Ed Balls and Nursery provision

From elf and safety to blithering Balls

So now he tells us. Now he tries to repent. Well, thanks for nothing, chum. After 10 years of suffocating legislation, the Labour Secretary for Children and Schools, Mr Edward Balls, appears to have woken up to what his government has done.

After 10 years of elf and safety lunacy, Balls has plaintively called for children to be allowed to take a few risks: play conkers, have a snowball fight, climb a tree, get a few scabs back on their knees. Bring back the joys of childhood, says the blithering Balls, as if Labour had nothing to do with the creation of our grossly over-regulated society and compensation culture.

“Children should not be wrapped in cotton wool,” said Balls yesterday, as if he hadn’t a clue about the innumerable prohibitions his Government has placed on nursery schools alone. Cotton wool? My dear Balls, if a nursery teacher tried to wrap a child in cotton wool, she would almost certainly be disciplined for engaging in inappropriate physical contact.

I’m quite serious. Nursery school teachers are not allowed to apply plasters, in case the child is allergic to plasters. Calpol is verboten. As for suncream! You need written permission to smear suncream, because any adult seen doing so is assumed to have some pervy purpose. It is technically forbidden to ask a child to stand on a chair (he or she might fall off), and as for disciplining children – you have no idea of the Pol Pot terror that can be visited on an adult caught in the act of trying to exercise authority.

Take the case of poor Olive Rack, 56, who has 20 years experience as a nursery teacher, and who last year saw one of her charges – a two-year-old – whacking a baby over the head with a large wooden brick. The toddler was about to have a second crack when Olive intervened and took her by the hand to the naughty chair.

Alas, her actions were spotted, through a window, by the emanations of the state. Two early learning advisers from Northampton County Council happened to be doing an inspection, and grimly noted the event.

Five weeks later, to Olive’s utter amazement, the police turned up on her doorstep and charged her with common assault. The case went to court, and only collapsed when the toddler’s mum said the whole thing was bonkers, and that Olive was a good nursery teacher.

My friends, no wonder it sometimes feels that the world is going mad. At last Ed Balls has cottoned on. “This is not the kind of society I want to live in,” he bleats. But where has he been for the last 10 years, when Labour has been piling this sort of thing on teachers and schools? Has he or any of his colleagues made a single speech in favour of risk? Of course not.

Actively or passively they are part of the great yammering constituency that demands ever more state regulation, protection and control.

If Balls is really serious about this, then let me issue him with a specific challenge. His department is now pushing through detailed plans to take over the running of nursery provision in this country. These plans mean, on the face of it, that more money is going into childcare – which we all applaud – but they also mean that thousands of wonderful nurseries up and down the country, many of them run by volunteers, will face new rules on the additional fees they have traditionally charged.

These badly thought out restrictions will actually drive many good businesses under and reduce the quantity of childcare provision; and yet that is by no means the most demented aspect of the plans. This very Balls, who claims he wants to deregulate childhood, is now insisting that anyone running a pre-school for children aged 3-5 must have a qualification called Early Years Professional Status, which takes between six and nine months to acquire, and involves showing that you can do such blindingly obvious things as communicate with children.

But the real kicker is that you can’t get this Early Years qualification unless you have – wait for it – a degree! What an amazing insult to the many people who work in nurseries, volunteers or professionals, who have never in their lives thought it necessary to go to university to be qualified to look after pre-school children. As soon as you want to look after 13 children or more – “degree please!” snaps the state.

Balls doesn’t care what degree you have. It could be in anything from astrophysics to sports science, but you must have a degree. Why? Is it a ruse to help the Government achieve its target of 50 per cent in higher education?

I am all in favour of more people going to university, and I am all in favour of people getting degrees if they want them. But what I resent is this insane coercion, this attempt to micromanage who runs our nursery schools, how they run them, and exactly what qualifications they have.

Now is the time for Balls to stand up for what he says he believes in. If he really agrees that an element of childhood risk is the inevitable concomitant of freedom, then he should stop talking spheroids and take the piffling risk of allowing 3-5-year-olds to be educated by a degree-less nursery teacher.

There is a huge chasm in British politics, and it is not about the role of the state per se. We all believe that public services should be properly funded, we all want a fairer and happier society, and accept that the state has a huge role in this. But what Labour fails to recognise is that their endless lust to meddle and regulate is not only adding unnecessary burdens to teachers – but also to the taxpayer.

Who is paying for poor Olive Rack to be prosecuted? You and me, and taxpayers on very low incomes. Who is paying for the increased costs of nursery provision that will inevitably result from this batty insistence on special new qualifications? The very hard-pressed parents that Labour pretends to care about. So come on Balls: put your money – correction, our money – where your mouth is.

