31 January, 2020. For many in the early years, this was a big deadline, the date that marked the end of the government’s EYFS consultation. Now, we wait.
But that is far from the only thing that happened across the UK in the first month of the decade.
We’ve had stories on children’s centre closures, Ofsted speaking out on phonics, plenty of stories on the funding shortfall, and even the announcement of an early years survey by a certain well-known Royal.
Time to get stuck into it.
1. The EYFS consultation is over
The deadline for the EYFS consultation has now passed, and with it, many interesting responses have been published.
Not least is our own report about the proposed changes, and expert analysis about them from some of the biggest names in early years – you can read it here.
- The new bulleted ELG’s encouraging a ‘tick-box’ approach to child development
- A lack of focus on the earlier end of the EYFS
- The removal of shape, space and measure from the Mathematics ELG
- Changes to Communication and Language, and to Literacy
Practitioners across the UK also questioned the changes, including more than 3,000 who answered the Early Education survey and overwhelmingly support keeping the EYFS in its current form.
+ GECCO have started a petition to ensure sustainability is included in the reformed EYFS framework, after the initial consultation documents made no reference to it whatsoever.
+ The DfE has written to schools, asking them to be ‘early adopters’ of the framework in September, a full year before the framework becomes stauatory.
2. A Duchess surveys the nation
The Duchess of Cambridge has launched a survey named 5 Big Questions, which many in the early years are hoping will raise the profile of the sector, and help us to understand how the country views a child’s earliest years.
The survey covers what’s important for children growing up, who shares responsibility for their education, and what ages are most crucial to a child’s learning.
The website says it aims to start a “UK-wide conversation on the under-fives” and hopes to build the healthiest generation in history.
+ A survey by the 2020 Modern Family Index has found that more than half of parents work extra unpaid hours in the evening which threatens their work-life balance and the quality of the time they spend with their children.
3. Scale of children’s centre closures revealed
In answer to a question from shadow education secretary Angela Rayner, the government have revealed some shocking details about the scale of children’s centre closures in England.
- 80% of local authorities have closed children’s centres since 2010
- More than a third of local authorities have had their children’s centre numbers reduced by 50% or more
- Essex was the worst hit, losing 66 children’s centres in 10 years
- Gateshead has faced a reduction of 93% and is now left with just one children’s centre
The news comes after the Institute for Fiscal Studies revealed last year that the Sure Start program had had a “big positive effect on children’s health and reducing hospitalisations”.
+ Tulip Siddiq has been announced as the new shadow early years minister, replacing Tracy Brabin who was last month promoted to shadow arts and culture secretary. Tulip has chaired the All-Party Parliamentary Group on childcare and early education since its launch.
4. Low Pay Commission recognises funding shortfall
The Low Pay Commission, who advise the government on the minimum wage, has identified that the rise due this April will be a particular challenge for providers in the early years.
In their 2019 report, they recognised that “the funding shortfall continues to put pressure on providers”, and identified the early years as a low-paying sector alongside hair and beauty, cleaning, maintenance, and hospitality.
Hopefully, this recognition could pave the way to more recognition for the troubles facing the sector, and some good news come the budget in April.
+ Providers are being left in the dark on funding rates, with many local authorities still not revealing exactly how much money settings will be getting passed down to them.
+ Millions of pounds in early years funding was underspent last year, with only a fifth of local authorities reporting that they used this underspend to increase the rate for providers.
5. The month in child development
Here are the studies worth paying attention to from the last month:
- A quarter of children with autism under the age of eight are not being disagnosed, according to this from the US. Worryingly, the majority of undiagnosed children were black or hispanic, suggesting that there could be particular structural shortcomings in diagnosing children from minority backgrounds.
- Preschoolers are less active following excessive screen time according to this Lancet-published study, which found that toddlers who spend more than three hours a day on tablets or watching TV become less physically active when they turn five compared to those spending less than an hour.
- ‘Parentese’ can help babies make conversation and boost language development when compared to more normal speech. Parentese is the instictive way in which many parents across use exagerrated sounds and simpler grammar and words.
- Baby and adult brains have been found to ‘sync up’ during play with brain activity rising and falling together as they shared toys and eye contact – another study supporting the tenets of practice like sustained shared thinking.
- The behaviour of children between five and 12 years of age is improved when teachers focus on praising rather than punishing, echoing much of the positive behavioural approaches preferred in the early years.
- Children show better control when they depend on one another according to this study that used the classic Marshmallow test.
6. Does Ofsted think we should teach phonics before Reception?
In a word: no.
This was revealed by early years specialist advisor Phil Minns at a recent event in London following a question from Sue Allingham. He responded to her question on whether pressure to be doing phonics so early in Reception is pushing expectations down to the earlier years, saying that “We would have no expectation of seeing phonics being taught before children are in Reception.”
He also said, “We would hope most children start phonics quite quickly when they are in Reception…and we’d hope that staff are knowledgeable enough about phonics and their children to do it in a way which really suits those children’s needs.”
+ Meredith Jones Russell with this great piece on the trouble of putting pressure on practitioners to teach phonics too early. Also, Nicky Clements on five ways to create better readers in the early years.
7. New code to protect children online
A new code intended to protect children’s privacy online has been dubbed “transformational” by the Information Commissioner.
Social media sites, online games, and streaming services will all have to abide by the new code, which will come into force by autumn 2021. The standards include things such as ensuring that location settings are switched off by default, and that ‘nudge techniques’ which encourage children to weaken their settings are used.
+ A new report from Ofcom has revealed that nearly half of three- and four-year-olds regularly use a tablet, and a quarter have one of their own.
8. This month’s interesting reads.
Each month, we want to try and use this spot in our briefing to share the best stories, ideas, and opinion pieces that didn’t quite fit into any of the other big news topics.
For more inspiring and intriguing articles, head over to our new Facebook community Always Learning, where almost 1,000 early years professionals share articles, videos, news and guides that interest them. This month:
- I spoke with Stephen Burke from United for All Ages all about intergenerational care.
- The Education Endowment Fund has published research on how to improve mathematics in the early years.
- Charlotte Goddard explains the success of a scheme in Stoke-On-Trent to help children better understand their community in Nursery World.
- daynurseries.co.uk featured this great article about Stirling University and how they study behaviour in their unique early years setting.
9. The business bit
Just one bit of business in the business bit this month, but it’s a big one.
Kids Planet have acquired Kids Allowed, meaning two of the UK’s biggest nursery groups are now one, making Kids Planet now the third-largest nursery group in terms of childcare places. The combined 52-place Kids Planet is now the best childcare group for quality, based on Ofsted grades and other industry accolades.
10. In other news
+ Nursery group Tops Day Nurseries has begun a babywearing project across its 31 settings, in an effort to help better support children’s attachments.
+ I loved this article from The Guardian, featuring a nursery school that replaced toys with cardboard boxes, and saw creativity flourish.
+ Another fantastic story about a nursery flourishing by putting fitness and physical development at the heart of learning.
+ Another story close to my hear – all about how Busy Bees broke a den-building world record across their settings.