There is a real cohesion problem Nicky Morgan hasn't addressed, and it isn't Trojan horse nurseries.
There is a real cohesion problem Nicky Morgan hasn’t addressed, and it isn’t Trojan horse nurseries
Education secretary Nicky Morgan’s first foray into early years’ policy shows there has been no break with that of her predecessor Michael Gove when it comes to Muslim communities.
Today the government has sold a story to the media about ‘Trojan horse nurseries’. Ultimately, her action is counter-productive and can alienate Muslim communities and increase the risks of religious extremism.
Nicky Morgan and her advisers have spun a detailed consultation about early years’ finance into a summer story about terrorist toddlers. Among the many proposals in the consultation is just one paragraph that bars ‘excluded providers’ from receiving government funding to deliver free early education:
“2.10….early years expenditure held centrally cannot relate to an excluded provider. An excluded provider is defined as an independent school that: does not meet the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of pupils set out in the Independent School Standards; does not actively promote fundamental British values; or promotes, as evidence-based, views and theories which are contrary to established scientific or historical evidence and explanations.”
All three and four year olds, as well as the 40 per cent most disadvantaged two year olds, receive free part-time early education in England, which is mostly delivered in school-based nurseries or those run by private and voluntary sector organisations.
In future, this free provision cannot be delivered by those that do not actively promote British values. There will be amendments to the early years’ curriculum – called the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) later this year.
Nicky Morgan’s action is counter-productive in a number of ways.There is simply no evidence that religious extremists have or are trying to take over nurseries. When pushed on this, her senior officials admit it.
Morgan, like Gove, has vowed that the education system will uphold ‘British’ values. Although not uniquely British, presumably these include democracy, respect for others, the rule of law, equality of opportunity and freedom of speech.
But over-emphasising the Britishness of these universal values risks stoking xenophobia as it reminds the public of the ‘other’ among them. Again it makes Muslims a suspect community. It will do little to build the trust between Muslim communities and the government that is needed to challenge religious extremism.
All early years providers anyway, have an obligation through the EYFS curriculum to impart a respect for others. Nurseries already help children learn about the foundations of democracy, with an EYFS goal being:
“children play co-operatively, taking turns with others. They take account of one another’s ideas about how to organise their activity. They show sensitivity to others’ needs and feelings, and form positive relationships with adults and other children.”
All good early education providers – nurseries, pre-schools, childminders – would argue that they uphold ‘British’ values.
The Department for Education (DoE) does need to be concerned about religious extremism and social cohesion. Ensuring shared ‘British’ values requires social mixing between minorities and majority society.
One of the issues the DoE has not addressed is the high level of social segregation in early years’ provision. Throughout the UK, children of working parents tend to receive their free early education in different settings to those in families where mothers do not work. Overwhelmingly children in families where mothers work receive their free early education in private and voluntary sector nurseries – because these are open for 50 or so weeks of the year.
Where mothers do not work, their children are much more likely to receive their free early education in nurseries based in primary schools, which follow school opening times.
Maternal employment rates are much lower in minority ethnic groups such as Bangladeshis, Pakistanis and Somalis. There tends to be high levels of ethnic segregation in areas where these groups live alongside ethnic groups where maternal employment is higher.
It is an issue in Camden, for example, where Bangladeshi and Somali children receive their free early education largely in schools and other groups largely in private and voluntary sector nurseries.
Friendships between families are often forged when children are small, as the commonalities of parenthood can bring different sectors of the community together.
In some areas, nurseries have become spaces where different religious and ethnic groups meet, mix, negotiate and develop shared values.
In other parts of the country this is undermined by a social segregation caused by early years’ policy.
Ensuring school-based nursery provision meets the needs of working parents is one policy that would end social segregation.
This is the cohesion problem Nicky Morgan needs to addressed, not the imagined problem of Trojan horse nurseries.Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.