Drop these mad new restrictions on nursery schools, stop trying to use regulation to nationalise pre-school education, and let’s hear it loud and clear. Children should be allowed to climb trees again – and you don’t need a degree to teach a child to climb a tree.

7 thoughts on “Ed Balls and Nursery provision”

  1. The insistence on a degree is absolutely a ploy by the uselessly-credentialed to prop up the value of the one commodity they have, letters after their name. While an early childhood education degree is rightfully respected currently, insisting on it as a prerequisite will flood the programs with those who simply want to help out at nursury schools; it is akin to insisting that everyone who works in a library have an MLS. It will lower the standards of the degree and drive those who are currently credentialed and thus distinctive, back to education if only to maintain their difference.

    It’s a cheap trick to prop up the education mafia, and should not be confused with raising standards; quite the opposite.

  2. I’m totally in agreement with Boris and Raincoaster, so there seems little point in repeating it. But the trend to minimise risk and to erode teachers’ powers goes back more than ten years. If we’re honest, something that is rare these days, it can’t all be laid at the door of NuLab, although they have certainly exacerbated it. Perhaps Ed Spheres and Co have finally reached the baby-boomer’ years, hence the sudden concern. There’s quite a few of them I’d like to hit over the head with a brick.

  3. I also am in complete agreement. But what baffles me is why the government have set this 50% university rate. Putting aside that it seems to me a completely arbitrary figure, does it not go against all common sense anyway? Why encourage people to go on to further education if they are either not interested or capable?

    A degree it seems is now the very minimum qualification anyone must have if they are to get anywhere in life. What a load of nonsense. It is symptomatic of the failure of GCSEs and A-levels which have ever increasing pass rates. Next will be degrees and they too will be meaningless. It is already tough for many fresh graduates to get a job simply because the market is awash with people with letters after their name. By all means we should be all given the opportunity to go to university, but the meddling and the targets of the government is a very different approach to the problem indeed.

    The government should spend more time on sorting out the education problems in secondary schools for low income families rather than boosting their headline status for sending everyone to university. http://www.pickinglosers.co.uk/

  4. I too am totally in agreement with Boris and Raincoaster – excellent post Boz.

    This insane position taken by the government reminds me of the poor happily married couple whose children were taken away from them because she wasn’t sophisticated and intelligent enough – the big problem was that the mother had learning difficulties as a child and was so concerned she was doing the utmost as a parent she sought help/advice from the State. After State intervention and closed courts they lost the children although they had never failed as parents or harmed their children.

    You don’t need a huge amount of intelligence to love a child, wash them, clean their bottoms and clear up sick, cook simple good food and make sure they’re safe. It doesn’t take a degree, you just need to care. A hug doesn’t require book learning.

    What will the establishment be doing next – requiring a degree to procreate? And a degree in what pray?? I understand that you can get degrees in surfing and Ghostbusting nowadays. No, Raincoaster is right – it’s self justification and I think a creeping attitude that says ‘if you’re not like us then go to hell’.

  5. NuLab’s obsession with degrees and Boris’s “gossly over-regulated society” go hand in hand.

    There are already too many graduates washing about with their heads full of half-baked theory gleaned from soft degrees. It is they who make up the swollen ranks of the Interfering Class; it is they who create and fill the thousands of pointless public sector jobs designed to make life awkward for the rest of us and bleed us dry.

    None of them wants to get their hands dirty. Meanwhile, people who are trained and ready to tackle the real jobs – the makers and menders – are in such short supply that we have to import them from Eastern Europe.

    And the blame for our cockeyed system, in some people’s eyes, lies squarely with Oxford and Cambridge failing to admit enough state school kids!

    They might as well blame the weather.

  6. Boris,

    A problem in NL Britain is highly qualified non-achievement. I have a suspicion too many graduates at too many phoney universities is part of the problem. The degrees in watching telly are useless but harmless. But look at the number of managers coming out and the crazy managerialist theories they have had thumped into their inexperienced heads. They have no abilities of any operative use, but have to be important, and they do the that by getting in the way of people trying to do genuinely important real work. It is very difficult to find a proper plumber in England, and hardly anything gets made there any more. Less managerialism would make production much more cost effective. Lets have a few more technical coleges back and far fewer hot air factories.

    Good luck on the way to ken’s den.


  7. Good point Paul Worthington, and one that not many seem to like. The decline most certainly would appear to coincide with the rise of the MSc in business studies, and these are the very people in decision making positions.

    I suppose a degree in Polish is now essential for anyone entering the building trade.

    Discounting law and political science, how about some suggestions as to what degrees would be appropriate before letting anyone enter politics?

    I’m allergic to politicians, as is the bulk of the population, yet we still seem to get them plastered all over us (Boris is the exception that proves the rule).

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