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Sat 29th November 2008

Politicians showing concern for childrens upbringing

Filed under: General — MurrayBacon @ 12:18 pm

For me, it is sad that the conditions around our children’s upbringing, did not receive much discussion during the recent election campaign.
Issues include:
almost complete absence of men among preschool and primary teachers <10%
relatively few men among secondary school teachers <25%
Unskilled familycaughts failing to make care decisions based on the real life environments around disadvantaged children.
Govt provided incentives for breaking up families, causing as much problems for children as it solves
eg DPB
Domestic Violence Act which has large potential for abuse and no controls active on such abuse
together families taxed harder to subsidise the types of families that deliver poorer outcomes for children

These types of issues were discussed in NZ, but gained very little media traction and relatively little public interest.

In England, such issues are receiving wider discussion.

Daycare Trust Speech by Nick Clegg, Leader of the Liberal Democrats
http://www.nickclegg.com/2008/11/daycare-trust-speech/
November 25, 2008 by ncoffice

Daycare Trust Speech 25/11/08

Check against delivery

I’d like to start with a question.
It’s something that has been playing on my mind since you invited me to come and speak at this conference.

It’s this: why is it that in the UK the lecturers who teach our children at university are held in high regard…
But our early years childcare providers…
The people who guide our children through their most formative years…
Who help them develop the basic building blocks to take them through the rest of their educations, indeed the rest of their lives…

Why do so many of these professionals – I think some are here today – get such a raw deal from the people who make policy?

Why has that workforce become undervalued and overburdened?

I don’t want to diminish for a second the important role that academics play.
After all I did some teaching in a university for a while.
But I think the comparison between early years childcare providers and university lecturers is a telling one.

Evidence shows that the way we develop when we are very young – socially, emotionally and cognitively…
Has a much more profound effect on the people we grow up to be than the things that happen to us in our early twenties.

So why is it that the people who guide us through these early years aren’t celebrated for their tireless efforts?
Why do so many providers tell me that they love caring for children but that they feel demoralised…
And that they feel the new inspection regime judges them more on how well they fill in forms than how well they look after children?

This is what I would like to look at this afternoon.
I want to talk about the ways that our early years childcare workforce has been undermined…
The damage this does to the care that they provide…
And the steps we need to take to give them the support they deserve.
To drive up skills and with it quality.

I also want to say something about men.
Men are woefully underrepresented in early years childcare provision.
As long as they are absent childcare in this country will never be as good as it can or should be…
And if we as a society want to truly redress gender imbalance in the workplace…
We have to make sure men are engaged in jobs traditionally understood to be “women’s work”…
In exactly the same way that women must have equal opportunities across the professions that have been dominated by men.

So my focus today is very much on how we achieve excellence in care through supporting and diversifying the workforce that delivers it.

There is already a wealth of talent among our providers.
They are a huge asset to this country…
Looking after young children isn’t a path anyone takes for riches or for stature…
It’s a career choice made by people who want to devote themselves to giving children the best start in life.
And getting the best out of our providers means getting the best for our children.

I’m not just coming at this as a politician.
I’m also coming at this as a father.
I have two young sons, and another one on the way…
They are a constant reminder of how quickly children develop…
How they absorb and mimic the things they see and hear.
A reminder of the vital importance of loving care in a child’s early years.

Since the recent introduction of the Early Years Foundation Stage…
Providers tell me that they have been overwhelmed with paperwork.
With patronising and excessive regulations.

Of course we need a framework to ensure that care is delivered to the highest standard…
So we can track children’s progress and respond to their needs.
But what we don’t need is rules for the sake of rules…
Many which simply defy common sense.

I have childminders telling me that they now have to spend so much time writing down what children are doing…
That they have much less time with the children themselves.

Today I heard a story about one lady who has been looking after children for decades…
And who has never had a single complaint made against her…
But who OFSTED have marked down from “good” to “satisfactory”…
Because she didn’t have written permission to apply sun cream.

I hear a lot of these ludicrous stories, from nursery staff too.
About rules that treat providers like children.

They worry, as do I, that this Government’s obsession with assessment creates a one-size-fits-all approach.
Looking after young children becomes solely about following instructions…
Rather than about creativity and responsiveness.

It’s incredibly frustrating for providers who don’t fit this tick-box ethos…
But who do still provide fantastic care.

It’s deflating.
It undermines morale.
That in turn leads to disruptive staff turnover.

Most nurseries now have trouble recruiting staff.
And there has been an exodus of childminders leaving the field.

This Labour Government doesn’t trust the people providing the care.
That’s the real problem.
And they have a compulsive need to control childcare.

It isn’t doing our children any favours.
Government has become infatuated with central targets…
They want early years care to be too structured…
Focused too narrowly on “school readiness”.
But it doesn’t work.

Sweden learnt this years ago and now they’re top of the literacy tables.
In the UK, assessment and targets have been creeping down the age range for years.
Yet reading skills are no better than in the 1950s.

