A few weeks ago Wave Trust in partnership with the DfE published its report Conception to Age 2 – The Age of Opportunity. I was part of the Special Interest Group that helped shape the report, along with an eclectic group of colleagues representing a variety of areas affecting babies – such as mental health, training, health visiting and psychology. I learned much from this group, chaired by the erudite and softly spoken George Hosking, CEO of Wave Trust. The full report is 135 pages long and a text book in its own right, but the shortened version designed for local busy commissioners is a useful summary with reference to all the relevant links.
There was a flurry of activity at our Central Office last week because we were interviewing for new staff. We need new staff because we have increased our capacity to accommodate more two-year-olds. The morning saw the arrival of the interview team of LEYF nursery managers and deputies expressing great hope and enthusiasm: new staff, new blood, more stability for teams and less dependence on agency staff. Hurrah!
As someone invited to sit on Professor Nutbrown’s Expert Panel, I supported the intention to have the best quality of staff in our settings. I am keen that the Level 3 is relevant and appropriate. By this I mean that anyone wanting to work with children are given a solid grounding in both child development and how children learn, so they know how to care for a child in a warm, empathetic and good-humoured way. We have long despaired about the qualification being watered down to the point where it has become too broad. As such, I welcome the opportunity to comment on the review of Level 3 qualifications.
Nonetheless, I am a pragmatic person and wondered how we would achieve this baseline quickly enough to meet the needs of the Two Year Old expansion. The outcome of our interviews last week was telling…
Three hundred hits on our advert results in 200 CVs being submitted. These are then followed up with instructions to download the information pack and complete an application form. At this point you see a big drop off: seemingly people just don’t want to write the letter (literacy, literacy, literacy). Those who do are invited to interview. Here at LEYF we call this an assessment centre, where potential staff complete a selection of activities and get to visit a nursery. The final interview pulls all this together to ensure we can both work together successfully.
The outcome is depressing and predictable. We had people who had managed to achieve their qualification within 10 weeks (and you could tell). We had recent college graduates who did not know what was meant by the EYFS. We had candidates who really struggled with spoken English. One manager said they had asked if candidates saw the position as a job or a career (don’t knows just don’t cut it). The enthusiasm began to wane throughout the day…
I chatted with our man from HR: is there not high unemployment he asked, scratching his head? There is, only the trouble with recessions is that staff sit tight, especially those in lower paid jobs (they cannot afford the risk of moving). According to the Office for National Statistics, 2012 saw a 42% drop in people leaving their jobs and the labour market at its least dynamic for 13 years.
So what shall we do? LEYF staff interviewing said they used courage (one of LEYF’s five core values) to help them in the selection process:
We will give one or two a chance for three months, during which time we will balance the risk, complete the induction and observe their impact on the children. (We think it’s a risk worth taking rather than continuing with agency staff.) We will then make a courageous choice to say ‘Goodbye’ if its not working.
Back in HR there is talk of reviewing the selection process. Maybe we will scrap the application form; does it tell us enough anyway? Yes, says Mr HR but we have to remember that any recruitment process must reassure Ofsted that it’s robust.
Does it feel like déjà vu? Remember 1997? The great ambition was to take on 100,000 new staff to expand childcare and enable people to work. Fantastic, if only it weren’t for the same problem we now face: getting enough of the right staff in place to turn the ambition into a reality. Without the power of the genie’s lamp, we can rub all we like, but we simply cannot ‘magic up’ enough good staff. As a result, twelve years later, and further stymied by a dogged recession, we appear to have made little progress.
So, here is a real task for our Minister: use the LEYF value of courage to get out there and talk the sector up!
- Make schools understand the importance of childcare as a career option
- Build childcare into the Career Guidance DNA
- Make child development a key subject on the school curriculum
- Get the Treasury to understand that Early Years training and learning needs continual funding just like that for school teachers
- Get the sector in the press for the right reasons
Children are all our responsibility from conception. Invest in this at every level of the education system, starting right here and right now.
I have long rejected beginning the New Year with a hangover, and am even less keen to create a bunch of resolutions that rarely survive the month of January, let alone come to fruition in the long run. For me, the process seems far too negative and self-defeating, and in my experience typically short-lived.
My assumptions were pleasantly confirmed in an article in the daily oracle, otherwise known as The Metro. Apparently, 40% of people give up their resolutions within a fortnight – not surprisingly as the highest percentage of resolutions are about giving up something they like! (Food, chocolate, wine etc…). Whatever happened to my Grandmother’s favourite saying, ‘a little of what you fancy does you good’? I suppose the key word here is ‘little’.
