Ch-ching: A Tory raid on childhood

22 April, 2013

The joy of icebreakers, eh? My favourite one is where you say one truth and one lie and people have to guess which one is accurate. People can NEVER believe that I taught Richard Branson how to do the classic nineties dance move, the Running Man.  I love the incredulity shining out of their peepers. Richard Branson?? The Running Man???

Part of my work involves training people in campaigning techniques and political how-to, so one icebreaker we roll out out involves people choosing a position on the cabinet and then coming up with their first big policy proposal. I often make up both the position and a ridiculous policy; “I’m the Minister for Thrift and my first policy is that people need to have darned the holes in their socks at least 3 times before buying a new pair, and also, charity shops that smell of wee will be penalised”   – because SOMEONE has to be a bit of a clown and try and get a chuckle or at least a smile in these most awkward but obligatory ever-so-slightly-warming-the-frozen-water sessions.

The policy proposals offered up are almost always crackpot, parodies of what cabinet ministers might come up with. The best suggestions (from the people who were aware of the need for icebreakers to be a bit giggly) defied logic, commonly went against common sense and -the cleverest- would reject expert research in the field.

Pretty much exactly like the policies our current government is coming up with. 

I haven’t blogged too much about the Tory’s onslaught on the UK’s poor and vulnerable, their attack on social justice and fairness, the damage they are doing to communities that will be felt for generations. There was just such an inevitability to it, I have been resigned to their benefit cuts and austerity bollocks as it was absolutely bound to happen from the moment a disempowered public nodded their desire for political change. (Not that I’ve been quiet about my disgust, it’s just Twitter has been the primary outlet for my #toryrage.)

They have just been doing what Tories do.

But there have been a couple of ministers in the news the last few days who have really gone for this policy parody effect in a big way. Policy suggestions that would be perfect ice breaker material, but less giggle inducing and more jaw dropping because, of course, these are REAL ministers having ACTUAL ideas that may become policy.

First, Gove suggests longer school days for our already overstretched and exhausted children. Partly to make it easier for working parents (although as Glosswitch points out in her awesome write-up there are already means for children to stay at school until 4:30 through optional  after school activities) but of course, primarily, to “improve performance”   – so our kids can grow up to defeat other countries in the unsustainable and misguided battle for economic supremacy.

And now Truss, Childcare Minister, is working her nonsense on nurseries, suggesting that all the efforts of the childcare industry to represent what experts say about child development should be reversed. She wants our toddlers doing educational, adult led, structured activity to prepare them for sitting in classrooms and eventually becoming obedient citizens.

Forget that play has been overwhelming proved to be the most constructive way our children learn, forget that supporting autonomy in toddlers helps them to be intrinsically motivated for their whole lives, forget that our toddler’s rambunctiousness is a beautiful and natural thing that shouldn’t be repressed by squawking about “unruliness.”

Truss’s comment that the whipper snappers are”running around with no sense of purpose” reveals a distinct lack of tot-time. Being in the presence of a two year old is to be taught a lesson in intention. Ramona is absolutely determined to put every single item daring to lie idly around the kitchen into the washing machine, she is doggedly committed to hiding keys and wallets at every available opportunity and resolute in pouring any liquid she sees into another vessel, and another, and another! It might be messy but she is absorbed in her life’s current purpose- discovering EVERYTHING.

A Tory raid on childhoodShe is only 2 and a half but can write her name – the power of child-led learning! (Total jokes, she doesn’t even know what R looks like and I’m proud! We’ve managed to resist “educating” our tot, and therefore not denying her the joy of finding out something new herself)

We often go to our local nursery to play- they let non-attendees come and enjoy the facilities, and I love to see the free playing these kids do, encouraged and supported by their childcare workers. They are an army of bairns hell bent on exploring and enjoying. It is a wonderful setting, the result of years of robust research about childhood and brain development.

These comments from Gove and Truss are a testament to right-wing belief that the human existence is only worthwhile if it is economically useful, that people are only ever as valuable as their financial contribution to society. Even our children are being reduced to sources of potential GDP. This belief sours faith in people, tears down communities, pits one against another and stomps all over concepts of beauty and creativity.

These suggestions are a raid on childhood, on innocence, on imagination, even on commonsense and research. These ministers are looking at our kids and thinking “ch-ching”- seeing them merely untapped sacks of gold for the Treasury.

