Sunday, 7 October 2007

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

What does society thing of people who work with young children?

It's been a good week for news about this. A report in the Observer takes another look at a familiar question: why are there so few men in primary and nursery education?

Alongside the usual stuff - pay, status, being thought of as creepy and/or a paedophile - there are some other things which are new to me. Apparently male applicants for teacher training do a terrible job of filling out the application form and are less likely to prepare by undertaking voluntary work in schools. So even if applicant-levels are high, this won't necessarily translate into large numbers of men in teacher-training, let alone in schools.

This seems a little odd to me. Presumably most professional jobs and training courses place similar demands on applicants - so how come men are so well represented in all the other professional jobs, but not teaching?

The article recycles the usual stuff about how important it is for boys to have "male role models" in schools.

Is this true? Has anyone done a comparative study of boys who haven't had a male teacher, with boys who have? Are there any substantial differences?

What would it be like to be employed as a "male role model"? It seems to me like a devil's pact: you take the job but you give up the right to be yourself, to be anything other than a "role model".

A model which has been created by other people.

This is nicely discussed by a man interviewed for a paper by Charlie Owen about men working with young children - Facing the future: men's work?

He says: "I don't know if it's important what sort of role model you are....I'd like to think that I'm a role model that questions the way men have to be...but I don't consciously go out to do that, maybe I'm rejecting the old sort of stereotypes and role models that I default that means I'm something else...and their role models sometimes...they might want a guy to play football."

The Observer article also claims that "one complaint and a teacher has to be suspended". No source is given. No act of Parliament or any official guidelines are cited. I suspect it's an urban myth and/or the over-defensive reaction of headteachers and local education authorities.

Of course where there is a possibility that a complaint has substance, then children must be protected. The teacher must be suspended.

But in some instances a quick investigation would indicate that a complaint was malicious or evidently without substance. It would be very foolish to suspend a teacher in a case like this.

You can read some more of my thoughts about men working with young children in Nursing Suspicion.

Focussing now on early childhood education, there's a powerful news piece in the Observer about the minimum wage including a case study of a nursery nurse.

Thank god for the minimum wage. But it isn't that great, is it?

How depressing to think that in return for caring for children, you will get - the lowest amount of money legally permitted.

The Financial Times, meanwhile, makes a stupid comment about "the archetypal Sloane heroine: under-educated, nursery-school teacher, pie-crust collar, the lot."

(The future Princess of Wales, of course).

In fact, Diana never worked in a maintained nursery school. She was a part-time assistant at the Young England Kindergarten, a day nursery in Pimlico, London. She wasn't a trained nursery teacher.

So there it is all rolled together: all work with young children is essentially the same, i.e needs no training, is not professional in standing, and is suitable for the "under-educated".

I wonder why it's got low status and minimum wage pay?

You can read the rest of the piece here.

On a more cheering note, the National Primary Headteachers' Association (NPHA) is urging more play in school . The argument is that after experiencing play-based nursery and reception classes, children are confronted with a real shock in year one (when many are still only five years old) with much more formal work. I'd say it's a slightly romantic argument, because the majority of reception classes I get to see (and even some nursery classes) are already pretty formal, with play being used to fill in time between the "real work".

My view is that a more European outlook - i.e. starting formal schooling later, when children are six or seven - has much to commend it. I hope the NPHA has some influence.

Finally, one of the daftest stories of the week has to be the report that Butlins is hiring nursery nurses to work on their holiday camps giving out parenting advice.

My advice (take it or leave it): have a relaxing holiday. Get away from the know-alls.