Lack of will power is the main reason we rarely stick to resolutions, along with the fact that old habits die hard and no one copes well with change, even if it is good. At this point, I think we would do well to remember the words of Darwin, who says:
It is not the strongest of the species that survives,
nor the most intelligent that survives.
It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”
So perhaps we need a different mindset. If having the will power to break old habits is our Achilles Heel, let’s turn on it and make the whole process more successful; let’s focus on just a handful of more positive and achievable goals to start the New Year (and ones that may yet help us prepare for the triple dip recession, British winter weather, overdraft accounts after Christmas holidays, travel fare rises on public transportation, dreaded inflation, high childcare costs for parents, local authority cuts and all the rest of the doom and gloom that keeps the media smiling).
In essence, let’s do more of what we do well in the following ways:
Make work as happy a place as possible. The O2 Mobile study found that one in three of us make most of our friends at work, more than school or university.
Communicate more. Lack of communication is the top complaint of the unsatisfied employee. My suggestion? Try over-communicating a little bit. Make a list of the ways you currently engage with peers and then test which of these matter the most to your organisation. Wise men talk of seven different methods of communication. Staff and hopefully experience will soon let you know when you are sharing too much. (Save that for Reality TV).
Be more visible. Consider if you can do more MBWA (Management by Walking Around). Think about how you connect with staff and find out what helps them feel engaged. Be positive and genuine. Employees want and require feedback constantly. Even the smallest feedback can generate a great response from an employee. Think about ways to show the staff you care and are listening to them.
Support more staff in their professional growth and development. As an employer, giving additional responsibility to a hard working employee can be quite rewarding for both parties. Big bonuses, pay rises, and trips aren’t in the budget but we can always afford tea and cake. Too often leaders think that if a big raise to the team is not possible then there is little point in attempting to do anything else. Training opportunities, conferences, visits or any activity that can contribute to the professional development of your team can be quite inspiring to an employee. A little creativity can go a long way.
Keep people engaged in the vision of the organisation. Many of the happiest employees work for companies where they feel there is a clear sense of direction and they know how they are contributing towards achieving the vision.
Keep a sense of humour; it will ground you in the most trying times.
And if you are already stuck with the last one, here is something that will make you chuckle: Eric Pickles’ suggestions for local authority efficiency savings Fifty ways to save is as weirdly funny as Fifty Shades of Grey (and would make a great episode of The Simpsons. LOL).
I wish you all the best for 2013!
Last week Ofsted produced its Annual Report, the first from her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Education, Children Services and Skills, Sir Michael Wilshaw. It also had the First Ofsted Annual Lecture on Early Years given by the Director of Education, Sue Gregory. The report admittedly was slightly overshadowed by the news of the Royal pregnancy, but the findings merit as much attention as the Duchess of Cambridge’s morning sickness.
The report used findings from 24,559 inspections of which 6074 were in nurseries or childcare on non-domestic premises. The report was framed within the usual context that good quality early education is critical to children’s subsequent educational progress and life chances, and that education in the Early Years has an impact on children’s later learning and achievement. And so say all of us.
The report confirmed what we always knew, namely that the large majority of the 1.3 million places available for children under the age of 5 are provided by nurseries, that the sufficiency of places is variable across the country and there remains considerable turnover in the sector.
On the standard of service, the report noted that 74% of Early Years provision is now good or better, compared with 65% three years ago. There was, however, little improvement between this year and last in terms of proportion of good or outstanding. This suggests that improvements brought about by the introduction of the EYFS are levelling off. A third of children had not reached the required standard in language and literacy by the age of 5, a figure that rose to two fifths in deprived areas. Overall, nurseries were rated better at preparing children for school than childminders.
Unsurprisingly, the provision remains weakest in areas of highest deprivation. This is particularly true in the case of childminders, where the gap between the quality of provision of high and low deprivation is wider than for any other type of childcare provider. In the UK, children from the poorest fifth of homes are on average 19 months behind children from richer homes in their use of vocabulary by the age of five. This is worse than two of the three major English speaking countries (in Canada the gap is 10.6 months, and Australia 14.5 months).
