Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20-38)|
21 MAY 2008
Q20 Paul Holmes: Could I quickly
ask another question? Ted and Sue, you were both saying that,
within the first year or two, it was obvious that a lot of SureStart
was not working. Head Start, which inspired SureStart, was evaluated
over 10, 15 or 20 years. How could you decide after one or two
years that SureStart was not working?
Professor Melhuish: All that we
could do is to look at the outcomesfor example, in our
last reportfor children aged three who have been born into
a fully functioning SureStart programme, comparing the development
of those children over their first three years with other children.
That is how we can do it. You are right that we cannot tell the
longer term consequences until the children are teenagers and
beyond. To reiterate one point, Head Start, which is often put
forward as the inspiration for Sure Start, is a totally different
programmeutterly different. Head Start is a part-time,
pre-school programme, along the lines of our nursery schools,
delivered to disadvantaged children in the States. It is not from
birth upwards. People often assume that there is a similarity;
but in fact, it is a totally different programme altogether.
Q21 Paul Holmes: Is not Head Start
a bit more about the socialisation of children?
Professor Melhuish: Head Start
usually has an emphasis on both intellectual and social development.
It offers learning experiences that might be called educational,
as well as developing the social skills of the child. Equal weight
is given to both of those in the best Head Start programmes. Often,
they are based upon a High Scope curriculum, which is quite well
known for pre-school provision.
Chairman: This issue is going to come
on, but we are time-limited. I ask my colleagues for quite short
questions, and for quite short responses. This is a very valuable
session, which we want to get the most out of, but we are time-limited.
We are moving on to the statutory status of the EYFS. We have
already started into that, helped by Sue.
Q22 Annette Brooke: First, why should
there not be a process of exemptions for settings that can put
a good case to the local authority, the Government or whatever,
not just a straightforward exception, so that anyone can opt out,
but a route through which settings could exempt themselves? How
would that undermine the advantages of having a framework? I shall
start with Bernadette.
Bernadette Duffy: I am not an
expert on exemptions, and I have not given much thought to the
particular criteria you would use if exempting a setting, rather
than a parent sayingperhaps on religious groundsthat
certain things were inappropriate. What one would need to be very
careful about is how tightly drawn it was. One of your colleagues
talked about the parents of some children wanting exemption from
something that would actually be positive for them. You would
need to think very carefully about how it was worded and how it
was agreed, but I am not an expert on exemptions and how to define
Annette Brooke: Anna, I ask for brief
comments on this.
Anna Firth: I agree entirely with
the thrust of your question. There would not be a problem if settings
were allowed to exempt themselves on a principled basis, from
an Open EYE perspective, because Open EYE has said very strongly
that it is the learning development requirements that we are against.
We are not against the welfare requirements, which a setting that
exempted itself would still have to comply with. I cannot see
a problem. What parents are concerned about is that their children
are in a safe environment, in as rich an environment as possible,
with qualified people who know about children and are doing appropriate
things with their children.
Professor Melhuish: If settings
had the qualities that Anna described, I would have no worries
at all, because, basically, well qualified staff effectively become
self-regulating about the quality of the environments that they
provide for children. I suspect that, if you were to have exemptions,
that might affect children that, say, go to Montessori or Steiner
schools and so onless than 1% of the total population.
Those children would do very well at the end of the Early Years
Foundation Stage, because by and large, their parents are such
that they provide all the sorts of experiences that they might
otherwise miss out on through the exemption.
Sue Palmer: We are talking as
though the only settings are nursery schools. What I would choose
for my child, if I were not looking after them myself, or what
I would recommend anyone else to choose, certainly in the first
two years, would actually be a childminder. I am afraid that childminders
are on their own. Many of them do not want to work within the
EYFS at the moment and do not see how they can get through legal
exemptions and all the rest of it. It scares the living daylights
out of them, so they are just stopping. We are losing childminders
in droves at the moment. Many of the very best onesthe
ones who really love being with children and who could not explain
why they are good at it, because they are just good with childrendo
not like the bureaucratisation and the fact that they have to
fill in a lot of forms. Again, Bernadette is quite right; in a
wonderfully run setting such as Thomas Coram, of course you will
be able to do it all according to the best childcare practice,
because you are very experienced and very knowledgeable. However,
many of these great childminders are not experienced or knowledgeable;
they do it by instinct, because they are good with kids. Those
childminders are the ones that I fear we are going to lose, and
the ones that are left will feel that they have to fill in forms
rather than look after children, because that is the impression
that this sort of legal framework gives.
Q23 Chairman: There are quite a lot
of pretty desperate childminding settings, are there not?
