This new year, it feels a bit like we are standing at a crossroads. The election is now done, there is a stable majority and, for better or worse, the policy decided now we are going to have to live with for the next few years.
The opposition parties are in pieces and settling into post-mortem soul searching and infighting. The promises about an end to austerity appear to be aimed at winning votes and preventing services from totally falling apart, but there still doesn’t seem to be a plan for addressing the main issues facing us as we lurch into a new decade.
I don’t see any real evidence of the early years sector being taken seriously. The arguments will continue to revolve around funding rather than practice, qualifications and curriculum (I know there is a consultation, but it feels rather like asking someone what they would like to eat when you have already ordered).
The thing about austerity is that it doesn’t just end. The impact of a systematic running down of services takes time to be realised. Although it might seem obvious in areas such as health as they are the ‘crisis’ services and often bear the brunt of cuts to other areas, the full effect is still to be felt.
The gaps between the very rich and the middle classes are now huge, let alone the ones between the rich and poor. As the differential between insufficient funding and rising costs widens, childcare is becoming the domain of the rich, with working families at the median income sliding further into debt.
The one thing lacking from all the political debates was ‘vision’, not just for early years but also for our future society. Our vision can’t be profit and growth forever, that simply isn’t reasonable – we know that from the overwhelming evidence of future environmental catastrophe. Our constant distraction through being forever connected ignores what it is to be human, and it feels as if we are losing our way. We need to step away from what we want and desire and try to think more carefully about what we need to do rather than what we want to do.
How is this relevant to early years? Well, I think in every aspect. We are the gatekeepers of children’s rights, we hold the youngest generation in our hearts and minds, we are the experts and we are the workforce.
Somehow in the next few years we need to find a better way of ensuring that the early years is at the heart of the education debate and not relegated to a subsection of work and pensions.