Early Education (or is it childcare?) on the agenda again but is anyone listening?   1 comment

The Preamble (as usual skip if want to)

It has been a while since I put finger to keyboard (and yes it is one finger as I can’t type) to write a blog about politics and the early years sector.

This is not because there has not been anything to write about – there has – but it has mainly been about the funding for the 30 hours and much of it speculation due to lack of information, or genuine concerns based on sustainability of early years settings .Until the last week or so. I have been commenting quite a lot via social media and indeed in person to colleagues. I just haven’t written a blog.

This is not because I have lost interest – because I haven’t!  If you have read any of my social media content you will know I still have a keen interest. It is certainly not because I have nothing to say ! It is not even because I have not had enough time – because although time is in short supply – when I have something important to say, I make the time.

No, the reason is because there has been nothing new to say – we have all been going round in circles saying the same thing in different ways. Lots of people have written articles, and blogs, and letters about the fact that the proposed funding is not enough.

So why am I writing a blog today?                                                                                                      In part it is because of this  article in Nursery World

http://www.nurseryworld.co.uk/nursery-world/news/1159053/labour-to-set-up-new-early-years-taskforce

Reading it reminded me of several things – and most importantly that lack of sufficient funding is not the only issue the early years sector has to worry about at the moment.

And  partly it is because the sector now knows what funding they can expect to get – many organisations have produced information for their members and in fact for anyone who wants to read it, but I think the funding calculator produced by the Pre School Learning Alliance is best because it is able to adjust figures to suit where the setting is based. If you have not seen it yet you can do so via the link below

https://www.pre-school.org.uk/eynff

So the two things together, is why I have decided to put finger to keyboard.

My Thoughts                                                                                                                                             For once this not a ‘have a go at the current government’ blog, it is an attempt to put my thoughts in writing about what I think needs doing to start the process of getting education in this country  heading in the right direction.

Of course this will not be an instant or overnight change – it will take time and will need to be a ‘step at a time’ sort of approach but if everyone could agree on what ‘getting it right for our children’ is (as stated by Angela Raynar in the NW article) then we might stand a chance of all heading in the same direction, not in many directions or as is tending to happen at the moment – in changing directions depending on who is in government and who is the responsible minister.

What we really need is to stop what is happening now – stop any in the pipeline changes and literally go back to the drawing board, look at how much money is in the system and what can be done in practical terms to start the ball rolling in the direction that will put our education system back on track – because lets be honest – things are a bit of a mess at the moment – from early years right through to university.

First things first – I have said it before and I will say it again (and again and again if needed) we MUST take education out of politics if we are going to stop this constant round of changes in direction, in policy, in practice, in what the ‘in thing is’, in people making decisions that they are not qualified to make them and all the other things that are resulting in children being data, and not people.

A child is so much more than just a number or worse just a tick (or a dot) on a matrix or sheet of data.

A child is not a future tax revenue, a child is person with rights now and in the future, to have their needs met and opportunities to flourish – but who also will be a key player in how our society could develop in to one where everyone is valued, respected, supported and supportive.

Every child is a  unique individual with similarities to other children but also with many differences. To ‘get it right’ for every child we must fully consider those similarities and those difference. No ifs, no buts, we are getting it wrong now because we are trying to fit children into ‘one size fits all’ adult created boxes.

I am not silly – I know that politicians on all sides will oppose my ideas about taking education out of politics and for hundreds of different reasons, so we will need that stepped approach.

I wonder which political party or minister or MP will be the first to say  ‘ mmm – maybe, just maybe we need to think about this’

Instead of constant changes every time there is an election (and often in between elections during cabinet shuffles),if  a all party Education Group is set up with representatives from all political parties  each with experience and qualifications in place or being worked towards, we might start to make progress. I find it hard to accept that those who are expected to make such vital decisions are not expected to have either experience or professional knowledge.

