One of the key elements of being in EYFS is that we work in partnership with our parents and families. This phase is about the care, learning and development of the children who attend our settings. Small children have many developmental needs, including things like toilet training, so we have work closely with families to support them as well as we can. Most young children in the 0-4 age group are in PVI (private, voluntary and independent) settings, but many schools also take children from 2 years old and sometimes younger. There is no single moment when a child is ‘toilet trained’ and children might have accidents in Nursery, Reception and later on. This can be distressing for both them and their parents. Children with SEND and medical situations may have continence issues for a variety of reasons and to describe these children and their parents as having to be “excused” as “extreme cases” is unhelpful.
Where we face a situation in which parents are struggling to toilet train, or to do other things that we might say are ‘their job’, we need to think about why that might be happening. What is it about policy or practice that is causing this phenomenon? Parents are working longer hours, so children are in settings for many more hours than they used to be. There seem to be ever more demands on children, at ever younger times. Settings can’t just down tools and refuse to step up, so telling parents what to do is unlikely to help, because it doesn’t reflect the realities faced by families, early years settings and schools. None of us can take the children we work with and replace them with children who aren’t affected by government policies.
Schools are being given an endless list of things to ‘solve’ and this needs to stop, but blaming parents isn’t going to help anyone and it might even make things worse. The statutory EYFS framework in England gives guidance about the duties of settings in relation to children’s toileting (see p.30, point 3.60). The early learning goals require that settings support children to “manage their own basic hygiene and personal needs successfully, including dressing and going to the toilet independently.” (see p.11) If there is research evidence available showing problems in this aspect of child development, then government organisations should disseminate it. But anecdotes don’t meet research standards and the headlines about parents they generate are often unhelpful. Settings are working in partnership with parents on behalf of their children, because that’s what we are there for. And it’d be great if Ofsted could stop doing things that get in the way of that.