Sunday, 9 February 2014

Two-year olds in schools - standing together for quality

There's currently a rather shouty discussion going on through social media and the early years specialist press about whether school is the "right place" for two-year olds, like the Pre-School Learning Alliance's tweet asking "should schools take children from the age of two? - Alliance CEO Neil Leitch says NO".

In fact, in the linked article Neil Leitch makes the entirely sensible point that that using school nurseries to offer childcare for very young children “should only be done where the environment and provision is suitable and of sufficiently high quality and appropriate to their care and development". In other words, the question is not about schools vs private nurseries, but about whether the early provision being offered to two-year olds is appropriate for their needs, or not.

It is true that the discourse of the current discussion about schools admitting two-year olds is largely about finding a cheap solution to the childcare shortage in England. I would argue that "childcare" itself can be very limited in its conception, implying a utilitarian service enabling parents to go to work. Instead, I would argue for early childhood provision that is in the interests of the child, as well as making it possible for parents to balance bringing up their children with going out to work.

Margaret McMillan
I have worked in maintained nursery schools offering places for two-year olds throughout most of the last two decades, and have been privileged to work alongside practitioners who are absolutely dedicated to proving the best possible experiences to those young children. Schools have been admitting two-year olds for a hundred years now - the very first nursery school, set up in 1914 by the McMillan sisters in Deptford admitted two-year olds.

The debate about quality for two-year olds is too important to get sucked into the long-running and pointless war of attrition between the different organisations which offer early years provision. When the sector is divided, we are easily defeated: we should be standing together for quality.