These hopes are simply in line with a Tory strategy to create a whole society of financial contributors and quiet obeyers. Of desk sitters who question nothing and accept everything until we are top of the global rung once again.

Despite this terrible intent, it is SO very hard to take them seriously, when every minister seems to be on a quest to make themselves sound the most like a character from “The Thick of It”.

But, we must take them seriously as their quest also involves taking all the goodness out of the world.

Thank this very goodness that the combination of these two things mean they will never ever in a million years get voted in for another term. I say this really confidently now. I believe in people too much. There are too many lovers to allow people haters to run the country.

I think the artists, the rebels, the celebrators of innocence, the wild imaginatives,  the advocates of social justice, the kind neighbours and the protectors of childhood are gathering with an urgent sense of purpose (taught by our pre-schoolers.) There is an unruly crowd calling out icebreakery political quackery and gunning for goodness instead.


PS I am ESPECIALLY mad because these absurd ministers have provoked me out of my baby moon hibernation- an intricate process of helping that pesky, thinking bit of my brain, the neocortex, to retreat so I can labour and birth womb-baby in peace. HUH. If this baby doesn’t come soon it’s those bladdy Tories. *blames everything on the Tories*

PPS I’d hate for you to miss a post… enter your email to get them pinged into your inbox. I won’t be spamalot, promise!

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  • Jo 22 April, 2013 at 11:51 am


  • Umm Yahya 22 April, 2013 at 11:53 am

    “These comments from Gove and Truss are a testament to right-wing belief that the human existence is only worthwhile if it is economically useful, that people are only ever as valuable as their financial contribution to society. Even our children are being reduced to sources of potential GDP. This belief sours faith in people, tears down communities, pits one against another and stomps all over concepts of beauty and creativity.”

    This is so scary! Thank you for a really well written post….


  • Tony 22 April, 2013 at 12:05 pm

    Well bloody said!

  • Kirsten 22 April, 2013 at 12:07 pm

    So true. It would be funny if it weren’t so true.

  • Cat (Yellow Days) 22 April, 2013 at 12:12 pm

    Great post. I think there is scope for 3/4 year olds to be helped to develop some of the skills they will need at school/in life generally like being able to concentrate for longer periods, listen to others, take turns etc purely so the move to school is a smoother transition for them but the focus should always be on fostering an interest in the world around them and learning to express themselves and their thoughts. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that you’re right about the results of the next election!

  • @babberblog 22 April, 2013 at 12:40 pm

    Fantastic post, really enjoyed it, spot on.

  • Clare 22 April, 2013 at 12:48 pm

    So true! Well said indeed. Sometimes I feel like I’m the only person who thinks the world (in this case the government) has gone completely mad. Also I feel powerless in the face of these proposed changes (any top tips welcome). My children love their school, and so do I, but by 3.15pm they have definitely had enough!

  • Mary 22 April, 2013 at 1:42 pm

    I know, it freaks me out too. i find myself lying awake in the middle of the night mentally composing strongly worded letters of protest about education and fracking (don’t even start me on that one…). For me the best part of the school day was hometime, and the best part of the year was the start of the summer holidays (maximum time left till having to go back to school!) Michael Gove is taking away both these moments of joy, or at least seriously truncating them. I don’t know how i could home-ed without going mad but i’m considering it if this craziness goes any further. Luckily got lots of time before having to bite THAT bullet!

  • Vickyb 22 April, 2013 at 2:18 pm

    So well said! A beautifully written post, about ugly policies.

  • Sarah 22 April, 2013 at 7:25 pm

    I completely agree with every word you’ve said here. I am a teacher and a parent and feel totally trapped into forcing my own and other people’s children into an education system that increasingly suffocates imagination and creativity and does not reflect many of the findings of research into how children learn especially in the early years. I’m considering taking my son out of his pre-school as it is too structured and I don’t think he should start formal learning until he is at least six. Up until that age it should all be about developing social, emotional and communication skills through play and exploration. Unfortunately the government doesn’t listen to teachers or parents.

  • Carolyn 22 April, 2013 at 7:51 pm

    Oh my goodness… you’ve hit the nail on the head, and in the process got me all wound up and cross (in a good way!). It is so true… and scary… and something to stand up to in our society.

