HOUSE OF COMMONS
MINUTES OF EVIDENCE
TAKEN BEFORE THE
CHILDREN, SCHOOLS AND FAMILIES COMMITTEE
EARLY YEARS FOUNDATION STAGE
BERNADETTE DUFFY, ANNA FIRTH, PROFESSOR TED MELHUISH and SUE PALMER
GRAHAM KENNISH, ANNE NELSON, SYLVIE SKLAN and MORAG STUART
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
Taken before the Children, Schools and Families Committee
on Wednesday 21 May 2008
Mr. Barry Sheerman, in the Chair
Mr. Douglas Carswell
Mr. David Chaytor
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Bernadette Duffy, Head, Thomas Coram Early Childhood Centre, Anna Firth, Open EYE, Professor Ted Melhuish, Professor of Human Development, Birkbeck, University of London, and Sue Palmer, Educational Consultant.
Q<1> <Chairman:> We are starting an amazing new adventure today-we are looking at the national curriculum-so it is very exciting for us. We have just finished one adventure, looking at testing and assessment, and this is our new adventure. We think that we are going to enjoy it. Where better to start than with how the national curriculum impacts on the earliest stage of development in children? A previous Committee-the Education and Skills Committee-looked at that in some depth six years ago and there was an early years report, which we very much enjoyed doing. It is nice to be back in that territory-not that we have neglected it entirely over this time. We are here to learn. There is an early years foundation document and we would like to hear what you think about it-its strengths and its weaknesses. We will take anything that you say today into our deliberations. I am going to ask you all quickly to introduce yourselves. Do not give us your biography again, but say what you think about this new foundation stage.
<Bernadette Duffy:> I am Bernadette Duffy and I am head of centre at Thomas Coram children's centre in Camden and chair of the British Association for Early Childhood Education. I welcome the new framework from both perspectives. The principles and commitments in the statutory part of it are sound, although it would be surprising if any document came out that we did not want to develop, change and alter slightly. Overall, however, it is a positive document.
<Anna Firth:> I am Anna Firth. I am the Open EYE campaign co-ordinator and mother of a little boy who is going through the foundation stage at the moment. Open EYE is very much in support of parts of the framework. We are fully behind the four principles-they are very welcome and long overdue-and we are right behind the welfare requirements. We believe that some of the learning and development requirements have been set too high for five-year-olds and some four-year-olds. We would like to see the removal of the information and communications technology goal for those young children, and we want parents to have a real choice. At the moment, if the document becomes statutory without exemptions, there will be no free choice for parents. Those are our three concerns.
<Professor Melhuish:> The early years foundation stage is basically this country's first attempt to produce clarity about what should be done with children in the early years, given that a large amount of Government money is now being put into that. It is right for us to specify the kinds of experiences that children should go through in this early years provision, which to a large extent is Government-funded.
It is the first stage in our development of such a curriculum and therefore it will inevitably undergo change as people learn to do it better than they have done previously. We are trying to achieve something that other countries, notably Scandinavian countries, have been working on for the past 30 years. We have been working on it for only a few years.
<Sue Palmer:> I come at this from the point of view of an independent literacy specialist. For the last 12 years I have been out on the road for half of every year talking, from an independent point of view, to teachers and practitioners about literacy. I was concerned from the beginning, when curriculum guidance for the foundation stage arrived in 2000, that literacy targets were set far too high for five-year-old children.
I constantly hear reports from practitioners and teachers in the field-thousands and thousands of people around the country every year-and could see coming the sorts of problems that you identified with the tests and targets agenda in your most recent report. The sorts of problems that come at the moment from practitioners in the field relate to high targets for literacy, specifically these ones, which they think will skew practice and push a more formal approach further and further down, so that we effectively schoolify early years care and education and bureaucratise it through the extent to which accountability is documented.
Q<2> <Chairman:> Let us get into the questioning and we will drill down on many of those issues. All of you on the panel welcomed the general framework and the general impact of the foundation stage document. Could you drill down in a little more depth? You have heard each others' opinions and you have heard some of the reservations. Bernadette, you were full of praise for the document. What do you think about the sort of reservations that you have heard from Open EYE and Anna sitting next to you?
<Bernadette Duffy:> I understand the position on the communication, language and literacy goals. Over the years, a lot of evidence from the foundation stage profile suggests that although such goals are achievable for some children, which is great, they do not seem to be consistently achievable for all children at the end of the year in which they become five. So I sympathise with Anna's position that perhaps we have got those goals wrong. Certainly, the British Association for Early Childhood Education feels that they are more appropriate for year one. Therefore, we would wish to see those goals apply to slightly older children, so that the goals are genuinely something that children at the end of their fifth year would be able to achieve, rather than having unrealistic expectations for those children.
With regard to parent choice, I come from Thomas Coram early childhood centre and parent choice is the subject of one of our series of workshops on the early years foundation stage that we have been doing with the parents at Thomas Coram. My experience has been that parents do not want so much choice but they want good-quality provision, and they want good provision for their children. Certainly, from our work at Thomas Coram for a year, the feedback from parents has been very positive. They like the principles and the commitments, which seem to make sense to them. A lovely comment came from a parent yesterday when she was looking at the unique child programme: it suddenly dawned on her how important it was to praise her child.
I am not so concerned about parent choice because, if the provision is good and of good quality, that is something that parents want. However, I share the concerns about the literacy goals.
Q<3> <Chairman:> Anna, may I ask you a question, before you come back on that? As I have visited early years settings, it has been suggested that children who come from underprivileged or less privileged backgrounds, where stimulation in the home is lacking in terms of vocabulary, praise and all those things that most of us in this field know about, need stimulation earlier and perhaps a different balance of formal-informal education from more middle-class children who have a great deal of stimulation at home. Is there a sense in which you want one setting for more middle-class young kids, and a different setting for the less middle-class?