Sue Palmer: There may well be
some pretty desperate ones. However, I think that a legal framework
of this kind is more likely to damage the good childminders than
to make the bad ones better.
Q24 Annette Brooke: I have attended
a meeting with the Minister for Children and, indeed, with Bernadette.
The Minister said over and again that there were no incompatibilities
with the Steiner schools. Anna was an independent witness. Equally,
I asked a question about childminders on Monday, to which the
Minister replied that the decline in their number has nothing
to do with the EYFS. The Minister said that the EYFS is only what
good childminders are doing alreadya flexible, play-based
approach to children's development. So what is the problem? Is
there a communication gap, which could have very serious implications?
On the one hand, it is said that this is just a play-based framework,
which everyone is using; on the other hand, it is said that it
is something that could take children down a route that some of
you have suggested could have adverse consequences. So why have
we got this big gap and how on earth can the arguments be put
forward? I will start with Sue on that.
Sue Palmer: We have seen exactly
the same sort of thing happen in primary schools over the last
10 years, as the advice became more and more prescriptive. The
more prescriptive you are, the more you are target-based and the
more the practice gets skewed, albeit unintentionally. Nobody
wanted us to have a narrowing of the curriculum and all the rest
of it. However, it was because people interpret this sort of prescriptive
information in ways that perhaps were not intended. That is why
it seems to me so important that it is made very clear that these
are guidelines and that they are not statutory, because once the
advice becomes more prescriptive and more statutory, the more
these misinterpretations happen, particularly with people who
are not necessarily particularly highly professional or well trained.
Q25 Chairman: Ted, does it have to
Professor Melhuish: I am not convinced
that everything should be statutory, no. I feel that we need strong
guidelines. Annette's summation of the situation is fairly accurate;
the situation is not as arduous as we might think of it as being
for practitioners. With regard to childminders, you really need
to consult the National Childminding Association on that point.
It is a point to bear in mind, because childminders are a very
large part of the childcare workforce for the zero to threes.
However, we need clear guidelines that lay out what is expected
in provision. Ofsted has a role to play in seeing that those guidelines
are fulfilled to some extent. The borderline is about how detailed
the statutory requirement is; that is where the crunch comes.
Q26 Annette Brooke: Can I specifically
ask Anna a question? I will ask the question of another witness
later. In your view, Anna, why is there an incompatibility between
the Steiner philosophy and the EYFS? What is the difference between
you and the Minister, when the Minister tells me that they are
Anna Firth: It is very easy. There
are 69 early goals. In a Steiner setting, children do not have
to comply with any early learning goals until the age of seven.
That is when formal learning begins. There are none of these goals
and that is the difference.
Q27 Chairman: Can I make it clear,
Anna, that you are not speaking for Steiner, are you? You were
not asked to be a Steiner witness; this is your opinion.
Anna Firth: No, as Mrs Brooke
said, she is asking my view and that is all I can give. I should
like to mention childminders. Open EYE have been deluged with
e-mails and calls from battered, disillusioned childminders. I
want to bring that matter to the attention of the Committee, and
I have three examples that you might be interested in. One lady,
who has run a small, mornings-only nursery for 10 years, is feeling
increasingly oppressed by Government interference and writes,
"I will be giving up in September. Everything that I have
come to understand about child development makes it impossible
for me to carry on pretending to follow the EYFS." Another
letter reads, "Childminders feel that they are losing their
identity of a stable home environment. It also seems that play
is not enough any more, and must be measured using observation
and planning under the EYFS. We do not feel that we should quantify
learning, as we are not teachers and we do not want to be mini-nurseries
or classrooms." Finally, "I am a childminder who, like
the childminder in the programme, will probably be giving up at
the end of August, purely due to the introduction of the EYFS."
And so it goes on. Observation is a big problem. I have listened
to Bernadette saying that, in the settings that she has been involved
with, observation is not a big issue. However, in every setting
that I have spoken toI have not done a huge survey, but
I have been round the town where I livethe early years
practitioners, many of whom are very good, say that you would
not believe the paperwork. They showed me lever-arch files full
of paperwork and I have also been told that the essential piece
of equipment needed to be a nursery school teacher now is a portable
Chairman: Bernadette, do you want to
come back on that?
Bernadette Duffy: We work with
childminders at the Thomas Coram Centre, and those who we work
with welcome the EYFS. However, there is one proviso. Our childminders
are an integral part of the children's centre. They are well supported
and have opportunities to study and opportunities for reflection
on a week-by-week basis. One of the reasons that a lot of childminders
are leaving is that it is an isolated occupation. Unless we take
the centre's obligation to support childminders seriously, we
will lose even morenot through the EYFS, but because it
is isolated. We know that, historically, people leave childminding
because of the isolation or because their family circumstances
change. Our childminders are pleased with the measure, but they
are well supported. There is gap in perception. As Sue was saying
kindly, we at Thomas Coram are very lucky. We have a well qualified
staff grouppeople with expertiseand we have all
had good training. Therefore, we read the EYFS in that context.
