Examination of Witnesses (Question 40-59)|
21 MAY 2008
Q40 Mr Chaytor: I turn first to Morag.
Children in Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Iceland start
school at the age of seven. Are they all unable to read and write?
Morag Stuart: I am not an expert
in what children in those countries know when they start school.
However, I know that one early study of the effects of phonological
awareness on learning to read, which was carried out in Sweden,
was criticised on the ground that many of the children had already
learned to read before taking part in the study.
Q41 Mr Chaytor: I wish to test the
assertion made previously that there is a false dichotomy between
those who think that there should be a more intensive use of formal
language training in the Foundation Stage and those who think
that the Foundation Stage should focus on social personal development
and that formal training should start later. What is your view
of that false dichotomy? Is it clear cut that children who have
a greater emphasis placed on their social development in the earlier
years learn to read and write better but later?
Morag Stuart: From my point of
view as a researcher into early reading development, the factors
that influence the ease of acquisition of decoding skillsthe
ability to read the words on the pageare awareness of sounds
in words and a knowledge of letters. Those two things make a crucial
difference to the ease with which children master reading words.
Q42 Mr Chaytor: To what extent is
that a formal process? Is a formal process required, as against
its emerging through structured play?
Morag Stuart: I find the distinction
between formal and structured learning very difficult. You can
teach phonics to five-year-olds in playful, developmentally appropriate
ways, but you must teach them.
Mr Chaytor: It will not just happen by
Morag Stuart: No. Children get
experiences in their families that lead them to discover things.
Families do not formally teach them, and people in early years
settings can teach them in playful ways.
Q43 Mr Chaytor: Could I ask Graham
for his observations on the same issue? What is the best way in
the Steiner view?
Graham Kennish: Sylvie can answer
on the Steiner view.
Sylvie Sklan: That is all rightGraham
has taught in Steiner schools.
Q44 Mr Chaytor: Graham, do you act
as a consultant to schools in the USA as well?
Graham Kennish: Yes, but not in
early years. I represent Open EYE, and I have a Steiner background,
but I would not wish to answer the question.
Sylvie Sklan: In the Steiner early
years curriculum, we do not introduce any formal learning at all.
There is a long track record of international experience, and
the outcomes are successful. We advocate later learning in our
curriculum. I am not here to comment on how any legislative
framework or statutory requirements affect the standard model.
Rather, I believe that there is a commitment to diversity, which
implies a commitment to acknowledging that there is more than
one valid way of doing things. Any requirement would therefore
need to be considered in terms of whether it cuts across a different
way of doing things. If it does, there would need to be a mechanism
to allow exception. Our feeling about the framework is that it
has not provided for exception for different models.
Q45 Mr Chaytor: We were told in an
earlier session that there are 5,000 places in Steiner settings,
and 2.4 million childcare places in the country. Is the Steiner
philosophy equally applicable to the 2,395,000 who are not currently
in Steiner schools?
Sylvie Sklan: The point is not
only about Steiner, but about all other ways where there is a
different approach to learning goals. If the requirements are
statutory, I would ask you please to accept that there needs to
be a mechanism to allow different approachesnot just the
Graham Kennish: I would like to
add something to that. In David's two comments, I feel that he
is seeking to see whether it is a minority viewpoint. As Anna
mentioned, a huge number of parents and childminders who contacted
Open EYE were looking for a second home that would give their
child self-confidence, warmth and happiness, which is not a word
that one finds in the early years documentation. Happiness, support,
warmth, self-confidence and self-worth are perhaps the keys to
helping disadvantaged children, who usually lack those things.
We should not try to marginalise thingsthe net needs to
be set much wider than specific philosophies such as Steiner,
Montessori, Froebel or any others. There is a huge wish out there
among parents for their children to be kept in a situation that
is like being in a home, without goals.
Q46 Mr Chaytor: The Early Years Foundation
Stage is about learning goals, but that does not mean that it
is the only guidance provided to early years settings. The Every
Child Matters approach and the five outcomes were very clear on
the importance of well-being and child safety.
