More men in early years education. That’s the plan.

I19385050371_f1bd2dd43f_ot might be understandable if we were frustrated by slow progress given our first report on the state of men in childcare. However, it’s not in my nature to give up and actually we have made slow but steady progress. I could list all of the various activities that we have done at LEYF and other colleagues have done across the UK but that would be churlish. Let’s move onto what we are doing now!

JamelNew independent research by CEEDA among nearly 4,000 Early Years staff revealed just 5% are male – an increase on the figure of 2% last captured in a large-scale survey by the Department for Education in 2013.

In November, we invited David Wright to join the panel for the annual Margaret Horn debate and discuss men in childcare. He was joined by Jo Warin and Jaime Leith from Manny and Me who were much more positive about the engagement from the public and the sector. Since then we have voted David to be the Chair of the DfE Task and Finish Group on Inclusivity with the support of the Minister.

14931361157_6c73c036f0_oLast week, Mark Deyzel, Chair of the LEYF Men in Childcare found an interview with the Daily Mail less than encouraging. He was then interviewed on BBC Radio London (skip to 1:15), the approach from the Nick Ferrari from LBC radio was constructive and well researched, followed by a healthy and wide ranging studio discussion live on the sofa at the Victoria Derbyshire Show (BBC 2).

Nursery Pictures for Inhouse CommsIt’s true that the producer of the Victoria Derbyshire Show, Chris Hemmings was quite an expert himself as author of Be A Man, but that was in itself a step forward. Ten years ago, we would never have found such a well-informed TV producer. We know from experience, we were part of the Channel 4 programme Daddy Daycare.

There have been a number of conferences including London, Southampton and the next one will be hosted in Bristol by Shaddie Tembo. I will be sending colleagues from LEYF and so should you!

drumsI forgot I had written a chapter about men in childcare some years ago with my great friend, Sue Chambers, but there are more books to come. David Wright will have one soon, as well as Jo Warin. So, look out for those.  In the meantime, listen to this podcast from  Eamon Doolan and also this one with Laura Henry and LEYF colleague, Ricky Bullen, or read this article, the story of Jamel.

In the meantime, join us to promote, replicate and share our four-point plan. This will be the LEYF action plan for 2018 and will be led by the LEYF Chair of Men in Childcare, Mark Deyzel.  Why don’t you do the same thing and contact Mark to make a big noise.  Think of it like an OBC for Men in Childcare.

This plan asks that we create actions to:15473760168_a97964a36d_o
Continue to garner widespread support (and acceptance) for men working in childcare across the Early Years sector among peers and parents.
2. Recruit Early Years male role models as ambassadors to schools, colleges and career fairs etc.
3. Develop a national Men in Early Years Advisory Group to meet twice a year to assess and monitor progress.
4. Create of a professional development programme to recognise and support personal contribution from employees, regardless of gender.

Join Us!

Now that Mr Hinds has discovered the error of the ways in education when will he have the same epiphany about Early Years?

The new Secretary of State for Education Damian Hinds MP has admitted that school funding is “tight” and an issue for headteachers. He agreed that it is “vital” for the education system to be “properly resourced”!  He didn’t say too much about the real cuts to education which have not been topped up by the additional funding which means the schools remain short changed.  He acknowledged that staff retention is a major problem something he hopes to tackle through his newly-announced recruitment and retention strategy. I suspect he may not be able to resolve this without looking at funding though!

Damian idea

Now he has had this epiphany, he might be wise to pay attention to the same issues in Early Years. Just a reminder, we have had a recruitment problem since Elizabeth Truss made the fatal decision in January 2013 to insist on A to C as an entry requirement. It was an ill-considered arrogant decision which we warned against.   We knew that it would cause a recruitment crisis that is still alive and kicking. It’s now an employer problem.  Rather serious when you think the sector brings £3billion (£685m from social sector) to the GDP.

So here we are with our dry pipeline and like schools experiencing a funding shortfall so implementing key steps of a retention strategy such as increase the status and upping the salary is hard.

