The Changing Language of Standards

England’s Education Act 2002, while written in the early part of the twenty-first century, lies among and within historical discourses about the young child, the good citizen, schooling, and parenting. Although the act is apparently a new and discrete entity, those past trajectories push and pull at the child at the same time as they contribute to the child’s discursive shaping through language and legislation. While this child is being shaped by historical discourses, the discourses also shift as new ways of knowing the child emerge: “An

‘age’ does not pre-exist the statements which express it, nor the visibilities which fill it” (Deleuze, 1988, p. 48). This UK policy articulates a shift in the “age” of young citizens, creating and created by bringing the child further into the public sphere than it had been prior to this act. I historicize this shifting discourse of child and distinguish some of the invisible visibilities within, around, and before the Education Act 2002.

While this act distinguishes three- to five-year-old children from infants, it also introduces a specific national curriculum for the foundation stage child. It reimagines these “new” children as part of the “human capital” or human resources of the country, which I will talk about more in this chapter. The new language also clearly continues to dichotomize governing in the public and private spheres as well as to separate the “family” from the “state.” The continuity of these dichotomies as fact or truth will also be opened for interrogation.

The discourses embedded in research and policy texts played a role in reshaping the child who was to be acted upon by the recent early years education policies and curricula in England and in many other nations. To explore these discourses I analyzed the texts of two sets of standards for EYFS children in England that were effects of the shift in the grids of reasoning about young children.

The first set of Early Years Learning standards is from 2001, published in a handbook intended for use by early years professionals and practitioners, and the second, the early learning goals (ELGs), for EYFS children that started in 2008 with 69 goals and consequently was reduced to 17 in 2012. In the first set of standards from 2001, the term “development” was foregrounded, appearing in four of the six larger learning areas. This use of child development theory did not appear in the 2013 standards. Child development is included in the earlier document as “stepping-stones” that “show the knowledge, skills, understanding and attitudes that children need to learn during the foundation stage in order to achieve early learning goals” (QCA, 2000, p. 5). The document continues by clarifying that the stepping- stones are not linked to age but that the earlier stepping-stones will be more frequently found in younger children. Also of note is that standards are not yet part of the language.

By 2012 the earlier grid had been replaced by a list of standards called ELGs. Examples are listening and attention, speaking, moving and handling, reading, writing, and so on. There are many similarities between the language used in both the 2012 ELGs and in the 2001 areas and aspects for learning in the foundation stage. The changes in text between the 2001 and the 2012 goals show a different grouping of similar developmental tasks, and through this grouping, giving different “weight” to some areas. For example, in 2001, “Mathematical Development” was an area for learning, and “shapes, space and measures” was one part of this area. In the 2012 list, they both appeared and were given equal prominence.

In spite of these differences in the language of normalization, the most marked change between the two handbooks was in the use of the learning goals or learning areas. In 2001 these learning areas were presented at the end of the portion of the handbook and were mentioned as the guidelines for lesson planning. By 2012 they had moved to the assessment area of the guidance for practitioners to form part of a list of items upon which each child was to be assessed regularly.

A completed EYFS profile consists of 20 items of information: the attainment of each child assessed in relation to the 17 ELG descriptors, together with a short narrative describing the child’s 3 learning characteristics (“Early Years Foundation Stage Framework,” p. 5). The handbook later states the purpose of the profile as follows:

The primary uses of the EYFS Profile data are . . . to inform parents about their child’s development [,] . . . to support a smooth transition to Key Stage 1 by informing the professional dialogue between EYFS and Key Stage 1 teachers [and] to help Year 1 teachers plan an effective, responsive and appropriate curriculum. (“Early Years Foundation Stage Framework,” p. 7)

Learning goals may appear to differ from the idea of normalization in that they seem to be simply stepping-stones (as quoted earlier from the 2012 EYFS handbook) in child growth and development. They become problematic when situated within the concept of the normal child who is “developed” in order to reach potential for the family and nation and to ensure that the child is not part of the world of abnormality or the dangerous outsider. A child who does not fit within the parameters of normal appears as a child seen from a deficit model rather than as a child who has differing strengths. The problematics of the child development and normalization discourses are further discussed later in this chapter.

An emphasis upon universal standards, including high-stakes test results in late twentieth- and early twenty-first-century educational reforms, perpetuated the myth that the scientific transcended the cultural, the social, and the individual. The privileging of test results was part of varying reforms throughout the time of “contemporary” or “modern” schooling for all children (late nineteenth century to present early twenty-first century) and reached one of several peaks at the time of England’s Education Act 2002. What was different about later reforms that included standardized testing is that they lowered the age of testing and standards into the younger children (by mandate as well as bodily), including children under the age of five. The discourse of normalization inscribed the normal child through standards, national curricula, and high-stakes testing. A scientific gaze was embedded within standards and national curricula for young children; children were characterized as universally knowable, following normed steps and stages of development.

The effect of the changes resulting from the new foundation stage on the three- to five-year-old child has been to increase the emphasis on education and define young children in relationship to schooling and its particular regulatory practices rather than to what many thought of as a theoretically less-regulated stage of “infancy” (while there is substantial literature on the regulation of young children in Danziger, 1990; Rose, 1999; and Walkerdine, 1998; Burman’s Deconstructing Developmental Psychology, 1994, and Canella’s Deconstructing Early Childhood Education, 1997, show clear regulation of infancy and early childhood). A foundation stage child is no longer solely a child of independent play but a child engaged in schooling, one who is now not only a learner but a student as well. This is despite the fact that the guide to the foundation curriculum developed for practitioners notes, “Children do not make a distinction between ‘play’ and ‘work’ and neither should practitioners. Children need time to become engrossed, work in depth and complete activities”; the foundation stage child is now to focus on the “work” of schooling (QCA, 2001, p. 11). The role of play in learning fluctuated in the national curriculum for young children. Research on brain development and global circulating discourses on curriculum “shovedown” (see Hatch, 2002) cautioned against too- early academic expectations and research on the importance of play in learning and development supported this. The curricular choices faced by early childhood practitioners and policy makers in many countries reflected a tension between the importance of play and the emphasis on measured achievement. England was no exception.

Historically, in national education policies in England, the United States, and in many other nations, young children have not been included in state-financed schooling but have mostly been funded by family-paid tuition costs. These early years programs vary from tiny gems of luxury with all the frills (early computer experiences, foreign languages, the very highest quality of educational toys) to struggling centers that barely stay afloat. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reports (2000, 2006) and many research projects (e.g., Moss & Penn, 1996; Bruner, 1980) have critiqued the unequal and uncertain levels of care for young children at the time. In many countries, including the United States in 2012, this is still the case. In England, the Education Act 2002 has taken a step to change this, to rewrite the young child by moving it into part of the potential of the nation, and young children have moved into a new type of citizenship—that of a resource for the future economic and cultural/global wealth of the nation. While educating and caring for future citizens is an old theme (see Baker, 2001, In Perpetual Motion, as one important example), the specific reference to children as normal or as a “dangerous outsider” with potential will be prob- lematized in the next section.

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