I didn’t really need to be so irritable about the fact that, at a recent NASUWT event, someone suggested returning to work after maternity leave might result in teaching younger children and that that could be seen as demotion. The Women Teachers’ Consultation Conference was set to highlight some of the inequalities around women returning to teaching, and didn’t need me mansplaining about all over the place. But demotion was the word in their Twitter post – although I notice that it now seems to say that “Taking maternity leave is the factor which most detrimentally affects women teachers’ career development.” I hope this is an edit on their part, not an oversight on mine. Whatever it was, demotion flew round the corner of Early Years Twitter I frequent.
So briefly, here’s a few thoughts on demotion.
Coming back from maternity leave to a job with fewer prospects is not on for the woman concerned. Coming back to a job for which you are ill -prepared and into which you are an unwilling conscript is bad for the children. In these senses, coming back to teach a younger age group is very possibly discriminatory, and almost certainly a bad move from an SLT. I recognise what one respondent suggested that the NASUWT were trying, albeit ineffectively, to highlight injustice and poor judgement. However, the word demotion suggests something else: it carries with it the idea that working with a younger age group is an inferior task.
At a time when the notion of child-initiated learning/developmentally appropriate practice is called into doubt, and when the proposed revision of the Early Years Foundation Stage is already seeing territorial demands about what the profession needs, it seems to me, is a cohort of eloquent new teachers prepared to take up the challenge. Not to “fight” in some odd way for this or that (phonics, no phonics, a bigger sandpit, whatever), but to be able to pick up research and engage with it, to find the best practice and follow it, to enrich childhoods and build foundations, to show genuine interest in children beyond the tick sheet, to provide for burgeoning delight in reading and problem solving. This cannot be done by using the language we already have of Early Years.
- Down to Reception.
- The Littlies.
- The Rugrats Teacher.
- “So, do you teach them anything?”
- “How hard can it be?”
All phrases I’ve heard or had reported to me: this is the kind of disempowerment that goes with the word demotion. Cute is merely cute; forget Margaret McMillan and see Early Years as soft and cuddly -and rather expensive, now we come to think of it. Now I know school leaders who would excoriate anyone who suggested that this is how they viewed the Foundation Stage in their school, and defend the practice in their Early Years classes against the pedagogologues whose experience of Early Years is dropping off someone’s kids, or who see the Foundation Stage as an ineffective way of mirroring secondary Maths: bit that word demotion remains in my mind.
It is perhaps up to the older generation who have fought these status wars before (“Time to get away from the happy chaos of sandpit and water tray”) to give some thought to how we we should refer to the Early Years. The sharp end? It is not demotion to go down to the Early Years; it should be a question of “Are you sure you’re up to it?”
Early Years teaching demands snap decisions about pedagogy, an understanding of children’s needs and a willingness to meet them, to decide how best to help form an understanding of behaviour and to impart this or that piece of knowledge. It’s teaching, for goodness’ sake. Let’s talk of it as such: the glorious, complex, busy world of Nursery and Reception (and KS1, too) that make possible the brilliant work that follows.