Recognising the Importance of Early Years

Guest blog by:  Early Years Alliance

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Why recognising the importance of the early years is more important than ever…

Back in January, the Early Years Alliance welcomed The Princess of Wales to Fox Cubs Nursery, an outstanding-rated Alliance-run setting in Luton, as part of the Royal Foundation Centre for Early Childhood’s work to raise awareness of the importance of the early years. The visit provided a unique opportunity for the educators at the setting to highlight the value of high-quality early years provision, not only to the Princess, but to the watching world.

But just how important is ‘awareness-raising’? After all, there is already so much research out there which clearly and unequivocally demonstrates the critical importance of the first five years of a child’s life.

Only last year, the University of Exeter and the UCL Centre for Longitudinal Studies published research showing that almost half of pupils who did not achieve standard passes in English language and maths GCSEs were identified as falling behind at five years old. Is this really a point we need to keep making?

In short: yes, it absolutely is. Research from the Centre of Early Childhood itself has found that around one in three adults know little or nothing how a child develops in the first five years, while just one in six recognise the unique importance of the 0 – 5 period of a child’s life relative to other age brackets..

For those of us working in the sector, ‘the early years is very important’ may seem like an incredibly obvious message – but for a large proportion of the population, including a number of those working in Parliament who directly influence government policy, it is still very much a point that needs making.

That is why we at the Alliance wholeheartedly welcome the Royal Foundation’s new ‘Shaping Us’ campaign and The Princess of Wales’ continued focus on the importance of early education. While it would be naïve and unrealistic to assume that this alone will lead to an overnight turnaround of the perception of the early years, it will certainly be a catalyst for change and I cannot see how any effort to bring the early years, and the value of educators, into the public consciousness could ever be viewed as anything but positive.

Of course, we all know that positive perceptions of the sector alone will not pay bills for the many thousands of early years settings struggling to remain viable after year upon year of underfunding. But the fight to raise awareness of the value of the early years and the fight for fair funding are not two separate battles: they are one and the same.

For far too long the early years sector has been overlooked and undervalued, and this has been directly reflected in the way we have been treated when it comes to government policy, and specifically, funding. Just look at the Autumn Statement, when the Chancellor spoke at length about the importance of education spending, before announcing an extra £2.3bn in funding for schools and precisely nothing for the early years.

While there’s no doubt that nurseries, pre-schools and childminders play a vital role in supporting parents to work, until early years provision is recognised and treated as the vital education that it is, and not simply, ‘childcare’, we will never see any real, tangible change.

And until we change that narrative, we will also continue to be on the receiving end of disastrous policy proposals like relaxing ratios, which completely dismiss the importance of quality provision and disregard the needs of young children.

There’s no doubt that challenging perceptions that have been instilled for generations is likely to be an uphill battle, but it is absolutely vital if the sector is to have any hope of a positive future – and that is why campaigns like ‘Shaping Us’ and the Alliance’s own ‘We Are Educators’ campaign are so important.

As the Spring Budget approaches, and the next general election edges ever closer, the government is coming under more and more pressure from all sides to explain not just how it plans to ‘tackle rising childcare costs’, but how it will ensure we have an early education and care system that ensures that all children, regardless of background, get the best possible start in life.

The collective voice speaking out on behalf of our sector is louder and more high-profile than it has even before. I for one cannot see that as anything other than welcome.

The Alliance’s #WeAreEducators campaign is a positive, empowering campaign that aims to help those working in the early years highlight to parents, local communities and policymakers the unique importance of the early years, and the role that our fantastic workforce plays in shaping children’s lives.

Educators who sign up to the campaign will be given access to a free #WeAreEducators toolkit which includes a mini-guide on how to highlight the early education being delivered at their settings when communicating with parents and carers, a template letter to send to their MP inviting them to visit their setting to view education delivered in action, and posters, social media graphics and other materials to help settings to highlight the vital role of play in early learning.

You can sign up here!

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