The anxiety is that there are people who have not got that training,
as Ted was saying. The issue in this country is not the EYFS;
it is training. We think that it is fine for young people with
no qualifications to come at the age of 16 and work with young
children. If they were their own children, we would put them in
a young parent programme, but there seems to be no conflict in
public funding to say that it is fine for them to work with other
people's children. The bigger issue is one of qualifications.
There is a big issue about qualified teachers, and we must ensure
that qualified teachers, such as myself and Sue, are placed in
more earlier settings, so that there is that sort of expertise
working alongside other colleagues.
Q28 Chairman: Should it be statutory?
Bernadette Duffy: Should the document
be statutory? At the moment, given where we are, we probably need
more in the statutory document than we would need if we had a
well qualified workforce. I want to protect children, not those
in Steiner and Montessori schools, but those who are sitting at
desks aged three doing worksheets.
Chairman: Sue, I have to move on. If
we have time at the end, I will come back to you.
Q29 Fiona Mactaggart: I am interested
in whether the document helps and supports parents or undermines
them. There seems to be a real difference between the witnesses.
Anna feels that it undermines the parentI think, I do not
want to mischaracterise you. Bernadette, I heard what you said
about the unique child, or someone who has suddenly realised the
importance of praise for her child.
Bernadette Duffy: Yes.
Fiona Mactaggart: I am hearing two people
who do not have great differences in terms of the ambitions that
they have for children, but who regard the document as having
a very different impact on empowering parents. I am trying to
think why. Can either of you help me?
Anna Firth: Can I come in? From
a parental point of view, I do not see the document as something
that undermines parents, but as something that undermines children.
I am not aware of great parental involvement in the implementation
of the document.
Sue Palmer: I personally think
that the more we prescribe, the more we de-professionalise people.
We are saying that they cannot make decisions. That happened in
teaching with over-prescription. People felt disempowered and
deskilled, and that undermined their professionalism. The document
is twofold. On the one hand, it is saying that skilled professionals
do not make decisions, because it is all written down and matters
are just ticked. On the other hand, it gives the impression that
it is about bringing up children, and I think that it deskills
parents. They think that it must be something that they do in
the children's centre, not something that they can do. It undermines
the feeling of what care has always meant throughout the ages,
which is why childminders have suddenly thought that they cannot
do it any more, because it is all about writing things down, targets
and stuff that the professionals understand. There is a double
whammy. On the one hand, it is as though people are being told
exactly how to do it, because they have not been trained, while
on the other hand, it is suggesting that younger children who
really need care, which is given by love, attention and talk,
need something that is a bit more professional. It is getting
people on both sides and deskilling everybody who works with young
kids. The big difference is for those at home in domestic circumstances.
Their reaction to the child and how they are bringing up the child
is personal. In a nursery, matters must be systemised in a sense.
The problem is with the two things hitting: the personal and the
systemised. In the countries where they seem to have got it best,
the fact that formal education does not start until the age of
seven means that personal and the systemised approaches can be
made more of a gradation. The child can finally be moved into
an entirely systemised process by the age of seven. But we are
hitting the far too youngthe children of only three or
four-years-old. With the personal care coming up and the systemising
coming down, we are getting a crunch at a far too young an age.
If we have more time and are thinking of starting formal education
at seven, it would be easier to make the transition between the
personal eye contact and loving care of the homeor childminder
who takes over the domestic roleand the systemised, "we
shall sit down and be formal in school" process. We would
have more time to develop children's attention skills, their personal
and social skills and their language skills. All those skills
have been found in Scandinavian countries to be really sound foundations
for learning, rather than what is happening now, which concerns
unqualified childminders who do not know a thing and who have
to get writing the letters.
Q30 Fiona Mactaggart: I understand
that. As for what the document mostly says, let us be honest.
Reasonable concern is expressed in about three lines. For example,
almost any childprobably your soncan read the word
"McDonald's" and knows that the word starts with a capital
letter. He might not know that it is called a capital letter,
but he knows that it starts with a big M. Some of the outcomes
are just there in almost every child, and I fear that we are escalating
them into something more than they are. However, I share the unease
about some of the detail, but we have focused on three sentences
in the whole document, most of which is about learning to wash
hands after going to the loo. That is a basic early learning goal
that we would all want every three and four-year-old child to
Sue Palmer: That is the problem.
