John Davis, professor of childhood inclusion at the University of Edinburgh, highlights why Nicola Sturgeon tied her speech, and her party’s future, to the expansion of early learning and care services
NICOLA STURGEON has announced that funding for early learning and care services will increase to £840 million. This announcement will be welcomed by hard pressed families.
According to the first minister, this will save families £350 a week. But, this policy impacts on our whole society, not just the families that use early learning and care services.
There are key reasons why this policy acts as a symbol for an independent Scotland. By boosting jobs in the construction industry, it will improve our economic situation. By increasing the time women can spend in the work force, it will improve gender equality. By enabling more staff with vocational qualifications to gain advanced entry to BA childhood practice degrees, it will increase the number of working class folk attending universities; (The Scottish Government will more than double the places available in universities).
This policy impacts on our whole society, not just the families that use early learning and care services.
And, by promoting learning through the outdoors, it will enable our youngest citizens to begin life with a greater sense of what it is to play, be creative and have fun within our beautiful Scottish environment.
Well designed early years services can bring together all the children of an area. In so doing, these services act as the building blocks for a more equal society. For example, when we enable children from different backgrounds to learn through outdoor, risky and nature-based play, we create the cultural nurturing grounds for a more progressive, inclusive and anti-discriminatory society because they are immediately enabled to understand other children’s ideas on play (see link here to my recent blog on this).
Play, within our beautiful Scottish environment, leads to uncontrived learning about ‘difference’. Young children learn about differently shaped and coloured leaves; different textured wood and stone; and the ever changing fluid, intangible and changing essence of water, muddy puddles, ice and snow.
Nature teaches us about warmth and cold; light and shade; high and low; big and small; same but different. It is easier to understand the idea that all those who live and work in Scotland are Scottish (whatever there histories), when we build our early years services on a philosophy of anti-discriminatory learning in our local spaces, land and natural environment.
Rightly, keyboard social justice warriors view land as a a key social policy area where Holyrood can be more impactful. Early years workers’ experiences tells them that land rights are important. Without access to the land, we cannot learn through the land.
Well designed early years services can bring together all the children of an area. In so doing, these services act as the building blocks for a more equal society.
If the expansion of early years provision is to avoid the “institutionalisation of childhood”, young children need to be able to access inspiring, informal outdoor spaces and well resourced/designed formal local play areas.
Rigid approaches to learning that utilise developmental charts, scales and tests encourage elitist ideas about difference: better versus worse; can versus cannot; able versus unable.
An outdoor approach to learning can foster anti-elitist thinking that values collaborative problem solving, shared inquiry and turn-taking. Informal local spaces are especially good places for enabling: collaborative creativity, group innovation, shared understanding, empathy, diverse perspective taking and integrative relationship building.
An independent Scotland will come into existence when the majority of people feel they can be a part of something visionary and inclusive. An early years
service built on the key principles of equity, social justice, inclusion and anti-discrimination is visionary and, yet, achievable.
The Scottish Social Services Council Taking The First Steps report highlighted that professionals believed that thier qualifications had had an impact on equity issues in early years services (see link here).
For 10 years the staff in early learning and care have enabled progress – Sturgeon has put her trust in these wonderful folk to continue to deliver for Scotland.
In response to Brexit, last year’s buzz word in Nicola Sturgeon’s conference speech was “inclusion”. In 2016, Sturgeon likened the SNP early years policy to the development of the Queensferry Crossing – a bridge to a new inclusive society, a new future and a new Scotland.
The buzz word for this year’s SNP conference is “progress”. For 10 years the staff in early learning and care have enabled progress – Sturgeon has put her trust in these wonderful folk to continue to deliver for Scotland.
In March 2017 Mark MacDonald, minister for childcare and early years, announced a radical action plan for early years (see link here) that included, among other things, the development of a quality action plan, fair pay (and work practices), a Skills Development Scotland (SDS) Skills Investment Plan (SIP); £50m for a Living Wage in the private sector; a new fund for accessible provision for disabled children; more effective partnership working to support transitions; and a learning and development pathway for all childminders.
At the time, I said that this showed us that the SNP were getting on with the day job.
Above all, Nicola Sturgeon has tagged her speech to early learning and chidcare because it tells you that, in spite of the Westminster side show, the SNP government is still delivering on its day job by producing visionary, concrete, detailed and wide ranging plans for early learning and care that can positively impact on all of our lives.
Picture courtesy of First Minister of Scotland
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