Reading documents from the European Commission require some preparation: firstly a cup of tea and a packet of Fig Rolls; secondly some good music (in this case my favourite Sharon Shannon); and finally a comfortable cushion.
As those of you who read this blog (thank you all very much, by the way), I am quite keen on Europe – especially for holidays. I see myself as a European and I think the OECD has always said very sensible things about children. However, like many others, I have found penetrating the workings of Europe a step too far. We know there is money and opportunities for collaboration out there, but the processes are so dense that even I am dissuaded (willing as I was to trail around Parisian nurseries on a cold Valentine day). However, two things happened recently which give me hope.
Firstly, my lovely Financial Controller and I went to a social enterprise conference in Kettering (directed it seemed by a cranky, menopausal Sat Nav). Organised by E3M, the team managed to persuade 250 Europeans past London and on to Northampton (yes that is where Kettering is), and I found myself on a stage with key members of the European Commission speaking French (well they were; I was just keeping up with earphones). E3M, of which I am proud to be a founding member, is committed to a continued dialogue at EU level and the building of cross-border relationships in Europe between social businesses. At the conference, it was clear there was interest in establishing new European Networks of Social Enterprises to transfer knowledge of specific sectors such as childcare.
Secondly, I met Madame Hubert from the Commission. She and I spoke the same language (English, good quality childcare and support for women to work). She then very helpfully sent me a raft of EU papers to read and an invitation to Brussels as a sop. (Bruges with its lace and chocolate might the deal breaker though!)
Why am I thinking Europe? Well because we know that the time has come for change.
Europe faces a moment of transformation. The crisis has wiped out years of economic and social progress and exposed structural weaknesses in Europe’s economy. In the meantime, the world is moving fast and long-term challenges – globalisation, pressure on resources, ageing – intensify. The EU must now take charge of its future.
(European Commission, 2010a, p3)
In January 2014 (in Strasbourg), the Commission will be setting the investment priority in the Structural Funds Programmes for the next 8 years. The Commission Review of February 20, 2013 has made the following four recommendations:
- Invest in children: breaking the cycle of disadvantage
- Support parents’ participation in the labour market
- Reduce inequality at a young age by investing in early childhood education and care
- Support the participation of all children in play, recreation, sport and cultural activities
Member States are also co-operating to develop ‘pre-school’ provision across the EU, as they recognise early childhood education can lay the foundations for later educational success. (Early Childhood Education and Care – providing all our children with the best start for the world of tomorrow.)
The OECD has a credible record of promoting policies to improve the welfare of children and families. It can also show much more effective ways of spending less money for early childhood education than we do here. In fact, if we spend so much here and still do not get the result we want, the question has to be why we continue to spend in the way we do?
So, let’s make more friends in Europe, have more sensible conversations with them and help formulate ideas that can cross borders, so we can access funds in a way that works for us; that is the key. We appear to want the same things, but we must decide our own interpretation. I would like more LEYF type social enterprises across Europe; it’s a model that compliments other childcare businesses. European funds could be a key resource for growing childcare networks and raising the importance of childcare.
Let us therefore be more pragmatic, and get on the train to Brussels. If you agree and would like to come along for the ride (but rather the greater good), then let me know in the comments below!