<Anna Firth:> No. This is a crisis of perception about what is stimulation for young children. From all the evidence that we have accumulated at Open EYE concerning disadvantaged children-I do not put myself forward as an expert, but all I can do is talk about the evidence that I have seen-it is very clear, as I understand it, and Sue Palmer will be able to speak about this far more than I can, that disadvantaged children need more vocal stimulation and less formal drilling in phonics. So they need a more relaxed environment where they will be able to talk and be listened to, and have all the social skills put in place that, for whatever reason, have perhaps been missing.
So, no, we are not saying that disadvantaged children should not be stimulated; all children should be stimulated at an early stage. It is a question of what that stimulation is and when that stimulation takes place. However, as I said, Sue Palmer is the right person to deal with that issue.
<Professor Melhuish:> Anna has made the good point that the nature of stimulation needs to be adapted-that is how I interpret what she said-to the needs and current developmental status of the child at that point. Some things will be appropriate for a two-year-old, but they would not be appropriate for a five-year-old, and vice versa. We need to be very aware of that. That is why the training of staff in child development who work in the early years is critical, and we have a long way to go.
A dichotomy tends to be drawn between formal education and play-based education or experiences, but it is a false dichotomy. Basically, children play and when they play, they learn. In evolutionary history, the reason that man has come to the top of the evolutionary tree is, to a large extent, because he has been very good at learning through play. Play is a fundamental way of learning about your environment and trying out new things. If you allow children to play in the right kind of environments, they will learn about those environments and develop intellectually and socially. However, you cannot leave children to play indiscriminately. You need structuring of their environments, where the environments and experiences that they are offered are appropriate to their developmental level. If you do that, the child's spontaneous interest will often take them along a learning experience, which in other terms would be educational. You have not drilled the child-"You shall learn that this shape means 'A' and this shape means 'B'"-but you have offered the child the opportunity to learn that, through appropriate structuring of the environment.
I am also struck when looking at international comparisons. If you look at those countries with the very highest scores in educational achievement in the programme for international student assessment, they are often those where formal "education"-as we call it-starts at seven or so. If you go to those countries, you will see that the typical three-year-old is having an immensely full learning environment provided in their pre-school settings and that pre-school attendance is almost universal and involves highly trained staff. Therefore, the dichotomy between formal and play education arouses emotions and powerful feelings, but it is a false dichotomy. We need to consider the learning experiences of the child and how best to encourage them.
<Chairman:> Sue, you were nodding away there.
<Sue Palmer:> I think that Ted Melhuish is right. If you go to places such as Finland, which comes top of all the charts internationally in literacy, that practice is exactly what you see between three and seven. It is wonderful. The big difference-this is the critical issue-is that formal education officially begins at seven. Because of that, practitioners are free to conduct the sorts of activities and structuring that Professor Melhuish has described.
We have formal education effectively beginning at the end of the reception year. That is happening with the foundation stage guidance and the national curriculum, which pushes the beginning of formal education down two years. That has an inevitable effect on the attitudes of the practitioners, who, as we have heard, are less well trained, less familiar with what young children need and have only a guidance framework, which ends by saying that children should be able to, for example, write in sentences, some of which are punctuated. Naturally, that guidance affects what people do.
If we were to start formal education officially at seven, as they do in what I believe are more enlightened countries, we could ensure that the foundations that we are putting in really are sound for children's literacy and learning. I think that in a driven country, like the UK, where we care a lot about competition and getting on, if we keep it in the state that it is at the moment, that will inevitably make people think that we have to press on earlier and younger. As someone who has spent a lifetime caring about standards of literacy, I think that that is one of the major things that is holding us back and means that literacy standards improvement has stalled. We are trying to start them too soon. I hear constantly, as I am out on the road, about people with phonics tables for two-year-olds and things like that.
One nursery teacher who said to me, "I'd be down on the floor playing with the children and then I'd think, 'Oh, I'd better write this down'.", sums it up beautifully. The moment for sustained shared thinking is lost, which is what EPPI-the Effective Provision of Pre-School Education project-found was the most important thing for children's development. The moment is lost because they are busy making a note of it. That is an indication that the schoolification and the bureaucratisation takes over, and you do not lay the foundations that one sees laid so effectively in Nordic and other European countries that do better than us in international comparisons.
Q<4> <Mr. Chaytor:> May I ask Ted about the international research on early years? A lot of this appears to confirm the importance of the kind of approach within the foundation stage for children aged three to seven. What does it say about children under the age of three?
<Professor Melhuish:> Under the age of three, most countries have a more lax or varied provision than they do from three years upwards. The research evidence shows that children under three are learning. Children's learning, particularly of language skills-just vocal language-is critical to their later education. Some American research, for example, suggests that children's language development by the time they start school is the best predictor of their longer-term educational development. A lot of that language development learning takes place in the first three years.
What makes a difference in the first three years is communication to and from the child, with responsive adults and other people who know the child and can respond appropriately to them. That facilitates the child's language development and also their social skills, because social skills and language development tend to go hand in hand. The child will become much better able to cope with later learning experiences, if that kind of experience is offered in the first three years. At the moment, we tend to think of zero to three as care and three up as education. That distinction between care and education is misleading, because children are learning literally from the womb upwards. We need to think about the longer-term learning of a child.
Q<5> <Mr. Chaytor:> So in terms of public policy in Britain, what more should be done to deal with the nought to three stage?
<Professor Melhuish:> We have found that children can benefit from group experiences and high-quality, centre-based experiences on a part-time basis from as young as two. Disadvantaged children seem to benefit in particular, because if there is a high-quality environment that offers good learning opportunities, the child is getting opportunities that they would not get in a disadvantaged home. There is therefore scope for closing the gap to some extent by improving those opportunities. One thing that the international comparisons show is that pre-school education is probably the most cost-effective method that a country can adopt to enhance its overall human capital.
Q<6> <Mr. Chaytor:> I want to ask Anna about choice. In your opening remarks, you stressed the importance of choice, which is at the heart of your reservations about some aspects of the foundation stage. There are 69 learning goals in the foundation stage. Which of those 69 do you think parents should have a choice over?
