Let’s listen to parents and show our appreciation for the early years workforce

Maccs Pescatore, CEO of Montessori Centre International
Tuesday, April 27, 2021

From debating face mask guidance in schools, to calling for teachers to receive vaccines, the pandemic has unified and uncovered the voice of the parent, says Maccs Pescatore

Maccs Pescatore, CEO of Montessori Centre International
Maccs Pescatore, CEO of Montessori Centre International

Up until this point, they have rarely been asked for comment; discussions around early years education have traditionally taken place between sector and Government, relying on the ‘experts’ for opinions and important decision-making. But when you break it down, parents are primary carers and teachers, who work hand-in-hand with the sector to educate children. The last year has shown us that their voices are loud and should be listened to.

Research published today from the APPG for Childcare and Early Education, of which we are a sponsor, shows that only 11 per cent of parents believe that current levels of early years funding are enough to enable nurseries, pre-schools and home-based educators in England to remain financially sustainable. The pandemic has highlighted that the current funding model doesn’t work for settings today, and many of us in the sector have spent the best part of the last 12 months calling for reform. Now, parents are joining us.

Early childhood is the foundation on which children build the rest of their lives; research shows that the interactions and experiences an infant has, have a lasting effect on their future academic and social success. Parents experience first-hand the benefits provided to their children by attending nursery, and many have reported a newly found appreciation of the work of early years educators, following their own efforts to home school during the pandemic. We surveyed parents a few months into the first lockdown and found that 77 per cent had an increased respect for how hard teachers and nursery staff work.

Educating young children is a specialist’s job, requiring years of training and professional qualifications to be able to do it justice. Early years professionals take on multifaceted roles – they are educators and carers, with a full understanding of the holistic needs of children and their families. Yet, by not paying practitioners a salary reflective of their value, society is making a clear statement: that we do not value the professional and vital work that is done. At the end of the day, and at the most important stage of a child’s development, this lack of adequate support, funding and respect puts the service provided to children and families at risk of being withdrawn, as teachers are not able to continue to work for such low incomes. It’s easy to imagine the harm on children’s long-term outcomes if this were to happen.

Limiting access to consistent, sustainable quality childcare and education provision also impacts parents’ ability to engage with the economy and wider society. We’re failing parents and consequently limiting what we can achieve as a society. Research has also showed that women have been impacted more negatively by the pandemic than men, as the responsibility to ensure their child accesses childcare and education is more likely to fall on them. Should childcare and early education services be forced to close as a result of underfunding of the sector, it could have knock-on consequences, including unfairly penalising the female workforce.

For many sectors, businesses and individuals, the pandemic has provided a once in a generation opportunity to make changes that will transform our society for the better. When it comes to early years, we need to see the Government listen to practitioners, leaders in the sector and importantly, to parents, who play a vital role in every stage of their children’s development. We need to see the right support – including a sustainable funding model - developed for the sector, to ensure the survival of early years settings that are essential to families across the country.

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