While dusting the other day, in true Mrs Beeton fashion, I came across my recent trophy for the NMT Award, "Most Influential Person in Early Years 2017".
I decided there and then that if I was to be so honoured I probably did need to think about what I could influence and what I would like to influence. The two are certainly not the same.
Early years, despite all the research about its benefits both economically and socially, has not quite reached the gilded and giddy heights of the establishment. We make the news when something goes wrong, politicians want to attract voters or the press want to give someone a hard time like the recent interview with Jeremy Corbyn on Women's Hour when he couldn't remember the overall cost of childcare to the taxpayer.
In fairness, as we pointed out, previous and current governments have had plenty of time to figure out the actual costs but have yet to do so. Figures bandied about oscillate between £1 and £6 billion, so that is quite a gap in my humble opinion.
So where would I focus my influencing capacity in a totally unhindered, unrestricted world?
- Raise the status of nursery staff so that people understand what we do and why we are not just one grade up from an Au Pair and two steps down from a school teacher.
- Find the funds to set up the UK Institute for Early Years, an organisation for and with the voice of the sector with the child at the centre. Here we would have a central place from where we could collate the voice of the sector so as to influence the UK and the world about how we can support and develop the best early years services based on the principles espoused in the UN Rights of the Child.
- Extend the work of Ceeda to collect data from the sector and about the sector. We can then be assured of some information that is accurate, timely, up to date from which to start our debates and influence policy.
- Too much policy has been based on spurious and weak data. If you don't believe me read this. This is research we accessed only through the power of the FOI Act and the very determined people over at the Pre-school Learning Alliance.
- Make childcare central to local and national infrastructure planning so that housing, green spaces, schools, nurseries and the designs of new living spaces are child friendly and reflect what children say about their world.
- Have a public debate about what children need. They need physical and emotional boundaries that fit their developmental capabilities. They don't need helmets to scoot but they need to learn to fall. They need to play outside and go to bed on time without an Ipad or TV flashing at them. They need a story and a chat.
I might remind people that childhood is a time when children grow and learn and play. It's not a step to school readiness or a preparation for anything. It's the time to wallow in being a child and that in itself will mean children are much more likely to grow up balanced and kind.
Do you agree with any of this? Should we have a twitter debate link about what our five steps of influence should be? Let's create a strong voice!
June O'Sullivan is chief executive of the London Early Years Foundation. This blog first appeard on the LEYF website.