<Anna Firth:> Can I deal with the issue generally first and then come to the specifics, please? Parents feel that every child they have is unique and special, but also different. Within one family, parents might have one child who is academically gifted and very vocal, one who has learning difficulties and one who is an incredibly active, sporty little boy, running around. Parents want to be able to send their children, pre-school, when they feel, "This is my time, with my children", to a setting of their own choice. Where I live, for example, we are very lucky, because there is an open-air nursery, which is generally the setting of choice for mothers with active little boys.
There are a lot of other nursery settings available, such as Montessori. There is a very small, very lovely Montessori nursery to which a lot of mothers with little girls send their children. There are a lot of other settings. Parents want that choice. What they do not want, and what they fear will happen, is to be told, "Yes, you've got a choice. You can go down the high street and have whatever meal you like. There is an Indian, there is an Indonesian, there is an Italian," but to find when they go into the restaurants that the menus are the same. That is what parents do not like. They do not like the thought that there will be 69 standard goals that every child will have to comply with. They want to be able to send their child-if they feel that it suits their child-to a setting that does not have to comply with any formal learning whatsoever-a Montessori setting or a Steiner setting, for example. That is the general point.
Q<7> <Mr. Chaytor:> What proportion of parents in the UK send their children to Steiner or Montessori pre-school settings?
<Anna Firth:> I do not know the exact percentage.
<Mr. Chaytor:> Do you accept that it is pretty tiny?
<Anna Firth:> I believe that there are 5,000 children in Steiner schools, but a Steiner expert is here. The percentage may be tiny, but it is a fundamental right of parents with children who do not need to be at school to choose the education and learning experiences of their children. That right is enshrined in article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which this Government have signed up to. So parents are not asking for anything that they should not already have.
Q<8> <Mr. Chaytor:> But which of the 69 learning goals should parents be able to opt out of?
<Anna Firth:> Following the logic of what I am saying, ideally they should be able to opt out of any of those learning goals. If they want to send their child to a Steiner nursery, logically that must follow. If one is looking more specifically, from the point of view of harm, I would say that the literacy goals, which we know from the experts are already too high, must come out. The British Association for Early Childhood Education has already written to the Ministry saying that those goals are putting undue pressure on settings and practitioners and that they are causing very young children to have a sense of failure and therefore to suffer. I would defer to the experts on the question of which goals.
Looking at the list-I am sure that you have it in front of you-it talks about the average five-year-old using "their phonic knowledge to write simple regular words and make phonetically plausible attempts at more complex words". I am very proud of my little four-year-old if he writes a single letter. It is now May, and he will have to be assessed next month. I do not expect him to be able to make phonetically plausible attempts at more complex words. I do not think that that is appropriate, and the experts tell me that I am right.
Q<9> <Mr. Chaytor:> Is there a distinction between the inclusion of some language development objectives and the precise level at which it is expected that five-year-olds should perform?
<Anna Firth:> I would like to see the evidence on which this very glossy, expensive brochure has been produced. I would like to see the evidence that says that any of those learning objectives is appropriate for that age group. It seems, looking at the literacy tables, that the evidence points in the other direction. Children in countries such as Finland, where formal learning starts later, do better at 11 in both science and reading, according to the latest PISA table. So where is the evidence that this is good for our children?
Sorry, I have slightly diverted. Returning to the question of choice, all the demanding literacy goals should come out. The goals include, "Read a range of familiar and common words and simple sentences independently", and write "labels and captions and begin to form simple sentences, sometimes using punctuation". Those are for five-year-olds, some of whom are actually four. I am sorry, but those are absurd goals to expect a five-year-old to meet, and the figures back up the point that children are not meeting those goals.
Q<10> <Mr. Chaytor:> One of the goals is, "Use a pencil and hold it effectively to form recognisable letters, most of which are correctly formed." Should parents be able to opt out of the requirement that their child be able to use a pencil?
<Anna Firth:> Yes. They are five. My elder two children were extremely lucky, because they did the early years stage in France. They went to an outside garderie until the age of almost three. They could have stayed there until four. They then went into the maternelle. I am not putting French maternelles forward as bastions of excellence, because they can be pressurised places as well, but the children were not expected to form letters-they were doing motor co-ordination tasks, including lots of painting. My daughter came home every week with paintings, but my son has not come home with one. When they were outside in the garderie, they were doing lots of painting with big brushes, which seems more appropriate for that age group.
Can I mention one other thing that is causing a lot of concern among parents?
<Anna Firth:> It is gradually dawning on mothers that, according to the practice guidance, nurseries will have to have ICT for children as young as 22 months to experiment with. Parents are very concerned about that in the light of the evidence that is coming out now, particularly from the American Association of Paediatrics, that children of that age should not be exposed to ICT, because it is damaging for their brains. Introducing ICT into nurseries is contrary to what we now know about brain development. Parents want to opt out of that, because they do not want their children in a setting with computers when their children are still at nursery school.
Q<11><Mr. Chaytor:> I am interested in the sweeping generalisation about parents. You are basing your judgment on those parents who are most inclined to send their children to Steiner or Montessori schools.
<Anna Firth:> No, no, no.
Q<12> <Mr. Chaytor:> I want to explore which parents we are talking about. For those parents who cannot provide a stimulating environment, what would be the consequences of their opting out of the requirement that their children should have developing literacy skills at the age of five? What happens when those kids get to six, seven, eight, nine, 10 or 11? Do you not think that there is a fundamental distinction in respect of the impact of parental choice for those children whose parents can provide a stimulating home environment and those children whose parents cannot?
<Anna Firth:> Every child in this country should have access to a stimulating pre-school environment, but the environment should be appropriate for that child's age. From all the expert evidence that I have read, any formal learning at this young age is not good for children, whether they are advantaged or disadvantaged. We know that now, because the study from the OECD has shown quite clearly over a long period of time that children from a disadvantaged family and children from an advantaged family start apart when they start formal education. One can well understand the reasons for that, but by the end of the education process, that gap is bigger. That, to my mind, is clear evidence that what is happening at the moment is not narrowing the gap-it is making the gap wider.
