The Firmest Foundations

“No sitting at desks, we are too busy playing
No testing or labelling, hear what we’re saying
Be brave and be bold, make the firmest foundations
Build a garden! Take pride in the joy of creation.”

There is something magical about creating a thing that did not exist until you willed it into being, especially when you do so through the power of community. A garden, an allotment, a conference. The power to make all these things is sitting in our hands. If we gather our courage, and work with like minded people, we can make something happen that wouldn’t have existed if we hadn’t taken that leap of faith. This is how friendships are born. And this, for me, is how education should work. (I’m lucky enough to have had that experience of how schools should be for my children.) There are lots of problems in our education system at the moment: funding is a massive issue, people are worried about what the pressures of accountability are doing to children and teachers, and recruitment and retention seem to be in crisis. But there are also wonderful people doing good things.

The Firm Foundations conference last weekend, in which I played a small part, was a great example of this. It was a group of like minded people who felt passionate about early years, and who got together to share good practice on a warm April Saturday in a lovely canal side setting in London. Pretty much everyone I know is shouting out about how baseline is A Bad Idea and they are doing it with a united voice. There are collectives of people doing everything they can to keep education centered around the child. So things might seem a bit bleak at the moment, but they aren’t hopeless by any means. Groups in all the far corners of the Internet are taking up the causes that they feel passionate about, and making something out of nothing (Keeping Early Years Unique, More than a Score, #WomenEd and #BameEd to name but a few). I find it strange to see people question the value of group work, since it seems to lead to so many great things.

When you build something, you have to lay the firmest of foundations. If you hurry along and leap ahead with putting up the structure, you will only end up with a wobbly mess. You must lay your concrete slab or get your roots down into the soil if you want what you have set in motion to grow tall and strong. For children to get a good start in life, to put their roots down into the soil, they need to have a sense of community. They need to know that the adults and the children who are with them will love and guide and teach and play with them, gently and carefully, so that they can develop in their own good time. They are “being not becoming” as Helen Moylett so perfectly put it at the conference. Sharing the experience of learning with others, helps us figure out who we really want to be. So I’d like to say thank you to Ruth Swailes, Simona McKenzie, Nicky Clements, Claire Navaie and Helen Williams, for the hours of chat, for the friendship, and for creating something that didn’t exist before. And for showing me what #FirmFoundations really means.

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