Manifesto policies, finance and the Early Years Foundation Stage

“The big arguments about ‘Growth and a debt heading for £1.4 trillion by 2014’ went untouched. (One viewer’s verdict on the first ever televised-party-leader-election debate last night). Is this true?

The fantastic thing about this blog  is the number of parents, early years education practitioners (running into the hundreds now) and teachers who have contacted me with their views on this with regard to the Early Years Foundation Stage legislation. I’m hoping you’re all going to continue to carry on helping me out with information as I try to shine a torch into the very dark, huge cupboard that is Early Years Finances. I can’t see the whole picture yet. But what have we got so far people?

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Well. Leaving aside for one moment blatantly obvious and sensible ways of cutting costs (i.e. save 100 billion on Trident) – let’s look at where we  are standing right now and what some people fear if Labour loses the election. Many of us fear there will be cuts in important projects such as Sure Start.

Personally, I think whichever party gets in – there will be massive cuts in public services. Perhaps the most important job we can all do now is look beyond the election – think about what the money has been spent on so far – and analyse where money has been wasted. Maybe we need to er…prioritise? And I don’t think that means scrapping Sure Start.

For a long time – I have tried to quantify exactly how much the Early Years Foundation Stage programme has cost us. As a journalist this really isn’t an easy task. Tracking M.P’s expenses wasn’t easy either (as I’m sure my colleague Heather Brooke will confirm) – but in the end it boiled down to facts and figures and a set of accounts. The cultural and human cost of backing the much-criticised early years learning and development requirements is something we will probably never be able to quantify, of course. But we can try counting the monetary cost, can’t we?

Journalists who specialise in Early Years Politics are few and far between. I could speculate on the reasons for this. Maybe some journos don’t see it as real work – not like jetting off to a war zone. (Journos of this ilk have obviously never had to deal with a toddler tantrum).

 No seriously, a colleague once told me there aren’t many journos in this field – because the early years education sector is complex and really difficult to understand. That’s also my view and yet another reason for writing this blog. As a parent journalist – it felt ridiculous to me that my child was taking part in an education system that I didn’t understand in it’s entirety. I’m sure I’m not the only parent who feels like this. Do I digress? Or is that relevant for a blog called “A Parent’s Guide to the Early Years Foundation Stage”?

As detailed in previous blog posts – every parent has the right to see their child’s records. (See this post to find out what happened when I requested ours under the Freedom of Information Act). So any parent who wanted to look at their child’s records could do that. What parents will probably see if they do this (as I did) is a series of post-it notes (or similar – pieces of evidence) which are matched up to a large table of targets (the government prefers to call them requirements). Records and reports at the end of the year are the ‘result’ of this system of recording. Anyone disagree with me on this out there so far? Feel free to add enlightening comments via the comment link at the beginning of this blog post. Peer reviews welcome.

Many parents (like us) are counting costs too. Some parents need to get out to work  as soon as they can after their child is born. Some parents (like us) need to send their children to school at four. No ideological judgement on all this – by the way –  we’re in the middle of a recession, people need to eat and the bills need to get paid.

Parents may need the Working Family Tax Credit to get by. They may need the ‘free’ fifteen hours child care which many local authorities offer when their children are three.

As far as the election and the macro budget is concerned though – we need to know that this ‘free’ child care isn’t really ‘free’ at all as one early years practitioner pointed out in the comments box after my last blog post. Kim said:

“First the Labour Party, then the Liberal Party and now the Conservative Party make these idealistic claims that ‘they support the provision of free nursery care for pre-school children’.

The current ‘so-called’ nursery grant is for education and not just for ‘care’. However what politicians continue to fail to understand is that, however much rhetoric gets bandied about, nursery education is not currently ‘free’, any more than the Emperor wore clothes! For nursery education genuinely to be free, then the nursery education grant (NEG) would need to cover the cost to Providers of delivering nursery education, sufficient to enable them to remain financially viable.

With the NEG running at less than 50% of the amount required for high quality nurseries to remain in business, then it is disingenuous of any political party to claim that it is ‘free’.

