So like many of you I was ready for a break. The summer of 2021 would be the one that I finally achieved a goal that has evaded me for many recent years. This would be the year that I would switch off, forget about work (as much as possible), stay well clear of the the educational debates of social media and fully recharge my batteries for the year to come (and whatever that may entail).
My plan was set. My mind was made up. Summer 2021 would be a time to switch off, to step away, to lose myself in time with family and good books. Well that was my plan.
Unfortunately, my email inbox had other ideas. (Tip: moving forward anything from the DFE/OFSTED will be directed to my school email not my personal one). I am not going to post hyperlinks in this blog to the many links received over my final/weeks of term and even the beginning of the holidays. Why? I really do not want anyone reading this blog to get lost down the rabbit hole of updates. This blog really IS NOT about giving you more to read or worry about!
However, for your information- here is a timeline/list of publications/information/updates I received in addition to COVID guidance…
28th June (OFSTED) Updates to Early Years and Schools handbooks
10th July (DFE) The reading framework: teaching the foundations of literacy
22nd July (OFSTED) Ofsted EIF inspections and the EYFS
23rd July (DFE) Updates to Development Matters (non statutory EYFS guidance)*
27th July (DFE) Foundation Years vodcast: Implementing the new EYFS in primary schools
*Whilst I respect the sentiments of the author of the new Development Matters, that these changes in his view are minimal, no track changes doc was provided. Anyone who is planning to use this to support their practice will surely need to reread the new document- all 120 pages+ to ensure they are upto date?
So when you take all of the above into consideration along with the Baseline assessments starting in September, I think it is pretty fair to say that the repeated claims about reducing workload are resting on pretty shaky ground. We are a sector already on our knees.
We are a sector of which a significant part of is consistently disregarded and has been throughout this entire pandemic- of course I refer to our fantastic, underpaid, under recognised PVI sector. To be honest for many in the PVI sector the EYFS reforms are the least of their worries, working through a pandemic and staying viable is much more pressing. Just last week a local setting had to close it doors after 53 years serving our local communities. A real loss to the town and an unneccessary one at that.
Seeing that the latest vodcast which seems to be how the DFE train the sector in 2021 (thankfully this one was not hidden away on a private social media group) was only 13 minutes long. I thought that I would listen on hands-free, as I drove to do some shopping.
As I listened the following thoughts came into my head...
I am completely dumfounded as to why so many think this reformed/rewritten EYFS is offering something so new? Answers on a postcard please! I could write a whole blog debating the statements being made about the new ELG's being easier to assess and based in child development knowledge (still waiting for the recognition that self-regulation is not about doing as you are told and to see the research behind 4 year olds recalling number facts by heart by hey ho- I suspect I had better not hold my breath on that one!) And do not get me started on aligning the goals to KS1... a slice of Bold Beginnings anyone?
Maybe there are people seeing the changes as liberating because they have only ever worked in a system where:
It is a system gone mad. And to try and blame it on the EYFS in its various forms over the years, the Development Matters 2012 document where 42 pages stated that the learning and development grids "...should not be used as checklists", or to blame the sector itself...
...to be blunt- it is the gas lighting of a sector and sadly, some seem to be falling for the rhetoric.
We need to dig a bit deeper and really look at how have we got to where we are in 2021?
How utterly absurd is it that so many now seem thankful to the powers that be for giving something back that we always had, but has been eroded by the givers themselves over a period of years?
How have we got here? Well, we have people in ivory towers, with no, if ANY experience, of working with and studying young children writing and deciding policy for our sector. We have ministers who won't listen to the voices of practitioners, academics, organisations and research/evidence that does not fit their view of childhood. We even have one minister who covers his ears when spoken to by professionals (not sure he would get the ELG for listening!)
We have OFSTED inspectors, some of whom are real advocates for EYs (and we thank them) whilst others (often not EYs trained) who do not seem to understand early childhood nor know their own guidance.
The recent OFSTED myth busting that so many of us have been calling for states quite clearly that curriculum maps/progression grids are not a requirement- so why are some inspectors still asking or them and even referring to them in reports? Of course, we welcome myth-busting documents but it is not just those of us on the ground who need to read them!
