Thoughts on Early Years politics

My turn to have a little say on #Early Years, musing about Ms #Truss and her assertions, pondering about #ratios, #Ofsted labels and the importance of #qualifications, including #EYPS. My thoughts, any errors are my own etc etc Grateful for any RT @letstalkcentral @LauraChildcare @EarlyYearsConsultant @EYTalking @nctdunstable @DunstableGaz @MNBedfordshire @thisisheart @Lou_Platt @DailyBEDS @lutonnews @BedsNews @childrens_trust @DayNurseriesUK @CompMyChildcare @childcare @bmdaynursery @LutonOnSunday @look4nurseries @netmums @NurseryWorld @bedsbabies @MillEndNursery

So Early Years has entered the political arena with Liz Truss giving many of us a reason to throw our toys out of the pram. Her favourite rattles: relaxing ratios, our unruly and impolite toddlers, arriving at school without the requisite communication and language skills, and the need to be more like France with structured play led by graduate-level practitioners.
There are lots of opinions about Ms Truss’ declarations, many of them not favourable. There is lots of debate over what she actually said and how it has been interpreted, and this will go on because she has attached one of our dearest areas: our children and their formative experiences.
Ms Truss’ wants children with more structure in early years settings, achieved by having higher qualified staff which means existing ratios can be relaxed, as happens in other countries. Not a bad concept but perhaps Ms Truss’ could have articulated some of it differently, and perhaps followed up assertions by some practical support for, say, getting these graduate level adults or improvement where a setting ‘requires improvement’.
A quick note on structured play with a graduate-level adult, then. We know toddlers love adult-led sit down experiences as part of their daily nursery life. But this happens in every setting anyway – not for the whole day necessarily, I grant you, but it does happen. And then children get up, have an explore (independently or with adult interaction when they choose to involve you), and then may or may not come back and enjoy yet another sit down experience. So we do have adult-led sessions, although maybe we don’t (intentionally anyway, PVA is runny stuff) glue their bottoms to their chairs a la mode d’ecole (school style), but toddlers are very focused little bods, and I feel that has been misrepresented by Ms Truss. We do offer structure, but as part of a day which also allows for child-initiated play, which is SO important on SO many levels for individual development.
I have to admit too, that I pale at the thought of trying to drag some of our two-year olds into a classroomesque structure – particularly boys, I might add: there is a gender element which could be the topic of a thesis in relation to Ms Truss’ comments. From day one, our local authority was insistent on ‘Free-flow’ and once we implemented this (we are a relatively new setting, give us a chance!), we never looked back. Some children are just happier outside, so we take activities outside and engage with them out there. This fits with the concept of ‘outdoor classroom’ with adult-led sessions, but again, probably not structured in the way in which Ms Truss seems to aspire to.
And our setting isn’t unduly unruly (see what I did there?). Why walk when you can run? Why talk when you can shout? Why sit when you can stand? Pretty much anything goes when you’re a nipper, because everything is a learning experience. Ok so shouting inside is not encouraged, unless you’re snapping like a crocodile, but that’s where the grown-ups come in to ensure there are boundaries.
And there’s another thing that Ms Truss brought up: children in France are expected to say hello to an adult every time they walk into the room (where have they gone, anyway? Were ratios broken? I jest, of course…). ‘Kind words’, ‘kind hands’, ‘good manners cost you nothing’, ‘wait for X to have a turn’, ‘what do we say?’ etc. These are all – in whichever way or words settings choose to implement them – part of nursery speak, whichever country you are in. It’s what we do. Table manners, politeness, sharing, reminders of ‘etiquette’.. Bread and butter of nursery life, I’d say, just from being immersed in little people who are at the point of learning what’s what in the world. And I tell you something, our littlies are probably better than us at saying hello to any adult that walks into the room, expectation or not! Excellent if this happens in settings in France – and I refuse to get into a cross-the-channel debate – but I’m sorry: Ms Truss, if you walk into our nursery, I have no doubt you’d be greeted by a raft of ‘hello, my name is… what’s yours?’ or ‘hello’ and a quick hug round the leg. Go on, try us.
Same goes for requisite communication and language skills – this is what we do on a daily basis, whether we’re sat down engaged in an activity with a group or 1:2:1, having circle time, or kicking a football around our field. It’s called talking.