With the current financial crisis it would be irresponsible if not impossible for government to cover the full cost of a nursery place, which means it is time for whoever forms the next government to come clean; own that the NEG is a subsidy only (not free) and suspend the new Code of Practice which bans the charging of ‘top-up-fees’ by private, voluntary and independent nurseries.

Many nurseries are closing, or considering closure for these very reasons and the very thing which Labour have so vociferously claimed for years ‘high quality nursery education for all’ is in real danger of collapsing.”

On the very first day my child went to school – nine months ago – I wore a sweatshirt about this blog. I wondered how other parents and carers would react. I was pleasantly surprised when a nursery provider came up to me and congratulated me for wearing it. See this post: Since then I’ve exchanged a few words with this gentleman at the school gate and we’ve talked a little about how expensive the Early Years Foundation Stage has been. But last time I spoke to this person – I’m not sure I really understood what he was saying.

Does all this mean that nursery providers have to stump up fifty per cent of the cost of implementing the Early Years Foundation Stage programme? Said gentleman and I had a conversation about how expensive the implementation of the Early Years Foundation Stage Profiling was. The nursery provider reckoned that spending money on that – was taking away money that could be spent on children who really needed it. Does that make sense to anyone else?

 Because it makes sense to me…it confirms what I’ve been thinking about the elements of the Early Years Foundation Stage i.e. the learning and the development requirements and the profiling – basically that they were (and are) a huge, expensive,  party-political PR stunt that had little if any real benefits for young children.

Back (or forward) to Sure Start. If the EYFS learning and development requirements and the profiling are reformed, modified or even abolished – won’t that mean that more funding is available to uphold existing and much-needed Sure Start projects? (Or is that point such a blindingly obvious and necessary one that it hasn’t occurred to any of the party leaders?)

Read this archived blog post for views on Why Sure Start is failing to deliver on it’s promises


4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by arwen_tiw on April 19, 2010 at 2:30 pm

    Oh yes, I totally agree – isn’t it ironic that when politicians want to spend money on improving the lives of children, they would prefer to pour the money into projects standardising and testing and measuring them (ie more paperwork production, the favorite “work” of bureaucracy) rather than spending money on support groups, community cafes, centres where free advice is available to parents seeking it and free opportunities for play and learning are available to their children…

    Remember that scary paper about uptake of free childcare places in “disadvantaged” communities? It somehow never occurs to government that their aims and priorities may simply not be those of the parents they profess to represent!

    Time and time again, their opinion polls tell them that families want support (not bribery or bullying, just support) to raise healthy, happy, well-educated children, and their own studies tell them over and over again that testing does not achieve this – forcing parents into work when they want to be with their children does not achieve this – and more government control over family life does not achieve this.

    So what do they aim for? More of the same, more financial penalties on stay-at-home parents, more free childcare, earlier schooling, more abstract teaching, more separation of children from real life, real tasks, learning of real things…

    The more you write the more I admire what you are fighting for in your daughter’s name, and the name of countless other very young children being pushed faster and faster into this system. Your presence and influence will mean a great deal to her some day.


  2. Posted by Rosie Dhoopun on April 16, 2010 at 8:06 pm

    I really truly believe from my research that children need to be cared for in an environemtn that is not a nursery/school where they are surrounded by other children and are comepting with other children fror the attention of adults.

    This is important so that they grow up into secure stable adults capable of being a ‘uesful member of society’ (I hate that phrase but it is late!

    For this reason I think money should start being availabel for mum sto be able to stay at home with their children unti lthey are about 6 years old. We need funding for mums and babies/toddlers to be able to meet up and learn new skills together (this is done in other countries) it means that instead of just going to a group and chatting mums can learn and expand themsekves ready for when the children do go to school

    The book Politics of Breastfeeding gives some wonderful costings of how much breastfeeding saves the government in terms of money and this can be expanded when you look at how a securly attached child will committ less crimes, take less drugs, drink less alcohol etc etc.

    So a mum needs to be paid by the government to stay at home and do the most importnat job of her life bringing up the next generation. And this will end up saving money.

    But I don’t suppose the governement looks this far ahead.


    • Posted by Frances Laing on April 16, 2010 at 10:28 pm

      Thank you very much Rosie, I shall revisit ‘Breastfeeding as Politics’ and thank you very much for taking the time to comment.


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