Graham Kennish: Absolutelysafety
and welfare requirements are essential. However, if the approachwhich
it is perfectly pertinent to suggestis fuelled and pressured
with targets that are statutorily required, you set forth a whole
system of processes and pressures that prevent real interaction
and quality interaction between the carer and the child. That
happens very strongly with an unskilled workforce who are unskilled
because they follow the book. On the relationship with the children,
even in the Government's DVDsI do not know whether you
have seen them all, but I haveone illustration of how to
operate the early years programme includes a short scene in which
the practitioners don small tiaras to show the children that they
are now being assessed. The children then know that their carers
will not come and interact with them and that they are expected
to perform what they are doing under the eyes and the clipboards
of their assessors, who now wear tiaras to show them that they
are being assessed. On the question whether that is good or bad,
I obviously have my views. If a parent does not wish such a travestysorry,
I will share my viewsof what the relationship will be,
that makes the case completely for giving them freedom of choice
within the necessary legal framework governing the welfare and
safety of children.
Q47 Mr Chaytor: You characterise
the Foundation Stage requirements as targets, but they are described
as goals. There is quite a fundamental distinction between a goal
and a target.
Graham Kennish: Yes. Is it all
right for me to address that as well? I am rather taking up the
space. That point highlights something that I could illustrate
with 15 examplesobviously, I will not go through themof
how, within the early years literature and communications with
Ministers, there is a huge gulf, which was illustrated last week
in your session with Ofsted, between the rhetoric and the descriptions
of what should happen on the one hand and the reality on the ground
on the other. Let me give you one illustration. The Government's
own literature saysletters come back to Ofsted all the
time about thisthat there is equal emphasis on all these
different requirements. I am sorry, but there is not equal emphasis.
If you do a little mathematical sum, you will find that 55% of
the emphasis of the profiles is on literacy and numeracy, 8% is
on emotional development, 8% is on physical development and 8%
on social developmentthat is not equality. It is interesting
that when the first results of the Foundation Stage came through
from 2007I could fish out the paper to show youthey
proclaimed an advance of 1% in the profile scores for literacy
and numeracy, with 4% for a little part of that. Wonderful! What
is not mentioned is a 1% fall in the scores on emotional development.
It fascinates me that the 1% score on emotional development is
left aside, but the 1% score on numeracy and literacy is held
up as progress.
Q48 Fiona Mactaggart: Professor Stuart,
you told us that you had done some research on phonics and how
children learn. I saw a report on work that had been done on the
differences between children from relatively disadvantaged backgrounds
and those from more advantaged backgrounds in terms of progress
in reading and phonological awareness. Could you tell us something
Morag Stuart: Probably not, actually.
Which report are you referring to?
Fiona Mactaggart: Dockrell, Stuart and
King, "Supporting early oral language skills", in Literacy
Morag Stuart: That was not about
phonics or phonological development; we were looking at oral language
development in a deprived inner-city population. We did an intervention
study that was designed to accelerate children's oral languagetheir
vocabulary and their ability to construct sentences and narrate
events. It was not to do with phonological awareness at all. We
did that study as a consequence of the study that I did on introducing
phonics to five-year-olds in the same London borough. I was shocked
by the levels of language that children came into school with
at the age of five, so we went back and tried to improve their
Q49 Fiona Mactaggart: As I understood
the first study, it suggested that children with stronger oral
skills were much more able to developsorry, I took a short
cut there, and you properly and professionally stopped me and
said, "Actually, this is about oracy." However, as I
understood the first study, it said that strong oracy enabled
children to develop these reading-based skills. Will you tell
me the whole story?
Morag Stuart: That would take
Fiona Mactaggart: In a nutshell.
Morag Stuart: Okay. There is absolutely
no doubt that oral language skills, such as vocabulary, an ability
to construct sentences properly and an ability to retell narratives
contribute hugely to reading and mostly to reading comprehension.
Phonological skills and awareness, and letter knowledge, contribute
to an ability to decode and read words on a page. Phonological
awareness is thought by some to relate to the size of a child's
vocabularyso there is also a link between vocabulary and
the likelihood that a child will become aware of sounds. The larger
your vocabulary, the more similar words you have in it and the
more finely grained your representation of sound patterns becomes.
They are all interlinked. All aspects of oral language development
contribute to literacy development. They are all important, which
is why the Rose review suggests that phonics teaching should take
place against the background of a broad and rich language curriculum.
