Recently I listened to a practitioner complaining about being described as a childcare worker. It didn’t seem enough to them. What a shame I thought. My entry into the sector was in childcare, out of school actually, for 5-12 year olds. My practice soon extended to pre-school groups and children’s centre management. I was thrilled to see a bringing together of childcare and pre-school learning in 1998 when the national childcare strategy stimulated local early years development and childcare partnerships (EYDCPs). There was a huge push for new out of school childcare to be opened up, but it wasn’t long before I noticed the emphasis swing towards pre-school learning.
Much has changed since, and alas EYDCPs are long gone. However, it seems somethings haven’t changed, and one of these is the artificial and unnecessary boundaries we create and maintain in our sector. National policy has placed a wonderful emphasis on early learning in recent years – for multiple and differentiated outcomes, some for learning, some for childcare, some for closing the attainment gap. The things is we all do that across all aspects of the sector, regardless of the fashion and the funding, national policy or income stream attached. We would be so much stronger if we focused on this as a whole package of outcomes and on what brings us together rather than what sets us apart.
Like many in the sector, I place equal value on the terms childcare and early years. And I think this is something parents do too. To suggest equality in them shouldn’t diminish either side of the bargain. Instead this should bring them and us all in the sector closer together in the intended spirit of the profession.
Children attend provision and families rely upon it to meet a range of needs, social, educationally and economically. It is a great privilege to be chosen and trusted by a family to look after, to care for, their child. And to become a partner in their learning journeys either before school, during school, afterwards or in the holidays is an invaluable and rewarding role. To know that we are playing our part to help children and their families achieve outcomes like safety, health, enjoyment and achievement, economic choices, and making a positive contribution to society (Every Child Matters) must focus our minds on the inputs we design and deliver as a whole team. Supporting families, and women in particular, to play an active role in the workplace is proven to be good for the whole family. It has the power to help break achievement and progression barriers, develop economic resilience and capacity, and impact on the ambition and opportunity for future generations to come.
The early years and childcare sector needs to be one sector, not a collection of sub-sectors. We must start talking in one voice about what we can do for society, learning and the economy. Our focus should be on what brings us together and not on what could tear us apart. Then we will all get the chance to deliver together what every child and family needs and deserves by leading the debate as one movement. A movement that everyone will understand, value and follow.