Sector vents anger over childcare minister's remarks

Katy Morton
Monday, April 22, 2013

Elizabeth Truss has provoked a storm of protest from the early years workforce in response to comments that nurseries 'are breeding a generation of toddlers with no manners'.

In an interview with the Daily Mail, the education and childcare minister said that ‘many nurseries were filled with toddlers running round with no sense of purpose.’

She went on to say, ‘This isn’t about two-year-old doing academic work, it’s structured play which teaches children to be polite and considerate through activities which the teacher is clearly leading.

‘What you notice in French nurseries is just how calm they are. They learn to socialise with each other, pay attention to the teacher and develop good manners, which is not the case in too many nurseries in Britain.’

The interview with Miss Truss follows on from a speech she gave at the Nursery World Two-Year-Olds conference on Friday, in which she told delegates there is no requirement for settings to provide free-flow play or child-led activities.

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-School Learning Alliance, has branded Ms Truss’ comments as ‘ill-judged’ and ‘off-the-cuff’ about what she believes is happening in day nurseries and pre-schools, and insulting to practitioners and parents.

He said, ‘It is frankly astonishing that the minister in charge of childcare makes such ill-judged, off-the-cuff statements about what she believes is happening in day nurseries and pre-schools. The picture the minister paints is not one that would be recognised by anyone who knows anything about child development and learning.

‘Day nurseries are not hot-houses of anarchy, as the minister seems to believe. What she says is a gross insult to the profession and to parents who use daycare. What she sees as the ideal French model is regarded by many French practitioners themselves as dull and uninspiring for children. 

‘Young children are by nature active, energetic and inquisitive. It is these features that good-quality nursery staff nurture and develop through a balance of child-oriented and adult-led activities. This is not done by making them sit still and upright at desks in regimented rows.’

He added, ‘We broadly support the changes to early years inspections announced by Ofsted on Friday aimed at improving further the quality of provision across the country. However, this goal will not be helped by a minister who appears to want to demonise nursery and pre-school staff and the parents and children they support. 

‘It is extremely disappointing to have a childcare minister who praises the quality of provision in other European countries yet consistently fails to recognise high-quality provision here.’

Anand Shukla, chief executive of the Daycare Trust and Family and Parenting Institute, said, ‘Neither picture that Ms Truss paints of a French or English nursery is remotely correct. Nurseries in this country offer children a variety of activities, along with structured play.’

He went on to say that the education and childcare minister’s idea that children only engage in structured play and sit at desks goes against what they do in Scandinavian countries, where children start formal schooling later and have better outcomes.

Mr Shukla added, ‘I also worry that when parents visit nurseries with an idea of what they are looking for they will get worried if they see children running around as they might think that these aren’t very good settings.’

Purnima Tanuku, chief cxecutive of the National Day Nurseries Association, said, 'We agree with the minister that a chaotic environment is not good for children. However planned and purposeful activity does not necessarily have to mean only formal adult-led activity. The Early Years Foundation Stage advocates a mixture of adult-led and child initiated learning, which has been shown to aid development. The Economist Intelligence Unit report - "Starting well: Benchmarking early education across the world" - ranked the UK third in the world for quality of early years education. Early education in France was ranked ninth in the world for quality of early years education.
'Learning needs to be age appropriate and should support the children’s individual needs. Adult-led structured learning is important but must be balanced with the opportunity for one-to-one adult:child interaction, this is particularly important for under threes and children with additional needs.
'The personal, social and emotional development section of the EYFS helps children become self-confident and self-aware and to manage feelings, behaviour and relationships. These skills all help children learn to understand what behaviour is acceptable and to behave in an appropriate way in different situations.'

The early years sector has also taken to Twitter to hit back against Ms Truss's comments.

Anand Shukla, chief executive of the Daycare Trust and Family and Parenting Institute, who tweets under the name @anandshukla200, said, ‘Just what sense of purpose do we expect toddlers to have? #bizarre’

Early years trainer Kathy Brodie (@kathybrodie) tweeted, ‘Wrong on so many levels. As an educator I am not delighted by your ideas.’

Denise Burke(@thedeniseb), director of United for All Ages, tweeted, ‘@trussliz has no idea of the EYFS, our children learn through play, early years professionals and parents don’t want our babies and toddlers school ready.’

Early years consultant Jenny Barber-@JenB116, said ‘I’d like to know which nurseries in England @trussliz has visited to make her sweeping generalisations demoralising the profession.’

Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, the largest teachers’ union, said,
'Despite the glowing description by the children’s minister of nursery provision in France she fails to acknowledge that many people there view their own system as lacking in creativity and perhaps paying insufficient attention to child development.

'They are looking to England and the Nordic countries for inspiration to reform the current system and to learn from our tradition of play as a vital part of education for young children.'





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