As many of you may already know my colleague Annette Brooke has led the battle in Parliament against the literacy goals in the early years framework.

Thanks to her hard work the Government has agreed to review them.
So much evidence shows they offer no lasting benefit to our children.
I think they should be scrapped altogether.

We need a much more straightforward approach…
Let’s start using a bit of common sense.

Let’s get rid of condescending regulations that bear few rewards…
And let’s replace them with a policy framework that shifts the emphasis off needless paperwork and on to quality provision.

Providers need guidance, of course…
But instead of dictating every detail…
And discouraging initiative and imagination…
Our main aim needs to be making sure that they are well trained and have the confidence and skills to deliver the best possible care

Research shows that children benefit from spending more time with highly qualified staff.
So all nurseries should be led by a graduate leader…
And all staff should be trained to NVQ level 3…
With access to continuous professional development.

Training should also be sensitive to the needs of the people receiving it.
It doesn’t make much sense to run so much training in the evening or at the weekend…
Anyone who has ever spent time looking after small children will understand that.

So why not, as some areas are already doing, run more during the day, using Children’s Centres as training venues?
And why not use the centres as hubs to spread best practice?

Better trained staff can identify children with Special Educational Needs more easily.
And support early on can mean these children will encounter fewer learning difficulties in the future.

It is also imperative that all staff know how to look after disabled children…
Too many of whom currently miss out on care because local providers aren’t properly trained.
This also denies their parents the necessary respite that childcare provides.

You see, having competent, self-assured staff isn’t just good for the children they look after…
For many parents it’s a huge source of support.

I think that’s often something that gets overlooked.
How engaging parents in the childcare environment is a crucial way of passing on knowledge and expertise.
People aren’t born knowing how to raise children.
Families and communities don’t function in the same way that they used to…
Parenting skills aren’t passed down between generations.
For parents who are in need of help or advice their childminders, nannies and nursery staff can be a Godsend.

The other issue I want to turn to is the lack of men working in childcare.
Men make up just 2% of daycare staff.
Just 1% of childminders.

The only profession that is more dominated by women is secretarial work.
Despite the vast amount of parents with children enrolled in nurseries that employ men saying that they are in favour of it.

The facts really do speak for themselves.

There is still a huge stigma attached to men wanting to work in childcare.
Even just for men who want to take a more hands on role in providing care for their own children.

I remember well when I first arrived at Westminster the strange looks I would get…
Especially, it has to be said from older men…
When I would miss a drink in the Commons bar so that I could put the kids to bed because Miriam was not yet back from work.

This is no criticism of my older colleagues but I suspect it’s a reaction many young fathers get in workplaces across the country.

In the House of Commons of course it’s a whole lot worse because the Palace of Westminster still has one foot firmly stuck in the 19th century…

And scandalously there are no proper childcare facilities for MPs who are mothers and fathers with young children.

For men wanting to actually work in childcare
The social disapproval, even hostility, that they often feel is a huge deterrent.

There are people who say that’s not the case…
That men simply don’t want these jobs.
But I’m sure forty years ago there were people who said women didn’t want to be doctors or engineers.
And the Daycare Trust’s own research shows that one in four men would consider working in childcare.

But they don’t.
Many feel emasculated.
Sadly some even worry that their motives would be viewed with suspicion.

Of those who have done it, some say the only way they were accepted was by being seen as “honorary women”…
Rather than as men with perfectly legitimate and important contributions to make.

We are never going to achieve fairness between the sexes in this country unless we tackle these inequalities.
Women have worked long and hard to get into professions that they were kept out of for years…
And they are still working at it…
That fight isn’t over…
The pay gap proves it…
But we must extend the fight to include equal rights for men in the professions where they are excluded…
That is the only way we will ever achieve a country which gives real equal opportunities to both men and women.

Plus it is better for the children who right now are being deprived the fantastic care that many of these men could provide.

Children need a mixture of role models.
And for the one million lone parent families in this country…
A male presence in the childcare environment can be hugely positive.

I believe early years providers have a vital role to play in bringing more men into the workforce.
By working with local partners, like councils and colleges…
To pursue initiatives aimed at bringing men in.
By being active in the recruitment process to make sure that men aren’t excluded…
Sometimes that can mean small measures, as simple as putting job adverts in places where men will see them.

Raising the number of men working in childcare is a big challenge.
But a crucial one.
And I believe our providers can meet that challenge.

I say that because I have a huge faith in them.
I know that with the right support that workforce can achieve great things…
That they can make early years childcare in this country amongst the best in the world.
If they are given the help and freedom they need.

Their commitment – in spite of the pressures I have spoken about – is testament to their dedication to our children.
They need to be given the opportunity to be the best that they can be…
And they need to be valued for it.
Let’s respect them like we respect our esteemed professors…
Because the difference they make is priceless.

Cheers, MurrayBacon.

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