The Education Group  will need representatives from leading organisations from early years up to university level, and those who work on the ‘ground floor’ in other words those that do the job day in and day out, plus some others  (maybe volunteers) who have had recent direct experience of working with children and young people but who do not have any direct personal connection that would or could result in them gaining in anyway from voting or influencing others in the way policy is taken forward. In others words take monetary gain or back handers, or golden hand shakes or promises of funding or plain and simple bribes out of the equation.

Sounds easy, doesn’t it – but I know it will be anything but easy as so many have personal agendas or questionable ethics around their own careers or business links or available ‘perks’.

HARSH?

Maybe but if people have nothing to hide or be ashamed of, then they won’t mind my questions or opinions – in fact they should welcome my thoughts as the ‘good and well intended’ people are getting tarred through the actions of others’

You may be thinking ‘Even with such an Education Group, political parties are going to change and so will the MP within those parties, which means we will still have constant changes’

If you are thinking that, you are of course right  – MP’s will change BUT we will not have Education Ministers anymore, the group will be chaired by a independent person decided on by the Education Group itself. MP’s like any other member of the group may (and would) change. The whole point though is the focus of the group, the direction of the group, the education policy will not change just because one or more member leaves through change of employment, ill health, retirement or indeed government.

And in my opinion this is what education policy needs most  – long term, consistent, evidence based plans.

This in itself will save lots of time and money – think about it – every time we have a new Government, or a new minister we have to wait to see what the ‘new plan’ is, all those who advise or are part of consultation groups then have to meet the minster and play the ‘getting to know you game’ and then wait to see if the minister is listening and then usually because the minister is not listening and does not have any educational expertise, spend hours and hours challenging the ministers ideas – usually in  politely worded letters and articles.

In my opinion  – having been involved in a few of these meetings at various levels – a complete and utter waste of time and money. As are the so called consultations and the pilots of ‘the new idea’ – these things cost thousands, and sometimes millions of tax payers money – yes, our money, which I am sure most of us would prefer was not wasted on meetings just to get to know people, or consultations that government don’t take any notice of, or pilots about things that the government are told won’t work.

Talking of which – I am just an individual who happens to advocate for children, families and early years settings, I do not considered myself to be an expert, just some one with a reasonable amount of common sense and a passion to try to make a difference.

However, my  campaigning track record is pretty good – I said increased ratio’s were not the way to reduce childcare costs; I said childminding agencies were not needed or wanted and would not be financially sustainable; I said baseline assessment just to produce data for the government was not needed and would not work – and on these issues I was right.

I have been saying (and still are saying) that funding levels are not sustainable and settings will close or not offer funded places;  that testing is flawed and does not improve outcomes; that trying to introduce academic learning too soon would have a negative impact on the children and eventually on society.

Of course I am not the only person saying these things but I am usually one of the first to say them, and one of those who keeps saying it and keeps trying to get Government to listen – so maybe, just maybe, I am worth at least listening to?

Money matters                                                                                                                                          Again, I am not silly – I know that there really is not any more money – at least not any more ‘new money’. Governments are very good at saying there is ‘new money’ when in fact it is the same money just recycled or shared differently. However, what I also know is the Government has HUGE amounts of tax payers money that they keep for things they want to do – they are just not honest about how much there is or what they plan to do with it. I am not an accountant but I know the figures given about the money in and the money out – often do not tally and therefore there is ‘new money’ but it does not get spent on the things that matter. As an example MP’s pay and expenses seem to have a bottomless pot, where as other things seem to have a very limited pot.

So once the Education Group is set up they need to be given control over the education pot of money – because I am fairly sure the money available could be used much more fairly and effectively.

Should the people who make up the Education Group be paid? Yes but a flat rate for all that covers their direct expenses, and their time commitment. There should not be high ‘consultant fees’ or more for MP’s or CEO ‘s of organisations or companies – no one should be expected to do it for free and those organisations and companies that offer the services of their employees should be reimbursed for actual costs – but so should those who are involved from ‘the ground floor’ or as a expert or as an advisor.