The 2018 NDNA Report says:

  • Eighty six percent (86%) of nurseries have lost staff this year.
  • It is better qualified staff who are leaving with almost 20% fewer Level 3 qualified practitioners within the day nursery sector than compared to 2015.
  • Of those Level 3 staff who are leaving or who have left, 80% have gone to jobs outside the sector, with almost half of graduates and early years teachers following suit.
  • Two thirds of nursery managers say that they are unable to recruit suitable replacements for the qualified staff they have lost due to a lack of candidates.
  • Sixty nine percent (69%) of Level 3 leavers move out of early years because they have lost passion for working in the sector due to policy changes.
  • Fifty one percent (51%) of those entering as unqualified workers or apprentices have left or not been retained as they were unsuited to the role.
  • A third of employers are limiting CPD to mandatory training only due to budget constraints as a result of poor funding levels.

TinHeartWhat can you do Mr Hinds? You have a flagship Early Years policy which promises parents an additional funded 30 childcare which they want to access. However, the sector is without staff and many of the staff available give Dorothy and the Tinman  a run for their money. They have but a beating heart.

They are not good enough, well trained enough or capable enough to do what is necessary to lead fantastic teaching. We have tried rubbing the genies’ lantern to get more staff but it doesn’t work.

We know that we need, the best staff to drive the best services.  With low funding many struggle to pay the National Living Wage and consider the challenge for those of us in London desperately trying to pay the London Living wage, which keeps going up, but our income doesn’t.

There has been no investment in training and CPD. Yet we hear your well- meaning colleagues such as Robert Halfon MP asking us to deliver Apprenticeship Degrees?  We would do so happily and more besides, but how can we make all those costs align on £4.30 an hour? There is much change coming down the line with Technical Levels which requires us to be ready to support more trainees and apprentices.  Mentoring and training is key to this but where have we space or flexibility to deliver?

MR Hinds refers to £42m additional fund to develop a CPD fund.  Perhaps you could make it easy for us to access the funds which increases training and other learning opportunities for staff. We need staff that can run high quality nurseries and schools which are creative, well organised, educational hotbeds fizzing with love and enthusiasm.  The “beating heart” needs to connect to the brain and the emotions to create teaching super stars everywhere.  As Secretary of State you are a leader and as such will share a lot of what we value and expect from great Early Years leaders. Show us your:


See if you can use some of these traits and behaviour to help us and in doing so build your credibility as a leader.  Here are four starting steps:


The importance of what we provide for children is paramount and cannot continue to be the political football it has become.  Do you remember Chumbawamba from the mid 80s? Our very creative Finance Director reminded me recently of their political reinterpretation of the rhyme Jack Horner from their album The Unfairy Tale (1985). The children rise up saying:

…Jack get out, don’t sell out, don’t compromise with Christmas pies. Keep shouting back, you tell ‘em Jack, don’t swallow none of their crap. Calling Jack Horner’s everywhere, don’t bend to authority which doesn’t care, you know they’ll keep you in that corner ’till you’re dead.

So, Mr Hinds, what will you do?

International Women’s Day; Champagne, Sex Toys and Birmingham ….

I am a girl from the late 70s. Feminism was a bit of a cult. Indicators of membership included buying the Spare Rib magazine and books from Virago. Meetings were arranged to Reclaim the Nights. Conversations about the inequity of pensions and pay were debated.  It was a time of energy and conversation and sometimes a little silliness.  But Simone de Beauvoir and Marilyn French  were on the bedside to bring order and logic to the debate.  Have things changed?


Well, this morning was a different start.  I woke at the dawn (I am an owl) and headed to the Stock Exchange to celebrate being announced as a finalist in the Veuve Cliquot Business Women of the Year Award. There are six finalists across three categories. Business for whom Ruth Chapman the founder of Matches Fashion and Liv Garfield the boss of Severn Trent were the finalists. In the New Generation category was Emily Forbes founder of community video-making app Seenit, alongside Stephanie Alys founder of luxury sex toy company MysteryVibe.  (the mystery for me is that it works from an app on your phone!). And Amanda and I as the finalist in the Social Purpose Award.

