2017 has been a roller coaster of a year for those of us in the early years sector. We’ve observed (and taken part in) the heated debate concerning 30 hours funding, we have fought against Ofsted’s Bold Beginnings Report, which has quite frankly left so many early years practitioners feeling utterly disheartened and frustrated. Despite the evidence-based research (and common sense) confirming that children’s emotional wellbeing must be put before those more academic, cognitive outcomes, Ofsted is determined to go against such common sense in favour of its ill-informed ideologies and consequent proposals. A document which states (as a result of highly selective research findings) that for every successful school, reading was at the heart of the curriculum (2017: 5). I beg to differ! What about all those children who struggle to learn how to read, who are barely present physically or cognitively, and those who struggle to ‘fit in’ generally? How can we expect so much of children without investing first, in their mental and emotional wellbeing? How are we supporting all parents to help nurture their children’s love of reading?

Many of us protested against the Baseline Assessment which poses yet another threat to children’s wellbeing and ability to thrive and as if all that wasn’t enough, just for good measure, we also found out that early years funding has been frozen until 2020. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

I’ve generally been ‘good’ all year – I worked hard, doing all the things that Santa would be proud of, so why didn’t Santa bring me all I asked for? It wasn’t a big ask, here is my list of what I wanted to see take place:

  1. Neuroscience embedded across early years discourse and training
  2. Greater understanding and less labelling of children and young adults
  3. More mindfulness in nurseries and schools
  4. Less emphasis on literacy and maths in Ofsted guidance and greater emphasis on children’s psychological wellbeing
  5. Increased pay for the early years workforce

Why were my requests left unfulfilled? I think that given the mounting evidence and disquiet among so many early years practitioners, nursery managers, consultants and lecturers, we are better positioned than ever before to stand up and fight for these to be actioned. It feels as if we have reached a collective epiphany – practitioners know their worth, they take ownership for the long term, positive changes they are making to young children and their hearts sink when these children make the transition to primary school and all the hard work to nurture their emotional wellbeing is undone. Pay for the workforce is still dismally poor which in turn pre-sets funding for the sector and ultimately does nothing to raise the profile of the sector and its workforce. And still, practitioners remain passionate and do all they can to ensure they are doing their best by every family and their children.

I cannot help but occasionally wonder whether we are fooling ourselves and our colleagues that we can make a difference, given Ofsted’s latest attack on children’s wellbeing.

In light of these disappointing developments, perhaps by getting our requests in earlier this year, we will have a greater chance of success with our message… especially as Santa will have his feet up for a while before Christmas comes around again… in September. Better still, we can keep campaigning – not in isolation but by joining forces. This starts in the nursery or school, with practitioners daring to make the changes they want to see for babies and children; it means joining social media groups that are designed to debate and tackle current issues in the sector; it means protesting in Parliament – it means not accepting the status quo.

I am therefore resolute in achieving the following aims for 2018:

  1. To ensure I keep campaigning for increased understanding and application of neuroscience across and beyond the early years sector, primarily though my neuroscience-informed online training Programme
  2. To support the police force in their efforts to improve their communication and relationships with young offenders
  3. To continue to inform and enable practitioners to enhance the experiences of the babies and children in their care

What are your aims for 2018?