deem any to
be necessary or advisable.
This following Points of Concern document
was first written some months ago by the campaign's Steering Group,
as a collective undertaking. Very little has happened since to
allay any of our concerns as expressed in this document, and much
has occurred to confirm themnot least, the news and experiences
about which we are hearing from across the country from practitioners
and trainers working at the coal-face in England's pre-school
settings. No doubt at least some of these experiences will be
communicated to the Committee next Wednesday, and not least by
our own witnesses, Anna Firth and Graham Kennish.
Following our Points of Concern document,
there follows a brief commentary and conclusion.
The seven points outlined below represent our
principal concerns regarding the impending Early Years Foundation
Stage (hereafter, EYFS) legislation.
We wish to emphasise that this is an entirely
non-party-political campaign, and neither does it represent any
particular educational philosophy. Our founding members and supporters
come from a range of opinion across the political and educational
spectrum, but we are united in our concerns about the EYFS framework.
(1) Early literacy
We are very concerned that the literacy goals
are both compulsory and, we believe, developmentally inappropriate,
including the compulsion to use a particular reading and writing
scheme. It seems inevitable that these goals and practices will
"filter down" to the under 5sindeed, this is
already happening in many settings. There are major concerns as
to whether this kind of cognitive learning is developmentally
appropriate for young children; and there exists convincing research
which strongly suggests that it isn't (see our website at www.savechildhood.org"Articles"
It is our opinion that the literacy goals represent
an acceleration of reading and writing skills before a suitable
foundation for these skills has been established. Most importantly,
disadvantaged children are the most likely to benefit from an
unhurried preparatory experience as a foundation for formal literacy
learning. The way in which the well intentioned goal of supporting
disadvantaged children is being pursued is therefore misguidedfor
these are the very children who need a solid foundation in socialisation,
listening and speaking skills, and fine motor skills, before proceeding
to the demands of reading and writing. Additionally, the research
on boys, summer-term birthday children, and the increasing incidence
of speech difficulties would support the need for an extensive
and strong pre-literacy foundation.
(2) A play-based experience
Much has been made of the "play-based"
nature of the EYFS framework. We believe that the notion of play
used in EYFS is one that has lost its true meaning, being narrowly
"adult-centric", and seriously neglecting the subtleties
of truly authentic imaginative play with its attendant rewards.
For many holistic educators, to speak of "directed"
or "structured and purposeful" play is not to speak
of play at all; rather, we believe that this is "playful
teaching" with a specified learning objective, rather than
true, imaginative, creative play. Authentic play typically reaches
its peak between children's fourth and fifth birthdays, and we
are concerned that this important characteristic of healthy early
childhood development will be seriously hindered by the demands
of the EYFS targets. We call for a dialogue and debate on the
definition and benefits of play, its contribution to emotional
and cognitive intelligence, and its rightful place in the pre-school
(3) An "audit culture"
The shortcomings of an "audit culture"
mentality, with its attendant distracting bureaucratisation and
anxiety-generating practices, are beginning to be exposed across
the public sector. We further believe that the early years constitute
a very delicate and sensitive period in which the values of simple
care, quality attachment and non-possessive love should be paramount.
It is a flawed framework that imposes an indiscriminating blanket
provision across a whole field in order to helpwe believe
in a misguided waya minority of children who are especially
disadvantaged, when the majority of children will be unnecessarily
caught and adversely affected by the new legislation.
It will be extremely difficult, if not impossible,
to retain the simple "relational" values of care, attachment,
attentiveness and love as core underpinnings to early-years practice
if the overweening bureaucratic demands of the new EYFS are not,
at the very least, significantly trimmed back. We believe that
early-childhood experience is the very last place where "audit
culture" values and practices should hold sway.
(4) Assessment-mindedness affecting the under
A mindset of observation and assessment saturates
the new framework. It is claimed that it is only five-year-olds
who will be subject to the assessment process; yet we all know
from experience elsewhere in the schooling system that the very
existence of an assessment or testing apparatus at a given age
has direct consequences for children significantly below that
age, as settings "drill" or prepare their children for
the assessment procedure. This "filtering down" of assessment
pressures always occurs, and there is no reason to believe
that it will not happen with the EYFS profiling process.