Q<13> <Mr. Chaytor:> So the logic of that argument is-
<Anna Firth:> The logic of that argument is that we should not be starting formal education so early. We have now been doing this for years in this country.
Q<14> <Mr. Chaytor:> Accepting Ted's point about the false dichotomy between the formal and informal approaches, surely the logic of the argument is that more should be done to ensure that the children from disadvantaged families do not start at a disadvantage?
<Anna Firth:> Yes, absolutely. As I understand it from all the evidence that I have read, what should be happening with children from disadvantaged families is more speech, more language and more socialisation. Then they will do better. Even though, logically, at first blush one thinks that one must put in more because those people are disadvantaged, the more that we need to put in is not what we think it is-it is words and stimulation, not formal learning.
Q<15> <Mr. Carswell:> I have a couple of questions. The first is for Ted. It says here that you did an impact assessment about the Sure Start programme and that you found that children and participating families showed greater social development. When you did that, did you take into account the possibility that there may be an element of self-selection? Those parents who are likely to be attracted to a Sure Start programme might not be wholly representative of the local community.
<Professor Melhuish:> Yes, we did take that into account. Basically, we took random samples of families in an area served by the Sure Start programme. So some of those families will be using lots of the Sure Start services and others will not be using so many. Similarly in our comparison areas, we have had random samples of families living in similar areas who were not receiving Sure Start. So that self-selection element was taken into account in the analysis. We also statistically control for social class, parent education, income level and so on.
Q<16> <Mr. Carswell:> Secondly, I should be interested in what Anna has to say and then in anyone who wants to jump in. I am intrigued by some of the things that you are saying. It is human nature for politicians, experts and officials to think that they know best and to say, "We are experts; we have done studies, and we have evidence," and then to take as the default question, "What more should be done?" I do not dispute the value of early-years learning, but I am trying to find out about the wisdom of letting experts foist their expert way of doing things on the rest of us.
When sitting on the Committee, one learns that experts do not always know best. First, in the debate about inclusion and special needs, experts got it wrong. Secondly, experts do not always agree with one another. There is a range of opinions among you. Who decides what the experts decide? Surely, there are more effective ways of allowing people to choose outcomes for themselves, rather than saying that the state and the experts know best and that this is how it will be done.
I should like Anna, and then the rest of you, to share your thoughts on this debate. Should we have central direction by experts, or should we allow choice to drive things and perhaps even to allow the 500 children's centres do their own thing-let everyone to do their own thing? Perhaps we would then have a better system.
<Professor Melhuish:> That is precisely what happened with Sure Start programmes in 2000, when they were first set up, and it did not work. Evidence came forward that it was not working and our earlier reports showed that the early Sure Start programmes were very diverse, some having some good effects, some having mediocre effects and some having negative effects. With the EPPE evidence showing that the children centre approach was working-
Q<17> <Mr. Carswell:> Big government centralism did not work, so it needed more big government localism.
<Professor Melhuish:> No. Big government centralism was initially to hand over everything to the community and let it decide exactly what it could do for itself without any guidance or planning. In a situation with a highly skilled, highly developed work force, that might have worked, but we were delivering a programme into an area that had previously been a policy desert, and people did not know what to do. Some did some good things, and some did some terrible things. What we needed was some structure for them to work within, and that is what Sure Start children's centres were about. They were introduced in 2005, as a result of the early Sure Start evidence and the EPPE evidence.
Sure Start children's centres allow adaptation to communities' needs, but they provide guidelines on the sort of opportunities that should be offered to children, and the sort of services that should be offered to families. They offer a light-touch structure to what is provided in a way that had previously not existed. A laissez-faire attitude will work in an environment where everyone knows what they are doing, but when a lot of people do not know what they are doing because they have not done it before, it does not work.
<Sue Palmer:> I totally agree with Ted that that was the case and that a lot of money was wasted, but the provision of structure and information is very useful, as long as it remains as guidelines. The minute it becomes law, there is a great difference in the perception of people out in the field. It also closes down the potential for innovation.
A new thing has come out recently, which I shall be able to recommend in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, because I think it is brilliant for literacy-it is based on Vygotskian principles-but I shall not be able to recommend it in England, because it will not fit into the early years foundation stage. That is a statutory framework, and it will close down the potential for moving seriously forward in terms of early years practice. It uses very well structured material based on long-established fact. It is the difference between guidelines and statutory requirements. It is about statutory requirements in the early years, when we are at the beginning in terms of neuroscientific evidence that is coming through. Last week, a book from Susan Greenfield raised new questions about the implications for ICT. New stuff is coming through all the time, and to close it down by creating a legal framework now seems to be tantamount to insane.
<Bernadette Duffy:> I should like to make a couple of points. First, we tried not having any regulation or statutory guidance, and as Ted said, leaving it completely free leads to problems. We know that countries with limited regulation tend to have poorer quality provision. That is not because a little group of experts sit and decide on it. The EYFS has evolved over a number of years, building on good practice in England that goes way back to the McMillan sisters at the beginning of the last century. The EYFS represents a good, sound tradition in England going back 100 years. It was developed in consultation not only with practitioners, but with parents who had a say in what should be in it and how it should be. With the exception of the communication, language and literacy goals-there is complete agreement that we could do without those-there is so much good stuff in here that is giving sound guidance to practitioners about what works for children: not just what we fancy doing today, but what seems to work.
There is a difference between ICT and computers. There was a lovely example of that with the two-year-olds playing with shells yesterday at Thomas Coram, picking them up and turning them into a mobile phone, because that is what they see in the world around them. I would not suggest giving mobile phones to two-year-olds, but they are growing up in a society where ICT is part of what they do. For example, they all know that you press buttons and money comes out of a machine: that is also ICT. However, the last thing that the EYFS, or any good practitioner, would want to do is put two-year-olds in front of a computer screen or a white board, because there is no good evidence that that is the way in which they learn.
