A Happy Valentine’s date in Paris with French nurseries!

Eiffel Tower

Valentine’s Day in Paris. Yep, there I was. Not arm in arm with my beloved, but trudging across the otherwise romantic capital of France visiting nurseries. Part of a group of nursery providers, we had arranged at our own cost to hear directly from the French on how they are successfully able to manage ratios of 1 to 6 babies and 1 to 10 toddlers.

Maybe they are as turbo-charged as we read about.  Remember we are still smarting from being told that French Women Don’t Get Fat by Mireille Guiliano and French Children Don’t Throw Food by Pamela Druckerman, or French Children Don’t Talk Back by Catherine Crawford.  This is of course nonsense, as we have plenty of French children across all LEYF nurseries and they follow the same patterns of behaviour as any other child; and not all their mothers are a slim size 8.

However, as we crisscrossed a cold and wet Paris to visit nurseries, the real picture emerged: the French were charming and pleasant. Between us we visited a cadre of day care centres made up of social enterprise, public and private nurseries. LEYF already had a good relationship with Mouvement des entrepreneurs sociaux (the French Association for Social Enterprises), and the co-ordinator had arranged a most interesting timetable including meeting the equivalent Head of Early Years for Paris. Very much the Entente Cordiale.

The findings: the French do not like the ratios; it limits their opportunities to educate children under the age of 3 years. The nurseries were spotless and the principle of cleanliness next to godliness rules. Lots of plastic and safety surfaces, both indoors and outside. Strict restrictions operate around creative play: no sand indoors or outdoors; limited water play and limited usage of food in play; for example no spaghetti swamps, or vegetables in the role play area.  Some child carers were trying to bathe their babies without water.   This is all part of the system they have created and embedded to manage the higher ratios.  Despite having access to a large number of support staff, they admitted to struggling with ratios and were left open-mouthed when they found out how we currently operate.

Paris has its own approach and is busy examining best practice examples. Their current objective is introducing non-stereotyped play.  They admire the EYFS as setting out good principles of practice. Of course, we met some creative leaders as well as signing up the first European member of the London Network of Men in Childcare.

Fees are much more complex because of the tax and employer subsidies. Parents pay less but that is because the state pays the correct cost of a place.  None of your average £3.66 doled out to UK providers!  They were looking at rates of between 9 and 11 euros per hour.

Despite the low fees, however, French mothers are up in arms at the moment, as they are short 500,000 places to meet their needs.  La Loterie, ca suffit is the call. The French birth rate is one of the highest in Europe and 84% of mothers work. I met some campaigners who demonstrated their fury with Nadine Morano and her 2010 Act, which introduced flexible ratios as a way of putting 100,000 more childcare places into circulation at no cost to the state. The new Government placated parents with a National Consultation which announces its findings this week; an outcome I will be very interested to hear.

So, when you go and see Les Mis and hear the rousing song “Do you hear the people sing“, consider that many French mothers and childcare practitioners are not singing either.

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  1. #1 by Emma Biskupski on February 21, 2013 - 8:39 pm

    Oh how I would have loved to be on that trip with you. I was educated in the French system and though I survived it unscathed, it saddens me that still many children in their early years are not afforded the quality experiences that children in the UK currently have access to in good settings.
    I agree that we need to look at the whole picture though where the state, the family and the wider society all play a role in raising children in one way or another.
    Let’s hope that we can keep the debate going and that Ms Truss listens closely.

  2. #2 by Ken McArthur (@PollysNursery) on February 18, 2013 - 4:42 pm

    Only wish Liz Truss had been with you June to see the ‘really’ early years in France and not the idealistic view she seems to have. You and your colleagues that went to France deserve praise for the time, effort and dedication you have given to this piece of valuable research.

    • #3 by June O'Sullivan on February 20, 2013 - 12:47 pm

      Ken, even if Ms Truss decides to ignore everything we found, the lesson here is that we shuld travel more often and check out all the options thrown around rather lazily in arguments. Not only was it good to see it directly, it posed some very good reflective questions for us also.

  3. #4 by Simona Mckenzie on February 18, 2013 - 12:06 pm

    Great article based on facts! In view of these findings how can E Truss want to push their model on us? why reform our system when all that was necessary was to deal with the reasons why childcare icosts are rising and deal with unnecessary red tape?

    We will plunge into a new system where quality will definetely be at risk as will the safety and development of our children when providers cannot afford to give each child the care and attention they deserve to thrive

    • #5 by June O'Sullivan on February 20, 2013 - 12:50 pm

      what is also crucial though and more than evident in France was the importance of culture and how the wider cultural context has a powerful stake in what is considered acceptable for children. IF our Minister does anything useful then launching a wider debate could be her most positive contribution.

  4. #6 by psw260259 on February 18, 2013 - 11:32 am

    Thank you very interesting – and not quite the story we have been told. I hope it was worth the self funded trip

  5. #7 by Paddock, Shirley on February 18, 2013 - 11:30 am

    Interesting June and not a surprise to me ☹

    Shirley Paddock
    Early Years Development and Safeguarding Manager
    215 Lisson Grove
    NW8 8LF
    Tel: 020 7641 3929
    Fax:020 7641 1932

  6. #8 by Denise Burke on February 18, 2013 - 11:29 am

    Thanks for this ‘on the ground’ review of the French system. The same French system that Ms Truss believes is the way forward here. really wish she’s been on the trip with you June, she could have heard for herself that a change in ratios is not endorsed by the profession or parents.
    Come on Ms Truss, wake up and smell the coffee, do a U-turn!

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