You have to developmental milestones and early learning
Q31 Fiona Mactaggart: I understand
that, but the point is that I frequently see the things that are
set out not happening with childminders, in playgroups, and in
nurserieslet us be clear about that. Let us not be romantic
that the option is between sitting there, forming your letters
in a laborious set of linesI have no truck with thator
fantastic free play, where adults are scaffolding children's learning,
really attracting them, saying to them, "Oh look!" Actually,
most of what goes on is somewhere between those two things. As
politicians, our job is to try to make most of what goes on as
good as it can be. There are various ways of doing that, one of
which involves training the workforce. Compared with countries
that have much less direction in early years, we have a less well
trained workforce, so we cannot currently take that route. The
route that we are trying to take is that of guidance to encourage
good practice. From what you have said, Sue, you think that large
chunks of the guidance, although not all of it, reflect good practice.
I am interested in whether through such guidanceI am not
saying that it is perfectwe can help to deal with the gap
that we see developing at 22 months between children in homes
where the vocabulary is not highly developed and parents do not
have much time, and children in homes where parents have more
time, a better developed vocabulary and are using rich adjectives
with their children and so on. I am passionate about how we bridge
that inequality, and at the moment we are not doing it.
Chairman: So what is the question?
Fiona Mactaggart: The question is how
we do it. Is this going to help at all?
Bernadette Duffy: Yes, the guidance
will help, because it puts in place what we know about how children
learnthrough play, active exploration and adult to child
interactions that are sustained and sharedso it includes
a lot of positive things to close the gap that you have identified.
Certainly, our experience from Early Education and at Thomas Coram
is that using that approach closes the gap between the children
who come in at a disadvantage and those who do not. That is a
strong recommendation for the approach.
Professor Melhuish: I agree. The
gap that you are talking about happens below 22 months of age;
it basically starts as soon as there are environments where people
just do not talk to the child and treat it as something to be
fed and changed occasionally.
Sue Palmer: I would say that as
long as the flawed literacy goals are part of the guidance, we
will not by any means close the gap, because even though those
are only a few things, they have a profound effect in that they
put the focus at the end on the goals of formal achievement, rather
than the development of children's oral language skills, their
ability to attend and their social skills. Up to the age of 6
or 7, the development of oral language, listening discriminatively,
being able to get along with the other children in the room and
paying attention and settling in class are key. As long as we
are trying to get the formal skills achieved by the age of five,
people will not attend to those key foundations.
Q32 Chairman: Sue, there was quite
an interchange going on earlier, but I heard you say emphatically,
"Those three lines skew it all."
Sue Palmer: They skew it all.
Q33 Fiona Mactaggart: But do you
think that the learning of numbers 1 to 9 does?
Sue Palmer: No, I don't actually
because numeracy is much more natural than literacy. Literacy
is totally unnatural to people.
Chairman: We are getting towards that
time. Anna, I want to go to you.
Anna Firth: I agree entirely with
what Sue has said. The trouble is that if you have seven or six
or however many excellent things that you should be concentrating
on, but you have three difficult ones at the end, the inexperienced
person thinks that they have got to get to those three difficult
ones and forgets about the othersthat is point No 1. Point
No 2 is that although I am not an expert on disadvantaged children
and would not pretend that I am, disadvantaged children probably
do not need more programmable toys and ICT in the nursery; they
need people talking to them. Take the computers out of the nursery.
Professor Melhuish: I find myself
agreeing and disagreeing with the comments around me. What you
are saying about oral skills is very true in the sense that they
are the foundation for lots of later things. However, the simple
fact is that the child who is developed in those oral skills will
be the same child who is showing good pre-literacy skills at five.
Sue Palmer: No.
Professor Melhuish: They will.
That has been shown over and over again.
Chairman: I want Sue to behave herself
and Ted to finish his point.
Professor Melhuish: My view is
that, by and large, what is in the Early Years Foundation Stage
is 95% or 96% welcome.
Chairman: But Sue is saying that as well.
Professor Melhuish: There are
a few details that need to be tidied up.
Chairman: Are you not saying that, Sue?
Sue Palmer: Researchers have analysed
foundation profiles recently and found that children's achievement
in literacy at seven correlates not with their formal achievements,
but with their personal, social, emotional and communication skills.
Chairman: You are breaking up a bit.
Ted, you come in.
Professor Melhuish: What Sue suggests
is wrong. There is a strong correlation between children's social
and communicative skills early on and their later education, but
the same children also show good pre-literacy skills.
Sue Palmer: But the ones who show
good pre-literacy skills and do not have the personal and social
skills will not achieve at seven.
