The early years site is launched


 The early years site is launched

Welcome to the new early years zone. Every month we will be updating you with the latest information relevant to early years settings. This month we look at some issues relating to communication and creativity. In this article we look at some of the implications of the Rose report and hear Open EYE'S views on its recommendations.

The Independent Review of the Primary Curriculum - final report

So, the Independent Review of the Primary Curriculum final report is out and we now know what  direction the curriculum will be taking. For the majority the acknowledgement of the importance of cross-curricular studies is very welcome. It is intended that the six areas of learning should build upon the EYFS to enrich the primary curriculum.

It is recommended that Key Stage 1 teachers should be involved in the moderation of Early Years Foundation Stage Profile (EYFSP) assessments in order to give them greater confidence in the judgements of reception teachers. The report emphasises the need for continuity of assessment practice between phases and that early years, primary and secondary should be held together with a unifying set of values. Perhaps easier said than done.


The report reiterates the importance of access to early years provision, pledging to extend the current entitlement of 12.5 hours of free early education a week for all 3 and 4 year olds to 15 hours by 2010. The report maintains its recommendation that children should start reception class in the September immediately after their fourth birthday. However, it still allows for an option of part-time attendance for those needing it.


The report acknowledges that there has been some 'misunderstanding of the early learning goals and the time span for achieving them'. It explains that the EYFS framework does state that children progress at different rates and that practitioners should use their professional judgement.


Open EYE comment:

The Question of School Starting Age

The report accurately observes that summer-born children entering reception are commonly treated as immature in comparison with their older classmates giving rise to lack of confidence and self-regard with consequential limits on  others’ expectations and their own. Therefore, it is a quite incomprehensible leap in logic for Rose to recommend entry into reception class for four-year-olds in the September following their fourth birthday. Why not recommend that summer-born four-year-olds should start school in the September following their fifth birthday (as the 1870 Act of Parliament did when it set the compulsory school-starting age set at 5, not 4), thus avoiding such potential negative effects? Or why not recommend (as the Government’s Early Years Advisory Group did) that the EYFS and early learning goals should extend to the end of year 1? 

The actual rationale given in Rose’s report for school starting age is: ‘Based on sound research, such as the Effective Pre-School, Primary and Secondary Education project (EPPSE), and plans to provide earlier access to nursery provision, the Review proposes a single point of entry to reception class in the September immediately following a child’s fourth birthday.’ Yet the EPP(S)E research, whatever else it might prove, does not provide any rationale whatsoever for this policy proposal.

The only other rationale given – that of ‘plans to provide earlier access to nursery provision’ – is entirely to do with political expediency. It is quite clear that there exists no reliable evidence base underpinning this far-reaching decision about school starting age, and it is difficult not to conclude that it is driven by factors other than the needs of young children.

There does exist, however, considerable research evidence that points towards a very different recommendation. In her review of the research in 2002 Caroline Sharp concluded that ‘there would appear to be no compelling evidence for a statutory school age of five, or for the practice of admitting four year olds to school Reception classes.’

The Missing Review of the EYFS Literacy Requirements

Jim Rose was asked by Children’s Minister Beverley Hughes on 30th June 2008 to review the following EYFS goals for writing:

‘• Use their phonic knowledge to write simple regular words and make phonetically plausible attempts at more complex words;

• Write their own names and other things such as labels and captions, and begin to form simple sentences, sometimes using punctuation.’ 

We were told that ‘The Primary Review will look at how appropriate these aims are for children around age five, when evidence shows it is realistic for children to achieve them, and how we make sure that children progress well, and smoothly, between the EYFS and Key Stage 1 in primary school.’ (our italics)  In the above italicized text, we see the blatant biasing of the Department already in evidence – with their assertion that it is realistic for children to achieve the goals.  Any dispassionate analysis of the available research evidence would view this as a statement verging on the disingenuous, as the bland assertion is offered without any substantiation.   

It is also important to consider the clumsy phrase ‘children around age five’, which, in view of the vital importance of avoiding a ‘too much, too soon’, approach, is deeply worrying.  Around the age of five, in practice, means children as young as four (if summer born 4 year olds) and others who are nearly six  being assessed against the same expectations – a ludicrous situation when one considers how much difference even a few months can make to a child’s development at this stage.  Note also that Rose is not asked by the minister to review the developmental appropriateness of the goals in the context of children’s development, but merely to ‘report on how well they support a smooth transition into Key Stage 1 of primary school’. All that seems to matter to the minister is ‘a smooth transition to schooling’ for young children, and not the developmental appropriateness of the goals.

The final report maintains the two goals but simply indicates that the DCSF should emphasise the expectation that children will be supported towards them through a play-based approach and that children will reach them at different times. There appears to be no consideration of their developmental appropriateness.

The Place of Information Technology (ICT) in the Curriculum

There must also be major concerns about computer and ITC skills becoming ‘central pillars’ of primary education – just at a time when the speed at which children are growing up is being widely recognised as a major cultural concern. It's also likely that too much screen-based technology at an early age can interfere with some children's ability to acquire literacy skills, and with all children's capacity to read for pleasure (which ensures the practice necessary for true literacy).

Whilst Open EYE warmly welcomes Rose’s increased emphasis on play in the early primary years, and his expressed concerns about the testing regime (in  which he tellingly goes beyond the strict remit given to him by Minister Ed Balls), there are major concerns about the statement on page 17 that ‘progress is goal related, the goals of learning must be explicit in order to guide planning and teaching’. These audit-culture values are not only fundamentally incompatible with many of the more laudable aspirations in the report, but their cascading down into the early years is a catastrophe-in-the-making for young children, and threatens to render their early experience deeply age-inappropriate.

In conclusion, we might well ask when are we going to have a policy-making process that puts the developmentally appropriate needs of young children before the needs of the economy and political expediency? The case for a cabinet place for a minister whose exclusive charge is the well-being of young children is getting ever stronger.


Refs: Sharp, Caroline (2002), School Starting Age: European Policy and Recent Research – paper presented at Local Government Association seminar on 1 Nov 2002

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 July 2009