Norfolk nurseries react to “chaotic” claims from Norfolk MP Elizabeth Truss


Childcare - Credit: PA Wire/Press Association Images

Childcare providers have hit out at a Norfolk MP who claimed nurseries were chaotic places where children were not taught good manners.

Elizabeth Truss, MP for South West Norfolk and early years minister, said pre-schools were filled with toddlers 'running around with no sense of purpose'.

In an interview with the Daily Mail, she called the settings 'chaotic' and claimed they simply let children do what they wanted all day, leaving them unable to sit still and listen by the time they started primary school.

Yesterday, her comments were called 'ill judged' by the Pre-school Learning Alliance while Norfolk nurseries insisted her description did not reflect the good work being done in this county.

In an interview, Ms Truss said: 'What you notice in French nurseries is just how calm they are. All of their classes are structured and led by teachers. It's a requirement.

'They learn to socialise with each other, pay attention to the teacher and develop good manners, which is not the case in too many nurseries in Britain.

'Free-flow play is not compulsory [in the UK] but there is a belief across lots of nurseries that it is. I have seen too many chaotic settings there children are running around. There's no sense of purpose.'

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In response to her comments Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said: 'It is frankly astonishing that the minister in charge of childcare makes such ill-judged, off-the-cuff statements about what she believes is happening in day nurseries and pre-schools. The picture the minister paints is not one that would be recognised by anyone who knows anything about child development and learning.

'Young children are by nature active, energetic and inquisitive. It is these features that good-quality nursery staff nurture and develop through a balance of child-oriented and adult-led activities. This is not done by making them sit still and upright at desks in regimented rows.'

Those views were echoed by Norfolk nurseries yesterday which defended the work they do.

Liz Robertson, of Cleverclogs (Longwater) Nursery at Costessey, near Norwich, said she agreed with Ms Truss when it came to wanting to see polite, considerate children who can pay attention and listen once they reach school.

But she added: 'However I suspect most childcare practitioners working in Norfolk would take great exception to Elizabeth Truss's assertion that many nurseries are 'chaotic'. I wonder how many she has visited and the length of these visits?'

She said children were actively encouraged to develop good manners at her nursery but added: 'We also allow children to be children and are lucky to have a big garden where the children can let off steam and 'run around' thought with real 'purpose'. Ms Truss is most welcome to come and visit us.'

Kimberley Lamb, deputy manager at Tiffin Day Nursery in Thurton, near Loddon, said nurseries aimed to strike a balance between letting children explore and be inquisitive without restrictions and giving them the structure they needed to learn good behaviour.

'They are always learning through play, even if you don't notice it,' she said. 'There needs to be a happy medium.

'We have a positive behaviour management policy which includes promoting it with the children and making sure the staff model that. We are always reminding children to use their pleases and thank yous.'

Ms Truss said watchdog Ofsted would also be expected to only give good and outstanding ratings to early-years providers that take on better-qualified staff and offer children more structure.

But Heidi Billing, of the newly-opened Happyfeet Day Nursery in Watton, questioned how Ms Truss's call for more structure could work with the increased child-to-staff ratios she is also promoting for higher-qualified staff.

She said fewer staff members would lead to more unruly nurseries and less support for young children. She said: 'If they want the children to have better manners and to be able to have more structure, then why do that?'

Mrs Billing said the setting already had a number of members of staff with degree-level qualifications but she had no plans to increase the number of children workers could care for.

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