The removal of EYFS moderation is also stated as being linked to workload reduction. Frankly, the notion that assessment is now all about valuing practitioner knowledge of the child and professional dialogue is exactly what I spent years doing as moderation manager in my LA. I will say it again loud and clear "THIS IS NOTHING NEW! IT IS WHAT MODERATION IS MEANT TO BE!" Much like inspectors, of course there are moderators who do not adhere to the EYFSP statutory requirements. This is not a reason to get rid of moderation, a process that for many teachers is a supportive and perhaps rare CPD and networking opportunity. If moderation has gone so wrong then let's look at why. Could it be the depleting LA support? The removal of accreditation?
Indeed, I stepped down and was replaced as moderation manager by an OFSTED inspector who opened her 1990s style powerpoint by telling a packed room of Reception teachers “2 or 3 pieces of evidence can make a convincing case for awarding an ELG”. After the years I had spent focussing on building moderation a powerful two-way discussion about unique children- I almost got my coat and left!
I am also fascinated about the way in which some in the sector are so thankful to almost be given permission to spend time interacting/teaching children. This really begs the question “What on earth have we all been doing instead all this time and why do people feel they need permission?”
We all stand on the shoulders of giants such as Froebel, Montessori, Isaacs, McMillan, Malaguzzi, Vygotsky amongst others and their modern day counterparts such as Katz, Donaldson, Bruner, Laevres, Fisher, Ephgrave and many others!
Interaction and observation has always been our bread and butter, the core of what we do- and again if it has ever ceased to be so- then it is time to reflect on what happened- who and what has taken us away from our core purpose?
Who out there in an office tucked away knows more about children than the pioneers and guiding lights mentioned above? Who should be guiding our steps, steering our pedagogy? Every Early Years document I have ever read from the original curriculum guidance in its pink ring binder with its footsteps to Birth to 3 Matters to the EYFS framework in its various ages and even OFSTED's own teaching definition has always advocated the crucial role of high quality interaction...
*Interesting to note that this definition was in the Early Adopters EYFS framework and was removed for the 2021 final version. It is still however featured within Birth to 5 Matters.
The vital role of high quality interactions and positive relationships have always featured in early years frameworks and guidance since the birth of the foundation stage.
So in 2021 for the DFE to wrap this up all of this as a gift to the sector, as if they are doing us all some great favour, by liberating us from post it note writing (erm most of us dropped that years ago when we discovered hundreds had dropped down the back of the radiator), iPad snapping, trackers and endless data...
For the DFE to say they are about reducing our workload as they send endless updates, guidance and vlogs in our final weeks of term, final days and even the start of a break after one of the toughest years ever....
What if- just what if- those handing us the gift of these reforms, were the ones who took it away or broke it in the first place?
The gift of childhood.
The gift and joy of teaching in the Early Years...
...and are now riding in as savours to hand it back, wrapped up but with crucial parts broken, missing and ripped paper held together with cheap sticky tape- all in the name of improving outcomes.
Of course, we all welcome workload reduction.
Of course, we all know our place is with the children.
Of course, we all want the best for each child in our care.
We are teachers wherever we work and whatever our qualifications. We teach. We play. We interact.
We do not need permission to do our jobs, to do that which is in our bones- do we?
So in September- what will I be doing in my setting?
Well we will be doing what works. What has always worked. Standing on the shoulders of those giants. Respecting child development.
We will continue to put the unique child, positive relationships, enabling environments and holistic learning and development, the characterisitcs of effective learning, well being and involvement and PLAY at the core of all we do.
This approach has served me and the hundreds of children I have cared for and educated since I qualified as an NNEB, pretty well to be honest and I hope it will continue to for the rest of my career.
This is nothing new! EYFS poster 2008
We will use the guidance that works for us, meets the needs of our children: Birth to 5 Matters, building on all that has gone before to put the meat on the rewritten EYFS shaky, fractured bones.
What won't we be doing... two words: Baby. Bathwater.
What else won't we be doing? Topics. Mapping. Reinventing the wheel.
But that’s September.
Right now I have more pressing issues calling me...and I am sure you do too!
There’s a large G and T, a pile of thrillers from the charity shop, a new colouring book and a brand new set of pens (if you know you know), a huge diamond art project, and a much loved patient family who haven't seen nearly enough of me this year...
Happy Summer everyone. You rock.
And to those working through the summer- sending you solidarity, support, positive vibes and wishes that you will get some time for you. Hang in there PVI family. You are loved, respected and valued by us all. We stand with you.
Please get involved and leave a comment below.