The EYFS protects a lot of children. At the moment, three-year-olds are sitting at desks in formal classrooms in uniforms, filling in worksheets. We are told that that is what parents want and it happens because it can be shown that children can achieve the goals when they are five. As long as practitioners can show that they are achieving the goals at five, the way in which they do that is up to them. So some poor practice is going on because of that. I am much happier to have something statutory that says that the principles are about active learning, creativity, critical thinking and sustained shared thinking. Although I sympathise with Steiner colleagues, who may feel that that is restricting them, for the vast majority of children that opens up so many more opportunities than they have at the moment.
Although I understand the concerns about regulation, we still need it until, as Ted says, we have a much better qualified work force, as other countries have. Even other countries in Scandinavia have some curriculum guidance, for example, so that there is some agreement. Overall, there are far more positive things in there that protect children than are outweighed by the regulation side of it.
<Chairman:> Paul wants to ask a supplementary question.
Q<18> <Paul Holmes:> I should like to ask two quick questions, if I may. Anna has been critical of the formal structures that are implied and has emphasised the need for more free play. In the practical setting that you run, how do you strike the balance-or not-between formal and free play?
<Bernadette Duffy:> Formal play is a misnomer, because if you are playing it is not a formal situation. As Ted was saying, we do not think of things in terms of formal and informal. We are looking at the interactions between adults and children. We know what works well with parents who know their children well.
Picking up on Sue's point in respect of Vygotskian principles, at Thomas Coram, you would see children making mud pies and daisy chains in the garden and turning shells into mobile phones, but you would also see children involved in figuring out the properties of water, including what happens when water is frozen and, as happened yesterday, whether ice cubes defrosted quicker if they were wrapped in newspaper or straw. Lots of good scientific work is done, but it is active and hands-on. As people have been saying, there is also a lot of emphasis on oracy, because children's vocabulary at three is a good indicator of later outcomes. There is a much emphasis on oracy and sustained, shared interacting, which encourages children to think.
There is a lot of hands-on experience and there are no desks, no tick-sheets or worksheets and no uniforms. A lot of children engage. Following on from Sue's point about practitioners writing observations when they are with the children: that is not what we do, and it is not what the EYFS says. The EYFS emphasises active interaction with children. Observations are something you write up later on.
Q<19> <Paul Holmes:> So where are you going to show Ofsted that the children are learning to construct sentences and use some punctuation and all the rest of it?
<Bernadette Duffy:> We have just done it. We have had Ofsted in over the past few days and, although I cannot share the results with you, our children are doing very well using the principles in the EYFS regarding active learning. Let me think what I can share. We have strong evidence at Thomas Coram that the EYFS approach is leading to the outcomes that we would want for children across all six areas of learning. There is no conflict between a play-based, active approach to children's learning and having good outcomes for them at the end of the year in which they are five-not when they are four.
Q<20> <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 Sure Start was not working. Head Start, which inspired Sure Start, was evaluated over 10, 15 or 20 years. How could you decide after one or two years that Sure Start was not working?
<Professor Melhuish:> All that we could do is to look at the outcomes-for example, in our last report-for children aged three who have been born into a fully functioning Sure Start 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 programme-utterly 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.
Q<21> <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 school curriculum, which is quite well known.
<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.
Q<22> <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 saying-perhaps on religious grounds-that certain things were inappropriate. What one would need to be very careful about 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 them tightly.
<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 on-less 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 child minder. I am afraid that child minders 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 child minders in droves at the moment. Many of the very best ones-the ones who really love being with children and who could not explain why they are good at it, because they are just good with children-do 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 child care practice, because you are very experienced and very knowledgeable. However, many of these great child minders are not experienced or knowledgeable; they do it by instinct, because they are good with kids. Those child minders 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.
Q<23> <Chairman:> There are quite a lot of pretty desperate child-minding 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 child minders than to make the bad ones better.
Q<24> <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 child minders 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 child minders are doing already-a 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.
Q<25> <Chairman:> Ted, does it have to be statutory?
<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 child minders, you really need to consult the National Childminding Association on that point. It is a point to bear in mind, because child minders are a very large part of the child care work force 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.
Q<26> <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 quite compatible?
<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.
Q<27> <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 child minders. I have been deluged with e-mails and calls from battered, disillusioned child minders. 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, "Child minders 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 child minder who, like the child minder 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 to-I have not done a huge survey, but I have been round the town where I live-the 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 told me that the essential piece of equipment needed to be a nursery school teacher is now a portable digital camera.
<Chairman:> Bernadette, do you want to come back on that?
<Bernadette Duffy:> We work with child minders at the Thomas Coram centre, and those who we work with welcome the EYFS. However, there is one proviso. Our child minders are an integral part of the children's centre. They are well supported and have opportunities to study and opportunities for election on a week-by-week basis. One of the reasons that a lot of child minders are leaving is that it is an isolated occupation. Unless we take the centre's obligation to support child minders seriously, we will lose even more-not through the EYFS, but because it is isolated. We know that, historically, people leave child minding because of the isolation or because their family circumstances change. Our child minders 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 group-people with expertise-and 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.
Q<28> <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 work force. 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.
Q<29> <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 parent-I 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 child minders 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 young-the 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 home-or child minder who takes over the domestic role-and 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 child minders who do not know a thing and who have to get writing the letters.
Q<30> <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 child-probably your son-can 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 sentence 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 have.
<Sue Palmer:> That is the problem. You have to develop milestones and early learning goals.
Q<31> <Fiona Mactaggart:> I understand that, but the point is that I frequently see the things that are set out not happening with child minders, in playgroups, and in nurseries-let 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 lines-I have no truck with that-or 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 work force. Compared with countries that have much less direction in early years, we have a less well trained work force, 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 guidance-I am not saying that it is perfect-we 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?
Q<32> <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 learn-through play, active exploration and adult to child interactions that are sustained and shared-so 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; 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 of the goals on 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.
Q<33> <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.
Q<34> <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 others-that 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:> Our 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 true.
<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 not true.
<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.
Q<35> <Chairman:> When you said, "those three lines skew it all," which three lines did you mean?
