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June O'Sullivan, LEYF CEO

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If we want to improve the lives of poor two year olds, we need to have an intelligent Ofsted conversation

‘More nursery education should be carried out in schools to prepare children better for later education and help bridge the gap between rich and poor’ the Chief Inspector of schools has said.

Sir Michael Wilshaw warned that ‘too many early years education providers are failing to teach youngsters social, emotional and learning skills and get them ready to start primary school.’9739511441_f1f00e4de8_z

‘Pupils from poorer backgrounds are also too often falling behind their more privileged peers by the time they reach school age, but bringing “structured” early years provision into a school setting would help put them on equal footing.’ His comments came ahead of Ofsted’s first Early Years Annual Report, which will call for a radical shake-up of early years education in England.

And so screamed the headlines…blood pressure raised, heads shook, teeth were kissed by many in the Early Years sector as they listened to this while stirring the porridge.

The trouble was that the speech confused many issues into a simplistic message which was a shame because the central tenet that There is nothing inevitable about the link between poverty and failure is something on which Sir Michael and I totally agree. It’s the principle on which we built LEYF.

However, his conclusion that all this would be solved if we put poor children into school earlier is simplistic, arrogant and dismisses the whole Early Years sector as either meddling middle class earth mothers, or useless Early Years practitioners. No doubt, there is some truth in this but it’s a rather Homer Simpson approach. Doh! homer-simpson-doh

Let’s probe some of the assumptions he makes:

  1. Ofsted figures show continual improvement in the standards of quality offered by PVI nurseries, so why is he blaming us for the fact the children age four are not school ready?
  2. Children aged three have been in school for the last 12 years and there is no research that shows that by being in school they have successfully helped children become school ready.
  3. There is no research that says two year olds from vulnerable and disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to better success by attending a school environment. It hasn’t worked for three year olds.
  4. My experience of the two year olds on the two year old programme is that they have disproportionately higher levels of speech and communication problems, disorganised attachment, nutrition  issues and parents who are either unable or unwilling to be warm, authoritative parents which is, as we know, the most successful parenting style. How will schools cope with this?
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  5. He says that because teachers are graduates then the quality of teaching will be higher. The research we did  shows quite clearly that the level of qualification could not be proven as key to quality for two year olds but the level of attunement, understanding of child development and the high ratios were the critical factors. Is he and Liz Truss in cahoots to get the ratios reduced?
  6. He wants us to ‘teach’ two year olds and provide more formalised learning. Well, we do teach two year olds using sensory and creative teaching, enabling environments, routine, small groups, outdoor play and continual conversation, language, singing stories and working with their parents. Two year olds are babies at 25 months, toddlers by thirty months and emerging small children by thirty six months.  They come sucking dummies, in nappies and hardly able to separate from their parents and become quite independent by three but the journey means we weave care, order and loving attachment into their learning.  Call that teaching if you want Sir Michael but it needs plenty of adults and home learning activities.
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  7. Sir Michael, no one objects to children being able to know ’how to hold a pen… the ability to count, to recognise words, to communicate well with each other and their teachers’ but we need to agree what your inspectors look for as we help children become skilled at such tasks.  We need to be able to do this in a paced way so we work in alignment with the child and not in some pressured race.  Perhaps you might rethink why we need to be able to do all this at four and five which is not even statutory school age.
  8. We agree we need to develop a shared baseline screening but the evidence so far is not hopeful that they help children progress. Let’s think of a better way to identify children’s starting points and track their progress.
  9. Sir Michael, we have for many, many years tried to engage with schools and it’s never been a coherent success. It very much depends of factors such as a willing Headteacher, locality, time, cover and Local Authority support.  Why do you think you can force a different course of action?
  10. With so many schools failing and in special measures and no Local Authority support how will deregulation ensure quality is assured in schools and guarantee children the best service.

