Why we must speak up

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As Prime Minister David Cameron reshuffled his Cabinet recently, many of us waited to learn who would be the minister responsible for children.


Professor Cathy Nutbrown

What new policies might be championed and what would incoming ministers know about the needs of young children, their families, and early years practitioners? One thing is certain: though politicians may come and go, the needs of young children don't change, and quality early childhood education and care is as crucial now as ever. Let me tell you about three things that have worried me recently.

I was at a conference recently when a young early years practitioner came to speak with me. She told me how she loved learning more about young children's learning, and the more she learned the more frustrated she felt about her own role and the limiting factors in her setting that meant she was not able to work with children in the way she wanted to. She worked long hours for a low wage. She had paid the fee for the conference herself and was able to attend because it was on a Saturday.

A few weeks ago, I had an email from an early years practitioner who was planning to buy a house; she told me that she was thinking of leaving her job because she could earn more money working in an office.

A local children's centre near my home has recently closed, and the outdoor play equipment was left, abandoned and overgrown with weeds. Families now face a bus ride to the nearest setting, taking time and money to access the provision for their children.

These are real situations affecting real people, and these are issues that the new holders of political office need to know about. It is important that, as they settle into their new roles, they learn about the issues affecting young children, their families and the women and men who work with and for them. It is important that we speak clearly and with conviction about how the issues affecting children might be addressed. We need to keep telling politicians about the way children learn, and the important work early years practitioners do.

As the American cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead said, 'Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.'

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