<Sue Palmer:> I meant the language and literature 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.
Q<36> <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 part?
<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."
Q<37> <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.
Q<38> <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 too big a step. The linking and the naming and sounding are two different things.
Q<39> <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 in there 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.
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Graham Kennish, Open EYE, Anne Nelson, Chief Executive, Early Education, Sylvie Sklan, Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship, and Morag Stuart, Professor in the Psychology of Reading, Institute of Education, University of London.
Q<40> <Chairman:> I welcome the next set of witnesses, Graham Kennish, Sylvia Sklan, Professor Morag Stuart and Anne Nelson. Some of you are familiar with this setting and the Committee and some are not, so I welcome you all. You have been sitting behind the previous set of witnesses and therefore know how lively the first session has been, and we are keen to build on that. I want to get right into the questioning, but would you start by saying quickly why you are here and what you think of the discussion that we have just had?
<Graham Kennish:> I have a background in education throughout all the years, with a Steiner emphasis, and am here to represent Open EYE. The discussion was most refreshing. One of the most refreshing things about it was that those who differed, however strongly, were able to communicate clearly with those who were listening. I found the interchange between yourselves and within the group a refreshing experience, with people actually listening to one another. That has been absolutely and severely lacking in the exchanges that Open EYE has experienced with the Government over Ministers' replies to questions.
We have received endless standard, computerised letters. There is a gulf in communication, which I saw in the video of your speaking to Ofsted last week-it was as though you were speaking different languages with the same words. We need to expose that gulf, because so many people flood into Open EYE's website, and we are just desperate to communicate some realities, which are not being heard by the people who are in power. What is happening on the ground is different.
<Sylvie Sklan:> I am Sylvie Sklan. I am from the Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship, the member organisation for all the Steiner early years settings and the Steiner schools in this country. I am here to represent how the EYFS impacts on them.
<Morag Stuart:> I am Morag Stuart. I am from the Institute of Education. I am probably here because I was a member of the advisory group for the Rose review.
<Chairman:> We like having you here.
<Morag Stuart:> The Rose review recommended that by the age of about five children are ready to start learning phonics.
<Anne Nelson:> I am chief executive of the British Association for Early Childhood Education. It is a membership organisation that promotes quality in early years. Our remit is from birth to eight, so we go beyond that of EYFS. I found the discussion stimulating, and it was good to see people listening to each other. I have several points to make that you have not covered yet, but I shall wait to see whether they come up in questions.
I found it most fascinating at the beginning to touch on work force issues. One document, although it is enshrined in law, cannot compensate for the lack of a qualified work force, which has to be one of the greatest challenges. If you do not understand child development and do not have a strong initial qualification, you cannot use whatever document is put in front of you. That is one of my greatest concerns among the issues that came before you during the last discussion.
<Chairman:> Those of you who know the history of the previous Education and Skills Committee will know that the skills, the pay and the training of the early years work force has been an obsession of ours for a long time. We will be looking at that in another inquiry quite soon.
Q<41> <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.
Q<42> <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 skills-the ability to read the words on the page-are 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.
Q<43> <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 itself.
<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.
Q<44> <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 right-Graham has taught in Steiner schools.
Q<45> <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.
Q<46> <Mr. Chaytor:> We were told in an earlier session that there are 5,000 places in Steiner settings, and 2.4 million child care 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 all other ways in which to approach learning goals. If they are statutory, I would ask you please to accept that there needs to be a mechanism to allow different approaches-not just the Steiner approach.
<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 child minders 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 things-the 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.
Q<47> <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:> Absolutely-safety and welfare requirements are essential. However, if the approach-which it is perfectly pertinent to suggest-is 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 work force who are unskilled because they follow the book.
On the relationship with the children, even in the Government's DVDs-I do not know whether you have seen them all, but I have-one 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 travesty-sorry, I will share my views-of 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.
Q<48> <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 examples-obviously, I will not go through them-of 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 says-letters come back to Ofsted all the time about this-that 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 development-that is not equality. It is interesting that when the first results of the foundation stage came through from 2007-I could fish out the paper to show you-they 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.
Q<49> <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 about that?
<Morag Stuart:> Probably not, actually. Which report are you referring to?
<Fiona Mactaggart:> Dockrell, Stuart and King, "Supporting early oral language skills", in Literacy Today.
<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 language-their 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 language levels.
Q<50> <Fiona Mactaggart:> As I understood the first study, it suggested that children with stronger oral skills were much more able to develop-sorry, I took a short cut there, and you properly and professorially 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 some time
<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 vocabulary-so 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.
Q<51> <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.
Q<52> <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. Now it is an important thing.
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 nursery-they 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.
Q<53> <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 year-when children become four. It starts with a beautiful phase 1, 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.
Q<54><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 on-formal handwriting, sentence construction and so on-gets 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 curriculum-I 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 valid discussion that will perhaps review some of the difficulties in the framework-it is otherwise an excellent framework-but 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.
Q<55> <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 is a statutory requirement that we believe it should be possible to disapply or from which 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 somebody-particularly, of course, on a child, although we are talking about the work force-is 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 work force, it becomes a totally different thing, so the word "target" has completely different meanings according to who is hearing it.
<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.
Q<56> <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 statutory-the learning roles-and 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 EYE-we have received an endless number of communications-is 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.
Q<57> <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.
Q<58> <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 child care 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 something-that is the Government's wish-that 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 the child minder, 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 child minders. 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 child minders 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 child care 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.
Q<59> <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 experience in early years.
Q<60> <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 or 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.
Q<61> <Chairman:> But in Steiner, you do not object to inspection on principle?
<Sylvie Sklan:> Oh, no, absolutely not.
<Chairman:> Do you, Graham? I understood that Open EYE did not believe that the independent sector should be inspected.