Thus, children under five, who are particularly
open and vulnerable to what exists in their environment, will
be exposed to assessment anxieties. One consequence of this is
the premature "waking-up" of children into adult-like
consciousness well before it is appropriate; and this acceleration
into needless awareness of adult expectation further generates
anxiety. This will be particularly so in environments when imaginative,
child-initiated play has been curtailed, with its constant opportunities
for self-determined learning and the self-esteem which arises
from discovering that "I can do it" rather than "I
(5) The effects of the EYFS on early-years practitioners
Related to the preceding points, a utilitarian
approach dominates the EYFS guidance throughout, which verges
on a kind of "developmental-obsessiveness", and which
is anti-time, and quite contrary to any reverential or spiritual
dimension to early-childhood experience. The open, flexible attentiveness
of the early-years practitioner is paramount, but there is a real
danger that an awareness of the profile assessment and LEA targets
will come to dominate and influence practice and the mood of practitioners,
and actually undermine the principles of the Unique Child, Positive
Relationships and Enabling Environments. Any resulting stress
arising from the auditing culture about to be imposed on the early-years
sector will inevitably transfer psychodynamically to the children,
manifesting in the form of needless and corrosive anxiety at an
age when children are not yet developmentally equipped to process
and manage it.
(6) State-defined "normality" in child
In the new EYFS framework, the state has defined
its own paradigm for what is "normal" child development,
and then compulsorily enshrined its model in lawa quite
unprecedented development in modern political life, and one which
raises very grave concerns, not least about just where the boundary
between the public and private spheres in education should appropriately
be drawn. The question of the "undue authority" of the
state in this act of legislation needs urgent attention.
(7) Human/parental rights
The new EYFS legislation is arguably directly
compromising of parents' rights to choose the pre-school, pre-compulsory
school-age environments that they wish for their children, which,
under European law, constitutes a major infringement of parental
and, therefore, of human rights.
We wish to persuade the Government to look again
at its early-years policy framework. Whilst there are many aspects
of the framework which are universally welcomed and to be applauded,
it is crucial that this fact is not used as an expedient pretext
for "smuggling in" a number of quite new policy departures
which we believe to be singularly inappropriate for a number of
reasons (see above), and which could do significant net harm to
this generation of young children. Specifically, we are calling
on the Government to exercise mature discernment and discrimination
in deciding just what aspects of EYFS are appropriate compulsorily
to enshrine in law, and which aspects step over an important line
regarding definitions of child development, and assumptions about,
and approaches to, children's early learning.
Margaret Edgington, Richard House and Lynne
Oldfield, "Open EYE" Campaign Steering Group; and Anna
Firth, Campaign Co-ordinator.
"OPEN EYE" STEERING
The purpose of this forthcoming session of the
Committee is to consider the EYFS framework and guidance in terms
of curriculum, pedagogy and assessment arrangements, the appropriateness
of the EYFS's birth to five remit, its statutory status, its workforce
implications and the role it sets out for parents. Most of these
points are variously addressed in the document reproduced above.
What is perhaps most striking is that everything
that has happened over the past few months has merely confirmed
Open EYE's core concerns. Moreover, it is most telling that no
serious or systematic attempt has been made by the supporters
and proponents of EYFS, beyond bland and general reassurances,
to respond to the substance and detail of our concerns. From a
psychosocial perspective, what is happening with the implementation
of EYFS is arguably symptomatic of anxiety-driven forces taking
place in the wider society. The great enduring myth of "modernity",
and of technological thinking more generally, is that it is somehow
possible and appropriate to measure everything and to control
life in all its subtlety and complexity. Yet at the very moment
when this "modernist" world-view is being fundamentally
challenged across diverse fields, it is policy-makers who seem
to be most mesmerised by this chronically limited and limiting
way of thinking.
More specifically, both the EYFS guidance and
Government Ministers themselves routinely speak about children's
play in a utilitarian, programmatic way that renders it essentially
unrecognisable for those who see play as an intrinsically free,
imaginative and (thankfully) uncontrollable experience. Moreover,
through mandatory and hugely detailed EYFS assessment profiling,
an auditing mentality is being introduced into early-years practice
that threatens to be the death-knell of the kinds of values and
ways-of-being with young children that are essential for their
healthy all-round development.