In her lecture, Sue Gregory commented on the disproportionate funding for schools and alluded to a special premium for those Early Years providers operating in poorer neighbourhoods or with higher proportions of families living in poverty. In its recent report, the IPPR said that Early Years and youth have seen cuts of 20%. At the Daycare Trust Annual Conference on Tuesday, Lucy Lee of Policy Exchange noted that since 2000 funds to Early Years had gone up just 5.6% while schools had received increases of 55%. So for all the talk about how important we are in setting the scene for successful education, we are still short changed both in reputation, funding and correct support. Is it any wonder that the poorest areas are still feeling the pinch and getting the worse deal?
The Ofsted report findings show that what makes the most difference is the quality of the interaction between adults and children, which leads them to developing good quality early skills. In the best settings, children’s interest is constantly stimulated and adult intervention is well timed so as to respond to children’s curiosity and to challenge their thinking. That will only happen with the involvement of well qualified professionals with at least a relevant Level 3 qualification. The Nutbrown Review 10 year timescale is considered unambitious because it is longer than most children spend in the whole of their early years and primary school education. The report also found that the quality and type of local authority (LA) support for early years provision was variable and often not targeted effectively at those providers that most needed improvement. They listed the top ten LAs and the worse ten. Luckily LEYF is neither operating in the top 10 LAs or the bottom ten LAs. This suggests we are in the satisfactory majority of 132 LAs. Apparently, what makes for outstanding is where LAs offer tailored support to meet the requested needs of particular groups or providers.
Overall, the report notes that too many children are still entering school without the basic skills they need to learn. However, pre-schools and nurseries are better than childminders at preparing children for their next stage. While most childminders provide children with good level of care, many have found it more challenging to provide for the learning and development set out in the EYFS.
The report includes a suggestion that the quality of early learning would benefit from strong links between weaker and stronger providers. It also suggests that good and outstanding providers with high quality leadership and management should operate as nuclei or hubs for networks of childminders and weaker group care providers in their area.
So, what does this report say that we don’t already know?
- The Early Years matters a great deal
- To get the best from the sector we need well qualified staff who have all received relevant and robust training
- Funds need to reflect what we do and be equitable to schools
- Pay attention to our poorest children, they deserve the best
- Make all nurseries communication-rich environments at every level
- Ensure the quality of the interaction between adults and children is rich, stimulating and well-timed so as to respond to children’s curiosity and challenge their thinking (a critical factor for high quality)
The Minister, Elizabeth Truss, had obviously read the report because her speech at the Daycare Trust Conference reflected these very points. Unfortunately, she tempers her thought with continual references to deregulation and reduced ratios. In my view, this will be the unraveling of all the work we have done to get to 74% good and outstanding, with still much to do to get 100% in all areas.
To have high engagement with small children, you need a lot of capable staff. I spent the day with two year olds the other day to remind myself of the demands they place on staff, both physically and emotionally. We had twelve children and four staff with a fifth available… and me! We worked hard to ensure we were responding to those children, following their schemas, playing and talking to them, giving them cuddles while keeping them safe, fed and clean. Fewer staff would have been a high-risk strategy. Babies also need hips and we each have just two.
The Minister is fond of quoting Europe, but the OECD has admitted that the statistics that often finds the UK towards the end of the league tables are old, unreliable and insecure. In fact the OECD is about to re-do them. The European child-adult ratios are lower than ours, but that does not make them right. French visitors to LEYF last week noted how they admire our ratios and want to follow us, especially in their crèches which offer services to those under the age of 3 years.
Let me leave you with the thoughts of a young struggling teacher, Ursula Brangwen in DH Lawrence’s book The Rainbow. In the light of all our research, ask yourself is this what you want for staff and children?
And before this inhuman number of children she was always at bay. She could not get away from it. There it was, this class of fifty collective children, depending on her for command… there were so many that they were not children. They were a squadron. She could not speak as she would to a child. Because they were not individual children; they were a collective inhuman thing.
The Rainbow, DH Lawrence (p376)
Could more men in childcare have a real and lasting effect on the inherent prejudices of society (or only as long as the media take an interest)?
What nobler employment, or more valuable to the state, than that of the man who instructs the rising generation.
Was it fortuitous or bad timing that we launched the London Network of Men in Childcare amid the Jimmy Savile scandal, not to mention the misguided Philip Schofield/David Cameron television interview and the Newsnight debacle? Ironically perhaps, we actually chose November 19 for the London Network launch because it was International Men’s Day! Either way, mishandling of the child abuse scandal has been wholly unhelpful, since it has unlocked some incredibly ignorant thinking about men working with children – including comments from too many of those who should know better, affirming and embedding some pretty negative mind-sets and a mob mentality.
