We recently shared an open letter from Richard House, author of Too Much, Too Soon?, to the new childcare minister Sam Gyimah. Here, we share an extract from a robust comment piece by Richard House detailing his first impressions.
The new childcare and education minister Sam Gyimah’s comments in his recent Nursery World interview, are likely to elicit a mixed response from the sector. To give credit where it’s due, it’s most refreshing, first, that the minister will be open to dialogue and debate – for, if genuine, this has to be a substantial improvement on his ministerial predecessors. It’s also encouraging to hear that Mr Gyimah is concerned with helping the less well off (more on this later, however).
But alarm bells rang when I read about ‘teaching [!] democracy to two year olds’. This tell-tale choice of language is revealing, of course, raising the Truss-like spectre of age-inappropriate quasi-didactic teaching to very young children. With developmental inappropriateness seemingly still stubbornly entrenched in the DfE psyche, we can at least rest assured that the sector is now primed, as never before, to challenge head-on whatever dubious policy commitments do emanate from the DfE (via the Pre-School Learning Alliance, the ‘Too Much Too Soon’ campaign, and so on).
However, perhaps the most troubling aspect of the interview is the minister’s championing of school-based institutional childcare for two-year-olds. Why is the Government insisting on ‘driving through’ this policy, and just whose interest does it serve? It merely begs all the questions to say, as the minister does, that ‘once you have a policy like this, you have got to make sure there is the take-up’.
For the real motivation behind this ‘economy-centred’ policy is clearly that of driving as many mothers of young children as possible into the (largely low-paid) workforce. This policy takes no account of research findings that some 80 per cent of parents (usually mothers), given the choice, would far sooner spend their young children’s pre-school years raising their children in an unhurried home environment, free of the relentless demands of the competitive job market. And this is by no means an ‘anti-women’ or anti-feminist argument; rather, it’s to recognise the distinctive needs of young children for consistent attachment, and most mothers’ (and sometimes fathers’) faithful attunement and devotion to those needs.