Q50 Fiona Mactaggart: Do you think
that the Early Years Foundation Stage document does that?
Morag Stuart: I think that there
is lots of emphasis on oral language development, on communicating
with babies from an early age and on the ways in which different
ways of communicating facilitate language development.
Q51 Fiona Mactaggart: Anne, we have
not heard your point of view on phonics teaching and whether that
bit of this Foundation Stage curriculum is right.
Anne Nelson: I would like to set
it in the context of this being the first time that we have had
a curriculum starting from birth. As I know it, the curriculum
in England was developed at secondary level and brought down to
primary with the introduction of the National Curriculum. Reception
was tacked on the end and early years was forgotten about. Then
we got our curriculum guidance and so on. We are talking about
something that comes between the two different systems that we
have had before. The primary national literacy strategy did not
cover speaking and listening when it was established. That came
down into reception. No one was at all concerned about nurserythey
should have been, but they were not. Those things have remained,
which is the reason for these inappropriate goals. Instead, we
should look again at the matter, coming up from birth. The development
of oral skills is strong, but then we have these other goals,
which we mentioned before, left over from the interlink with the
literacy strategy. If we looked at it properly coming up, we would
have the emphasis about which Morag has spoken.
Q52 Fiona Mactaggart: There are real
differences among all the witnesses we have heard from today.
I have heard very strongly from all of them, however, that the
emphasis on oracy, speaking and listening must be at the centre
of early years education of quality. I think that everybody agrees
with that. Let us look at one more thing. Would any of you say
that there are circumstances in which letters and sounds can be
introduced to four-year-olds in a way that is pleasurable and
advances their learning?
Morag Stuart: I think that the
letter and sounds programme that has just been introduced in schools
does it beautifully. The evidence that is accruing from early
assessments of implementing the programme suggests that children
are enjoying what they are learning and that they are achieving.
The Ofsted and National Foundation for Educational Research reports
both talk about the increase in teacher confidence; teachers know
what they are supposed to be doing and why they are supposed to
be doing it. The reports also talk about the delight and joy that
children are having in their achievements and about how much they
are enjoying the lessons. The programme does it beautifully. It
does not start at two or three; it starts in what was traditionally
the reception yearwhen children become four. It starts
with a beautiful phase one, in which there is no mention whatever
of letters and there are all sorts of rich activities around oral
language, developing children's awareness of sounds in the environment,
developing children's listening skills and all those things. Children
are doing beautiful activities. It is not until the final term
of the reception year that they start to learn to relate letters
to sounds, and they do that through games. They are enjoying their
games and they are learning. The evidence from the early reading
project, which the communication, language and literacy development
team have been putting into place, is that children who have taken
part in the project are beginning to meet more of the Foundation
Stage Profile targets for language and literacy.
Q53 Fiona Mactaggart: You are telling
us, Morag, that there are resources that can bridge the road into
primary education. I have heard from others that there is too
much of a risk that what goes on next will suck down into the
early years curriculum. I do not think that anyone intends that.
What could stop it?
Morag Stuart: What could stop
it sucking down?
Fiona Mactaggart: Yes. I do not know
if all of the panel would agree, but I think that what you describe
sounds very attractive to those people who want education that
starts with the child. From other witnesses, we have heard that
the problem is not the well-designed things that, through games
and poems, start introducing children to sounds and the letters
connected with the sounds. The problem is more that what happens
later onformal handwriting, sentence construction and so
ongets sucked into the early years curriculum in an inappropriate
and, some would suggest, damaging way. How can we stop that?
Morag Stuart: By training staff.
Staff have to understand the purpose and place of what they are
required to do.
Anne Nelson: I go around the country,
talk with members and train practitioners in the EYFS, and there
are two barriers. One is that reception has not been placed firmly
in the EYFS. There are various factors. The ratios, for instance,
are subject to another law and could not be changed. A reception
class needs only be staffed by one teacher for 30 children. You
cannot do the sort of work that we are talking about and match
a curriculum to individual children's needs, if there is one person
to 30 children. The Department say that there are usually other
people there, but I met a reception teacher the other week who
told me that their school has three reception classes with one
teaching assistant between the three of them. That is not appropriate.