Sir Michael, we are all on the side of children.  However, to succeed so everyone is life ready we need to have a coherent approach if we are to support children to succeed. You cannot do that by telling one element of the sector that it’s to blame for failing poor children in the face of contradictory evidence.  Why not use Ofsted’s role as an improvement catalyst and engage with the sector?  This is where we can all show real leadership. The issues are more complex than you acknowledge and we need a holistic approach.  Start by setting up a National Advisory Committee to tackle each element of the problem. Let’s begin by having a pedagogical conversation…

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‘We worry so much about what a child will be tomorrow that we forget she is someone today.
Stacia Tauchser

An Invitation to the London #OfstedBigConversation

The London conversation will take place at 9.30 on Friday the 11th April at LEYF Head Office (121 Marsham St, SW1P 4LX).  The aim of the ‘Conversation’ is to identify how Ofsted inspection and regulation helps the sector achieve our shared goal of delivering outstanding early years education and childcare for all children and families.

As with our initial meeting this is an open meeting on a first come first served basis. However to make sure we get a fair representation please can those of you wanting to come:

  • Have a London focus
  • Apply for one place only per organisation
  • Send someone who can make decisions

It would be great to welcome colleagues from nurseries, pre-schools, childminder groups, local authorities, membership groups and policy makers.

I will Chair the meeting with my co-chair Catriona Nason, known to many of you for setting up and managing the OBC website.

To book a place please click through to this link. We are putting a limit on numbers as there is limited capacity so do hurry

The agenda reflects our initial concerns and the recent feedback from our colleagues in the South West and the North who have already met with their Regional Directors.  It will be strategic in tone and focused on the broader issues rather than addressing individual complaints.

In order to prepare and to make sure we have facts to support our requests and challenges, it is important to read some of the more up to date early years announcements from Ofsted.

The Agenda shaped as an issue and questions.

  1. Issue: Complaint initiated inspections (vexatious and /or malicious) are absorbing Ofsted resources and impacting on the inspection cycle.
    Question: How does Ofsted see its role in limiting the emergence of the public being able to make malicious or vexation complaints without robust evidence?
  2. Issue: Ofsted role with regards to improvement in the Early Years sector
    Question: Is it driven by statements or letters from their leader or a more coherent and researched approach?  How does Ofsted see the role of the sector in supporting the concept of improvement?
  3. Issue : Length of time for reports
    Question: Why is it taking up to 12 weeks to issue a report?
  4. Issue: Purchased Inspections
    Question: When can we buy an inspection?
  5. Issue:  Fair Reporting of Inspections
    Question: Why are Inspections published during an appeal period?
    Question: Why are complaints that are not upheld not deleted ?
  6. Issue: Nominated Person
    Question: Can we have more than a single nominated person?
  7. Issue: Contractors
    Question: How can we contribute to the commissioning process of future Ofsted contractors?

ofsted-300x256Last week, Sir Michael Wilshaw wrote to the early years inspectors urging them to ‘focus on evaluating whether children are being adequately prepared for the start of their statutory schooling’ and lists factors that he feels should be taken into account when considering a setting’s rating.

Wilshaw writes:
‘Inspectors should report on what makes teaching and assessment effective rather than on its style. I expect inspectors to apply common sense when observing how well children learn and how effectively adults teach children to develop skills, knowledge and understanding. I want to know how well settings help children to catch up when they enter with skills that are lower than those typical for their age. I expect reports to be clear about the extent to which a provider prepares children for school.’

Now in addition to these issues there are some bigger more philosophical shifts in Ofsted’s approach that will have implications for the sector. I added some suggested questions just to get you in the mood

  1. Question:  What does Ofsted think makes teaching and assessment effective?
  2. Question: What does Ofsted mean by teaching children and not focusing just on supervision and care?
  3. Question: What does Ofsted accept as effective means of extending children’s vocabulary? What will they judge is acceptable evidence?
  4. Question : What will Ofsted inspectors do to apply common sense when observing how well children learn and how effectively adults teach children to develop skills, knowledge and understanding?
  5. Question: How will Ofsted get consistency among inspectors to such broad statements and will there by a discussion with sector as to what this means in reality?
  6. Question:  Is Ofsted about to discount the EYFS?

Issue: London has seen a rise in the quality of its schools again this year and inspection outcomes overall were the best in the country in 2012/13. In recent years, the proportion of good or outstanding schools has increased dramatically. More than eight in every 10 children and young people benefit from education in a good or outstanding school in London. However, the picture for students post-16 is not nearly so healthy. Despite improvements this year, more than a third of the 45 colleges in the capital are less than good. and not up to scratch.

