I could write a whole research paper on my hypothesis:

the UK is not alone in engineering what must surely be the single most miserable future workforce it has ever seen since the days of sending kids down t’pits and oop chimneys”.

And make no mistake, by kids I mean – naturally – those most disadvantaged and deprived kids: those that today would be eligible for the early years pupil premium and deprivation grant. But don’t get me wrong though, I do feel bad for the privileged, elite kids too but perhaps not quite in equal measure. No really, I do, for they’re victims of our deplorable two-tier academia-focused education system too only once they’ve got over the significant trauma of being snatched from the arms of ‘loving’ parents at 7, they get to languish in their suffering from positions of great power, wealth, privilege and influence. Still, it could be worse: they could be living in China where “left-behind” kids as young as 3 start boarding – but not in a mighty fine des res though where they can ride horses across vast country estates and bully-off on well-kept fields and lounge around in jacuzzis while their passports into Oxford and Cambridge are being processed but in grim and wretched institutions where, wrenched from their impoverished families, these most vulnerable of children are said to have their lives much improved through access to “proper nutrition, housing and education”. A little bit like the premise of the 2 year old funding strategy only theirs is from Monday morning right through to late Friday afternoon rather than a mere 11.5 hours per week all year round or 15 hours per week term time only.

Meanwhile, my home town has 2900 children living in poverty yet only 1800 of them are eligible for free school meals. It’s so bad here that my local authority has implemented a new Filling the Holiday Gap grant to ensure children across the town who’d otherwise be getting a nice, hot, free school meal during term time don’t suffer acute food poverty during the school holidays. Goodness knows what the other 1100 poor kids will be eating but I bet the vast majority of them are from extremely hard-working families and if that doesn’t paint a tragic Dickensian picture then I don’t know what does.

But it gets worse, because according to the DfE’s consultation document around 10% of children currently eligible for free school meals will lose out under the controversial new Universal Credit rules so that, by 2022, there may well be an extra 50,000 kids “enjoying the benefit” of free school meals but this will be because many families will see the merit in earning less in order to qualify for them – perversely, not unlike the 30 hours a week free-but-not-really-free-and-not-really-30-hours-a-week-either early years offer – where each parent can earn just shy of £100,000 a year to qualify for 1140 hours per year of funded early years provision.

Imagine Tarquin’s annual review:

“Sorry, but we can only give you a 3% cost of living rise this year so your salary’s going up from £99,000 to a nice round £102,000. Okay with that?”

“Sorry Sir (because his CEO’s highly unlikely to be a woman) but can you just cap it at £99,999 please instead so I don’t lose my ‘free’ childcare?”

And who could blame the guy? He and his wife, Clementine, will just have to muddle through and get by on £199,998 a year as best they can without being forced to hand over one single penny to their desperately underfunded nursery which is providing the most excellent care and education for dear little Beatrice, while Jeff and Sue struggle to exist on £12,500 between them and don’t earn enough to qualify for subsidised early years provision for poor little Harry at all.

And all the while, unelected £300-a-day (tax free) House of Lords peers can enjoy the benefit of taxpayer subsidised silver service gourmet dining for themselves and up to 6 guests for years after stepping down although some, apparently, find the food and wine so distasteful that they’re embarrassed to eat there in front of their friends. How frightfully disappointing it must be to wine and dine a distinguished guest from Chile without a single decent Chilean red on the menu. One shudders at the mere prospect.

Meanwhile, back on planet dearth, underfunded early years settings are struggling to pay business rates, utility bills & staff wages and to fund staff training and contribute to staff pensions and generally – you know – just stay open without compromising on the quality of provision and without risking prosecution by imploring parents to kindly bridge the gap between what it actually costs to run a champagne nursery on their local authority’s lemonade funding rates. Must we really have to cut the outings, lay off staff, scrap the sensory garden plan, turn down the heating or turn it off completely between March and September no matter how late in the year it’s still snowing, reduce the amount of fresh fruit & vegetables we offer and make the tatty books last another year despite the ECERS-R quality assurance assessment used by many local authorities for the purpose of quality improvement and, presumably, for the purpose of awarding that extra tenth of a penny quality supplement? Sadly though, it’s not just the future workforce that’s miserable.