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Blog: Children or pupils: does it matter?

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Monday, 22 February, 2016

If you have looked at the recently issued EYFS Profile Handbook 2016, you may have noticed a small but significant change in wording had crept in, with the word “child” replaced by the word“pupil” almost – but not quite – throughout the document.  The communications team at the DfE who were apparently responsible for this change (which we have been told will shortly be corrected) seem not have appreciated why the change mattered.  Several of our Vice Presidents were very clear about why it did.  We wanted to share key extracts of their discussion to explain why this matters very much.

I have just been going through the EYFSP handbook and see that we seem to have lost ‘children’ and now have ‘pupils’ throughout the EYFS, including ‘pupils from birth to five’  on p45 (I’m sure my niece is looking forward to giving birth to a ‘pupil’ in a couple of weeks!).
In section 5.3 ‘pupils’ is used in the wording of the ELGs.  As these are embedded in legislation surely the STA can’t just change them at will.
This feels like another stretch of the slippery slope we are going down.
Lesley Staggs, former National Early Years Director in the National Strategies

Very interesting Lesley. To be absolutely correct, I think they do use the words 'children' and 'child' occasionally in the Handbook but mostly this is where they are referring to the 'parent's' role, relationship or involvement. Otherwise the default position does seem to be to use the word 'pupil' throughout. So if that is the taxonomy/nomenclature it makes it really interesting and distinctly weird: the parent has a child but the setting has a pupil. How odd that someone decided to make this kind of distinction. 'Pupils' are defined by the OED as 'one who is taught by another' which for me doesn't quite capture the educative relationships in early years' settings.  Pupils birth to five, really?
Professor Tony Bertram, Director, Centre for Research in Early Childhood (CREC)

The words do matter as they represent a particular construct and mindset - (as does the slip from 'pupils' to 'units of income' which I have also heard from heads). The term 'pupil' sees the child narrowly as a contributing unit in a school agenda which in current times is an organisation which has to deliver results on a relatively narrow set of measures. It fails (by using this term) to see the child holistically, uniquely and developing, learning and exploring the world on all fronts, within a family and a wider community, as well as the school - as the EYFS does. Terminology matters and this is out of tune with the EYFS (and the general philosophy and values with which most of us work with our youngest children).
Professor Chris Pascal, Director, Centre for Research in Early Childhood (CREC)

Whether this is a deliberate and considered attempt to impose that ideological stance on an EYFS which is opposed to it, or sloppy thinking, or a combination of both conspiracy and cock up, I agree that we need to tell people we have noticed and why it matters. The EYFSP will not be statutory after this year and we can therefore assume that no further handbooks will be provided, however terminology is transferable and we want the authors of guidance to think about the children of whom they write before they splurge 'pupilspeak' all over the place.
Helen Moylett, Consultant and co-author of Development Matters

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