There is also a major question about the specification
of state-defined "normality" in child development. History
is littered with examples of scientific "experts" and
governments getting things completely wrong, and then standing
on their heads as new knowledge is discovered. On this view, for
the Government to define what is "normal" child development,
and for practitioners to then be charged by law with making sure
that children develop in the "right" way, is arguably
a major threat to children's experience of freedom and healthy,
Nowhere is this more clearly demonstrated than
in the guidance on ICT in the EYFS guidance. The Times
of 3 May 2008 printed a full-page report under the disturbing
headline "Technology for toddlers' scheme risks creating
a screen-addict generation". It reported on a recent research
paper, "Does Not Compute: Screen Technology in Early Years
Education", specially commissioned by the "Open EYE"
campaign and written by psychologist Dr Aric Sigman. Sigman reviewed
all the existing literature and research on the effects of televisual
technologies on young children, concluding that: "In the
light of accumulating evidence that exposure to screen technology
during key stages of child development may have counterproductive
effects on cognitive processes and learning;| that screen viewing
in early life lead[s] to higher levels of screen viewing later
on; and that even moderate levels of screen viewing are increasingly
associated with a wide range of health risks, education authorities
should reconsider the role of screen technologies in schools"
The Times report highlighted how the
EYFS quite explicitly and unambiguously directs early-years practitioners
to impose this technology on to very young childrenfor
example, in the EYFS documentation, it states that between 40
and 60 months, children should: "complete a simple computer
program", and "use a mouse and keyboard to interact
with age-appropriate computer software". If the state-sanctioned
guidance that is given to a compliant and often poorly trained
workforce is uncritically "applied", which many believe
it will be, then a generation of young and impressionable children
is about to be exposed to a technology that is deeply harmful,
and may have life-long negative health consequences. This is a
scandalous situation, which we urge the Committee to give its
most urgent attention.
Finally, in reality we actually know so little
about the deep subtleties and mysteries of human development that
we should exercise humility and a strict "precautionary principle"
in early-years work, such that (as the great paediatrician Donald
Winnicott would have said), "If in doubt, trust the children,
leave them alone and don't intrude!" (and especially when
any such intrusion is being unwittingly fuelled by adults'
own unprocessed anxieties).
In our view, sensitive and effective early-years
practitionership requires a subtlety and discerning maturityunquantifiable
qualities that a young, under-trained workforce simply cannot
be expected to possess. One of the great threats to modern children's
healthy development today is the extent to which they are being
treated as "mini-adults" in modern culture; and the
hugely detailed EYFS guidance will very likely be treated in a
quasi-utilitarian, "tick-box" manner by an ill-trained
workforce, which will in turn only serve to accelerate this insidious
process of "too much too soon". Indeed, as our witnesses
will attest on Wednesday, there is already extensive evidence
that this is beginning to happen all over the country, well before
the formal introduction of EYFS in September.
The following quotation which appeared in a
recent issue of the Times Educational Supplement speaks
"One early-years teacher who wrote to the
union [the NUT] said: `Already in some settings, children as young
as two are made to complete work-sheets to show parents that they
are learning their letters and numbers; if they can't do them,
they are `helped' by poorly trained staff.'"
Certainly, we strongly believe that the forced
imposition of adult-led literacy and numeracy education, and the
guidance about ICT, seem guaranteed to accelerate children's development
in a quite inappropriate and damaging way.
More generally, at the very moment when the
auditing and assessment regime is being fundamentally questioned
at all levels of the education system, it is a supreme irony that
those same values and practices are being imported into the very
last fieldearly childhoodwhere they belong.
If the Committee can open up these crucial issues
for close and detailed investigation, we believe that a great
service will have been done for the current generation of young
children, and the importance of which we believe it is impossible
1 A selection of relevant literature, including papers
and published articles, can be read on our website at: http://openeyecampaign.wordpress.com/research-and-supporting-literature/ Back