All at Veuve

I was allowed four guests and I chose warmly and wisely. I invited the LEYF staff to nominate someone inspirational from across the organisation. Staff were very generous in their nominations and wrote some lovely comments about kindness, warmth, creativity and going the extra mile. In the end we chose Molly Thatcher who retires this morning after 30 years in the sector. At 80 she did not baulk at commuting to London for a champagne breakfast. She laughed and said, I had two glasses June!

I was also delighted to invite three social entrepreneurs who are close to my heart. The award winCakening Jenny Hollaway from Fashion Enter, Margaret Adjaye from my local library UNLH where we are trying to create a new social enterprise model of libraries, and the aptly names Janet Bakar from LWS who has the best cake shop and café in Crystal Palace, training women who have been abused to become baristas and bakers.

The message from Diane Cote of the Stock Exchange was that Madame Cliqout was an inspirational woman, taking on the business as a 27-year old widow in 1804 when we were a long way off getting the vote. Under her leadership she perfected the art of riddling and took Veuve to its international greatness. She is definitely a biography worth reading. In celebration of 100 years of suffrage I am reading the biography of Sylvia Pankhurst. What book is by your bed at the moment that celebrates a woman?

On the way to catch the early and very busy Virgin train to Birmingham to speak at Cache Conference, I was interviewed by The Telegraph and City AM. I reflected that we won the Telegraph sponsored National Business Transformational Award in 2012, I was also on the Telegraph late last year as one of the 500 Debrett’s. Now we have hit the heady heights of Veuve Cliquot but what has changed ?

They asked what I would like to see? A High Street of Social Businesses. I want us to share the same platforms of “mainstream” businesses and our contribution to the GDP is recognised (£685 million from social nurseries annually). Please stop patting us on the head.  As a woman in business they asked me, were you ever told you could not achieve what you have achieved? Yes many times. Have you been there?

That’s why I am leaving the champagne and heading to the Cache Conference to remind the audience of trainers, colleges and employers that if we want to change the world and be taken seriously we need staff with grit, resilience, energy and most importantly passion that can be converted into more great business.

Language is the golden route to educational success

We all assume that everyone will learn to talk. It’s part of being human but actually there are levels of success when it comes to language. We can all learn to speak but the quality and range of vocabulary makes a substantial difference to long term educational success.

When I was figuring out the LEYF pedagogy, I wanted to know if there was a particular secret sauce for educational success because that would be central to our pedagogy. That way we could make sure our approach would help give children from poor and disadvantaged backgrounds an educational leg up. What we found after much research (starting with the work of Bourdieu from the 1970s) was a strong well-researched link to language.

The ICAN (2014) report confirmed that by 22 months a child’s language can predict outcomes at 26 years and by age three to six, a child’s narrative skills are a powerful predictor of literacy skills at eight to 12 years, something also noted in the Frank Field 2010 report. The 30 Million Word Gap report from Hart and Risley (2003) found that the language heard by poorer children compared to their more privileged peers could amount to a gap of 30 million words by the time the children had reached three years. The most concerning aspect of their findings was that the gap was difficult to close, leaving children at a long-term disadvantage in education and many children from the same socio-economic background two years behind their peers at GCSE level.

However, what was important was not just the language and vocabulary but the type of words and sentences construction.  It needed to be complex – long words, correct sentence structure, multisyllabic words and taking time to listen and allow the child to learn to correct their sentences. Bernstein (1973) found that children who have a grasp of formal language, rather than being restricted to informal language, were at an enormous advantage in the education system. This was, in effect, the distinction between the ‘restricted code’ which is accessible to both the working and the middle class (and which is characterised by a low level of vocabulary and limited syntactic variety) and the ‘elaborated code’ which belongs to the educated classes, and which has a flexibility which facilitates the expression of analytical and abstract ideas and arguments.  In other words, enriched language, correctly constructed was critical to poor children and could help reduce the educational achievement gap.


At LEYF this translated into a pedagogical ambition that puts language and literacy at the heart of our delivery.  It must be so heavily language and literacy rich that droplets of gold fall from every interaction.   Translated, that means staff also need to wallow in luscious language and build a language home learning bridge to and with parents.  I am strict with staff about this.  No sloppy vernacular, lots of words to describe things. If you can say “nice”, you can say, “beautiful”, “wonderful”, “glorious”, “pleasant”, “good” and “delightful”. It’s the same when introducing dinosaurs, they are not one but range from stegosaurus to halszkaraptor.   Remember that a child needs to hear a word 20 times before it becomes a part of their vocabulary. We also need to frame the sentence correctly, so as I often say to the staff – accents don’t matter but correct sentences do!  We have our mantra:

Two words together at two, 100 at three and fluent at four.

