Last Thursday was a day of momentous historical significance. It may be linked but the weather also decided to create havoc on that day. Determined not to be beaten, I battled monsoon rain, negotiated the pathetic train system and with the help of Uber, managed to get to the Festival of Education hosted by Wellington College.
Luckily I was accompanied part of the way by Neil Leitch and upon arrival at Wellington joined Catriona Nason, Sue Cowley and Laura Henry so at least the conversation was lively. We had been invited to talk about Early Years and the implications of poor policy in the sector. So as you can imagine I talked about the impact of the recruitment crisis, something I have been writing about a lot.
As ever Neil Leitch from the Pre-school Learning Alliance articulated the issues facing the sector about the funding and the 30 hours. On the slow train to Guildford, we worked out the deepening unfairness of the system by analysing a significant line in the Childcare Bill which states on page 8:
The additional 15 hours will be available to families where both parents are working (or the sole parent is working in a lone parent family), and each parent earns, on average, a weekly minimum equivalent to 16 hours at National Minimum Wage (NMW) or National Living Wage (NLW), and less than £100,000 per year .
We figured out that someone earning £100k a year needs to work no more than 2 hours at £102 per hour to claim the fifteen hours while someone on a low income has to work the full 16 hours at the NLW (£7.20) to have reached the required threshold to claim. Interesting!
The debate was lively but the sector needs to step up a bit more. This debate is about what is best for children, not the type of setting and how good or bad it is. Comments such as, “well, I think debate has to be inclusive and not just be anti-school”, “Well, my school is very good, we understand what small children need, you wouldn’t find our children sitting in rows” have no place in a real debate. Of course there are many good schools, nurseries, pre-schools and childminders. That is not the point. These comments let policy-makers off the hook. The issue is, what drives the policy?
Dump your ego because it’s the biggest barrier to effective thinking. The ego gets in the way of deep thinking and instead becomes an opportunity for showing off, put downs and soundbites, (just watch Question Time if you can bear it). Such behaviour leaves us exposed as it allows politicians to choose their favourite examples and scratch their pompous heads or toss their golden locks and say “it’s not the policy which is wrong but your incompetence because ********* does it so well”… Remember Nick Gibbs MP’s obsession with phonics from Clackmannanshire.
For all children to benefit we need intelligent policies and intelligent debate. We cannot have an approach where some but not all children will benefit. Those lucky ones who live near a “good“ school or nursery. Those lucky ones whose parents can afford a place, can move or manipulate the system to get a place – this is absolutely unacceptable. Here I agree with Michael Wilshaw who says that too many poor children are still losing out on good quality education.
The response needs to be that the policy is wrong .We need policies that work to change the system and the behaviours and embed them in a way that changes what we do and how we do it.
Our job is to keep bringing us back to the core message which is:
How does the policy benefit all our children’s best interests?
To do this I recently re-read Edward de Bono’s 6 Hats Thinking.
White Hat: It’s all about using neutral, check-able facts. Stay Cool.
Red Hat: It’s all about emotion. Seeing Red.
Black Hat: Its all about pointing out the weakness of the arguments. Be cautious and careful.
Yellow Hat: It’s all about being upbeat, positive and hopeful. Be sunny and optimistic.
Green Hat: It’s all about creativity and new and verdant ideas. Be full of fertile ideas.
Blue Hat: This is the blue sky thinking, the big wide proposition. Organise your thinking.
You are probably too young to remember Peter Sellers in the film “I’m Alright, Jack”, a satirical take on the business world. Along with the usual slurs about business corruption, greed and government incompetence, there was a message about remaining focused on the greater purpose. Our response has to be that the policy is wrong and the facts bear this out. Let’s choose our hats carefully and pay particular attention to when we wear the red one.