It is not for me to say how much – this needs to be decided – but personally I think it would be much less than we currently pay, and because in the long run there would be far less need to meet to get to know people or to plan the next ‘new idea’ that costs would reduce not increase because everyone would be going in the same direction and things would just need evaluating and updating, rather than implementing totally new agendas.

A few ideas for starting points                                                                                                              It is not for me to say what direction the Education Group should head but I do of course have some suggestions that might be worth considering and which should not be difficult to implement or very costly. These could be ‘starting points’ that would make a difference while the ‘bigger picture’ is considered and the infrastructure and  finances discussed.

Curriculum for Early Years                                                                                                                         We are of course still waiting for the promised update to the Early Years Foundation Stage(EYFS), so let’s use this to an advantage – scrap it – don’t publish it.

Instead quickly update it by removing all the ELG’s and changing those statements linked to reading, writing and other academically stated aims. This will then stop early years settings and reception teachers from feeling they should push children into academic learning or that they have some how failed if some (or many) of the children in their care do not show  enough progress toward the goals. This would in turn then encourage more play based experiences without any planned outcomes.

The EYFS is not prefect and it does need replacing but in the short term removing the goals would be a good starting point. In the long term I suggest we don’t need a ‘curriculum’ for under 7’s but we do need a play based culture where teachers and early years practitioners are trusted to do the job they have been trained to do. Of course this is not that simple because too many practitioners have not had a play based developmentally appropriate based training / qualification but that is something long term that needs to change.

Second thing to do – that will take a little while to fully implement – but a start could be made – is to provide all children with a Kindergarten type stage from 3 – 7. Some Year One teachers are already trying (and succeeding) to extend the ethos of a play based experiences,  but they still have to prepare the children in their care for stats and other testing. So a simple to implement start would be to scrap stats and testing for under 7’s. Please note this does not mean stopping observation based assessment by teachers or early years practitioners, it just means changing the focus so that it is only if a concern is raised that a child cannot do some thing developmentally appropriate (which is different from choosing not to do something) that more in depth assessment takes place. This in turn would mean less paperwork requirements and so enabling staff to observe more closely, take photos and enable effective sharing of information with parents and other professions through really knowing the child  rather than needing to reel of data and assessment scores.

Funding                                                                                                                                                           Time to come clean and admit this policy is flawed, it was just a knee jerk reaction to other promises  made by others during the run up to the election. A simple solution that would support parents and settings in the short term while the bigger picture of funding is looked at would be for the government to  continue with the funding of 15 hours of education for 3 and 4 year olds  – but to fund this at a more realistic rate based on CURRENT costs – and to index link it. This links to research that part time attendance at a high quality early years setting does improve educational outcomes (note –  if through  play based non academic experiences), and so it is right that every parent should be able to access this  funding if they want to – but without expecting early years settings to subsidise the cost or receive low pay.

For the childcare side of things to support  working parents (as many need to work or want to work) then it seems fair that tax payers money is used to support ALL children by means of part payment direct to childcare settings . At the moment many parents find the childcare benefit systems hard to navigate or understand – and often end up having to repay huge amounts due to system failures.

So using employment records to check if a parent is working, the government should pay a subsidy directly to the childcare provider of say £2 per hour (and to start with for the 30 hours already suggested)- and the parent pays the rest themselves – again directly to the provider. This way any variations needed due to area lived in, or parental choice  will be paid by the parent. One point I would make is that  if a parent has more than two children in childcare at any one time, this idea would not be sustainable for either government or parents so consideration has to be given to this. Consideration also needs to be given to support parents who chose to stay at home with their children  – or indeed have to due to their child’s specific needs. One idea would be to have a flat rate for stay at home parents – so the same if one children or several children – even £30 a week would make a huge difference to those concerned – but would be half the cost of paying a subsidy to childcare providers of £60  a week for one child for working parents . The needs of the children should be  put first, not the needs of tax revenue. As an aside I wonder how many parents work evenings or  weekends to avoid their child going into childcare for long hours and so do not have childcare costs but still pay tax? Is that a fair system?