Worst of all (but unfortunately not unsurprisingly), we have many people assuming that an allegation is sufficient proof of a charge of abuse. Have they forgotten that in this country the rule of law declares you are innocent until proven guilty? This week the call to ignore this basic human right has been staggering, though sadly very familiar to men working with children who almost inevitably have to prove their innocence once an allegation is made. Surely the point of a police force is to find evidence to support an allegation before charging a person, and for a judge or jury to then decide on their innocence or guilt. It is this very process that ensures well-founded allegations are distinguishable from the false variety. This is the law and the rights of all men.
We have been supporting the notion of men into childcare for many years in our own LEYF way. We think it’s a good idea to have gender-balanced workforces. We think it’s good for staff and good for children; what is more, we think it’s good for business. And now we can finally present research that bears that out: both staff and parents agree that having men in the nursery is a good thing.
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The journey to this apparently simple conclusion began with us taking advice from our own male staff. They told us they wanted to work in childcare because they were interested in child development and education, liked children and enjoyed the team spirit of working in a nursery. We learned a great deal from our male staff about the support they needed from colleagues, but also from management, to feel protected when or if they face unpleasant comments, allegations or negative parental responses. We then talked to parents, and heard how staff deal with the anxieties of fathers about men looking after their daughters, especially parents from more macho cultures. We considered issues such as isolation and how it feels to be a trophy staff member, and changed induction and recruitment policies to try and make sure we addressed these, including placing two men together in a nursery rather than spreading them thinly across more settings, and where possible giving a male apprentice a male mentor.
Previous research (what there was of it) identified the main barrier to entry as negative stereotypical attitudes, assuming that men who worked with children were more likely to be paedophiles. Our research confirmed this. We found that 60.7% of staff said they felt the main reason for low numbers of men in the sector was because men were not encouraged to join the profession by others, whilst 51.8% believed it was because of society’s attitude toward men in childcare. By contrast, when considering the benefits of men working in childcare, 75% believed it was very important for men to be seen as nurturing and sensitive role models, whilst 66% felt they could change society’s attitudes towards men working with children.
We also asked children (23) aged 4 what type of activities enjoyed most with male staff. It was interesting that the only time children commented about staff gender was in reference to very common examples of society’s gender-stereotyping, for instance the colour pink and wearing of jewellery.
We know that most people assume men will be better at football, rough and tumble and other similarly physical games, and so we should expect to see children showing a preferences for male staff in those areas. Not at all! Our research Men in Childcare: Does it matter to children? What do they say? in fact found children predominantly preferred to play football and rough and tumble games with women. They did not seek men out to play construction or trains, and chose men and women equally to cook with. Superhero play, on the other hand, confirmed research findings as an activity where men could bring something special, with almost all the children in the research project choosing to carry out this particular activity with a man.
Worryingly, children saw reading and singing as a female activity, with the majority choosing female staff for such activities. Challenging this view is critical, given the worrying data about boys’ literacy skills and the continuing negative attitude that reading is for girls only! Unless men provide positive gender-modelling in literacy, boys attending the nursery – particularly those who do not have male reading role-models at home – will continue to see reading and literacy as done only by girls and women. Considering future success in education is so often predicated on competence in literacy, failing to address will almost guarantee failure for a great many young boys.
As a result, a greater attention given to the role of men supporting children’s literacy – particularly boys – presents an exciting opportunity to devise new ways of working with fathers; helping to raise awareness of how important it is for them to read with their sons and being seen reading for pleasure. Again, this needs to be linked to broader strategies aimed at developing parent engagement and extending ways of enriching the home learning environment.
So the London Network of Men in Childcare has a number of things to do:
- Support male childcare workers
- Present a positive and coherent message to London; that men who work with children are doing so because they are good practitioners and, like their female colleagues, are keen to support every child receive the best education possible
- Conduct action research on ways to improve education for boys
- Disseminate ideas about better gender-balanced workplaces
- Engage Dads directly in some of the research
- Bring a London focus to working in childcare
Ultimately, I hope, the outcome will be a more gender-balanced workforce that listens to children.
So come on – let London lead the way!
