Early years education series: the danger of ‘schoolification’

Published on Monday, 09 December 2013 11:36
Written by Liz Bayram

In the third article in our series on early years education, Liz Bayram – chief executive of the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years – discusses the erosion of fundamental aspects of EYFS

The Early Years Foundation Stage is the shared vision for how to support children to get a great start in life. It covers children's development from ages 0-5, or the end of the reception year in school. For childcare professionals, it is not just a regulatory framework setting out the minimum standards that nurseries, pre-schools and childminders, must meet to remain registered with Ofsted, it embodies an entire approach to childcare, based on the latest evidence of how best to support children to develop, helping childcare professionals shape care and learning around the child. In short, a child-centred, holistic approach that has learning through play at its heart.

PACEY, then known as NCMA, was involved in developing the EYFS when it was first launched in 2008, pushing specifically for registered childminders to be included in the framework and, with sector partners, working to ensure that play had a central focus, because all the evidence shows young children learn best through play. We remained involved throughout the Tickell review in 2010 and supported the rollout of the Revised EYFS that resulted from the review. We continue to provide support by co-producing guidance and disseminating best practice.

The reason we have remained so involved in the EYFS is simple: it works. It is driven improvement in the quality of childcare available to families in England, and therefore improving outcomes for children. PACEY's 35,000 members – childminders, nursery workers and nannies – consistently reaffirm the value of the EYFS in helping them deliver high quality care and learning. However, recent developments and policy initiatives have raised serious concern amongst childcare professionals. Fundamental aspects of EYFS – the value of play and the holistic approach of shaping care around the child – are being eroded.

Recent proposals for more schools to offer childcare to children aged 2 and to replace the EYFS Profile – an observation of a child's progress at the end of the EYFS – with a formal baseline assessment of children six weeks into the start of their reception year at school, are raising concerns in the sector that the early years are becoming 'schoolified' and this unique stage in a child's development is being forgotten.

Nowhere is the difference between the ideology of policy makers and evidence of practitioners and experts in the early years sector more apparent than on the proposed introduction of baseline assessment. PACEY's recent School Ready report summarised the academic evidence on what makes a child ready for school, as well as surveying childcare professionals, parents, teachers and children about their views. Respondents and experts together agreed that cognitive and academic skills such as reading and writing are not as important for pre-school children as their social and emotional development. The consensus was that a child is ready for school when they are confident, independent and curious about the world - skills ably supported by the current EYFS.

It's not just PACEY that is concerned about the move towards 'schoolification' of early years childcare. Our School Ready research proved that the overwhelming majority of parents, teachers and childcare professionals believe that learning through play is the most effective way to support children's holistic development in the early years. PACEY fully support their belief that the EYFS should retain a core play-based focus to help prepare children for life challenges – not just those of school.

Overall, PACEY believes that the coalition government needs to stop, think and listen to the evidence provided by academics, professionals and parents on the changes it is seeking to make to the childcare system. As well as changes to the EYFS, the introduction of childminder agencies, inconsistency in how Ofsted manage the inspection of settings and concerns that the debate around higher child-to-carer ratios may be reignited all lead to more and more childcare professionals being concerned about the future direction of policy, in particular its impact on how they deliver care to the children in their setting.

Whilst the coalition and the sector share the same ambition of high quality affordable childcare for all families, there is significant disagreement on how to achieve it. PACEY will continue to press the government on these issues and on the need to increase support to childcare professionals to improve their practice. All the evidence shows that the better qualified the childcare professional, the better the outcomes for the children in their care. What remains absent is a clear strategy to support workforce improvement so that the EYFS is delivered by more outstanding childcare professionals.

The first two articles in this series can be viewed here and here.

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