The baseline is one to 30, and we hope that that will change,
because it makes it more formal and does not help needs to be
met. The other issue is the outcomes duty, which takes us
back to the Foundation Stage Profile again. When it was initiated,
we were told that it would never be used for national data. Local
authorities are now required to have targets. They are targets
for the local authority, not the school or the children, but,
of course, pressure comes down on the children, which militates
against the best practice that the EYFS promotes.
Sylvie Sklan: That is interesting
to hear, and we acknowledge that there are learned views about
how things could be improved in the EYFS in terms of curriculumI
must say that I have never understood it to be a curriculum. However,
that still brings me back to the same point. We acknowledge that
there is a discussion that will perhaps review some of the difficulties
in the frameworkit is otherwise an excellent frameworkbut
it has not addressed my point. I know that minority interest provision
is only small, but it is still a very big principle that any statutory
framework must allow for difference.
Q54 Chairman: I thought Steiner had
already come to an accommodation with the Department.
Sylvie Sklan: It has been very
difficult. We have a letter from the Minister that relates to
an interim arrangement whereby it is acknowledged that the learning
and development goals that cut across our curriculum will not
be counted against us. At the end of the day, there are statutory
requirements and we believe it should be possible to disapply,
or there should be an exemption for whole settings. I acknowledge
and respect what you are saying, but it does not relate to our
point, which is please allow for difference.
Chairman: Graham, do you want to come
back on that?
Graham Kennish: Yes. I agree with
more or less everything that has been said, but because I do not
have the same early years experience as a practitioner, I come
at it from a completely different viewpoint, which is perhaps
more in keeping with that of politicians who do not have direct
experience. It is vital to understand the nature of a target.
At your meeting with the Chief Inspector of schools last week,
she said, almost in an aside, "I am a passionate believer
in... targets". That has two possible connotations that are
completely different. A target that is imposed on somebodyparticularly,
of course, on a child, although we are talking about the workforceis
completely different from the other kind of target. We know that
a target that is imposed on us impacts enormously on our whole
value system of self-confidence, self-evaluation and everything
else. A target that is an inner goal, an aspiration or something
we strive towards can be inspiring. When Morag was answering the
question, I was saying to myself, "Well, yes, in the hands
of a good practitioner, an aspiration can become something that
fulfils the child and that the child grows towards with love and
enthusiasm." However, if it has to be imposed as a target
that they must push towards through an unskilled workforce, it
becomes a totally different thing, so the word "target"
has completely different meanings according to who is hearing
Chairman: Thank you, Graham.
Graham Kennish: May I add something?
Once the target is legislated for, that imposes a certain meaning
that infects everybody, and only the best professional with the
most experience can possibly withstand the impact of what that
legality imposes on them.
Chairman: Graham, we take that point.
Q55 Annette Brooke: In a lot of the
debate that has been going on in the various specialist journals,
there have been accusations that Open EYE has confused what is
statutorythe learning rolesand what is guidance.
I would like clarification on that. Presumably there is no objection
to the guidance per se, so where has the perception come
from that Open EYE has got it all wrong?
Graham Kennish: Open EYE certainly
wishes to change the statutory learning and development requirements
into guidance. That is one of the key points of Open EYE. If there
were guidance but no legislation to impose it, it would be possible
for professionals to inspire their practitioners and share the
kinds of difference that have emerged before you in this Committee.
Sharing would be possible, if the legislation were not there. In
relation to confusing terms or issues, one of the frustrations
for Open EYE and for people who have written to Open EYEwe
have received an endless number of communicationsis the
complete confusion among people in the Department. They talk about
play, when they do not actually mean play. They will talk about
targets, when they are actually talking about well-being, or the
other way round. They will talk about the unique child, when they
are actually talking about developmental milestones, goals and
targets. They will talk about professional judgment, when in fact
that professional judgment is being taken away and the professions
are being disempowered.
Annette Brooke: I think that you are
straying from my question.
Graham Kennish: I am sorry if
I am straying, but there are so many confusions that allow one
to interpret the situation in two different ways.
Q56 Annette Brooke: I just wanted
to be absolutely clear that Open EYE's main objections were to
the statutory elements.