Friday saw another fantastic LEYF Staff Conference, once again successfully managed with great aplomb. Like another Chocolate Orange segment in the continuing relationship with our Scottish colleagues, I was as ever struck at the extraordinary similitudes between Scotland and London. Even in these days of potential Scottish independence, I look forward to further cooperation, as we share, debate and enrich the whole Early Years sector.
Alice Sharp has been involved in our conferences for the past 8 years; and long may it continue, as every year she brings something extra special to the whole experience. This year Alice partnered with Paul Brannigan, lead actor from our favourite film The Angel’s Share. Paul talked movingly about his difficult upbringing in a very forthright Glaswegian way. He summed up the impact on him of his lack of home learning and the emptiness he felt as a child, when he realised there was no one who really loved or would stick up for him. He talked about the need to have an adult – any adult – reach out and put their arm around you, make you feel protected and loved. That finally happened to him when he was in prison, but it helped turn his life around. His point, so touchingly made, was that he was on a mission to get people to understand that the younger it happened, the better – especially when that warm relationship could be the very thing that helps build a child’s brain. His performance left the LEYF audience touched and emotional. Little surprise he is now Bafta nominated and shortlisted for best newcomer to British film. No cliché in this presentation though. The message was stark: Early Years practitioners have the power to contribute hugely to the child’s brain development, giving them a power boost that could see their positive synaptic connections increase from 7% to 80%.
It was the central point of our conference and the reason we want to grow. There was something magic in the room on Friday, and it’s something I hear often when people visit our nurseries. Now is the time to bottle this magic, and give more children the LEYF experience – both by filling all our nurseries to their maximum capacity and by having more LEYF nurseries across London. So look out guys, LEYF is on the march!
Every year we hold our annual LEYF conference when we celebrate our achievements over the past 12 months and present our plans for the year to come. The conference days always balance up-beat speakers with active involvement, and over the years we have formed a strong relationship with our Scottish colleagues – especially Alice Sharp of Experiential Play. This year is no exception.
Good relationships within and outside the organisation remains a constant of LEYF, and the conference definitely reflects this – starting with the venue. For the second year, we have chosen to work with Pimlico Academy, which is a perfect venue and reflects our positive relationship with the local secondary school.
Our conference this year aims to tell the story of why we want to help build a better future for London’s children, and how our model helps us achieve such an ambition. Key aspects of the LEYF model are central to the day.
To help us explore this, Alice Sharp has invited colleagues from the Scottish Islands to demonstrate their multi-generational approach, along with their exciting take on home learning. Anne Patterson, Quality Improvement Officer for Early Years and Primary, Kathleen Johnson, Head Teacher Early Years and Primary Islay and Jura, and Stephen Glenn Lee, Head Teacher of Early Years and Primary Isle of Luing and Easdale, will help inner London nurseries become the centre of their own urban villages as these have done on their small islands.
To give a small geography lesson, the islands of Islay and Jura are the most southerly of the Inner Hebrides. Both islands, though distinctly different in character, have stunning scenery, abundant wildlife, varied terrain and are famed for malt whiskies, wintering geese, miles of sandy beaches and friendly locals.
The Isle of Luing is 16 miles south of Oban, and 3 hours from Glasgow. A beautiful island with a strong and caring community, Luing measures some six miles long by one-and-a-half wide and lies north-south across the mouth of Loch Melfort on the Argyll coast. It is generally low lying, with a maximum height of about 300 feet, and has a population of around 200.
Easdale is a small island in Argyll on the west coast of Scotland, 16 miles south of Oban. Easdale has no cars, roads or street lamps. The island has a population of around sixty people and is the smallest permanently inhabited island of the Inner Hebrides.The World Stone Skimming Championship has taken place annually in September on Easdale since 1997.
As part of the conference we have invited Paul Brannigan of the Ken Loach film The Angel’s Share. Brannigan plays new dad Robbie who, narrowly avoiding jail, vows to turn over a new leaf when a visit to a whisky distillery inspires him and his mates to seek a way out of their hopeless lives. It was a film recommended to me by Detective Inspector John Carnochan who heads up the Scottish Violence Reduction Unit. He spoke at our Staff Conference last year and the staff were blown away by his stories. They were very touched by his story of David which, like in the film, shows what happens when the system fails a young boy from a very troubled background, and how the intergenerational cycle of poverty and deprivation is reaffirmed by the system.
Brannigan will be speaking about the importance of the home learning environment from his own personal experience, and how as a new Dad he wants to make sure he gives his son the best start in life. I suspect that, given his next film is with Scarlett Johansson, he is on target to succeed.