    ” These hopes are simply in line with a Tory strategy to create a whole society of financial contributors and quiet obeyers. Of desk sitters who question nothing and accept everything until we are top of the global rung once again.”
    … this is not what i want for my kids.

    My daughter (soon to be turning 5) has skipped reception ( due to a return from living abroad and not getting a place in the school we wanted)… and I don’t feel she’s missed out or got behind, in fact she may have even benefitted from the extra year of freedom to freely play & hang out more with her little sister. Sending them earlier than 4 is bonkers in my humble opinion. They most certainly won’t ‘learn’ (academic-ly speaking) any more that’s for sure – there brains are just not there yet!

    Thanks again for the post & for your passion. 🙂

  • Mammasaurus 22 April, 2013 at 11:41 pm

    I saw this on the news this morning , the nursery business and was actually shouting at the telly, children need to enjoy being children and if schools were given more flexibilty to discover more creative ways of teaching instead of adhering to a strict curriculum the world would be a better place – for kids at least !

  • Purplemum 23 April, 2013 at 6:03 am

    An absolutely spot on post! I agree entirely and unequivocally.

  • Sian 23 April, 2013 at 7:47 am

    Yes, yes, yes!
    Kids need holidays, time to rest and play (have a childhood) – I’m sure Goves suggestions for cutting down on holidays and longer days at school don’t apply to the Private Schools! As it is they have much longer hols and still manage to pass exams, hm maybe he just wants the poorer kids off the streets, their parents working longer (both, god forbid you should have a mum stay at home when they could be out earning and paying taxes) and as for Truss – SCARY.
    Brilliant post : )

  • Sian 23 April, 2013 at 7:48 am

    oops – or Dad stay at home, sorry Dads.

  • Ruth 23 April, 2013 at 9:09 am

    Absolutely bloody brilliant post, so well written. SO RAGE INDUCING. I’d seen Gove’s nonsense, but I’d missed the stuff from Truss. Yuck yuck yuck.

    Now go and calm down and have that beautiful baby x

  • Chris at Thinly Spread 23 April, 2013 at 10:23 am

    I am nodding vigorously and thumping my fist on the table so hard it hurts. As a teacher and Mum to 4 children who have already been tested to within an inch of their lives this is making me very shouty indeed. Hands off our kids!

  • City Girl At Heart 24 April, 2013 at 5:52 am

    Fantastic post! I party agree with the Gove proposal. I would be happy for schools to finish at 4.30. That’s what we were used to coming from France and it worked for us. Little ones in the infant section had lunchtime naps so they could cope with the day. What they did get were longer holidays that were great and for those working that couldn’t take all the holiday off (which was me there and still is here) there were brilliant holiday play schemes at the school run by students that cost about a fiver for 6 hours of activities. My kids loved it. I would love to see something like this in the UK. However, For nursery to change and not be play led would be ridiculous!

  • Mayfair Mum 26 April, 2013 at 11:24 am

    Great post! I am a committed capitalist and have voted Tory all my adult life so that we can all retain some sense of personal responsibility, which I don’t think successive Labour governments have been very keen on or good at delivering. I could go on but this is scarcely relevant really in the light of your fabulous and articulate piece, with which I agree 110%. I would hasten to remind you though that we should both refrain from identifying whole political parties with the ridiculous and idiotic policies that these two ministers seem to have come up with (no doubt aided and abetted by some ambitious but totally unqualified junior civil servants!). This is because both parties have also made policies which have done considerable good. I just wish there was some way we could all remember that through our MPs, who are responsible (whatever their party colours) for representing constituents’ views in the House of Commons, we have the power to lobby for them to vote these imbeciles and their nonsense off the agenda. Trouble is most people are far too busy surviving/getting on with life and raising the next generation to take the time and energy. On that note, I suggest you and all of us who read and agree with it, share it with our local MPs. Sorry for the essay but you’ve got my juices flowing on this point 🙂

  • Ross Mountney 3 May, 2013 at 6:54 pm

    Great post – and I love it that you’ve resisted ‘educating’ your tot! We ended up home educating our children (see my blog) and it was an experience that was such a delight. As you suggest in your post there are ways to approach learning that doesn’t even seem like educating. All the best – oh – and congratulations! xxx