Conversations also matter.  Great dialogue supported by our daily usage of Makaton is key.  How better to extend children and adults but through great pedagogical conversations; a method of teaching and communication with which staff are very comfortable. A good conversation will include context, nuance, explanation, information, narration, coaxing, suggestions, encouragement, demonstration assistance and warmth. At LEYF we ensure conversations become pedagogical by including the explanatory links of “because” and “so” – thereby creating a mutual learning opportunity by opening up the conversational language.

Without conversation …the human soul is bereft. It is almost as important as food, drink, love, exercise. It is one of the great human needs. If deprived of it, we die’. Educators able to initiate and sustain such dialogue require special talents, wisdom, confidence and rich education, in the best sense of the word.
Zeldin [128]

Working with children is a service often only recognised by parents. But everyone in our society needs to understand this as it really does take a village to raise a child. Understanding the importance of language is a very good start and as Marks and Spencer’s would say it’s not just any chocolate pudding nor is it any old language!




What has love got to do with it?


PizzaValentine’s Day is another marketing dream. A flurry of hearts and fluffiness is thrust upon us.  The UK spends over a billion pounds on the stuff.   Foolish romantics will book a restaurant on the 14th and pay twice the price for the same pizza as the night before but this time shaped as a heart.

Valentine’s Day is sent to test us. It’s a source of confusion; like a scourer, the yellow sponge of nonchalance and rationality topped by a slight abrasive discomfort for not playing along with all its cheesiness.Cheesy

But love is worth discussing. It sometimes feels in short supply. A little four-year-old observed recently.  “Whys is everyone so cross?”  it led us to a revisit our understanding of love and kindness and what it means for us as early years teachers at LEYF.

Generally,Love tends to be considered and communicated as the romantic love between two adults. But the Greeks had four words to describe love :

Philia: deep love between close friends, something that is to be treasured, says someone who is about to lose her best friend to cancer; Agape, the love of all humanity; Eros: passionate sexual love; and Storge, family love, between a parent and child.

AllI was giving a talk last week at the University of Middlesex (who very kindly gave me an Honorary Doctorate so I like to support their lovely students).  It was about wellbeing for staff and children. I raised the issue of love and the importance of us understanding what it means when you are working with small children.  The comments were wide-ranging but the agreement was that defining what love looks like between nursery teacher and child can be a messy fusion of agape, storge and philia.  Jools Page did some interesting work on professional love, describing it as messy and hard to articulate for many people, but  the reality is our ability to create deep, warm and nurturing feelings.

In direct opposition to this  and indeed to the tone of our discussion about love,  some colleagues talked about the  “no hugs” policies.  I had heard about this on the early years grapevine but had ignored it as ridiculous and inhumane. Ha, how wrong was I!  It would seem that this policy is alive and kicking, and disenfranchised junior staff are being instructed by their schools not to hug the children and if a child comes up and holds their hands they are told to slip their hand out as subtly as possible. I was shocked but so was everyone I spoke to, which is reassuring.  To refuse a child a cuddle or a hug is inhumane and certainly lacks kindness, which is one very real translation of love. This  policy and practice is particularly wrong on many levels.  Research from Harvard showed the importance of touch to children’s wellbeing.


It’s ironic that we have a policy green paper Transforming Children and Young People’s Mental Health Provisionwhich argues that schools can help reduce mental health issues especially for the  7% of children under the age of seven who have a diagnosable mental health issue. As ever a joined-up approach has been cited as ensuring a more successful outcome for children.  So, just from a common-sense perspective, would  it not be better to have school policies designed to support children’s healthy mental wellbeing rather than spend money training teachers to respond to the problems? Follow Laura Henry’s Facebook group to see  just how many and how often she posts about mental illness.  It’s staggering!

