Margaret Horn 2016 : The London Childcare Challenge

Margaret Horn

Margaret Horn

Every year during the November Global Enterprise Fortnight we host the Margaret Horn Debate to celebrate Social Enterprise Day. Margaret Horn was the first director of the charity that in 2008 become the social enterprise London Early Years Foundation (LEYF). I know very little about her, (despite our research) but I do know that she was a pupil of Octavia Hill, a woman I have always admired for her energy, ambition and social enterprise.

Octavia Hill

Octavia Hill


Last year we debated the importance of businesses being family friendly and it was a very popular theme and so therefore it seemed logical to continue the debate especially as we have a new London Mayor, Sadiq Khan (for those of you who have been sharing Sleeping Beauty’s glass box) who seems much more in touch with what needs to happen to support Londoners live well and work successfully. Certainly, during a visit to a LEYF nursery, our Mayor demonstrated a greater grasp that childcare is a crucial part of our city’s infrastructure, helping parents to work, improving children’s educational outcomes and helping narrow the achievement gap between disadvantaged children and their more affluent peers.

London has a lot of childcare challenges particularly if it is to provide the range of places. available to meet the number needed to put the number of children of children across our very diverse city.  We need to have sufficient staff to run the nurseries and provide the best service to all our children.  This is tricky as nurseries receive insufficient Government funding which is sorely felt in an expensive city where childcare costs are on average 23 per cent higher than the rest of England.  At LEYF we subsidise nearly 48% of places but that can’t be sustained given the increasing living costs and the difficulty of recruiting staff who can no longer afford to live in the city where housing costs are around 50% higher than the rest of the UK and transport costs overwhelming. I won’t comment on Southern, my local rail operator, just feel my pain.

When it comes to child poverty, 700,000 children living in London are below the poverty line, that is 37% of all children compared to 26% across the UK. Children in London are much more likely to live in poverty with 14 out of the top 20 local authorities with the highest rates of child poverty across the UK. Half of 0 to 19-year-olds in London (1.1. million) live in a family that receives tax credits. 640,000 children benefit from in-work tax credits. Poor children in London are less likely to be able to afford everyday items than those elsewhere in the country.

We need sufficient providers running sustainable services to offer the 15 funded hours childcare to local families, the Two Year Old offer as well as children with learning needs and disabilities.  That’s problematic as property costs in the city are exorbitant and there is no London funding for capital expenditure.  In a Huffington Post blog, I wrote in March this year, I raised the difficulties childcare providers face in London trying to keep childcare fees affordable when the Government subsidy still only meets half the cost of a place? I also commented on one of the many unintended consequences of poorly drafted Government policies which is resulting in the emergence of two-tier services with separate provision for those children on the ‘free offer.’

Finally, there also needs to be a bigger conversation with parents and the public about a wide range of issues such as what education for small children looks like in different settings, what that means for their children, limiting early and unnecessary transition to school and understanding why community nurseries are a good thing for children in London because they help create social capital by building local networks, reducing loneliness and nurturing community spirit.

This is a flavour of this year’s debate.

So, don’t lose hope. Join us for a lively discussion and debate with the London Deputy Mayor for Childcare Joanne McCartney alongside a panel of colleagues,  about how we can address the London Childcare Challenge together.

Sign up below for the Margaret Horn Debate on 10th November, 17.00 at the BT Centre, 81 Newgate Street (closest tube, St Pauls).



An Invitation to the 2016 Autumn London Big Ofsted Conversation


Dear Colleagues

It’s time for the next London OBC, please come. It’s long overdue.  We had planned the next one around our invitation to the new Chair of Ofsted David Hoare.  Having sorted the date, he could not come as unfortunately he had to resign ( having upset the Isle of Wight).  It’s a shame really because his language about the state of poverty in the Isle of Wight may have been clumsy and crass, I think his heart was in the right place. He was the first Ofsted Trustee in a long time who was considering how Ofsted could play its part in reducing child poverty.

However, we now have a date, a venue and an agenda.

When ?                                                  17th October

Where?                                                 Bain & Company, 40 The Strand, London

What Time?                                         14:00 – 17:00

How to Book?                                     Eventbrite link :                                                                                               conversation-greater-london-open-meeting-                                                                                             tickets-28217523372

Who is coming from Ofsted?            Gill Jones, Director

For those of you new to the OBC, everyone who runs a setting in London and beyond is welcome.  It’s a first come, first served approach.