Graham Kennish: Our main objections
are to the statutory learning and development requirements, but
not to the statutory elements of welfare and all the other essential
things. Open EYE feels that the recent ICT guidance is hugely
important for this Committee to consider, perhaps in a separate
investigation, in the light of Susan Greenfield's and Aric Sigman's
research, which shows that screen and ICT requirements are affecting
brain development. We did not know about passive smoking 10 years
ago, but we are in a similar situation. We must research the matter,
and we hope that the Committee will do that.
Chairman: Thank you very much for that.
We move to assessment and inspection, led by Paul.
Q57 Paul Holmes: Only a few days
ago, the Committee published a report on testing and assessment
from five to 19 that was very critical of the combined impact
of high-stakes testing, league tables and Ofsted inspections on
five to 19 education. From September, Ofsted will inspect nought
to five under the new framework of 69 learning outcomes. How can
we prevent those Ofsted inspections from being as negative in
the nought to five range as our report said they are in the five
to 19 range? Anne, you were an Ofsted inspector; perhaps we can
start with you.
Anne Nelson: I am not an active
Ofsted inspector. I have been one, and I trained quite a few of
the Ofsted childcare inspectors on EYFS, so I have an insight
into their views. Obviously, we do not know how it is going to
be, because we have not seen the framework yet. Pilots have been
taking place, but the framework is not there. From Early Education,
we welcome the use of the same approach for all settings and a
shared framework. Previously, we have had different frameworks,
different outcomes, a different emphasis for the actual inspection
and, of course, different inspectors. It looks as though we are
moving towards somethingthat is the Government's wishthat
will take away the difference in criteria and grades. "Outstanding"
in a school has been very different from "outstanding"
in a setting, which is not helpful to parents. I think that there
will be a lot of challenges to the PVI sector and childminders,
because from what I understand, the approach will be very much
on the basis of self-evaluation, which is the same as school inspections.
Previously, the private and voluntary sector have had self-evaluations
just one page long. The pilot version that I have seen is a lot
longer than that, so self-evaluation skills will need to be supported
for them to achieve within that inspection. My feedback from people
who do training is that that is presenting enormous challenges
to childminders. It is that bit about "fit for everybody".
For someone sitting at home working on their own, whatever their
intentions about what they provide for children, doing a self-evaluation
is difficult. Bernadette's discussion on the role of children's
centres in supporting childminders is absolutely crucial. Otherwise,
we will lose them, and the choice will not be there for parents. We
are concerned that all inspectors should be trained in EYFS. We
know that that has happened with the childcare inspectors. They
must also have the pedagogical background and knowledge to make
the judgments that they will need to make, and they should spend
time not just on the data, but on seeing the relationships with
children and all the things that EYFS suggests. Certainly in schools,
the length of inspection time has become shorter and shorter,
and that is the bit that has lost out.
Q58 Paul Holmes: One of the criticisms
of Ofsted across the board is that it has a lot of non-specialist
inspectors who go into schools not knowing enough about what they
are inspecting. You are saying that it is absolutely essential
that at that level they should all be trained and have that background?
Anne Nelson: They need to be trained
and experienced. It is one of the most difficult areas. When I
have inspected a primary school, the most difficult area is the
early years. That is common knowledge. In the shorter inspections
in schools in which you have only one or two inspectors, it is
quite likely that there will be no-one with experience in early
Q59 Paul Holmes: The DCSF has said
that an Ofsted inspection will not have a negative impact on the
way in which people work in the early years. When we did our report
on five to 19, it told us that there was not a negative impact.
However, we said that there was. Therefore, how do we avoid the
Ofsted inspections having a negative impact? We heard in an earlier
session that the inspectors are looking at three key things, such
as writing sentences, punctuation and so on. How do we stop the
inspections from distorting everything because they are focusing
on those things?
Sylvie Sklan: Certainly, where
you have a different model, it presents problems that we have
to tackle in a very practical way. The criteria by which they
will be inspecting an early years centre does not apply to the
learning and development requirements, because the setting, on
principle, is not involved in that. We are concerned that we get
that right, otherwise we will have a whole series of settings
that are teaching a different curriculum and so failing on quite
a range of outcomes. If a proper mechanism were in place, it would
not just be left to our ability to find a way through; the system
would clearly be in place. As it is at the moment, we will have
to work with the inspectors, and those discussions have started.
In that way, they will know what to expect in a different setting.