Question: How will the Ofsted’s improvement agenda address this? This is an issue for us recruiting nursery staff as from September 2014 they need an A to C to as entry level for a Level 3 qualification.

Issue:  Ofsted propose to introduce a separate graded judgement about the overall effectiveness of Nursery and Reception classes in the inspection framework for maintained schools and academies. We would also require inspectors to write a discrete paragraph evaluating this provision. We propose developing a separate set of brief evaluation criteria, which will be published in the School inspection handbook, to support inspectors reaching a judgement on this stage and to help schools’ self-evaluation. These criteria would encompass:
- achievement
- the quality of the teaching
- behaviour and safety
- leadership and management.

Inspectors would take account of this separate judgement when making their judgement on the overall effectiveness of the school.

What would St Patrick say if he was a Social Entrepreneur?

This week, I had the opportunity to be featured on the BBC Sunday Politics Show as an example of a social enterprise.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b03xjvvm/Sunday_Politics_London_16_03_2014/ (51.20 mins)
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An Oscar Speech for Early Years Practitioners

Gold TrophyLast week I went to friend’s wedding and when it came to the speeches, she stood up and explained that as it was the day of the 86th Academy Awards she would give her speech in true Oscar acceptance style. I took a deep breath as some of the most excruciating Oscar speeches came into my mind; do you remember Halle Berry or Gwyneth Paltrow or James Cameron?
However, my friend works in Early Years and so would never take herself that seriously – her speech successfully dripped with stories and vignettes to make us all laugh!
I have been telling stories and making people laugh at a number of recent conferences and it certainly seems to elicit a warm and engaged response with people often commenting about why it’s so important we don’t take ourselves too seriously as it’s not about us but all about the children.
This was particularly heartening from practitioners working in a low status sector and coping with a national Press and Public which both misunderstand and misconstrue what it is we do. Look at last week, we were once again in the press, broadcasted as greedy expensive childcare providers.  On BBC Radio London Drive Time, Eddie Nester said to me that someone must be making a lot of money out of childcare. Well, I replied ‘introduce me to him and his credit card.’
We know that the problem is not the cost of childcare but the proportion parents pay. This proportion will increase all the more if more providers stop providing the ‘free offer’ because the shortfall between the hourly cost and the hourly rate  is placing their business in jeopardy. Given that 80% of costs in a childcare business is staff and we are not high earners, how do people think we are accumulating vast fortunes? For more details read the Family Childcare Trust report. teacht-kids-money[1]

I read on Twitter that Ofsted finds one third of settings as ‘not good.’  Let’s analyse what that means and not immediately assume it’s correct or a true reflection of the state of the Early Years. We are still working with Ofsted on getting a shared perspective. Look out for the #OfstedBigConversation and the London meeting on 11th April (details in April blog).
So to those enthusiastic and warm people I meet at conferences (this week I met you in Camden and Hackney) my  Oscar speech says hold your nerve and keep your positive attitude.  Continue to fight for what is right.  We are critical to supporting children to succeed.  We are also providing childcare which is an economic pillar to help families work and stay out of poverty. The research is consistent; good quality childcare makes a significance difference to children especially the most vulnerable. President Obama has just drafted a policy to increase childcare, the Australian Government has ploughed $44m dollars into it while this country continues to be confused about childcare instead of showing the way (a Razzie for them). This quote from an Oscar speech this year from Lupita Nyong’o is a fitting reminder of why Early Years practitioners deserve their own Osacar:

                                       When I look down at the golden statue
                                       May it remind you of every little child that 
                                       Wherever you’re from
                                       Your dreams are valid

The London Men in Childcare Network Celebrates its Second Birthday and Launches its Video

Men in Childcare is women’s business’ said a colleague at the first official meeting of the London Men in Childcare Network for 2014 which was held last week.  It set the tone as we reviewed the first year of the Network and considered our shared tasks for 2014.

In 2013 we organised the first National Men in Childcare conference in London, won the Nursery World Inclusion Award and presented to the Government All Party Parliamentary Group.  We supported colleagues in other parts of England who want to form networks and we made a film to enlighten others about the benefits of having a gender balanced workforce. Not bad going given we have no budget and rely on old–fashioned barter and modern social media. Quite a combination. Talk and Tweet about Men in Childcare on our new MiC twitter account

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However, the best reason to celebrate was a comment made by a female manager who came along with her new male member of staff. She very movingly said  ‘I would not have appointed a male member of staff but for getting involved with the Network.  I changed my attitude, my approach to recruitment and the whole way I operate and I am so glad I did.’

