Fiddle around the edges

Michael Pettavel, head teacher, Brougham Street Childcare and Nursery School, Skipton
Monday, December 11, 2017

Too many people are fiddling with early years policy, says Michael Pettavel, when the real problem is money

I read with a heavy heart the new Ofsted report on Reception classes, ‘Bold Beginnings’.

With a heavy heart because surely there must come a time when people stop fiddling. Fiddling with stuff, I often tell children, breaks it, and currently too many people, fiddling in too many areas, is damaging the early years. Research is different, aimed at finding an answer, rather than a problem – it informs practice, not dictates it. We have a great number of people who have a solution, all looking for a problem to solve. I can tell you all about the problem – it’s called money.

We are awash with do-gooders looking to ‘help’ us improve, but always to their own agenda. The go-to statement that more than ever is being invested into early years just isn’t cutting it with me – it’s missing the point. The bottom line is how much children get per hour, not how much you throw at the ‘sector’. Lots of vague, unqualified statements do not a policy make.

The whole situation is a sham – life does not begin at five, learning is not the sole domain of schools and Ofsted, and certainly not the DfE. The gap in achievement exists pre-birth and that is not the sole responsibility of educators, but of society and Government. Currently it is a Government that pays scant attention to the needs of the youngest children and the families who are struggling on universal credit and visiting food banks. As Sure Start and children’s centres morph into services that struggle to cope with the sharp end of deprivation, it becomes easier to make the issues someone else’s problem. The Ofsted report is simply shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted.

Look me in the eye and tell me that children who come from balanced, solvent families don’t have a head start before they start Reception, in fact before they are born. I heard that the entire board of the Social Mobility Commission has stood down in protest at the lack of progress towards a ‘fairer Britain’, so it’s not just me who feels that current policy is built too much on soundbites and smoke and mirrors.

That is not to say we don’t have a role to play in addressing inequality, but please do own up to why the inequality is there in the first place and give us the resources to do it properly.

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