<Graham Kennish:> I do not go along with that at all. I would say that the whole issue of inspection by Ofsted is linked entirely to the targets. We come back to the targets. Ofsted arrives and every setting knows that it is under the test whether or not it is fulfilling the targets. That pressure, which goes down to the children, will be quite clear and obvious. It is totally obvious to me; I cannot imagine how it is not obvious to those who are proposing this scheme. Last week, in a conversation in which Annette was trying to probe the chief inspector about the training of inspectors, she was trying to pursue the difference-I do not know whether or not she succeeded; I felt that she did not-between training inspectors for inspecting early years provision and having early years inspectors who had been practitioners themselves and knew exactly what young children were all about. Let me give you a quick analogy. I would not want a mechanical engineer who has been given some training in electricity to inspect an electrical installation. I would not feel safe at all. That is an horrendous analogy, but it is effectively what is being proposed. It is not just the training for inspection that they need, but also the inner experience of practice.
<Chairman:> Graham, we remember last Wednesday well.
Q<62> <Paul Holmes:> Last Wednesday, the chief inspector said that Ofsted inspectors are aware of the different types of school and that they are not applying the same criteria everywhere. I reminded the chief inspector that Summerhill school had been failed by Ofsted. The school ended up taking Ofsted to court with judicial review to avoid being closed down. Are you confident at Steiner schools that Ofsted will take into account the variation in style and approach?
<Sylvie Sklan:> At this stage, I do not know whether we can say that we are confident, because we have not got there yet. We have to put in place all the systems to ensure that such accidents do not occur-by that I mean inspectors using the wrong criteria on which to judge schools. As I said, it would be good to have a much more robust and objective system in place that is linked to the guidance of the framework to ensure that it is not all down to good faith and working with the inspectors who are about to visit.
Q<63> <Paul Holmes:> Finally, one of the big things that we identified in the recent report on assessment and testing was the difference between assessment for learning-of the child-and assessment for testing the school, to see how it is achieving, effectively. From five to 19, it has become distorted, in that you are using the test results and the assessment to judge the school and to say, "That's good; that's bad; you're failing, and you're excellent," rather than looking at the pupils' progress. Even more at this stage, nought to five, how do we avoid that distortion? If Ofsted are coming in and are going to say, "That's good; that's bad; you pass; you fail," how do we make sure that the assessment of the child at two, three or four is about assessing the child for learning, to see where they have got to, and where we move on to next, rather than ticking boxes, so that Ofsted will give the setting a good report?
<Chairman:> That is a good question and a long question, but, Morag, I shall ask you for quite a quick answer.
<Morag Stuart:> The quick answer would be that the only way-I keep coming back to staff training-is that staff have to understand child development. They have to understand the range of behaviours that can be observed at given ages and the desirable outcomes that a typically developing child ought to be able to achieve. It is staff knowledge and understanding of child development that will allow them to do that.
Q<64> <Paul Holmes (Chesterfield) (LD):> Ofsted staff?
<Morag Stuart:> Practitioner staff and Ofsted staff.
<Anne Nelson:> Just to give an example of the opposite to the question you are asking about the negative impact of Ofsted, our nursery schools were inspected last year. They would mainly be inspected by a practitioner who is also an Ofsted inspector. The nursery schools came out as 95% good or outstanding. That knowledge base-the experience which is there-correlates with a thorough understanding of that and a good self-evaluation process. It is a very good example of Ofsted working, I think. But again, the head teacher and the staff would be fully qualified.
Q<65> <Paul Holmes:> But Ofsted also, every month, judges 60 day care settings and 80 child minders as inadequate, so people who work in those settings must be thinking, "What boxes have I got to tick to please Ofsted?"
<Anne Nelson:> And it dominates their lives. When I am training them they say, "Why do you do so much written planning?" and I say, "In case Ofsted come in tomorrow." It is a heavy pressure on them.
Q<66> <Annette Brooke:> Can I just pick up on child minding, which takes us into the next session? Anne has mentioned the importance of training. As far as I can see, child minding has become a profession-much to be welcomed-with the encouragement of qualifications. What exactly-or how big, I suppose-is the hurdle going into the early years foundation stage? The sort of things that have been presented to me are that, obviously, child minders are not really in a position to access local authority courses during the day. They have to pay extra money for courses. It is all very difficult for them. Yet I think things went fairly smoothly in terms of the NVQs and so on. So Anne, there might not be the wonderful child centre on the doorstep, which can support a child minder, but what about those hundreds and hundreds of people in that valuable part of the work force?
<Anne Nelson:> They do access courses and of course, as you say, training. They have to do it at a time when the children are not there, which means Saturdays. You can talk within that about equality and the work force, although in early years, we have never had a great deal of funding to release people in the day time for training. So there are some issues.
I think that what they seem most concerned about-I do not pretend to speak for them as an organisation, although increasingly we do have more child minders in our membership-is the writing down of reports on the children all the time and that the legislation is mainly about learning. I have just been training in observation and the issue is that they interpret observation as a written observation on every child for every moment of the day, whereas if you are properly trained in observation, a lot of what you observe is here, in your head, and you write down the significant things within that.
I think that more is expected of them than ever before, but when you publish something like EYFS, myths grow up and people get worried and scared. They would need reassurance from their local authorities about what is manageable. We saw the same in out-of-school care, with people threatening that, if they had to do the EYFS, they would not have children under five in their out-of-school care. That has been clarified for them, so I think that there is a great need for the Government, local authorities and organisations like ours to try to get that in perspective for people. Doing so is a challenge, and I would not underestimate it.
Q<67> <Annette Brooke:> Would you rank that as urgent, given the rapid fall in the number of child minders over the past year?
<Anne Nelson:> It is urgent, not just because we do not want to lose those people and that choice for parents, but because child minders are a big part of the market for local authorities in providing a sufficiency of child care. This is urgent from the perspective of local authorities, too. However, it is urgent mainly because we do not want to lose the perspective and choice for parents.
Q<68> <Chairman:> Anne, could it be that the marginal child minder is being pushed out of the market, rather than that anything unpleasant is going on? We do not want the marginal and not very good providers. In my area, as children's centres have developed, the whole pre-school market has changed quite dramatically.
