Over the past week there have been a couple of news items that should raise alarm bells for parents and early years practitioners alike. First came the report by the BBC that play is being sidelined in two new qualifications for early years practitioners. The new category of Early Years teacher (who incidentally will not have qualified teacher status nor as a result the same rates of pay and status) will have to know about the teaching of synthetic phonics but not about the theories that underpin play based learning. Setting aside the problems inherent in restricting teachers to a single approach to the teaching of reading, it is difficult to see how any practitioner can create a high quality early years learning environment without an in-depth understanding of play and it’s role in young children’s learning. However, when set in the context of Elizabeth Truss’s preference for a system where children are expected to become compliant to the adults wishes and have limited scope for self directed exploration and learning, this omission makes sense.
Despite considerable evidence that early intervention and high quality Early Childhood education and care has the potential to deliver considerable savings in later social costs, (the rationale for SureStart) this government appears to be moving away from investing in the early years. Although the Chancellor George Osborne announced in the Spending Review that school spending will increase in real terms in 2015-16 the funding focus has shifted from 2-16 year-olds to 5 to 15 year-olds with much of the increased spending going towards the creation of more free schools. This has been reported as causing alarm in the Early Years sector where changes to funding have already resulted in cuts to SureStart and funding for Local Authority maintained nursery schools and classes. If realised, this reduction in funding has the potential to cause untold damage to the early years sector and will reduce the capacity of the current or any future government to tackle disadvantage and the impact of poverty on children’s lives.
As the most recent OECD report “Education at a Glance 2013” indicates, while enrolment rates for 4 year-olds in the UK are high (ranking 7th in the world) expenditure (as a percentage of GDP) is low and significantly below the OECD average, outranking only Korea, Japan, Switzerland and Australia. When it comes to the under-fives it really is beginning to look as if this Government either doesn’t understand about the impact of high quality Early Childhood education and care or simply isn’t bothered.