To the point - It's all nonsense

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The early years sector needs to stand up and fight the Government's proposed childcare reforms, says Nancy Stewart


Politicians are not experts in education, but they do know where they stand. And they are experts in citing examples to support their biases. So, Mr Gove tells us that we should have longer school days and shorter holidays like countries in the Far East (although these countries have summer breaks no shorter than in the UK).

And Ms Truss is enthusiastic about childminder agencies as in the Netherlands (even though they don't work and are being abandoned), and ratios and structured nurseries to match what she admires in France (even though their early years provision has been judged of lower quality than in the UK).

We can all play that game. For instance, China comes top of international achievement rankings. Since their written language is completely recognised by sight with a sign for each word perhaps we should abandon phonics and teach sight reading alone. Or if we were impressed by France, we could copy some of their other educational approaches: a daily four-course lunch followed by cheese; a four-day week and 19 weeks holiday each year.

Best of all, I would imitate the system in Finland, with star results in world comparisons and the narrowest achievement gap in Europe:

  • Kindergartens emphasising learning to learn, not facts or narrow skills, with a focus on relationships, creativity and play
  • Adult:child of 1:7 for ages three to six; 1:4 for two-year-olds; 1:2 for one-year-olds
  • Starting school at age seven
  • A national curriculum giving broad guidelines only, with professional judgement tailoring plans to children
  • No standardised testing until age 16
  • No school inspections.

Whatever we want to promote, we can probably find an example. But no system can be imported directly, and this sort of cherry-picking is a nonsense. Ms Truss knows what she wants to see. But she is not a professional early years educator. She does not have the understanding of many who oppose her plans, based on excellent British nursery traditions, study of theory and approaches and experience of working with children and families. It seems she wants to dismantle early years pedagogy and replace it with her prejudices. The professional early years sector needs to stand up with integrity and refuse. Anyone for a march?

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