That is the outcome we want and it’s needed because two days later I had an email from a Director of a large chain of nurseries asking for support to explain to a Board member why they should support an approach to have more men in childcare.

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Men in childcare is good for children, good for staff teams and good for society. Read the LEYF report or my many blogs on the subject , the most recent for the Huffington Post
So, given we agreed that men in childcare is a women’s issue we are launching our video on the week of International Women’s Day because women need to ensure that the workplace is a welcoming place for men to join because it’s  good for children.

In the words of Abraham Lincoln:

                               ‘These men ask for just the same thing: fairness, and fairness only.

Watch, enjoy and share…

We need one early years voice to sing in harmony for good quality childcare.

On Saturday, I read a letter in the Guardian coordinated by Early Education calling on local politicians to protect quality provision for children in their early years.  It reminded us of the longer term benefit Early Years can have for small children and the longer term consequences if politicians don’t heed this and allow the dismantling of local services.

9758001801_58a33d79f0_bIt was good to hear another group of voices share concerns about what is happening in the sector.  It’s only if we co-ordinate and work together that we will have any success at all. The Save Childhood campaign, the ratio campaign, and the #OfstedBigConversation all must be woven onto one big voice. We need a voice with the sheer power of Adele to touch people’s hearts and minds and never be allowed to forget the magic of what they have just heard.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qemWRToNYJY

In keeping with the importance of quality and what this means at LEYF, we have released our own The Twoness of Twos report.  Using our action research model we have examined what we think is necessary to ensure quality placements for two year olds.  Written from a practitioner perspective we will use it to shape our strategy, training plans and practice approach for two year olds attending our nurseries. Our key findings are unsurprising. Here is a taster:

  • Two year olds are special and need to have their developmental needs met
  • Two year olds thrive with adults who can tune into them, understand their needs and follow their leads
  • Two year olds need regular small groups where their voices and feelings are acknowledged
  • Staff need training specifically on two year olds, language development, identifying areas for concerns and how to lead two year old spaces
  • Healthy food is a critical element of two year old provision
  • An appropriate learning environment is crucial
  • High staff to child ratio is key to quality
  • We have to really consider assessment and transition of two year olds
  • Home Learning is a two way process and is the essential learning bridge and staff need to become expert pedagogical conversationalists

The report will be available to download from our website and I hope to share it when I speak at upcoming conferences:

  • CAPITA’s Early Years Provision Conference
  • Camden Council – What makes a difference for our 2 year olds?
  • Hackney Council – Learning together at home: Building families confidence to support their children’s development
  • What About the Children Annual Conference – Building the brain. What’s love got to do with it?
  • House Magazine – Improving Quality in Early Years Provision: The Role of Inspection
  • A One Day National Conference – Early Years Inspections (Manchester)
  • York Council – Working with 2 Year olds – Conference for Early Years Practitioners and Childminders

Busy, Busy, Busy!

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Early Years where ‘Mary Mary quite Contrary’ is also an Environmentalist and Climatologist

Yesterday, I enjoyed watching a tranquil almost bucolic scene with rowers rowing up the Thames, families walking with their children and dogs and runners and cyclists cruising along the towpath. It could almost have been a scene from a Turner painting.

England: Richmond Hill, on the Prince Regent's Birthday exhibited 1819 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851
It was hard to imagine that only two days before the country was still in the thrall of storms and costal tempests the like of which we have not seen for a long time.

As someone who lives by the part of the Thames controlled by the Thames Barrier, I have been watching with trepidation as more and more of South East England has gone under water.  My close friend who lives five miles from me was surrounded by water for nearly three weeks. On Friday, I had to travel to the University of Reading to give students from Henley Business School a guest lecture on social enterprise.

I am grateful to South West trains for getting me there and back without a problem but I was shocked by how much brown muddy water I saw as we travelled through  Staines and Egham. It was not a rustic scene.

