Falling on deaf ears

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Small children don’t necessarily listen to advice, but as adults we should be better at listening too, says Sue Cowley


Sue Cowley

Small children don’t necessarily listen to advice. ‘Roll up your sleeves, so you don’t get paint on them,’ you say, but still they trail their clean sleeves through it. ‘Watch out for the nettles, they sting!’ you warn, but still the children come crying to you when they get stung. Children need to learn through experience and by making mistakes. It’s not enough for us to give them advice; they have to understand why the advice was important in the first place.

As adults, we should be a bit better at taking advice – at listening to those who know what they are talking about. But the DfE has a remarkable track record of not listening to the people who have to put their policies into practice. When the Reception baseline was mooted, many of us advised against it. Millions of pounds and thousands of teacher hours later, the DfE says that the baseline is not reliable enough to measure progress: the very thing that we pointed out in the first place.

Now providers are warning the DfE about the 30 hours policy. We are not being deliberately obstructive; we just know how settings work, because we run them. We have told them that the 30 hours policy is under-funded. We have warned that we will struggle to offer enough places, and that the policy may mean closure for some settings. But still they don’t listen. They plough on regardless, with promises of extra funding but insufficient detail about what that funding will be.

There are times when giving advice to a child is not enough – when you must go one step further and remove the hazard altogether. You don’t leave a small child alone with an open fire – you put the fire out first. And this is how it feels with the DfE. We have advised and advised and advised. We have warned and warned and warned. Yet still they don’t listen. I wasn’t surprised to hear that settings in York have pulled out of the 30 hours pilot because it is so badly funded. There comes a point where the danger to your setting is too great. And maybe we have no choice but to throw cold water over the DfE’s 30 hours project, because it is the only way to get them to listen.

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