Book review: Too much too soon
Too Much, Too Soon
An OpenEye publication edited by Richard House.
Hawthorne Press, £20
This is an important book because of the opposition it offers to the government’s EYFS (Early Years Foundation Stage) programme. EYFS imposes a formal curriculum on all nursery schools and child-minders, involving 69 learning goals to be assessed on a 117 point scale when a child reaches the age of five. The Tickell report, in March 2011, recommended reducing the number of goals from 69 to 17, but did not question the value of setting learning goals for such young children in the first place. The main part of the book consists of 23 chapters, 21 of which are written by different people. The other two are an email discussion and an interview. There are also pages devoted to endorsements, a foreword, a preface, an introduction and an afterword. Most of the contributors belong to a group called OpenEYE. The EYE stands for Early Years Education, and the members include educators, parents, policy-makers and academics. Each contributor offers a particular approach to a number of specific objections to the EYFS programme. These objections are listed as follows:
- TOO EARLY LITERACY – the compulsory EYFS literacy goals were seen as being developmentally inappropriate (which leads into a wider critique of thenotion of formalized ‘Learning Goals’);
- A PLAY-BASED EXPERIENCE? – we questioned whether ‘structured’ play linked to learning outcomes can ever be meaningfully authentic play;
- AN ‘AUDIT CULTURE’ IN THE EARLY YEARS? – we argued that early-childhood experience is the very last place where ‘audit culture’ values and practices should hold sway;
- THE EFFECTS OF THE EYFS ON EARLY YEARS PRACTITIONERS – we questioned the utilitarian approach dominating the EYFS guidancethroughout, which verges on a kind of ‘developmental-obsessiveness’, and the enormous bureaucratic demands of the framework;
- STATE-DEFINED ‘NORMALITY’ IN CHILD DEVELOPMENT – we questioned the government’s definition of what is ‘normal’ child development being compulsorily enshrined by legal statute; and
- HUMAN/PARENTAL RIGHTS – we believed the EYFS legislation to be directly compromising of parents’ rights to choose the pre-school, pre-compulsory school-age environments that they wish for their children.
This is an academic book with over twenty pages of notes and references to other works. The arguments range from the rhetorical to the statistical but offer disappointingly little in practical illustration of the way things might be done better. The one anecdote about an actual classroom situation comes in the chapter by a critic of the Reggio Emilia approach who quotes a description of a delightful lesson only to condemn it as ‘anthropocentric’ and ‘logocentric.’ There is a whole chapter about the theories underlying Steiner early years education, but no examples are given.
Personal experiences with bureaucracy are described fully, but personal experiences with children are not described at all. Although babies and young children are to be the beneficiaries of the work of OpenEYE, there is little about what they themselves like doing. When Alison Stallibrass, the author of The Self-respecting Child, was told that people often asked at what age it was appropriate to start to allow children to decide what they were going to do, she commented that, strangely enough, the question she was always asked was at what age was it appropriate to stop allowing children to decide what they were going to do. OpenEYE seems to tend towards the Stallibrass view, but without practical examples this is not obvious.
At the beginning of the book there are five and a half pages of enthusiastic endorsements. It remains to be seen whether it will convince policy-makers.