Mine Conkbayir would agree as her analysis of the impact of love on children’s brain development and mental wellbeing is significant. I rang her for a comment and she quoted from her book reaffirming the importance of love and sensitive adults:

 “Healthy socio-emotional development does not occur in isolation, nor can it flourish where a child does not have access to stable and affirming relationships with adults, who can guide them through this fundamentally important aspect of their life.” (Page 116)

In a society that spends billions on knick-knacks and overpriced meals to celebrate and wallow in the cheesy concept of romantic love, or as President Trump would say “fake love”, is it not more important to think about and discuss the complexity of love and what it looks like between adults and children in education? As Tom Shea said the other day in a social media conversation, mental health is everyone’s business. To get you thinking, listen to one of my favourite songs by Leonard Cohen especially written for everyone who teaches something to someone and who has a little bit of power to change some things.



Gender inclusivity? Don’t forget the men!

“What nobler employment, or more valuable to the state, than that of the man who instructs the rising generation.” – Cicero


I wrote my first blog about men in childcare in August 2012. It was prompted by a LEYF male colleague, David Stevens, who said we shouldn’t just concentrate on increasing men into childcare at LEYF (8% of LEYF workforce were male) but open up the debate entirely, so we launched the London Men in Childcare Network on the 19th of November 2012. These were the days of healthy recruitment pipelines and strong retention; a now dim and almost mystical memory.

The issue of men in childcare remains. But for me it’s not just about gender inclusion, resonant of the headlines hitting the BBC. Its also about failing to consider half the population when seeking out great staff to work in the Early Years.

We all know the perceived barriers to entry: poor pay, lack of promotion opportunities, poor status, fear of accusations of abuse and paedophilia, discomfort at 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. We make progress and then take two steps back when we are confronted by unhelpful comments like those of Andrea Leadsom in July 2016 when she suggested we should not appoint males for childcare duties because they may be paedophiles. Sadly, there are plenty more where these came from and they keep on coming.

Despite this we have also started to better understand the reasons men want to work in childcare. In the original LEYF Men in Childcare report, written by Sue Chambers in 2012 and in Wellbeing in the Early Years; Critical Approaches, we found that men were interested in child development and wanted to teach small children. It is important for us to continue to listen to men and actually hear what they have to say.

We continue to make progress, with some great male advocates, such as David Wright and the work he does with Paint Pots. From a Government point of view, I hope the DfE Task and Finish group of early years stakeholders focusing on gender diversity in the sector, constituted under Caroline Dinenage and supported by Robert Goodwill, will be backed by our newest Minister Nadhim Zahawi.

However, back to recruitment. We know that there are men who want to work with children so let’s encourage them. We are still short 25,000 staff across the sector and Scotland is expanding its provision, needing 11,000 new staff. In 2017, CEEDA reported that 5% of the 3,930 staff she interviewed in the PVI sector were male. That is positive as we still have a target across the sector to achieve 2%.

So let’s encourage more men, it’s another step in tolerance, something we seem very short on at the moment.

Hearing from them directly is the best way forward. Listen to a podcast or watch a video.  LEYF staff happily share their experience; deputy manager at Bird in Bush Community Nursery Ricky recently reflected on his journey, and Jamel shared his story last week, reminding us that: “If you’re a person who is nurturing, brave, creative, inspiring, fun, this is the job for you, regardless of whether you’re male or female.



Want to talk more? Come and meet us at the Nursery World Show this weekend (Friday 2 and Saturday 3 February). I will be presenting at the 10:00 on Saturday morning.

Attention to retention – Ministers leading by example?

Welcome Nadhim Zahawi,  the latest in a long line of Childcare Ministers. Now, let me update you on the recruitment profile of Ministers. I have put a photo in for your information and one or two little comments.


So let’s imagine we are going to have the perfect interview with the newest Minister. The sector is the interviewer.


Q. What is retention?
Well, according to the business dictionary its “an effort by a business to maintain a working environment which supports current staff in remaining with the company”.

Q. Does retention matter?appleturnover
Of course it does. Just from a financial perspective alone the cost of employee turnover is more than an apple turnover.
Generally it can cost six to nine months salary to replace an employee in recruitment, induction and training costs. Even in a sector of low pay that’s still a lot of money. For the high earner some predict that it can cost as much as twice their annual salary, especially for a high-earner or executive level employee.