The OBC was set up in 2013 initially by me but now run locally across the country by great Early Years colleagues.  It is our response to what had become a very toxic relationship between the sector and Ofsted.  We thought it better if we developed a means of having a good conversation to iron out our differences and make improvements.  After all, the best regulator and inspector has a mature and respectful relationship with those they inspect and regulate. The process has worked and we have a much better relationship with Ofsted because of this joint effort.  However, we need to keep the conversation going. Currently, the regions are led by volunteer chairs including but not exclusive:

Mandy Richardson (Cornwall)

Cheryl Hadland (South West) 

Ken McArthur (Yorkshire and Humber) 

Kate Peach (South East) 

Sarah McKenzie (South East) 

Linda Baston-Pitt (East of England) 

Jo Verill (North East) 

Jennie Johnson (North West) 

Jo Kinloch (North West) 

Kala Patel ( East Midlands)

Nazma Meah (West Midlands)

Every region runs its OBC slightly differently to take account needs and timings but we all do it on a voluntary basis. At our annual Chairs meeting we set the basic agenda for the year and then add issues as they arrive. I will add them below.

 October Meeting Business Agenda


  • Welcome
  • Reflections on ‘Unknown Children : Destined for Disadvantage’ report
  • Update on new Chair
  • Progress on Ofsted training inspectors
  • EYFS changes (nutrition)
  • British values review
  • Clarification on references (good practice / compliance)
  • Inspection for the 30 hours
  • Childminder agency update
  • Progress of Scrutiny Panels
  • Closing remarks

If you want to learn more about the structure of the OBC, its regionally driven goals and guide to Ofsted, go to

 Ofsted Actions from the Last OBC

These can be found at

They are as follows :

  • Ofsted to consider notification time of inspections at the next contractors and notification services meeting.
  • Ofsted to keep British Values on the OBC agenda
  • Ofsted to ensure that CMs be invited to join a panel given 47,000 cms are still registered with Ofsted
  • Scrutiny Panel Members attending OBC to add feedback to OBC website
  • Ofsted to review the wording of the Single Registration and consider maintaining the existing wording which work.
  • Ofsted to engage with the sector with regards to the setting of fees.
  • Ofsted will examine their role in this policy development paying attention to how this affects them as the sole arbiter of quality.  For discussion at next OBC
  • OBC members to actively engage and use OBC website as a useful central info point

 Regional Action (not addressed by the agenda):

1. The Revised Inspection Framework

Key Questions:

  • How will the same framework work in early years settings and schools if they have different regulatory systems?
  • When will all settings judged satisfactory be re-inspected?
  • How will Ofsted ensure a level playing field when inspecting two-year olds in schools vs early years settings
  • When will Ofsted be ready to run ‘paid for inspection’? Ofsted are currently awaiting sign-off from the DfE which sets the regulations for fee and framework?
  • How will the promise that from September 2015, everybody will be given a half-day notice of an inspection although Ofsted retain the right to unannounced inspections?
  • When will there be a Handbook for the revised framework?


2. Complaints

Key Questions:

  • How can a complaints process without independent arbitration be justified (power to overturn a decision as well as determining if complaints process has been followed)?
  • Has the drop in complaint-led inspections continued?
  • Has the reduction in the number of RI/inadequate judgements stabilised?
  • What has this meant for the sector with regards to provision, especially nurseries unable to take funded children?
  • How do we help childminders navigate the process of complaints?
  • How can we resolve the problem of the complaints document being so difficult to find on the Government website?
  • What happens to inspectors after it has been proven that they have not been truthful?
  • We need to collect quarterly statistical data on complaints completed, upheld and the outcomes

3. Calibre and Integrity of inspectors to ensure fair inspections.

Key Questions:

  • Can we have data about qualifications of ISP inspectors?
  • How are we collecting evidence and then challenging nonsense (minor issues and opinion issues causing inadequate evidence)
  • What will Ofsted do about conflicts of interest, for example, where inspectors are consultants or competitors in the same regions? They inspect and tout for business cash for questions.

 4. Childminding and Childminding inspection

 Key Questions:

  • What is happening about childminding agencies locally?
  • What are the numbers of childminders locally? Is this decreasing?

 Ofsted quality of care pic


Encouraging Women to the top

Are you a feminist from the 1970s ?

Did you look forward to reading the monthly Spare Rib?

Was your diary the Spare Rib diary?

