Sunday, 27 September 2009
There has always been a strong tradition in this country of opposing new laws, or indeed any change at all in the status quo, as being dangerous and unnecessary. Whether it was the Great Reform Act of 1832, the abolition of the Corn Laws, free public education for the working classes or the enfranchisement of women, there have always been those who have viewed the new law as a risky experiment, liable to strike at traditional English values. I have been prompted to reflect upon this by threads currently running on the HE-UK and EO lists. Under the heading of Government Intrusion into Family Life, a succession of posters are expressing concern about the regulation of childminding. Almost unbelievably, the consensus on those lists seems to be in favour of an increase in unregulated childminding! Like me, many of those writing about this see parallels with the law on home education, although our conclusions are probably different.
Unregulated childminding has for many years been a popular way for women to make a little extra money. Thirty or forty years ago, when childminding was all but completely unregulated, it was possible to turn one's home into a battery farm full of babies and toddlers. It was in those days not uncommon to see a house containing six or seven small children. Times change and that sort of thing does not really go on any more. Thanks to a series of laws, unregulated childminding is now a far more hole and corner affair. Instead of providing a steady and reliable income, it is often used these days as part of a series of little earners, alongside clothing catalogue scams, cash in hand cleaning jobs and bar work. Usually, it is limited to one or at the most two children, rather than six or seven. This is a good thing and it is a direct result of the tightening up of the law. Women do not wish to draw attention to childminding unless they are registered and so are a bit more discrete about it.
None of these various laws were ever meant to affect how families look after their children, they were instead brought in to protect some of the most vulnerable members of the community, i.e. babies and toddlers, from exploitation. I find it astonishing that anybody could possibly think such laws a bad thing. Similarly, registered childminders are now obliged to follow the Early Years Foundation Scheme, the so-called "Nappy Curriculum", not because the government is determined to regulate childhood out of existence, but because a lot of childminders have historically been in the habit of plonking their charges down in front of the television and leaving them alone to watch cartoons all day. This is a bad thing for babies and toddlers.
Some of the people posting on HE-UK and EO are equating the regulations around childminding with the intention to introduce new laws to keep an eye on home education. In both cases, the government is concerned about children and trying to look after their interests. There will always be opposition to anything new, particularly new laws. When compulsory education was introduced in the late 19th Century, many parents were outraged. It was said to be striking at the heart of family life and an unwarranted interference in the private affairs of citizens. Plus ca change...... Perhaps it is time for those who are in favour of unregulated childminding and against the monitoring of home education, to ask themselves what they truly imagine the government's motives to be. Do they really imagine that this is all part of a sinister, wide ranging plot to undermine family life? Or is possible that a government composed of fallible men and women are struggling to pass imperfect laws, some of which will be misused, with the honest aim of improving the lot of the nation's children?