There is no doubt that the God of Weather likes children. On Saturday the 1st June, International Children’s Day, the sun shone and a light breeze made it a comfortable day. The children and parents came to enjoy. Some of the nurseries were so busy they were unable to accommodate the sheer number of parents, grandparents and friends and so relocated to the local parks.
The atmosphere was happy and parents celebrated the Early Years. The children sang their nursery rhymes, had their faces painted, played games and enjoyed balloons and flags. Let’s do this every year was the request… and so we will.
The view from LEYF parents was that their nursery experience was positive. Their children were developing and learning. Staff were committed and hardworking and liked their children. There was a balance of free and planned activities. The nurseries focused on supporting children to speak, listen and socialise. They did not recognise the current complaints about nurseries. They did not want to see a reduction in staff child ratios as the cost of childcare has to be considered as part of a general education offer and not a bodged confusion. And so say all of us!
Last week I visited Paris again, this time as a guest of Mouves, the National French Social Enterprise Organisation to speak at their annual conference. They are trying to build social enterprise nurseries to meet the needs of working parents as there are insufficient places for babies and toddlers. The change to ratios in France came as a means of stretching places without any changes to staff numbers or building size. It’s is not popular with French parents.
Education is also changing in France and people are concerned. Education minister, Vincent Peillon wants to overhaul the system. Recent studies, however, have shown that France is falling behind in education standards compared with its European neighbours and the United States. He pledged a massive shakeup, including a reduction in the amount of homework and less “redoubling” or repetition of a school year for those deemed unable to keep up. Shorter holidays, school on Wednesday and a shorter teaching day. Much of the talk was focused on how French schooling was out of date, that it was grinding and dull and that it had a classroom culture that branded students as “worthless” and was counterproductive and contrary to France’s republican ideals. So if the French are reviewing their systems owing to them not being as effective anymore, then maybe all that glitters is not necessarily gold or as the French say ‘Les apparences sont trompeuses.’
The French social enterprises I spoke to were trying to provide alternatives that balanced the needs of parents and children. They had similar values to us and wanted to be flexible and responsive and in touch with the needs of working parents and small children. So I propose we work with France as one member of an international family of Early Years staff and parents. There is much we can do together to develop the kind of education which is culturally relevant and aligns with the values of our society.
At the picnic, UK parents (not necessarily British but rearing their children here) all agreed that we need to continue to work together to raise children who are happy, enthusiastic, well-mannered, articulate, respectful and willing and able to learn – an approach that needs to underpin the philosophy of the Education politicians here.