Q. What are quitjobthe main reasons people leave a job?
This is usually related to poor salary and benefits. Dissatisfaction in a role grows when employees feel that nobody values what they do. Staff turnover and an unsettled team lead to dissatisfaction with management, while lack of training and development opportunities, difficult journeys to work and lack of work/life balance also contribute to unhappiness in the workplace.

Q. What can we A namtag sticker with the words Hello I Am Here to Stay to symbodo to improve retention?
It is imperative that we create job satisfaction and address factors that cause staff to leave. We need to attract new people into the sector who bring joy and fun as well as the willingness to want to learn.

Q. What does job satisfaction look like in the sector? We need happy and engaged staff who want to stay and continue, in order to cope with the recruitment crisis and training gaps.

DummiesQ. How can you help us to achieve a better retention rate than the current unviable 25% turnover? We need fair pay for a fair job, to prioritise listening and to communicate with staff. Accept feedback and don’t just toss it aside like an old jumper, take it seriously – oh and recycle the jumperIt’s important that there are opportunities for employees to get involved, we need more funds for training, learning and development and to increase the number of positive mentors in Early Years. We must get rid of bad employees to let thee good ones thrive, and we must move beyond the ridiculous expectation that just anyone can lead in Early Years, the necessary skills required to thrive in this sector will not be found in the Dummies Guide.

Life FailuresQ. What leadership will you show?
We value  commitment; resolve and perseverance and risk-taking – breaking conventions and developing new responses. We need to orchestrate a high-level plan that drives everyone toward the unified goal through motivate and encouragement. It is essential that we actively Listen and that we inspire staff to obtain the skills required to successfully achieve the colossal shared goal of great early education. This means getting the right people with a unique knowledge set to the table. Don’t quit. See it through!


June will be sharing strategy on how to build a skilled and motivated early years team at the Nursery World Show (2 February) and Warrington Early Years Conference (15 February).

Forget New Year Resolutions.  Read This for *** Sake!

Every year, there is one present that exceeds all expectation and this year one lovely friend surpassed herself.  She provided me with the antidote to the annual setting of New Year resolutions. She bought me “Swearing Is Go*d F*r You by Emma Byrne.


I come from Ireland where the use of an occasional swear word or a curse is tolerated.  In fact, the book describes this as a proud tradition of jocular abuse and disrespect for authority combined to make for a robust approach to swearing.

When I arrived in England, I shocked a number of people by using the word “Fe**” in what I thought was quite a judicious situation!  I was genuinely shocked by the reactions. Since then, the English public seem to have shifted their tolerance levels and welcomed Father Ted and Mrs Brown, who overly rely on curse words to finish a punchline!

Apparently, according to Byrne, swearing is surprisingly flexible and reinvents itself from generation to generation as taboos shift.  Recently there was an amusing story in the Metro about the residents of Bell End who want to change their road name.

So, instead of resolutions, I implore you to become an expert on expletives, replace the tedious book on management that is lying by your bed and spice up your reading list with a copy of Geoffrey Hughes book “Swearing: A Social History of Foul Language, Oaths and Profanity in English.”


What’s the point of this book? It has given me scientifically researched and approved permission to use one of my most instinctive coping mechanisms: swearing.

It confirms what most of us already knew, that swearing has many useful roles in communication.  It can be used to threaten, warn, amuse and funnily enough, reduce a tense moment.  I always thought the complete banning of the occasional swear word was weird – and of course, women who swear are doubly frowned upon.  But nothing can address a moment of anger with yourself like a strong sh***, or something similar.

So, let TheChaseus prepare for the challenges of 2018, which will be tricky, even economists will get that right this year.  Instead of feeling guilty about failing to achieve depressingly impossible resolutions – or even worse, smug SMART personal targets – read this book.  When you get a snort or a sneer from someone, chase them right back with some swearing science.