Last week, I had watched Newsnight from Wraysbury, a place I have only heard of because it is on my commuter train timetable. I listened to peoples’ views and decided at that point that we in Early Years have a significant part to play in this current climate conundrum. How’s that? I hear you say. So now we are climatologists, water engineers and scientists? No, we are Early Years teachers and we have to figure out how we can help prepare our children to become these people. Clearly, politicians are out of their depth and have resorted to playground tantrums.

floodDutch engineers were invited onto the Newsnight programme and they talked of changing our approach and working with the river.  Stop trying to work against it but understand how to manage it, build more green spaces for overflow, better storage of excess water, some dredging and a whole host of future proofing solutions.

This is what we need to think about for when we are supporting our children become the future managers of our environment.  Let’s begin with arguing for more green space not building over the green belt. Teach our children about their environment and how we are partners with our environment not dictators. Let’s think about ideas such as the living city project.

A few years ago we took our three and four year old children from the LEYF Lisson Green nursery, a highly concreted and busy place, on an environmental walk. We gave them cameras and asked them what they disliked the most: litter, bird guano and dogs were their consistent answers.  My point is, they had a view.

So now we need to consider how we get our children to understand about the climate and what that means for them.  Simple events can help.  For example the LEYF Family Events will be held from 14-23 March to raise parents understanding of how we can grow food and support our children’s interests no matter how urban the environment.

 LEYF Nurseries use methods such as urban forest school, gardening, weather charts, mud kitchens, visiting local parks and green spaces and environmental activities to introduce the idea of the climate and environmental responsibility.  It’s a small step and emulated in nurseries all across the country. So colleagues in Early Years, we have seen the country thrown into disarray and confusion by storms, rain and floods. We can be assured this will increase not diminish. Our children will, no doubt, have to face a future of environmental turmoil.

Our job is to be aware of these issues and in our own quiet and proactive way to build in an understanding at the earliest age.  So when someone tells you that you are just a childminder or a nursery nurse or Early Years teacher, stand up straight and be assured that you are building the future environmentalist, scientists, engineers  and climatologists.

The Tale of Two Michaels; ‘Le Ofsted Split’

The breakup of relationship always fascinates us. We are drawn to the details like a moth to light. The intricate relationship between the Secretary of State for Education and Ofsted is currently disintegrating very publicly. Last week the Sunday Times (in a piece aptly placed next to the French Prime Minister ‘Le Split) exposed Sir Michael Wilshaw’s distress at Michael Gove’s tacitly approved attacks on Ofsted. This week, Mr Gove sacked the Chair of Ofsted and is trying to convince the world that he wont appoint a crony.

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According to the Sunday Times Sir Michael Wilshaw was displeased, shocked, angry and outraged by right-wingers questioning the integrity of the Inspectorate whose job it is to rate the quality of schools and which he credits as having done more to raise standards in the last 20 years than any other organisation. It would seem the crux of the problem is a right-wing dislike of Sir Michael’s insistence on inspecting and finding fault with flagship academies and free schools as well as his belief that the Local Authorities should have the overview of these schools. Think Tanks such as Civitas want a special inspectorate for academies and free schools while Policy Exchange (set up by Gove) is drafting a paper asking if the schools inspectorate is fit or purpose.

Sir Michael’s worry is that that these people don’t know anything about education and want children to be lectured for 6 hours a day in serried ranks. He is against this arguing that we need a balanced approach to teaching as children need to become independent thinkers, able to co-operate and work in teams as well as pass exams and build up skills and knowledge.  He sees these attacks is the right-wing blob simply trying to replace a left-wing and neither are informed, learned or expert about education.

I am not having the Government or anyone else tell me and the inspectorate what they should assess as good teaching‘ He says he ‘won’t be leant on.’
I admire this as some young whippersnapper advisers tried to lean on me when I dared to object to Government policies; a most distasteful experience…for them!

'It's a pity, but the people capable of running this country are too smart to get into politics.'

Now, you may wonder if I have become an Ofsted groupie?! Afterall, I take the same view as Sir Michael and dislike people telling us what makes good childcare and education, especially when they know nothing about the subject. However, I admire both the ‘Michael’s’ desire to improve things but I am prepared to challenge their methods. I was, after all, the principal instigator of the #OfstedBigConversation which exposed the weaknesses of inspections in Early Years. In fairness, Ofsted has begun to listen and we are making some progress under Sir Michael’s leadership and for that we are thankful. I am hoping he is willing to continue to talk to those of us who are very clued up about what makes good education for very small children.  The DfE certainly won’t.

