Is early years trapped in a toxic cycle?

James Hempsall
Friday, January 29, 2021

Often, we can find ourselves in a place we don’t want to be. A position we weren’t heading for, a situation unplanned, an ambition unmet, or a place we can’t escape.

If that’s you right now, then it’s time to break free. And key to that, is the adage: if you want things to change, change yourself.  I know from experience this is true. 

What sparked this blog? It was the constant stream of lobbying reports, blogs and articles from early years colleagues. They all have in common a theme of complaining and observing about early years’ position and our status in society, and more specifically the world of education. They all ask for more.  More recognition, resources and repute to at least reach equality with others.

There’s little I disagree with. It's always been part of my mission. And it remains the case. Although things have gotten better in my 30 years of early years, the work is not done yet. I concur that things don’t seem to join up. That there are many things that are wrong, or just don’t make common sense.  They don’t compute. It’s frustrating, to say the least. There is no good reason why people should regard early years as having lower status than other learning, education or children’s services, that the workforce is somehow less important, less qualified or less able. It's just not right and proper.  The opposite is true.

But, here is my problem. And here is my idea. I think we are part of the problem. We are spreading these thoughts and under-valuing prejudices by endlessly repeating them. By reminding people at every turn. 

As a sector, we have become tools of our own oppression. The impact? We are turning people off entering the sector or staying within it. We are giving others the words to oppress us even more. To view us with ever-decreasing respect. All of this not only sows the seeds of such self-fulfilling prophecies, it grows the crop and harvests it too.

It is going a long way to reduce the confidence of the sector and diminish our right to reasonable demands and expectations of equality in children’s services, and the achievement of our ambitious goals for children, families, the workforce, providers and society as a whole. 

We need to change. We need to switch our narrative to one that is much more visionary, more positive and more future focused. If we do that, more people will listen, more pennies will drop, more people will join the good cause, and others will be sure to follow. 

 Come on early years, we can do that, if we are prepared to change the story. 

James Hempsall is director at Hempsalls Consultancy

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