Here are my favourite facts:

 “ Teamwork… research shows swearing can help build teamwork in the workplace” (p2)



“… swearing has helped with the field of neuroscience and been used as a research tool for over 150 years including discovering some fascinating things about the structure of the human brain.” (p2)

“Swearing makes our heart beat faster and primes us to think aggressive thoughts while, paradoxically, making us less likely to be physically violent.” (p3)

“Study after study has shown that swearing is as likely to be used in frustration with oneself or in solidarity, or to amuse someone as it is to be used as fighting words.” (p6)


“Swearing is very specialised and emotionally fluent form of language that requires us to have a mental model of emotions not just of ourselves but also of the person who hears us swearing.” (p37)

“Swearing is a powerful shortcut – an emotionally freighted part of language that lets us communicate complex things in an urgent way.” (p45)

And finally: “Swearing helps you manage pain, illness and social discomfort.” (p60) – what better skill could you have in your repertoire when preparing to face a new year?

The Highs and Lows of the 12 Days of Christmas

Happy Christmas lovely people who bravely entered the Big Blogland House during 2017.


Thank you all for bothering to read my blogs throughout 2017.  I hope they brought a wry smile, a reason to shout or the start of a pedagogical conversation. Now take a leaf out of Santa Claus’ book and have a mince pie, a carrot (for healthy eating) and a glass of wine – or sherry if there is any left after soaking the Christmas cake – then put on your best voice and sing this loudly:


On the first day of Christmas the Government sent to me; No more funding!…
On the second day of Christmas the nurseries sent to me; A plea for some more staffing
On the third day of Christmas Ofsted sent to me; A disappointing report called Bold Beginnings
On the fourth day of Christmas Health and Safety sent to me; A fire pit and a climbing tree
On the fifth day of Christmas the politicians sent to me; Jeremy Corbyn, fleetingly
On the sixth day of Christmas Bikeworks sent to me; 56 bicycles to reduce obesity
On the seventh day of Christmas the drag queens said to me; Watch as I read theatrically
On the eighth day of Christmas social enterprise sent to me; a thank you for helping social mobility
On the ninth day of Christmas the sector sent to me; an award for being influential from NMT
On the tenth day of Christmas men in childcare sent to me; entreating me to keep the debate going
On the eleventh day of Christmas the LEYF staff said to me; Hurrah for recognising our teaching
On the twelfth day of Christmas parents said to me; please get the 30 hours working


And, if you don’t like this song, perhaps you can take a look at this one. Happy Christmas, and here’s hoping for a marvellously pedagogically sound New Year!


Not So Sure that they are Bold Beginnings

Armed with some tea and a KitKat,  I sat down to read the new Ofsted Report Bold Beginnings. As a child, I often caused my mother a great deal of stress by being bold (Irish for naughty).

Image 1
This fearlessness was usually in the form of “answering back”.  I can’t count the number of swipes of the tea towel I had because “ I was bold”! I was therefore looking forward to a bold report. In my book to be bold is to be brave and fearless and do something that has with it a risk like walking across the Sahara ( I learned about this when I sat next to Ben Fogle  at the NMT Awards last week!).

Sadly, the report is neither brave nor fearless.  It’s far too accepting of the policy of placing four years into school. It’s a confusion of perspectives not sure whether to align with what is right for our children or stick to the Government line, that all four years olds should go to school. There was far too much emphasis about preparing children for their school life, just accepting that it’s right for four year olds to be in Reception especially give their statistics that In 2016/17, the quality of early years provision was inadequate in 84 schools and required improvement in a further 331 of those inspected that year.

The report ignores what happens in nurseries, a place far more suited to little four years olds. The Head Teachers who were interviewed said that Reception was the beginning of education and children in Reception needed more than just a repeat what had happened at nursery. And I quote

Most leaders and staff acknowledged that Reception practice needed to be different from pre-school or nursery provision and then they give an example of good practice which I would describe as bog standard nursery practice,

“…snack time was planned and timetabled as a communal activity. Teachers prompted children to ask questions and remember their manners. It was a time to teach by counting plates and cups; describing the appearance or taste of new fruits and vegetables; singing a song; or reflecting on what children had been doing so far that day”

Hmmm, did this ignore the importance of how we teach in nursery and the time it takes for small children to practice and repeat so they embed their learning? Gill Jones in her blog disappointed me with her less than bold approach. She excused herself with the statement

“I want to stress that we are not criticising pre-schools, nurseries and childminders. Indeed, earlier this month, Ofsted published statistics that revealed the proportion of childcare providers on the Early Years Register judged good or outstanding is now 94 per cent. We know that this improving quality of provision really helps get our children well-prepared for Reception.” Come on Gill, this is anodyne, we expect more of you. We respect you and so should Ofsted as you are one of the people that gives Ofsted a good name.