Paul is unusual however, and while few get to his giddy heights, he is admirable in wanting to speak up for parents who like him have had a challenging start and want to do their best for their children. Our staff conference this year will support the research which underpins the LEYF philosophy, namely that we only make an impact if we do things that create and embed cultural and social capital by changing the way parent’s help children learn at home.
Action research at LEYF is a key aspect of how we ensure quality. It’s all about asking questions of ourselves and checking how we can do things better to give children the best service.
One way of doing action research LEYF style is through our Sounding Boards, a phrase coined by our HR Director Neil King some years ago to better describe my ‘ideas dinners’ with staff. In essence, staff are invited to join us to discuss how we can improve or develop new ideas, and in return they get their dinner! In this, LEYF staff are to be congratulated for their generosity – both with their time and how far they will go for a free meal (or indeed simple Curly Wurly).
This week’s Sounding Board was all about men in childcare, and so I had specifically invited male staff. Richard from Furze hosted the meeting at his nursery in Chadwell Heath, on what turned out to be the wettest and stormiest night of the month (later we discovered another watery connection).
Our goal for the night was to agree how we might best establish children’s views in this area, both as part of our continuing exploration of the distinct role men play in Early Years provision and our plan to launch the London Men in Childcare Network on the 19 November. Unlike in Europe where Männer in Kitas received 14 million euros for theory based research into the benefit of men in childcare, we are doing our research using the LEYF model – namely by accessing our own considerable in-house talent! Amid great chat, crack and comments such as “OMG, it’s like doing a dissertation”, we put together a research plan with a really clever child-focused methodology. Such is the joy of having great practitioners in the room.
By eight o’clock I was desperate for my dinner, and so dragged the team to the most recommended restaurant in wind-swept Chadwell Heath: Weatherspoons Eva Hart, named after local resident Eva Hart MBE, survivor of the sinking of the Titanic on April 15, 1912. Despite a number of images of the famous vessel on display around the restaurant, there was sadly no sign of Leo di Caprio to help complete the experience. However, all was not lost during our rather lively Curry Night, since Rachel introduced us to a new heart throb: the rather dapper Ashley Banjo, leader of now famous dance troupe Diversity.
Action research LEYF style is to be recommended: a combination of intelligence, conversation and company… you could say, a better and more child-friendly version of Come Dine with Me.
Admit it, you’re either going on a diet, thinking about a diet or have just given up a diet and busy trying to accept your muffin top or your beer belly. If you’re from TOWIE, you’re saving up for liposuction or a gastric band!
This was the opening conversation I had with three LEYF nursery managers from our Dagenham nurseries while we were offered free refills of Coke or Lemonade on tap and our meals came piled high with chips.
Every time you turn on the TV someone is telling you how to eat, exercise or overcome your food issues. From Fat Camp to BBC 2 we’re bombarded with how to stay thin. Did it ever occur to people that we stay thin by eating less and accepting the fate of most women over 35 which is to be constantly hungry and feel guilty when you do eat? I liked the programme Horizon: Eat Fast and Live Longer on BBC 2 which told us to eat what you like 5 days a week but restrict yourself to 500 calories twice a week and not only will you maintain the body of Elle McPherson you’ll also reduce the chances of high blood pressure, diabetes 2 and a myriad of other illnesses. I was really up for that till I discovered 500 calories is three apples and a bowl of cabbage soup. Peter Kay, in his tour to end all tours, made me cry for laughing as he expounded on his terrace (his fat tummy) and why we shouldn’t shop when hungry because of the high chance we’ll have eaten 4 of the 5 Kit Kats before even reaching the check out. I ignore Kit Kats and head straight to the Curly Wurlys.
