I was at Childcare Works’ recent Learn, Explore, Debate meeting and it hit me how the bottom line in early years has changed in the past year. We don’t talk about learning or development anymore; the subject most prevalent in everyone’s mind is funding. I understand this – without adequate funding, you are limited as to what you can offer. If your main preoccupation as a head teacher or manager is meeting the requirements in the statutory framework, then everything else tends to take a back seat. Ratios, rotas, statutory training, apprenticeships, meals, qualifications… the list is almost endless. But what are the consequences? Late nights spent bid-writing, guilt at constantly depending on the goodwill and fortitude of your staff in order to ensure sustainability?
The language we have started to use exists more in the realm of business and commerce than education. Words such as ‘business model’, ‘market’, ‘output’, ‘consumer’ and ‘shopping around’ are used more than ‘quality’, ‘outcome’ and even ‘children’. Morally, the overriding duty must be children, and I am worried the focus on economics rather than pedagogy (thank you for reminding us, Sue Robb) will change the focus indefinitely. The Government’s increasingly transparent agenda, brought into sharp focus by the 30 hours offer, is so clearly focused on the generation of tax revenue, rather than the equality of opportunity, that it frames the whole sector in terms of money rather than aspiration.
It would be interesting to calculate the actual cost of a universal 30 hours offer versus the cost of managing the ‘administration of childcare’ (the codes, the verifications, the help line and that hopeless computer system). I know central Government has skilfully passed some of that cost onto local government and settings, but is this like student loans – possibly costing more to administer than it generates in revenue?
We are in danger of losing our principles here and it’s happening because we are being distracted. The consequences of doing more with less is harmful to society in the longer term. The changing focus of childcare into a business transaction, rather than a moral imperative, chips away at the reason the workforce turn up in the morning – the opportunity to change lives, and in turn society, for the better.