Welcome Tracy Brabin, to the wonderful world of early years education!

titleOn Friday 4th August at LEYF, we had our first conference in three years.  We were joined by 450 staff who all came to catch up and reconnect whilst enjoying “The Wonderful World of Words”.  We had the fabulous Alice Sharp to lead our day. She is a great friend to LEYF and they enjoy her every time she works with us.  It’s worth linking onto Alice’s Facebook page called CID (curiosity, investigation and discovery) which is full of ideas and clever activities.

aliceWe wanted to remind staff about the importance of using luscious language in their everyday conversations and to include resources such as chandeliers and candelabras to provoke multi syllable language in a natural way.

I also announced that all LEYF staff would be now known as LEYF Teachers or LEYF Assistant Teachers. They were delighted to now have the title that describes their job perfectly.

tracy1However, like all good conferences we needed someone interesting and important to open it.  This year we were delighted to welcome our new Shadow Minister for Childcare, Tracy Brabin MP. This was her first Early Years speech and I wanted to share some of her thoughts with you.

She was very lively and engaging and I am sure her work as an actor and a screen writer on shows such as Tracy Beaker, Hollyoaks and Shameless helps with this.  She mentioned some of her memorable parts including A bit of a do, Ghosthunter, Outside Edge, Eastenders, Emmerdale and Coronation St. For those who remember, she played Trish Armstrong, the terrible Mum of Jamie.

 “Playing my feisty young son was a gift of a part but today in my new role in Early Years I’d probably advise her to find a SureStart or quality nursery to give her a bit more support.”

 She was very open about her past and recognized the pressure continually facing the Early Years sector. I was therefore unsurprised that she liked our social enterprise model and applauded our ambition,

Changing the world one child at a time

Tracy supported our mission with eloquence and passion:

I hate that prejudice and poverty hold children back and will do my utmost to support you in ensuring all children get the best start in life… Please rest assured I’m passionate about the life chances offered to children and families through accessing quality Early Years provision.

Tracy is the MP for Batley & Spen which, as you will know, was previously held by Jo Cox MP who was murdered by a right wing fanatic.  It is a brave MP who takes up the reigns in this constituency beset by tragedy.

That is important as bravery and a willingness to listen and challenge is what we have been missing and what we need.  I enjoyed the reference to Jim Callaghan, Labour Prime Minister (1976-79), taking from his speech at Ruskin College stating that he wanted a child’s personality to ‘flower in it’s fullest possible way’.  She also addressed our concern about the quick succession of Shadow Ministers we have recently, pledging to

“…provide stability and continuity in this new role.

Our Shadow Minister is keen on the arts and creativity.  She certainly loved our colourful and fun approach to the day. This is important because the arts and early Years sectors have not connected in a coherent and long term way.  I blogged about the ImageNation report arguing for greater and sustained effort to ensure that the early years and arts sectors are collaborative and inclusive to ensure our nation’s children have equal access to and encouragement to create and express themselves through the arts. This is not a ‘nice to have’ but necessary for children’s development and ability to engage with their emotions and those around them with empathy.

Her other comments were about the challenges of the 30 Hours offer.  She questioned the funding and suggested that on average we were receiving  39p per hour less than the going rate. She also noted with deep concern the removal of the line “as long as parents are not required to pay any fee as a condition of taking up their child’s free entitlement place” by the Department for Education from their implementation guidance. She condemned this as risking a two-tier system where parents in poor circumstances may not be able to access a place. Finally, she expressed concern that 390,000 children will be eligible for a 30 free hour place in September, but just 200,000 will take up their entitlement, not helped either by the complexities of the application system. She stands by the Labour manifesto and the promise,

 “…to extend 30-hours to all two-year-olds, overhaul the existing childcare system in which subsidies are given to parents who often struggle to navigate their options, transition to high quality childcare paid directly by government subsidy whilst making significant capital investments,”

as well as stopping the closure of SureStart and creating a National Education Service to support cradle-to-grave learning, free at the point of use where ‘Every Child – and Adult – Matters’.

She concluded that she wants to listen and learn and I leave you with her final words.

“I will be in your corner and together we can change the world one child at a time. I need to know what you’ve seen work, what doesn’t, because I know, like you do, we can change the world one child at a time and I will be with you every step of the way. Day in, day out you’re transforming children’s lives and your dedication and enthusiasm is clear to see so whilst you may not always get the recognition you deserve please know – you’ll always be appreciated by me and my door will always be open.”

So, connect with her and start a conversation.  She has much to learn and we have much to offer.