UK: Mandatory Pre-School Standards to be Made Optional

The Early Years Foundation Stage framework, which has been mandatory in all UK nurseries and pre-schools since 2008, could be dropped at over 500 independent prep schools, after a plan by the coalition government to make it optional became public. The framework, which was implemented in order to prepare students for grade school work and had required benchmarks in literacy and basic numeracy, has already been extensively reformed since the current government came to power, with 67 benchmarks reduced to 17. The next step will be to allow some schools to drop whole chunks of it and still be compliant with Department of Education guidelines.

In a consultation document, the Department for Education is proposing to allow private schools to “seek exemption from the learning and development requirements of EYFS where there is evidence of high quality and parental support for the approach”.

It is believed that the move will lead to many independent schools scrapping the curriculum.

David Hanson, the head of the Independent Association of Prep Schools, supports the move and calls the EYFS a government attack on parental rights. He took issue with the fact that the framework not only sought to standardize the requirements on all pre-schools, it also imposed a specific methodology on all schools, even if it conflicted with programs that have successfully worked there in the past. The framework, for all intents and purposes, removed from parents the right to decide on their children’s education.

Although the government plan has been welcomed by many independent schools, it was drawn jeers from other places, especially from experts who drafted the framework in the first place.

Bernadette Duffy, head of the Thomas Coram Children’s Centre in north London, who helped lead a review of the curriculum for the Coalition, told the TES: “Our view is that there is enough flexibility within the framework to embrace different traditions and different ways of working.

“I hope most people won’t want to exempt themselves from it as it is based on research about what works best for the vast majority of children.”

The DoE spokesman, speaking about the new proposal, said that the goal was to untie the hands of schools that have already taken steps to make sure their kids are well prepared to begin full-time schooling. The department is considering the change after reviewing the findings of a report, put together by Claire Tikell, that showed that innovative and high-quality programs in place at many independent schools provided even better results than those required by the EYFS. It is based on these findings that she offered the recommendation that such schools be released from the framework requirements and be allowed to pursue their own curriculum.