Our littlies are not unruly and do have good manners; the onus is on Early Years practitioners to ensure this, and if they are not, then fair enough, Liz Truss’ comments have basis in fact. But actually, don’t tar us all with the same brush, please. Thank you.
Oh, and you don’t need a graduate to do this. A higher qualification is great: knowledge, credibility, awareness, understanding, theory, thought processes, reflective practitioners, evaluative thoughts, etc etc. You know, I get what being a graduate can bring to the table, but there are some marvellous people out there who for whatever reason don’t have a degree or qualification but to my mind, they are qualified practitioners with a wealth of experience and hands on interaction with their target audience. I’d rather have them any day. But ask them to get a degree or qualification and they may well walk away.
Not that I’m belittling further education in Early Years. Far from it. I did my EYPS so that I could learn about Early Years and it changed my thinking. But the course goalposts changed constantly and since this course has come into being, the format has changed yearly. This immediately impacts on credibility, in my opinion. We need consistency for adults as much as for children!
So yes, we can aspire to qualified teachers leading structured sessions and eventually promoting school-readiness – and world readiness. But we will lose some absolutely brilliant practitioners: fact.
And ratios. Aaah, ratios. Childminders particularly would be hard hit: at any given moment they could have a handful of children, all in nappies, all screaming for a change, while a baby needs a bottle and 2 others need medicine. For example. Problem. It’s a hard enough job as it is currently! Respect.
In our nursery, getting to go to the loo for an adult can be tricky because we always factor in the existing ratios. So relaxing them may mean someone doesn’t go hurtling out of the room (‘We don’t run inside, please’) the moment a supernumerary adult walks in (a rare occurrence in reality!). But actually, does it benefit the children? Who knows?
Actually, I can have 13 pre-schoolers to my name with my qualification. Yay! How we giggle when we think of how it would be if I did on a regular basis. Ha! Ok, maybe I can handle 13 when we’re all sitting around a table creating a dragon (Ms Truss sits up and takes note), but then one of them has an accident so I quickly attend to that, while the 12 behind me start negotiating who will be the maker of fire for the dragon and feathers fly… Again, I jest, but I’m just trying to make the point that having more children to care for just because you are a graduate or have a higher qualification is decidedly hard in reality. Hard isn’t the right word, btw, but I couldn’t think of another!
You know, I’m sure I’ve read somewhere that staff in France admire the English Early Years format, so maybe we’re not doing too much wrong? Every country has different approaches to Early Years, and really it’s because we are trying to create the best nurturing environment for our toddlers, to enable them to be the best that they can and happy: Simples.
Ultimately, as Early Years settings, we do what we’re told because otherwise we get a statutory failing with Ofsted, which now means we can be stripped of our registration within 4 years. You know what, though, 4 years is a ridiculous amount of time. If Ofsted think we’re not doing well enough by our nippers for 4 years, as a parent, I’d be pretty upset. And as a setting, it’s gutting to think you have a crappy label against your name for 4 years. Change THAT format, Ms Truss. Get the Inspectors to come and say ‘this is what you are not doing. Change it now. We’ll be back within [a month? 6 months?] to see what you’ve done to improve things’. Fine, this happens for inadequate settings, but if we’re not maintaining standards, hold us to account in a timely fashion, please.
We’ve benefited massively from regular intervention from our local authority. Boy, they held us to task and over the course of 2 academic terms, we had to work really hard to show improvement and implement change or they would have pulled the funding for our pre-schoolers. The fact is, we still have funding and we have a better setting as a result of their involvement. Consider that, Ms Truss, as a practical way forward in ensuring all settings get the support and involvement they need. I’m a fan of our local authority btw, can you tell?
Besides, in 4 years, a politician may not be in the same position as they were when they introduced certain stipulations, which leaves Early Years in a state of flux: n’est ce pas, Ms Truss?
I’m all for ideas, change, improvement, knowledge, understanding, structure and good manners. But everything in moderation, and everything in its place. You show me an unfocussed, unruly and impolite toddler, and I will show you a politician without career motivation.
Thank you for reading. I think I’ll go and mix some paint now.
Susie