<Anne Nelson:> I hope that EYFS has done enough to set some standards, so that if child minders or group settings are not up to quality, they will go out of the market. Perhaps that sometimes happens through lack of knowledge. Child minding cannot be an easy way to earn a living, because you do not know when you will get children or how many you will get and you do not get any breaks in the day. It is quite a challenge to work like that. Working with young children is exhausting.
I share the hint that, if people are not up to scratch, they should not be in the market. I think that the expectation of standards is important. However, when I work with settings or individuals, those who are not all right think that they are all right and those who are all right continually question their practice and raise their aspirations. There must be something external to help them see what their quality is.
Q<69> <Chairman:> So there is some value in Ofsted.
<Anne Nelson:> I think that there is some value in Ofsted.
<Chairman:> I have dragged it out of you, Anne.
<Anne Nelson:> Well, it must be recognised that Ofsted provides merely a snapshot-as you are well aware-and it is not a stick to beat people with. Ofsted can inspect only against the standards set by the Government. The value comes in what you do afterwards.
<Chairman:> We are running out of time. Annette, do you want to say anything about work force issues?
Q<70> <Annette Brooke:> Yes, perhaps I could try to pull it all together. A view has been put this morning that the early years foundation stage is critical to pulling up standards for all. That is a fair point. Equally, there are issues about qualifications and the experience of the work force. My question is a bit chicken and egg, but is the issue whether we should be putting the early years foundation stage in the hands of the under-qualified work force, or will the existence of the framework add to the quality of the work force? Have we got the timing right on the two issues of the quality and the work force?
<Anne Nelson:> Over the past few years in early years, we have developed quantity. Now we are focusing quite hard on quality. As well as EYFS, there is a Government early years quality programme. You cannot have that quality without well qualified staff. It is quite clear that that is a prerequisite. The Scandinavian countries that we heard about earlier have a much higher level of qualification than this country.
The principles and the commitments in the document are very laudable, but there is a danger in the way that the learning and development grids have been proposed. They could be misused by those who do not have the right child development knowledge. That is a major concern for us. To throw another aspect in, there is confusion about the role of the early years professional. The Government's view is that that person will lead the learning, certainly in the PVI sectors, and that teachers will still lead the learning in the state maintained sector.
However, being an EYP is not a qualification, but a status. In some cases, for instance, people have taken the EYP route immediately after their degrees. In my experience as a teacher and practitioner, you have got to have some experience before you can lead others in the learning. I am pretty sure that that will not help in the challenge of raising the qualification, which Annette mentioned, so I think that we have to go for qualifications to make it better.
Q<71> <Annette Brooke:> Is that slowing down the implementation of the statutory requirements?
<Chairman:> You only get two questions to each person.
<Anne Nelson:> I do not think that you can slow it down. I want to get those two points across.
<Morag Stuart:> I think that training does improve quality. Certainly, the training that the CLLD team has put into the early reading development project has raised the expectations of teachers, the achievements of children and the confidence of both. As I have said, I think that all early years practitioners should have a good understanding of child development.
Q<72> <Chairman:> Morag, if you know that there are problems in early years that cost a lot of resource to sort out and that it is very expensive to totally change the quality of your work force, by paying and training them better, is not the early years foundation really a different way of trying to achieve that, but with much less resource?
<Morag Stuart:> Do you mean putting a programme in place?
<Morag Stuart:> I do not think that it will work if you do not have the training.
Q<73> <Chairman:> So, do you have to do both?
<Morag Stuart:> Absolutely.
Q<74> <Chairman:> Is there a sign that the Government are doing both?
<Morag Stuart:> I think that some encouraging things are going on, but not enough.
<Chairman:> Annette, do you have anything else to ask?
<Annette Brooke:> No, I think that you drew out what I am trying to get people to comment on.
<Chairman:> Does anyone else want to come in on that last one, on the chicken and egg?
<Graham Kennish:> No training programme can deliver anything; the people who deliver it and who form the relationship with the practitioners form the training. Teaching is a process of relationship, and no programme will do anything because it is the relationship between people that does things. It is the relationship between the carers and the children that inspires their self-confidence and self-worth. All other aspects of learning follow from that process, and all good teaching, at whatever age, inspires the qualities that that unique child has at that time. A teacher's timing is to time what is needed at a certain moment. It is a very subtle process, which gets less subtle as you go up. Although you have to take a set of exams at 16, as you come down, lower and lower, the subtlety and power of that process reaches down into the element of play. That aspect of play is the most subtle, creative and dynamic aspect, and until practitioners have really understood the nature of play, for instance, it is not something that you can put into a programme.
Q<75> <Chairman:> But, Graham, when I heard your colleague, Anna, speak earlier, I got the impression that one of the things that Open EYE is worried about is that, although you are able to squeeze out the person who is good at that, they are unqualified.
<Graham Kennish:> Absolutely, but there are two things there. If you have someone who is unqualified, disaffected and not particularly interested in children, you have a double negative whammy. It is certainly true that someone who has a real love for and interest in the children around them will probably, unconsciously and intuitively, give a great deal of support to a child's emotional development.
Q<76> <Chairman:> But surely Open EYE does not believe that you should train them for that.
<Graham Kennish:> Absolutely not, there should be a training, but the danger with training is that you become over-professionalised. It is rather similar to the dilemma that we faced in the last session, where one had to confess that the experts disagreed vigorously with one another, as we heard them do. Within the training of professionalism, it is very important to realise that professionals and experts disagree, and there needs to be that fructification of the alternative view points that professionals bring, so that they can allow a creative process. We can never say that we now know what a child is all about, because we clearly have a lot to learn about what children are really about and what the nature of play is and all of those things. If we said to parents that we know what that is, we disempower them and others who would seek to be innovative. That disempowerment comes from the statutory imposition of goals and targets.
<Chairman:> Graham, thank you very much. This has been an excellent panel and we learnt a lot. I know that you will keep in touch, so that we can make the inquiry as good as it can be.
<Graham Kennish:> Thank you very much for offering us this space.
<Chairman:> Thank you.