Spare rib

Have posters by Claire Bretecher on your wall?

Claire Bretecher

Buy your books from Virago Press ?

Were you a member of the local Wimmin’s Group?

Ha, you laugh, what was all that about? What did we want: a job, a career, a voice, free childcare, equal pay?

Well, this week I attended a number of events about the same issues but with a 21st century twist. I was a guest at the @ForwardLadies awards lunch and was delighted to see my friend and fellow social entrepreneur Jenny Holloway from Fashion Enter win the Social Enterprise category.

The wonderful  Michelle Wright from Cause 4,  who invests in women becoming social entrepreneurs, received the Highly Commended place. The speech was given by Linda Plant who told her story from starting a hosiery stall aged 15  with her mother in Sheffield Market to her role on The Apprentice.

Earlier I met Servane Mouzan from Ogunte. Servane is a great supporter of women in social enterprise from across the world. She has built a Make a Wave, a series of incubator programmes to build a network of women social entrepreneurs across the world and is now building a means of helping women better understand the learning steps that leads to leadership transformation.

This is all timely for me as I prepare a presentation on Encouraging Women to the Top for the Australia’s Women in Business, Special Interests Group.

But why do we need to continue to push for women to get fully involved in business in 2016? Because gender balanced businesses are better all round. This is why I encourage men into childcare.

But it’s also about how women build a succession plan for more women. Paul Hastings’ Breaking the Glass Ceiling Report Cards continually proves the benefit of having women on Boards in terms of good business decisions and sustainability. A recent report in the Harvard Business Press by Sahil Raina (July 2016) found that the success of business growth and exit was much improved where women invested in other women. This is something we need to see much more.  On a big scale there are organisations like Women Moving Millions.  However, I count my membership on the CAN investment Board  as small progress given that we are in the unusual position of women constituting half of the Investment Board.

If you are a woman who also happens to be an entrepreneur or an aspiring entrepreneur, you could do worse than consider Linda Plant’s advice:

  • Have a vision
  • Walk before you can run
  • Recognise and take opportunities, they won’t come to you
  • Be sensible
  • Trust your instincts
  • Stay ahead of the game
  • See the future – be connected
  • Build a team
  • Stay passionate and driven
  • Remember that success doesn’t come with a banner

So, the state of play for women in business is that it has moved on since the 1970s but that was 40 years ago! I remember my children saying to me, “ Mummy,  we are doing history in school, we are studying the 60s”. My, did I feel old but perked up with the retort, “ ah modern history!”  Let’s avoid having a similar conversation with our granddaughters.

May the Force Be With You : The Rallying Cry in Dublin  at the 26th EECERA Conference

The EECERA Conference is an annual event and I always try and attend accompanied by LEYF staff where possible. It’s much better fun when we go as a group!  I remember our first EECERA conference in Malta.  We were so excited, gathered in Gatwick all ready to learn and have fun. I had been encouraged to attend  by Margy Whalley from Pen Green who regularly attends with a group of practitioners.  She convinced me of the importance of practitioners hearing about philosophy and research first hand so they could consider, challenge, copy, contest and generally help bridge the pure academic approach with practice.

When you are you philosophising you have to descend into primeval chaos


Chris Pascal along with Tony Bertram and Ferre Leavers set up EECERA 26 years ago. Chris is a great friend to LEYF and we have always tried to benefit from her work at CREC. Her observation that not involving practitioners in research is wasteful and is a mantra that has influenced the LEYF approach to action research which is a key driver for our quality stance. It is woven into the first element of the LEYF Pedagogy  (Leadership for Excellence).Therefore, anyone attending from LEYF has to present a paper about some aspect of our action research.

Unfortunately, for a number of reasons I attended the conference on my own. The conference was in Dublin organised by Early Childhood Ireland with which we have a very warm relationship. It was the largest conference ever but despite this I met many old friends from as far afield as Australia including our special friends from the social enterprise Goodstart and Stepping Stones in Tasmania.

The conference was called Happiness, Relationships, Emotions and Deep Level Learning but what is very noticeable is that the tone is set by the host country.  This was very evident from the opening addresses with references to the Irish poet Seamus Heeney and quoting the third verse of his poem Chorus from the Cure at Troy (1990)

History says, don’t hope

On this side of the grave.

But then, once in a lifetime

The longed-for tidal wave

Of justice can rise up,

And hope and history rhyme.

