Monday, 31 March 2014

'Putting Children First' Manifesto is welcome antidote to current early years proposals

There was consternation over the weekend amongsts early years specialists and parents following the announcement of tests for two year olds.  The tests would be the logical extension of the neoliberal obsession with the grading and rating of children and their teachers as education becomes increasingly linked to purely economic goals. A base for future measurements is established at a lower and lower age as the government seeks to establish data on which to judge provision. The obsessions with data and measurement is at the expense of holistic child-centred early years education.

Formative assessment of a child should be linked to long term goals of health and happiness rather than aimed at predicting future narrow academic performance.

This was announced alongside government proposals on making the emotional abuse of children an offence. I have little quarrel with that but it comes at a time when children are subject to social and economic abuse by the government as their families suffer from benefit cuts and the disruption caused by the bedroom tax.

The Green Party's Education Policy LINK opposes testing of young children and instead advocates an approach that takes into account differing rates of child development and the  important role of play.

The 'Putting Children First' Manifesto issued today by the Save Childhood Movement brings together those concerns in a very powerful document that I welcome as providing the basis for building a consensus against the current proposals. It is certainly a manifesto that the Green Party should support.

This is what the Save Childhood Movement says: 

Across the political spectrum there is now consensus that early years provision is important for children's development and for helping parents - especially mums - into work. As identified by the IPPR the question of 'what is best' for young children is, however, a point of huge contention among researchers, policymakers, commentators and politicians - not to mention parents. Some argue against public involvement in the care of young children in principle, while others assert the importance of parents (usually mothers) being able to stay at home to look after their children (1)

In its manifesto 'Putting Children First' the Save Childhood Movement argues that governments must put the best interests of the child at the heart of all early years policymaking and expresses its concern that this is not currently the case. It calls for a much stronger focus on relationships and the importance of family life, highlights the importance of developmental readiness and confirms the dangers of pushing through universal childcare without the appropriate evidence base and significant investment in improving the current quality of provision.

As stated by the OECD "Expanding access to services without attention to quality will not deliver good outcomes for children or the long-term productivity benefits for society. Furthermore, research has shown that if quality is low, it can have long-lasting detrimental effects on child development, instead of bringing positive effects." (2)

Putting Children First - The 3 Key Elements
1 an integrated, holistic and appropriately financed system built upon
2 an evidence-based understanding of the child as
3 a citizen with developmental rights and freedoms

Developed by the members of the movement's expert Early Years Advisory Group, and with the backing of the larger sector, the manifesto sets out the three key elements and 11 key policy points that should to be taken into account for the development of an appropriate Early Childhood Education and Care System (ECEC). With the 2015 election in mind the movement is calling for all political parties to incorporate the identified elements in their own manifestos and to acknowledge the urgent need for a better balance between economic aspirations and child and family wellbeing.    
The development of a fully integrated system should:

1 respect and support the rights and freedoms of children to be provided with environments that allow them to develop all their natural dispositions and capacities to the fullest potential. This must include regular and open access to the natural world
2 re-instate the importance of early relationships and better support the health and wellbeing of parents and families
3 address inequalities and ensure that every child can develop to his or her full potential
4 ensure that the values we are modelling for children are those that we want to see in a 21st century world
5 ensure that developmentally appropriate play-based care and education governs children’s experiences until at least age 6
6 be evidence-led and have the best interests of the child at its heart. This should not be a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution but should be responsive to the diversity of parental and local community needs
7 reverse the existing funding curve so that we prioritise the vital importance of the early years
8 underpin all ECEC services and provision with the latest scientific evidence and global examples of best practice
9 review, consolidate and evaluate all policies and evidence through a new National Council on the Science of Human Learning and Development
10 provide formative assessment and screening of children’s development from birth and ensure that we are measuring what matters for children’s long-term health and wellbeing
11 ensure that the adults working with young children are highly trained, emotionally mature and appropriately valued and remunerated 

Wendy Ellyatt, Chief Executive, Save Childhood Movement says: 

"We are currently very concerned that universal childcare provision is being pushed through in England without due attention to the vital quality of care that includes developmentally appropriate environments, greatly improved parental support and engagement and the training and empowerment of a skilled workforce. One of the key aims of any ECEC system is to allow every child to flourish and to achieve his or her full potential and we feel there is a real danger that without the necessary quality controls English children will be greatly disadvantaged.

With this manifesto we are arguing that the best needs of the child should be at the heart of all future policymaking, that we need to acknowledge and better support the vital importance of family and community life and that there needs to be a national debate about the values that we wish to see nurtured in larger society." 

Professor Sir Al Aynsley-Green Children's Commissioner for England, 2005-2010: 

"Children are our nation's most precious resource, and as Neil Postman has said in his book 'The Disappearance of Childhood', 'They are the living messages to a time we will not see.' We ignore their importance at our peril, yet this Manifesto for the Early Years' from the Save Childhood Movement comes at a time of unprecedented financial and political turbulence leading to austerity and cuts to state spending accompanied by zealous reform of education policy. What is in danger of being lost from the debate are the best interests of the child.

'Putting Children First' is an outstanding evidence-based document that should be read by every Parliamentarian and Government Minister as well as those formulating policy, alongside professionals directly involved in the care of young children in partnership with parents and carers."

Liz Bayram, Chief Executive, Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY):

"We wholeheartedly support the 11 policy points raised by the Save Childhood Movement. They offer a timely reminder to all political parties that a high quality early years experience in its broadest sense supports all children to reach their full potential and that childcare is about far more than just supporting parents to work and children to do well in school."

Neil Leitch, Chief Executive, Preschool Play Association:

"In an environment of continuous change and growing uncertainty, the early years sector is in absolute agreement that one priority never changes, its commitment to giving every child the best experience of care and learning.

As early years policy is increasingly directed at getting parents back to work and competing in the global economy, we need to ensure that our children are not viewed as numbers on a Government spreadsheet or figures in an economic model.  The 'Manifesto for the Early Years - Putting Children First', gives the sector a shared voice and focuses on what's really important - the interests of the child."    

Beatrice Merrick, Chief Executive, Early Education:

'We welcome the Manifesto for the Early Years, which captures what really matters in its title "Putting Children First".  Early years policy must be evidence-based, and the evidence shows us that positive home learning environments and high quality early childhood education are the best ways of giving children a good start in life.  Politicians must not rush to expand the quantity of early years education and childcare without first ensuring that the quality is right' 

1. Double Dutch: The case against deregulation and demand-led funding in childcare, Institute
    for Public Policy Research, 2012   
2.  Starting Strong III - A Quality Toolbox for Early Childhood Education and Care, OECD, 2012

The full Manifesto is HERE

1 comment:

  1. I would say to those vulnerable children and their Parents don't believe that for a Second!
    View it instead for what it is which is a vain insulting laughable attempt to win Trust now that the general election is drawing near.
    Putting children first?
    oh Yeah!!!
    sure Mr Gove!!!