So here’s the irony, we who have so many issues with food, are probably overweight and delight in calorific foods, such as chips and wine (although red wine has anti-oxidant resveratrol which makes you more nimble), are responsible for the dietary wellbeing of so many children. Their parents listen to us when we talk of a healthy diet; a balance of carbohydrates, protein and vegetables. We know that small children lack zinc and carbohydrates and need a good tea, we also know that organic milk increases intake of omega three which has huge benefits for children. We know much more than that, for example:
- 28% of children aged 2 to 10 in England are obese. In London, the highest proportion are in Westminster, 4th are in Tower Hamlets and Kensington and Chelsea, and Lambeth are joint 8th (all places where we have nurseries)
- 34% of children aged 11 to 15 in England are obese
- Diabetes 2 (poor diet induced) is a growing problem in the UK
- Children bombarded as they are by ads for fizzy drinks and fast foods are unable to distinguish between ads and TV content
- A poll done by growingupmilkinfo.com found that 80% of children had eaten pizza and chips by the time they were two and 1 in 1000 parents had never cooked for their children
- The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health is calling on the Government to reduce obesity and ensure that children in nurseries and Children’s Centres are served nutritionally balanced food as well as being able to offer correct and helpful information about food and eating
At LEYF we have been campaigning and even wrote the Standards for a National Qualification for Early Years Chefs. We recognise that the person in charge of the food should have a lead role in understanding what to cook, how to serve it and how best to support colleagues and parents understand about good food.
Despite an overwhelming array of information about food, staff and parents remain confused and obsess about body weight which to some degree misses the point. We need to grow a body of capable and well informed staff who can give sensible advice, provide us with highly nutritional food, challenge the unhealthy obsessions with losing weight and focus instead on staying healthy by eating sensibly. As my Grandma always said “a little of what you fancy never did you any harm”…it’s when you are eating 5 Curly Wurlys at a go you should start to worry!
A LEYF approach to Men in Childcare: not quite as quick as saying Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.
Not so long ago, David Stevens, Manager of the Angel Nursery, which for a while had 4 male staff out of a team of five, represented us at the Men in Childcare conference in Edinburgh. He had already been to the Men in Childcare Network Ireland International Conference, where he was the only UK representative and had to cope with the high jinks of the Irish and the Danes and the Scots! Enough said. Since then he has become even more interested in why there should be men in childcare and constantly urges me not to take it off the radar.
David and I have long questioned the actual reasons for having men in childcare. We are less than impressed by the standard responses we hear across the sector. The usual reasons trotted out are all about fear and barriers to entry. These include poor pay, lack of promotion opportunities, poor status, fear of accusations of abuse and paedophilia, discomfort working in such a highly female work environment and an expectation that one man can address the shortfall of positive male roles in so many children’s lives. Reading that would you want to come into childcare?
David feels all of this detracts from the main question which is “Do you want to work with children?” When speaking to our male LEYFstaff (of which there are 8% of the workforce) we found that they had all come into childcare because they thought they could be good Early Years Practitioners. For them being a sole man in a nursery was probably the biggest barrier and so we now try and place two men in each nursery, though this is not always possible. Generally, the men working at LEYF were both annoyed and depressed that all the talk of men in childcare became negative and focused on barriers to entry. Many reiterated that they always wanted to work with small children and that what we should be looking for is men who want to work with small children because they are interested in child development and how children learn and they think they have the ability to give them a really fun and exciting experience. The same argument or scenario does not play out in the Primary Schools as men ride up glass elevators to senior management and headteacher positions before you can say supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.
David has been involved with some very interested organisations drawn together by the Daycare Trust with the support of the DfE. However unlike Europe where Manner in Kitas received 14 million euros for theory based research into the benefit of men in childcare we are doing this on the usual barter and free gratis approach. Europe is also focusing on gender and equality issues which I think would be interesting and avoid us falling into the usual knee-jerk response that until men really take a hold in childcare we will see no improvements in pay or status. How depressing is that for a female led sector? What is needed is for the whole sector to be understood by the public and that policy makers help shape policies which assist the public to understand what we do… yes it’s more than smiling, washing hands and being patient while our male colleagues play really good rough and tumble while acting as surrogate uncle to all the children in female led families!
So here is what we are going to do:
- Set up a London Men in Childcare Network beginning by bringing the LEYF male staff together to discuss the issues and formulate a shape.
- Find out areas to research including David’s big question which asks us to compare the levels of physical and superhero play in nurseries with and without male colleagues? Then examine the impact that has on boys and girls play. Does it make a difference to their development?
- Use Men in Childcare website set up by Kenny Spence to post new information.
- Work more with our local Schools and Academies to promote men into childcare both through our apprenticeship programme but also as part of the schools careers options. (I feel a film coming on…)
- Seek more engagement from parents in the issue. Get a sense of their views about the promotion of the role of men as carers and educators of children. I read recently that parents use blogs as their main source of information. LEYF parents, have a look at this!
Men in Childcare is one aspect of a much bigger question which is what is the role of men in our society today? It’s certainly changing at different social, economic and political levels so let’s weave this into a much more comprehensive debate.