Ofsted                                                                                                                                                               If we are to bring about change the work Ofsted have been doing to improve inspections must continue – but for Ofsted to be really effective, the remit from the Government through the DfE needs to be changed so less emphasis on goals, or targets or data about children’s academic progress

Qualifications                                                                                                                                                  GCSE’s in Maths and English are  not the right way to access if someone would be a good early years practitioner. If it was – a lot of the current good and outstanding settings would not be operating because many of their staff started without those qualifications – and some still don’t have them. Experience, passion, in head knowledge, willingness to lear on the job, and sector based skills in the 3 R’s far more important.

Joined Up Thinking                                                                                                                                     I am not as knowledgeable outside early years and so don’t feel I should comment on schools or university – other than to say the system is not working for anyone at the moment – student, those that teach, or indeed for employers once young people leave school or university. The benefit of an Education Group  would be that there could be a joined up system that  enabled everyone to agree what was needed from early years up to end of university. Of course there would need to be sub groups for each part of the education system but  if all could agree on the basic direction and how to work together that would be a huge improvement on the state of things at the moment.

Summary                                                                                                                                                          So my ideas may be idealistic rather than realistic but we need to start somewhere and starting points are not always the end points. My own personal experiences and those of family and friends tell me that our education system is broken and  a quick fix, like the introduction of Grammar schools will make things worse not better. We really do need a complete rethink – and easy to put in place measures to give everyone time to think about the bigger picture and what sort of education system we need.

To answer the first question in my title  – I think childcare and education are interwoven and one cannot be provided without the other. The child / young person must be at the centre of everything we do and what is ‘right’ for one child may not be ‘right’ for another child. We need flexibility, we need to think about the child’s well being and ensure we safeguard them  from inappropriate education systems whilst ensuring every child flourishes – and for that reason I think we need another word to describe the education and childcare we provide,  as neither word is ‘right’ and conveys different things to different people.

So maybe that is the first thing to be decided? Personally I think the word education should be for the over  7’s, once they start their academic learning – as for the under 7’s I am not sure but the word ‘childcare’ does not seem to  convey the right image or message either, when nurturing these young children ( the under 7’s) and laying the foundations for everything that  will follow once they are 7, is perhaps the most vital role in the world for parents and early years professionals.

However, for the time being and to fit with current Government agendas, I can see why the Government speak of ‘childcare’ and ‘education’  for funding reasons. I don’t agree with it, but I can understand why.

The second question in the title is harder to answer because at the moment it appears some are making the ‘right noises’ about wanting to listen but experience says no one is currently really listening and no one is brave enough (yet) in Government to stand up and say ‘Enough, we have got to change how we do things’.

As a campaigner I have to remain optimistic otherwise I would just spend all my time in a dark room without access to the rather depressing news items that hit my eyes and ears everyday.

But sometimes I do feel like I am talking to the wall – and maybe that is because I talk and write rubbish that no one is interested in.

However, I do have faith that my knowledge, my personal experiences and indeed my track record – prove that others including Government and opposition political parties should at least read / listen to my opinion and ideas – and preferably invite me to meet with them so we can discuss and make changes to the system – before it is too late for all of us.

I will wait for comments on this blog, or on social media to see who has read this blog and what they think.

And (if not too optimistic), I will also wait for emails or phone calls inviting me to attend meetings

 

 

 

 

Posted September 29, 2016 by psw260259 in My thoughts on current childcare issues

One response to “Early Education (or is it childcare?) on the agenda again but is anyone listening?

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  1. Pingback: Personal Feedback from Midlands Childcare Expo 2016 | Penny's Place Childminding

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