Last week, I chaired a roundtable with policy advisers, local authorities, council organisations and child poverty campaigners about the implementation of the 30 Hours and the challenge of getting the right staff. The following day I joined NMT chaired by Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance at a conversation on key issues in early years which unsurprisingly covered 30 hours, recruitment and retention.
Yesterday, I answered a load of questions about recruitment in the sector for a report being written by the Education and Training Foundation. I requested the researcher go back at least ten years and collect all the reports and research about recruitment, retention and qualifications from Nutbrown to a recent one commissioned by Tactyc and weep at the ideological confusion that has hindered progress and keeps our status stuck at ground level.
The sector has to manage these two issues in the middle of the political melee called Brexit. Early Years is therefore not on any political agenda. You will notice the glaring absence of an Early Years Minister either real or shadow, (mind, you it means less political meddling which is a blessing!)
So what do we do? Let's take control of our own destiny in this vacuum. We know that we matter to the infrastructure of the country. Parents need to work and we help that happen. We employ a lot of people and contribute about three per cent to the national GDP. Good nurseries make a big difference to children, especially disadvantaged children, a number growing in parallel to austerity. Last week, another report from the OECD made a strong link between educational progress especially in maths and science with effective nursery education.
So what should we do? I am calling all my LEYF staff Nursery Teachers from August to celebrate the fact that this is what they do. They agree and so do our parents. How do I know? We asked the staff and we asked parents in the annual parent questionnaire - 87 per cent of 2000 parents agreed.
Teacher is not a protected term so we can use it as we wish. I am sick of being held back by a system that divides us by the snobbery of qualifications. Of course, we want our staff to be highly educated but we also want them to be experienced and capable. It won't affect their terms and conditions and the more qualified the staff the higher their remuneration packages. Montessori has always called its staff teachers and in many private schools and academies staff are called teachers to describe their work. Therefore I believe we should describe the staff in terms of what they do and they teach in a way that is play based, woven with care and enriched with emotional intelligence.
The NMT audience whooped and have all pledged to ask their staff what they want to be called. I was privileged to be awarded the most influential person in early years by the sector last month. Let's combine our influence as a sector and use it to effect change.
So what's in a name? A lot when it describes what you do.
June O'Sullivan is chief executive of London Early Years Foundation. This blog first appeared on the LEYF website