Image 2According to the 41 Head Teachers interviewed, education in Reception is formal, although some recognised the importance of play. But then like Cruella de Ville they said that it was best to control the play so as to use the aspects of play suitable to direct teaching rather than learning directly through play!
And I quote
…they knew when play was the right choice in terms of what they wanted children to learn and when other approaches might be more effective. Even within play, teachers made decisions about how structured or unstructured, dependent or independent each opportunity would be.”

My heart sinks for those children as I think about how that is translated by the ill-informed and the NQTs who they referenced in the report as not being as well trained enough to lead good teaching in Reception.  So much for the obsession with all staff being graduate equates to the best quality.  What a basket of confusion and snobbery with our children the victims.

Much of the report needs to be challenged.  So many comments are unclear.  What do Head Teachers mean when they said that they did not accept that children can catch up later. What does that mean?  Catch up meaning having the time to achieve their milestones or have time to reach maturation like the challenges faced by summer born children?   Its not a race.  They need time and the right support to reach the same starting point as their peers but the routes could be many. I wonder, reading the report, whether we know enough about four year olds or whether we even like them. It’s almost a dismissal of what four year olds need to be.   Remember the importance of childhood as the rights of every child.

“Dance. Dance for the joy and breath of childhood. Dance for all children, including that child who is still somewhere entombed beneath the responsibility and scepticism of adulthood. Embrace the moment before it escapes from our grasp. For the only promise of childhood, of any childhood, is that it will someday end. And in the end, we must ask ourselves what we have given our children to take its place. And is it enough?”
Richard Paul Evans, The Christmas Box Miracle: My Spiritual Journey of Destiny, Healing and Hope

What’s the difference between a four-year-old in their own clothes or a school uniform? Nothing at all so why do we need to treat them differently? A child attending a nursery may have the gift of time to learn the pleasure of books, to wallow in words and songs, to learn to read on the lap of an adult. This Ofsted report is talking about the same four year old learning to sit on a chair, to grip their pencil correctly as well as getting their heads around phonics. Do they really need this at four?  Show me the research that says imposing this formality on four year olds makes their ability to read, write and count better, more embedded and confident? Why is it essential to learn all this at four when they will just as easily achieve it by six years giving them time to go through their development stage and maturation with an appropriate nursery education.  European children seem to cope perfectly well with that system and exceed us in many of the measurements throughout the educational journey.

Ofsted, so quick to castigate should really have exercised some bravery here. How is it right to think that children benefit from the view of Head Teachers who
“…made deliberate, informed choices about the body of knowledge their children needed in order for them to succeed. These leaders began by making sure that their staff started teaching quickly, including the specifics of reading, writing and numbers. They did not believe in a prolonged settling-in period, even when children arrived from a number of pre-school settings rather than from the school’s own nursery. Many schools, especially those with two-year-old or nursery provision, did not offer a staggered start over the first few weeks. 

“Some headteachers did not believe in the notion of ‘free play’. They viewed playing without boundaries as too rosy and unrealistic a view of childhood.”

Shame on you!  Inspectors visiting nurseries would quite rightly challenge this if they were doing a nursery inspection and wonder as to how we were sensitively managing transitions. This is a report that does not merit the title “Bold Beginnings”.  It’s a travesty full of confusions and contradictions. Ofsted, you were neither brave nor bold.  You have simply accepted the Government view that education is all about formality. Great educationalists continue to point out that childhood is a time in its own right. If we value that short five years and provide children with the high quality experiences and appropriate opportunities children will become great readers, writers and mathematicians.  There is no need to rush.

”A Child Mis-Educated is a Child Lost.”
John F Kennedy

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