Monday, 10 September 2007

Early childhood education and care: some of this week's news

Let our children play

A wide-ranging group of experts have written to the Daily Telegraph on the importance of play – stating that "outdoor, unstructured, loosely supervised play – appears to be vital to children’s all-round health and well-being." A welcome alternative to all the recent publicity given to the failure of four year olds to improve their scores on PIPS (Performance Indicators in Primary Schools) tests. But as a society we still seem to get more worried about the test scores of young children than the loss of places and opportunities to play.

Breaking the law on pay

A private nursery owner just up the road from where I live is the first person to befined for breaking the National Minimum Wage laws. As if it isn't bad enough that we entrust our youngest children to people bang-on the minimum wage and pay crisp-packers at Walkers more.

Professor Helen Penn, in a recent piece, interestingly wondered whether the extent of regulation of nurseries in England (especially the mandated staff:child ratios) has had a perversely negative effect.

"We have held on to our staff-child ratios, which are very generous, but parents and childcare workers pay for it in higher fees and lower wages; and low wages in turn means that the job of childcare attracts less skilled or less committed staff. This raises the very uncomfortable question of whether our attempt to maintain quality through regulation has overall had a negative effect.Perhaps it would be better to have less regulation and more emphasis on good pay, conditions and training for staff?"

Anyway, good to see a crooked nursery owner facing the consequences of trying to make a quick profit off the backs of her underpaid staff.

The minimum wage - which they weren't even getting - is only set at £5.35/hour.

Starting school is stressful

There has been a bit of a "doh" reaction to this one because it seems obvious. But the story is actually a little different to the way it has been reported.

The children start to experience stress about the transition to school 6 months before their actual start in reception according to a new report (which uses measures of the hormone cortisol in children's saliva to assess how stressed the children were). It's common knowledge that starting school is stressful, but the 6-month duration must be a matter for concern. A workable hypothesis would surely be that it's parents who are anticipating this change and passing their anxiety over to their children wholesale.

The report also finds that higher levels of cortisol lead to fewer infections like colds.

But, interestingly, shyer children appear to be less stressed by starting school - perhaps because outgoing children are more likely to get into confrontations with teachers, and have difficulty in controlling their behaviour in line with the norms of beign at school. All that sitting down, waiting in dinner queues, sitting through assemblies etc, which still happens to four year olds in many primary schools.

As a result of being less stressed, they are more likely to get infections in the six months after starting school.

Stress is not in itself a bad thing: if we didn't have cortisol we'd never get up in the morning.