We are entering into unexplored waters and no-one yet knows how Britain will be affected by the recent referendum and the resulting decision to leave the EU.
After a break of several years from writing, my love of the EYFS is urging me to get back in there. Although I will mainly be writing about fun activities and the joy of the EYFS I felt I couldn't start such a blog without first tackling the issue that most of Britain is puzzling over at the moment. So as a one off detour from the happy, easy going place this blog will be here is a little attempt to make sense of our new political climate and how this will affect us as EYFS practitioners.
For those of us working in education alarm bells may have started to quietly chime as Michael Gove throws his hat into the leadership ring. Let us remember that this is the man who supported changes in our curriculums and testing requirements, pursued with vigour the academy and free schools programme and thought nothing of selling off playing fields and relaxing government regulations on how much outdoor space should be required in UK schools. Do we think this will be someone who values the benefits of Forest Schools and outdoor learning? If Gove gets the now not-so-coveted position of PM will we see even more teachers leave the profession? Let's hope that some more education friendly MPs throw their hats into the ring (and keep them there... shame on you Blustering Boris).
Apologies in advance if you have come here for answers or predictions as I have none. It is also not a place for lambasting either Leave or Remain voters. What's done is done. All I can offer is some food for thought for educators as you listen to the promises made by potential Prime Ministers in the coming weeks.
So what are the leading papers and bloggers predicting as the possible effects on the education system in the UK as we move into these new times? It is all guess work at the moment and the direct consequences for education will rest in the hands of the new PM but here are some possible ways in which leaving the EU could indirectly affect Early Years education.
It is unclear, as yet, whether Brexit will result in an economic boom or an economic crisis but many financial sceptics feel that the money saved by no longer paying EU membership fees will not equate to the money promised by the Brexit campaigners to go back into our own economy so where will this extra money come from? We can only hope that it is not taken from Child Tax Credits, Childcare Vouchers or entitlements to free childcare as this will then impact on numbers of parents being able to return to work. In addition, without the money and business that EU links provided and were due to provide in the UK, will this mean a rise in unemployment leading to more children staying at home as opposed to attending child-minding or day care services? How would this then affect child care settings? In theory it could mean fewer children needing nursery places and an increase in stay-at-home parents.
Would this be a bad thing? Potentially not. We all know that children who have been in some sort of day care setting before starting reception class seem to settle more easily, make friends more quickly and respond better to the rules, routines and hustle and bustle of a busy school. That said, however, most Early Years educators would agree with the holistic benefits provided by many European education systems in which the start of formal education begins much later than it does in England, with children not starting school until the age of 6. That said, with the exit of Britain from the EU, would the government be open to adopting a more European approach to education which many of us want or will there be a Gove style increase in testing and assessments from an even earlier age? As a side note to this, if children are staying at home for longer due to working parents not being able to return to work, will the recent closing down of so many Children's Centres mean that families are not accessing group play and experiences for their pre-school child or will it perhaps have the opposite effect of educated and holistic play proponent parents setting up their own small businesses to offer the experiences no longer more readily available via government funding? Uncertain times indeed!
As many EU funded businesses come under threat and employees lose the employee rights previously protected under EU regulations, there is the chance that jobs will be lost and children will need to (or be able to) stay at home instead of starting in nursery. This could most severely impact child care providers that rely heavily on their baby and toddler places for business income. What changes are made to the free place funding for 2s and 3s are yet to be seen. On the other hand there may also be middle income working parents who are not entitled to Child Tax Credits who are affected by reduced options for maternity leave and flexible working conditions who now need to opt for sending their child to day care and returning to work instead of being able to take a career break.
Without the worker's rights protection of the EU and with many small businesses sometimes suffering from the staffing hit created by maternity leave will some employers now be supported by the government, no longer answerable to the EU, in reducing maternity, paternity and family friendly leave and working hours? If so will this potentially lead to more childcare places from middle income earning families being filled or more parents being unable to afford to return to work and so not needing child care? Added to that the lower numbers of children coming to the UK via immigration and a potential hesitation of people in their 20s and 30s deciding to try for babies as they wait to see what the outcomes for Brexit will be for their own finances, employment and living situations could we see a drop in numbers in over the next few years?
It is no secret that one of the biggest fears facing voters this year was the increase in immigration (and implicit links to terrorism that were made in many Brexit talks). It is also no secret that over the past few years day care providers have seen a huge rise in children who speak English as an Additional Language.
This in itself presents many daily problems as practitioners who are not bilingual try to help and support groups of children sometimes coming from a range of backgrounds with a range of languages spoken however it has also offered many unique benefits and opportunities when tackling the tricky curriculum area of Understanding the World - People and the Communities.
Another change which immigration concerns have led to has been the introduction of a new British Values focus in all education establishments. Within Early Years this has been done mainly by the government document which reframes a lot of what we were already doing with an increased focus on open communication and tolerance. Something which I am sure many will agree has been easier to teach in settings which are not all White British Christian (after all how much comprehension of other faiths, lifestyles and religions can a child of 3 have if the only people they have ever seen look, act and talk almost exactly like them?)
Thankfully in Early Years education the outcomes of Brexit will have no discernible affect in this area for a few years however it will be interesting to see how teachers dealing with older children in Key Stage 2 and high school are guided to handle the questions that are bound to arise as children try to balance their understanding of how religious and racial tolerance can sit alongside explicitly segregating ourselves as a nation.
Over the next few weeks and months many other changes and questions are bound to arise and we would do well to keep an eye on how this will affect our little learners in the future. The best we can do as Early Years practitioners is to treasure each child and each family that we deal with as unique individuals and not let either our own or our colleague's votes or beliefs affect the way we deal with each other. Let's work together to stay educated, keep up to date with the changes to come and how they affect families and always, always, always embrace the joy that working with children in their most precious stage of life brings to us.
Carry on loving the mess of the EYFS!