So, the public spat between the two Michaels and the emerging battle between the Secretary of State’s office and Ofsted begs some serious questions. Firstly, what role should advisors play in the shaping of education policy and practice? Secondly, should education be the playground of politicians? Finally, why are jobs such as Chief Inspectors and Chairs of Public Bodies in the gift of politicians?

Early Childhood Care and Education must become a Global Issue

This week had an international flavour not because I was travelling to faraway places (my next trip is Walsall) but because I spent quite a bit of time considering how we share and learn about early childhood care and education in the developing world. On Tuesday I was with Save the Children and colleagues from UNESCO, UNICEF and the Department for International Development considering how we create global partnerships that support early childhood development. Later that week I spent a morning with colleagues from UNICEF explaining our social enterprise model which is now gaining traction with the UN and Europe 

because-i-am-a-girlThat evening I went to a most inspiring film from GirlsRising which was all about the importance of girls education . ‘One Girl with Courage is a Revolution’ was the title and certainly looking at the statistics beginning with one in five adolescent girls around the world denied an education by the daily realities of poverty, conflict and discrimination then we all need to ensure that we each help one girl to become educated, particularly because an educated girl is…

  • …less likely to marry and to have children whilst she is still a child.
  • …more likely to be literate, healthy and survive into adulthood, as are her children.
  • …more likely to reinvest her income back into her family, community and country

See more at the Plan UK website.

You will know from previous blogs that I have been looking to the developing world as a thoughtful innovator of  early childhood care and education.  Some colleagues and I are busy setting up the Institute for Early Years which will be an International and free access global platform. Across the world countries are recognising the broader social, economic and education goals (OECD) that comes from ECCE. However, the sector remains underdeveloped with gaps in provision, inadequate quality in services and limited or no regulation.

It is the gap in provision and the need to develop quality childcare community services that has attracted interest in the LEYF social business model. I am particularly keen to nurture this because I believe our model would replicate well across the world. But this is not enough.  Despite our advances we have, like our overseas colleagues, yet to convince the public and politicians about the value of ECCE. We therefore need a much louder conversation and sometimes you can only see what is staring you in the face if someone else says it. 9741549456_912689b555_z

So when looking at UNICEF reports such as study conducted by the Education International ECE Task Force in June 2010, the Children’s manifesto and the UN, there is a consistency. Everyone wants to consider:

  • Equality and gender equity particularly girls education
  • Sustainable services
  • Peaceful and safe communities ensuring we protect children from violence
  • Give children a voice
  • Global  partnerships

The UN is currently agreeing targets for 2015. Our Deputy Prime Minister has a vote on the relevant committee. He needs to hear our views as do local politicians.  Tessa Jowell MP is trying to get enough signatures and she needs 6000 more to get the UN secretary General Ban Ki Moon to put early development at the heart of the new post-2015 development framework .  Sign up and help amass a worldwide energy to understand how we best support and enhance children’s futures.

Sign up and spread the word : Put early childhood development at the heart of the new post-2015 development framework with targets that promise all children care, support and services which work together for the best start in life

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Leading a change; a challenge or a headache?

7165607001_1cd23d8824_zThe role of the CEO is a varied one and this week I found myself commenting on assignments LEYF staff had done on change. I was really rather chuffed by their thoughtful approach to the change process. Of course I was also very flattered to see them quote my book Leadership in Early Years!  Their most common reflection was that change comes no matter what, good or bad and the challenge is being ‘change ready’ because people will resist it even if it improves their lives. They reflected on the sense of urgency for change and the energy needed to make the change. Its right to assume that change of any kind makes you tired.  Just thinking about it makes your head ache. I was therefore reassured that all five assignments demonstrated a good understanding about the culture of change and the ability to seek, assess and incorporate new ideas and practice avoiding teaching people to get better at a bad game. They got extra marks for backing up their intentions with a robust action plans to ensure that each step of the change was plotted, planned and monitored.
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