Monthly Archives: May 2013

More than one way to crack an egg

Alongside my work with this consultancy, and my writing work, I am also Chair of my daughter’s pre-school. It is, like so many groups across the UK, a remarkable little place that achieves much with very little. Our survival seems always to be hanging in the balance somehow, but I guess that we aren’t much different to many in this regard either.

Our EYP is a remarkable woman. ‘Vocationally devoted’ doesn’t even begin to describe how much of herself she gives to the group. Her passion, her skill and her talent in drawing out the best from the young children in her care is amongst the best I ever saw whilst inspecting. A long time before I had children, I had the privilege of inspecting the group and to this day, a decade or so on, I still feel it was the best pre-school provision I ever saw. That it happened to be 3 minutes from my house is just one of those gifts from the Universe that I will be forever grateful for. Now I am on the inside, as a parent and a committee member, there are no surprises to me when it comes to how hard it is to keep the group going. What’s more surprising is the willingness of the team to keep going in the face of all that challenges us.

For a lot of reasons we haven’t felt able to hold a day of action in support of June O’Sullivan’s call. But the EYP and I felt we still wanted our parent group to know a little more about the story behind the headlines, and so during half term, we have sent them this email. If you would like to make use of the text in any way for your own parent group, then please feel free to borrow, edit and so forth.

We can all of us make a difference, if we act together.

Dear Parents,

I’ve asked [our Play Leader] to forward this email to you during the holidays. You may have heard recent press reports of proposed changes to aspects of how childcare is regulated and organised here in the England (in other parts of the union different legislation applies). We felt it important to try and give you a flavour of what the legislative changes may mean to groups such as ours.

Running pre-school provision is already very difficult, as we operate on budgets that are tiny by comparison to schools. We are paid per head per hour, which means that the number on roll at any one time profoundly influences our finances. When we drop at the end of this term from nearly 40 families to less than 20, we will have to, as we do every year, ask every member of staff to take a cut in hours and pay. That they are willing to stay flexible enough to then build their hours up little by little as the year progresses, is our great fortune; just one of the many things that make our team so great.

The proposed changes to the ratios of adults to children in groups such as ours are based entirely on (flawed) economics, and are in direct contradiction to what good research shows is best for our kids. Our government knows that, with the second highest childcare costs in the world, they must do something to win the votes of hardworking families who are struggling to make ends meet at the next election. However, their ideas are based on models of childcare from other nations, and are designed to make childcare cheaper, but not necessarily better. The minister responsible has visited only 6 childcare settings during her time in post, and borrows concepts from Scandinavia, France and Holland that are already considered to be problematic by the governments in those countries. There is widespread opposition to her proposals, which are set to become law this autumn, from the Early Years profession and academic community. Nick Clegg has already hinted that they may not be in children’s best interests, suggesting there is division within the cabinet.

The proposed changes to the qualifications of those who work with children aged 0-5 sounds, on the surface, a good thing. Of course we want the adults working with our children to be appropriately trained to work with our kids. But again, the academic community have unpicked the proposals and shown that they will only serve to exclude a large cohort of people who otherwise have a great deal to offer our young children. Secondly, they have proved time and time again there is no causal relationship between highly qualified staff and good quality care. Qualifications are only one part of the picture in the make-up of a good practitioner.

The impact such legislation would have upon our group is profound. While there is no intention to oblige groups to increase the ratios for 2 year olds from 1:4 to 1:6, and for 3 and 4 year olds from 1:8 to 1:13, it is likely, if our competitors chose to implement them, that our fees might begin to seem expensive by comparison. Thus we might end up feeling unduly pressured by market forces to follow suit. At our pre-school we currently choose to observe ratios that are better than current legislation demands, so that children can move freely and safely both indoors and out, and so that every child has ample opportunity to experience high quality small group, or one to one time, with a supportive adult. To force through a change to the qualification expectations of potential staff may, in time, further reduce the size of the pool from which we tend to recruit. Finding motivated staff, who want to see our children develop their full potential, is very difficult indeed in a rural job market. Working with children is ultimately a vocation, and we endeavour to inspire our staff to give of their best; to impose further expectations on them, when they already do so much, is unrealistic and unnecessary.

I in no way wish to appear party political in giving out these messages. It is much more complex than that. What I do want is to convey the passion I have for our group, the challenges we face every day in keep this little ship afloat, and my despair at such ill-conceived policy changes making it to the statute books. I am, in my professional life, connected with many of the academics who are fighting these changes, and they have planned, across England, a week of action between the 1st and 8th of June. After much deliberation, [our Play Leader] and I have conceded that holding our own event between these dates is possibly a bit too much of a logistical challenge. However, we still wanted to share with you the groundswell of feeling shared amongst practitioners and others, and to give you a chance to take action if you wish.

But what can we do? If you want to know more, get in touch with me. I have a library of web links to articles that I can forward to you that can explain the proposals in greater depth (I’ve included one below that articulates the position of many well). If you’d like to do something, there are at least two online petitions you can sign (at present, they have a combined response of over 80,000 signatures and rising) and you can also write to our MP, [ ].

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/poor-liz-truss-shes-as-confused-as-my-toddler-and-her-views-wont-solve-our-childcare-crisis-8584216.html
[MP’s email]
[MP’s website]
https://www.pre-school.org.uk/get-involved/rewind-on-ratios
http://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/department-for-education-drop-plans-to-increase-child-to-adult-ratios

Kind regards,

Leoarna Mathias, Ctte Chair