Seamus Heeney 1937 – 2013

As well as asking Van Morrison’s question Why couldn’t it be like this all of the time? A celebration to the 920 Early Years people sitting in harmony in Dublin City University.

Aline-Wendy Dunlop gave a very engaging and warm tribute to Jerome Bruner (1915 – 2016) who died earlier this year. His work has been very influential in the second element of the LEYF pedagogy (The Spiral Curriculum). His book The Culture of Education which he wrote in West Cork is my favourite book as it connects the importance of culture and narrative.  He describes conversation as a great means of learning. This is something we are exploring in LEYF through the notion of the pedagogical conversation.  This was the basis of one of my presentations at the conference and is the LEYF hypothesis from which we are developing our Home Learning research. His other comments are about the community which we translate into our LEYF Multi-Generational Approach.  This was the second paper I delivered with colleagues from the US who are also advocating and showing the benefits of helping children reach out into the community in a way that enables the community to reach back in.

The opening speeches asked the question: why do governments think that early years can solve all of the challenges of society whether it is poverty or obesity, wellbeing to mental health?   Dr Anne Looney reminded us that since the 1970s governments have framed education as the problem which needs to be fixed as opposed to fixing social inequality.

Professor Hirokazu Yoshikawa, Professor of Globalisation and Education at New York University extended this question within the context of the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the move away from the child’s right to survive and towards the child’s right to thrive.  He particularly focused on targets 4.2 which require all girls and boys to have access to quality, organised Early Years pre-primary education designed to support their development and wellbeing. He asked what government expectations were for all these children given that quality is informed by high expectations. Interesting question in the light of the cost cutting approach we are trying to manage in the UK.

Dr Looney furthered challenged whether quality was at risk from Governments push in favour of

  • Increased standardisation
  • A narrowing curriculum
  • Low risk approach to learning
  • Test based accountability for teachers and schools
  • Corporate management models for schools and settings
  • Over emphasis on big data and insufficient small data that comes from the child and the teacher feedback

Is the Government over control of education going to drive adventurous teaching that enthuses children, she asked, or is it just about competence?  I was pleased that Professor Yoshiikawa reminded us that quality is more achievable within small group sizes with high adult child ratios  but the key quality driver was a culture of coaching and learning including open sourced sharing and networking which made me very happy to be a founding member of International Early Years.  Dr Looney asked us to be catalysts and counterpoints to the narrowing debate to avoid becoming casualties.  She reminded us that we must be a coherent, motivated, engaged and strategic group to become a force to be reckoned with.  She urged us to join Luke Skywalker in Skellig Rock in West Cork and left us with the Star Wars blessing,

May the force be with you



Parents, your childcare could be in jeopardy

Dear Parents

Do you know that your childcare could be in jeopardy?  Why?  Because a decision made in 2014 by the then Minister for Childcare is having a detrimental effect on recruitment? She required all childcare students and apprentices to have a GCSE Level A to C in English and Maths in order to complete their Level 3 Diploma in Childcare but as we warned then there were insufficient numbers of students available to complete a childcare qualification with both those grades.

The sector can’t fix in a short time what 11 years of schooling have failed to achieve.’ We have suggested a practical solution which was allowing us to use the Functional Skills as an alternative entry requirement.  These qualifications are Government approved and the acceptable entry requirement for all other apprenticeships.

Sadly, this was refused and the consequence is a catastrophic decline in available qualified staff.  There has been a 72% drop in students enrolling in Level 3 courses and a 96% drop in apprentices.   The sector has now reached crisis point. The pipeline for new staff is dry and those who replace staff leaving through natural attrition are few. We certainly cannot meet our growth targets for the 15 hours or the 2 year old offer (80,000 places short) let alone plans to increase to 30 hours.

There is no benefit to having this barrier to entry. In fact it will lead to a reduction in quality as nurseries are forced to take more unqualified staff as they can be employed without the A to C GCSEs.  However, to maintain quality we must have a balance of qualified staff.  Right now, our committed staff are tired, worried and at breaking point.  Depending on agency staff is unsafe, expensive and not conducive to quality for children.  We need to be able train and recruit staff who want to work with children and who can be supported, developed and retained to provide the quality service that every child deserves.

The irony is that the solution is simple.  Change the wording of the regulations to include the option for Functional Skills as the entry requirements and do it before the 1st September so new students can be enrolled on their courses. But who can intervene on our behalf? We have neither a strategy nor a Minister for Childcare.

