Funny init? You know, how people come together? There was a time when I really felt there was a ‘them and us’ in the sector: that is, Childminders against the rest of the children’s workforce. Because let’s face it – we are the Cinderellas of early years aren’t we? And I really thought that the EYFS fixed that there for a moment. You know, with day care and schools and all of us working to the same statutory requirements and framework and everything. It showed beyond a shadow of doubt that we are just as professional as everybody else working with 0-5 year olds. Then there was the change of job titles: introducing Early Years Professionals that was never very popular which became Early Years Teachers which was never very popular either because it never did get the same respect as a Teacher, particularly given the fact that a Teacher is considered to be qualified to work in early years without any specialist training whilst an EYT is not considered qualified beyond early years. It does kinda give the impression that working with younger children is a bit of a doddle though, doesn’t it? Come on, doesn’t it though? And then the Common Inspection Framework came along to bring all our inspections in line and I thought yeah, this should do it once and for all. Bingo. But then no 2 inspectors would look for the same things or recommend the same things: one inspector would ask to see long term, medium term & short term planning and learning journals while another would be enthralled with your in the moment planning and your learning journey working wall. Then there was that integrated review at age 2. Remember that? That was supposed to bring us all closer to health visitors to identify opportunities for early intervention and… well… we’re all still kinda waiting for that one.
But you know what it was that finally brought us all together? Breaking news on the 15th of April 2015 that’s what. David Cameron said he would create 600,000 extra completely free, state-subsidised childcare places for 3 and 4 year olds if he won the May 2015 general election. Oh how parents loved that. And rightly so. Sounded great yeah? Unsurprisingly, it was a vote winner. Tax free childcare got delayed until 2017 as a result of a legal challenge and in the meantime we had Brexit [means Brexit]. By July 2015 the Childcare Bill was published and we knew that the additional 570 hours of childcare was going to be underfunded for many providers, much as we feared. We were already out of pocket with the universal 570 hours per year so how could we make up our losses delivering 1140 hours? Questions were already being asked: was this offer really worth up to £5000 a year or not? Is the national average hourly funding rate actually increasing to £4.88 per hour or not? Will all providers across the country be paid the same rate? Or not. And nobody was happy with the or nots.
Cue the Champagne Nurseries on Lemonade Funding campaign group with their fabulous little video on the 29th of March 2016. With 16,500 members and rising: comprising providers, Tracy Brabin Shadow Minister for Early Years, local authorities, Ofsted, DfE, early years and mainstream media & parents too – their message went from a few whinges and moans over unpaid lunch breaks to high profile celebrity coverage in glossy mags (which caused a right hoo-ha I can tell you), to the tabloids which was great because this was the first sign of awareness of our plight, then proper newspapers for people who could read words with more than 3 syllables, then on BBC news. It seemed to take for-ev-er. But not all coverage has been good coverage. Sometimes we face the backlash rather than those who truly deserve it. We are the ones demonised by the press. We are the ones to blame for parents not being able to get the ‘free’ childcare that the ever so generous Mr Cameron promised them: because we’re not offering it because we can’t afford to offer it. Heck, some of us can’t even remain open long enough to give it a go: already shut up shop and selling makeup, home-bakes or crafts on etsy and ebay and feeling the benefit of our pay rises; flexible, family-friendly working hours; being able to take our parents to hospital appointments; being home for our sick kids or during school holidays; and generally just being able to put our own kids’ needs before everybody else’s for a change.
Now, I’ve long been an admirer of revolutionaries such as Nadezhda Krupskaya (Vladimir Lenin’s wife), suffragette Constance Markievicz (“oh I do wish your lot had the decency to shoot me“) and Sophie Scholl. You might have heard of them, you might not. You might even know as little about those incredible revolutionaries as you do the incredible revolutionaries behind the CNLF campaign. So, because in polite society it’s customary for ladies to precede gents, let me tell you about Team CNLF.
These women. These bloody women are holding their s#*@ together. They might be getting their nurseries ready for next term; feeding their families fish finger sarnies instead of pan seared salmon with red wine reduction and home grown rocket and spraying L’Oreal Paris Magic Retouch on their roots till they get time to go to the salon but yeah, they’re holding their s#*@ together. As I gradually get to know them better and better I find myself increasingly absorbed into their world. Learning their CNLF code. Trying to keep up with their extremely intense conversations, afraid that if I go to the loo I’ll come back and have missed 347 messages which I’ve no chance of ever scrolling back through and getting back in the loop. Really, I might as well just go to bed. Spending so much time supporting their campaign and posting “get heard alerts” that left to his own devices, my unsupervised 58 year old toddler buys himself a 1200cc superbike (that I’ve yet to risk assess) and who then, whilst in the throes of keyboard warrior-ing, measures the circumference of my head with a tough 32mm wide high carbon steel heavy duty DIY tape measure (not a nice, soft, floppy dressmakers tape measure, no) so that he can order me a nice matching Scorpion Exo Combat Matt Black Motorcycle helmet. Did I even so much as glance up? Nope.
Lynne Stanley, incredibly, keeps herself au fait with all that’s happening in the world of early years by scouring the world wide web even as she contorts herself into her Eka Hasta Vrksasanas and Pungu Mayurasanas and delights in her reiki [what’s-the-point] massages at her new age hippy Ibiza yoga retreats while Donna-Marie Row wrestles with her Rapunzel-esque locks – all the while contemplating whether or not it’s a ‘just-stick-a-bloody-hat-on-kinda-day’; goes out shopping and buys even. more. shoes; scribbles out another ‘dinner’s still in the box in the freezer’ on a post-it note and sticks it on the front door of her quaint pre-loved market town home and goes about her days confronting ministers with awkward questions on the streets of Londinium. Meanwhile Debbie Gunn, the sensible, well-informed one enjoys nothing more than getting up on her soap box and tweeting to anyone who’ll listen about the Competitions and Marketing Authority and all the unfairness and injustices in the world. She’ll do anything to avoid hoovering the stairs that one. And while she’s not putting the world to rights, her idea of fun is listlessly writing lists about all the lists she has yet to write and has indeed already begun listlessly writing lists of all the people who won’t make it to her Christmas card list this year. Like I said, anything to avoid hoovering the stairs. And finally Jo Morris. Jo, Jo, Jo – a woman after my very own heart: whose main, all-consuming hobby outside of work is, erm, work. Still, her devotion to Jesús (Gámez not Christ), Achraf and Jamaal sees her through these dark, difficult days whilst her totally amazebombs fiancé enjoys (suffers) every single Magpie match just to get more than a couple of minutes in a row with her.
All so different yet all so equally passionate about the campaign. Representing you. Representing me. All in their own time. While their children know that temporarily living on junk food and losing their Mothers to CNLFing is actually pretty ace. While their pets hope and pray that next time they go to make another brew their human might realise there’s not one single nibble of James Wellbeloved in their dish. While their partners wonder whether their socks will ever be paired up and put in their sock drawer ever again. [Sigh].
Now, are the gents ready for Bitmoji?