'This little piggy...'


With the election just weeks away, Professor Cathy Nutbrown urges politicians to see childcare as an essential service for the common good.

This little piggy went to market

This little piggy stayed home

This little piggy had roast beef

This little piggy had none

This little piggy cried 'wee, wee, wee'

All the way home

Many will see this rhyme as something to share in a loving and playful moment with a baby. We can imagine her, perhaps when a nappy is being changed, face to face with her close adult, and giggling as she feels a gentle tickle on each of her tiny curled-up toes.

Such moments are precious and important, and every baby needs such intimate encounters, every day.

I was reminded of this rhyme twice this week, first because I saw just this sort of warm encounter between an adult and a six-month-old. The second occasion was when I heard on the radio a discussion about a party election manifesto in which the intention to invest in childcare led to talk of a growth in 'the market'.

'Demand is increasing and supply will now catch up' were the words that came out of my radio. Is this how practitioners who work with babies and toddlers see themselves - as 'supply' to meet 'demand'? Thinking of the provision for babies, toddlers and young children in terms of a 'supply and demand' issue takes us straight to 'the marketplace', but the marketplace isn't where the real issues of working with young children are to be found. Early education and care is not an 'industry'; is it an essential service for long-term good, for children and families.

What matters most to families, children and the people who work with them is high-quality, understanding and sensitive encounters that nurture each and every child's heart, mind and spirit. And this isn't something new.

We know, know internationally, that the collective advice to governments is clear: high-quality work with very young children and their families benefits individuals, families and countries.

As party manifestos for the May 2015 election are published, with promises about everything that will affect the lives and work of those living in the UK for next five years and beyond, we need to remember that investment in young children and their education and care is essential - for now and for the future.

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