Alasdhair Mussel

The launch of the Save Childhood Movement, and values in early years education.




There is an enormous disparity between the values that teachers feel are important for the education system and what is actually going on. That is the main conclusion of a survey of 177 early years professionals regarding their personal values, the values of UK schools currently, and what values they would like to see in UK schools.

The survey was released for the launch of the Save Childhood Movement, in April 2013. I turn first to this new organization, before addressing the survey itself.

The Save Childhood Movement website describes itself as 'a unique and multi-disciplinary collaboration of experts and supportive organisations, all of who are concerned about societal values and wellbeing. It is now developing a range of initiatives to support the wellbeing and freedoms of children, parents and teachers.'

While bringing attention to children's rights is important work, I remain sceptical as to what this broad umbrella group can achieve, as it contains many differing and possibly contradictory perspectives and values. This is reflected in the vague invitation on their website for people to get involved who 'share a deep concern with societal values'.

Without a stronger explicit commitment to social justice and equality, the movement for children's rights can easily take on a conservative character. The name 'Save Childhood' and tagline 'uniting to protect childhood' have paternalistic overtones, betraying an attitude that defines 'freedom' very narrowly, as freedom from the social ills of the adult world, rather than freedom to become active citizens and transform this unjust society. This messaging unfortunately belies the progressive work of many of the groups and individuals involved, many of which do include children's self-determination as an important goal.

However, the focus of the survey they present is important, and emphasises the need for more voices standing against the current educational regime. Many groups now involved in Save Childhood, such as Early Childhood Action, were prominent in the fight against the new Early Years Foundation Stage curriculum implemented in 2012, a struggle that must continue - as Nick Clegg recently revealed proposals for more formal testing for five-year-olds(1). I hope that this work is continued by the organization.

In the survey, the respondents (it does not give details of how respondents were selected) were asked to choose the ten values/behaviours that they would most like to see in UK schools, and ten values/behaviours that they most associate with current UK schools, with damning results:

  • While 67% of those surveyed thought that education should be child-centred as a matter of priority, only 2% thought the current system fulfilled that.
  • While 60% of respondents thought creativity should be prioritised, less than 2% thought the current system supported it.
  • And while 50% believed that early education should emphasise the importance of play, only 2% thought the current system did that.
  • Only 2% of respondents thought that the current system cultivated a passion for learning, and 0% believed that it fostered empowerment.

 When asked which words best described the current state of British education as they experienced it, the most common words were:

  • focus on targets, bureaucracy, results focus, top-down pressure and  adult agenda.

In contrast, when asked which words they believed should characterise education the words most commonly chosen were:

  • child-centred, creativity, importance of play, passion for learning and empowerment.

Beyond the worrying discrepancy between the figures of desired values and the reality of the current system, it is also alarming that some of these 'high' figures are not higher. For example, while 50% believed that early education should emphasise the importance of play, another 50% did not believe this. This shows that the arguments and ideas of children's rights and child-centred education must not just happen amongst the powerful, but that they must happen among all levels of education workers.

Wendy Ellyatt, Founding Director and CEO of the movement, shared her own deep concern about the current situation

It is simply unacceptable that there should be such a disparity between the values that teachers themselves hold and the systems that we are then asking them to work within. How we can expect them to be the creative, spontaneous, passionate and empowered adults that we really need around children when they are constantly ground down by the demands of the system? We need something better and the movement is determined to help fight for this.

This fight is indeed an important one, and I hope that it can be continued with less emphasis on protecting children, and more emphasis on their liberation.

(1)  See

Launch summit, April 2013 (full survey results available on this page):

Save Childhood Movement:


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