Professor Melhuish: That is not
Sue Palmer: That is the difference.
The ones who are not socially, emotionally and communicatively
doing well at five, but who have been trained to write letters
and to bark at print do not do well at seven. Those tend to be
the poor children in disadvantaged areas.
Professor Melhuish: No. That is
Chairman: We have not had a suicide at
Hansard before now, but I can see one coming on.
Professor Melhuish: If you do
not have social and communication skills you will suffer in all
sorts of ways, but it is also the case that disadvantaged children
do not get barked at to produce their letters. The primary problem
for disadvantaged kids is that they have not developed oral and
social skills early on and they have not been given the opportunity
for pre-literacy and pre-numeracy experiences. They are missing
out in all sorts of ways.
Anna Firth: Can I add something?
Chairman: If it is brief.
Anna Firth: We have heard a lot
of opinion, but we now have some data on this subject. I am sure
that you know about this, but the National Assessment Agency Foundation
Stage Profile research shows that the literacy goals that we are
complaining about correlate with poor outcomes at Key Stage 1.
The positive goals that we are talking about for socialisation
and personal and emotional development correlate with very good
outcomes at Key Stage 1 in reading, writing and maths.
Chairman: Can you comment on that, Ted?
Professor Melhuish: I would like
to look at the detail of that evidence, because I have not seen
it, but it conflicts with the EPPE evidence and with the National
Child Development Survey.
Chairman: I want to ask one last thing.
Fiona, do you want to ask one last quick question?
Fiona Mactaggart: I am okay.
Q34 Chairman: When you said, "those
three lines skew it all," which three lines did you mean?
Sue Palmer: I meant the language
and literacy goals, particularly those for writing. Being able
to form letters is very different from recognising the "M"
of McDonald's. It is a complex, small-scale motor task. Being
able to write letters and sentences is asking very young children
to do something awfully difficult. Practitioners are getting children
started at three to achieve the goals. In most European countries,
particularly the ones that do well in literacy, practitioners
do not start children doing that until the children are seven.
It is skewing it right out.
Q35 Fiona Mactaggart: I am trying
to work out where the lines are. I am looking at the bottom of
page 13 where it says, "Read a range of familiar and common
words and simple sentences independently." What is the other
Anna Firth: The last three are,
"Attempt writing for different purposes", "Write
their own names and other things, such as labels and captions,
and begin to form simple sentences, sometimes using punctuation"
and "Use a pencil and hold it effectively to form recognisable
letters, most of which are correctly formed."
Q36 Chairman: Would you like to omit
or change any of those goals?
Bernadette Duffy: The view of
the British Association of Early Childhood Education is that some
of the CLL goals, particularly those referring to writing and
punctuation, are probably pitched too high for this age group.
Our concerns are not about the goals that relate to a love of
reading or to children having an opportunity to have their favourite
Brown Bear, Brown Bear book, but about the ones that relate
to writing, because of the physical skills involved. I have just
come back from China, where I saw very good handwriting, but that
is because children use chopsticks. If we want to improve handwriting
in this country, we would be better off introducing chopsticks
as a strategy, rather than that goal.
Q37 Chairman: Anna, are those the
ones that you want to get rid of?
Anna Firth: Yes, absolutely.
Chairman: Do you agree?
Anna Firth: The last three, on
page 13, going up the page, including "Read a range of familiar
and common words and simple sentences independently" and
"Use their phonic knowledge to write simple regular words
and make phonetically plausible attempts at more complex words."
My son's teacher has told me that the one before that, "Link
sounds to letters, naming and sounding the letters of the alphabet"
is also quite big a step for this age group. The linking and the
naming and sounding are two different things.
Q38 Chairman: Ted, is there anything
that you would like to take out or modify?
Professor Melhuish: No. The last
three are the ones that are causing the problem, so I suggest
that we might offer them as options for parents' choice, so that
they can choose if they want those for their children or not.
Sue Palmer: I agree with that.
I am a great believer in phonics and am not knocking it, but if
you think about the phonics requirement for 30 to 50 months, you
will realise that that starts before children are three, which
is far too advanced. They are asking children to look at the beginnings
of words and emphasise the initial sounds, but we simply do not
want parents to think that children should be starting on phonics
when they are two, so that is seriously wrong.
Chairman: Thank you all. This has been
a fantastic session. You have been what I would describe as nicely
anarchic, but very informative. Please stay in touch with the
Committee, because we want the report to be as good as it possibly
can be. If you think that we have not asked the right questions
or have asked too few, feel free to contact us and remedy that.
We have enjoyed your evidence, and it has been a lively session,
so thank you.