In these times of reduce, reuse, recycle, I wonder what scope there is for harnessing all the keyboard strokes, discussion and polemic currently issuing from an affronted Early Years sector in response to the many and varied government proposals for change?
The patronising, dictatorial and paternalistic tone of the government pronouncements; the ill judged comparisons with continental Europe; the apparent proposed shift towards structured “teaching”; the disregard of expert opinion and research, coupled with a perceived lack of dialogue, have lead to angst amongst the disgruntled workforce, parents and interested parties, with battle lines being drawn, entrenchment and passionate rhetoric.
The arguments on both sides have been tabled and publicised with extensive commentary in the media. It has generated significant sustained activity on social media, including e-petitions, Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin and numerous blogs (including this one). I don’t propose to go over them again here.
What I am advocating, as has been recently proposed by June O’Sullivan, Jennie Johnson and others, is that rather than defend ourselves against the attacks on the quality of and outcomes from child care and development services in this country, we already have the evidence of all the excellent practice in the UK and the many thousands of committed colleagues who provide effective care to successive generations of our children.
Our destiny is in our own hands. It is time to ‘accentuate the positives’ as the song goes and play the politicians and journalists at their own game. We in Early Years, are by nature I believe, an optimistic, upbeat and confident bunch, as so we should be. We understand the responsibility, importance and privilege of our roles and the potentially tragic consequences of failing our children – where would the country be if we all went on strike?
It is important to have a balanced discussion that acknowledges the issues and challenges and is honest enough to identify the shortcomings of the current system. After all, I am sure that what everyone wants is the best for all our children. The debate is – just what is the best for them and how to achieve it?
There is validity to the principles that underlie the current proposals – no one would argue against cheaper childcare; higher wages and improved status for staff; high quality care, interactions and child development and practitioners who have a deep understanding of child development theory and practice, and appropriately resourced environments. We need to challenge and address poor practice in our country not throw the baby out with the bathwater.
What appears to be being presented are the extremes of total anarchy versus a completely structured and adult directed regime.There is clearly a place for adult directed activities and there are times when children can be cared for in larger groups and when structured activities are appropriate. Children do benefit from boundaries and a degree of “school readiness” eg socialisation, independence skills and the ability to follow instructions (could we call this life readiness?). But the model choices should not be everyone sat at desks in large structured groups or alternatively all charging round the place aimlessly. To my mind, neither are good practice.
Our challenge is to clearly show what good practice is and to present the evidence for it in the current system
This is not a time to be faint hearted or defeatist.
Let’s come out fighting!