We need parents to help us get this fixed.

Parents realise the impact having no childcare could have on their daily lives. Today nurseries are part of the infrastructure of a modern society; they are not a “nice to have”. Please can we see the necessary change from the Government in order to support those childcare organisations which enable ordinary working families to work.


Ofsted has discovered Child Poverty

“If we get the early years right, we pave the way for a lifetime of achievement. If we get them wrong, we miss a unique opportunity to shape a child’s future.” Pg. 3

I was recently invited to the launch of the new Ofsted report called ‘Unknown Children- Destined for Disadvantage’.  It was launched by the new Chair of Ofsted David Hoare who has made his views very public about the negative impact of inequality especially for our youngest children. Indeed, he has come out strongly as an advocate for early years and the power of early intervention.

But the report upset and angered me in equal measure. Why are we still hearing about child poverty as if it was a new phenomenon? Why is Ofsted so shocked ? Has it been asleep for the last 10 years? My challenge at the meeting was,  “Wake Up and look outside your front door, there is a raft of reports going back years and we seem to have an increasing not reducing problem“.

The updated poverty statistics from the London from the Child Poverty Alliance Group (CPAG):


  • In 2014-15, UK child poverty increased by 200,000 to 3.9 million (after housing costs)
  • 66% of poor children live in working families (up from 64%)
  • London remains UK region with highest rate of child poverty (37%)
Graphic from: Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) 2014-15

Graphic from: Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) 2014-15


  • Child poverty in London remains unchanged from last year (2013/14)
  • 37% of all children in the capital live in poverty – that’s around 700,000 children
  • Nearly 1 in 5 poor children in the UK live in London (18%)

I spoke at a conference in Scotland earlier this year and the Growing Up in Scotland (GUS) ten year evaluation of child poverty implications was presented. LINK .Their report also made pretty depressing reading. Here is a summary:

Position of Children Higher income Lower income
Less good health during the first 4 years 12% 26%
Poor diet at age 5 13% 39%
Below average vocabulary 20% 54%
Below average problem solving ability at age 5 29% 53%
High social emotional or behavioural difficulty at8 years 3% 18%
Lowest level of life satisfaction at age 8 19% 29%
Poor mental health during their child’s first 4 years 6% 24%

The Ofsted report identified a similar picture although as with all things Ofsted the focus was on education and longer term school success whereas the Scottish report looked at health and also the health of the mother.  In 2015, 44% of children who had not reached the expected level at the age of five went on to securely achieve the national benchmark in reading, writing and mathematics at the age of 11. This compares with 77% of children who had achieved a good level of development.

The specific details look like this:

  • The speech and language gap between children from the lowest income families is equivalent to 19 months (Sutton Trust, 2012).
  • Poorer children’s basic level of communication was limited because they cannot confidently articulate their thoughts, ideas, opinions and views using a breadth and depth of receptive language.
  • Around one quarter of disadvantaged children were unable to communicate effectively because they lacked the concentration, vocabulary and listening skills to focus their attention and understand what others were saying
  • A quarter are unable to control their own feelings and impulses or make sense of the world around them to ensure that they are ready to learn.
  • One fifth of disadvantaged children lacked the confidence and independence needed to tackle new challenges, make new friends or understand how they were feeling so they understand their basic impulses.
  • Around a quarter lacked the experience and understanding of the people, places and environment around them to make sense of their world and their ability to interact successful within it.
  • Access to high quality provision in poor areas remains a barrier with only 8% of children living in prosperous areas in proviso that is less than good, while this is 18% in poor neighbourhoods.

 What did Ofsted think we need to do?

  • We need leaders across children’s services, health and education and in local authorities who have a broader understanding of what disadvantaged means and how to tackle it successfully.
  • We need leaders who understand what school readiness means and with specific regards to the importance of the wider health and social care contribution.
  • We need to reduce professional distrust, and limit the reluctance to share vital information therefore avoiding duplication among health and education professionals.
  • Professionals must increase their awareness about the circumstances faced by poor families.
  • Services need to be better joined up services with local authorities having a more co-ordinated strategic approach to tackling the issues facing children and families from disadvantaged backgrounds.
  • There is no place for weak leadership, lack of management oversight and inaction.
  • More needs to be done to ensure additional funding from the Early Years Pupil Premium (EYPP) has impact. Half the schools visited as part of the report had not identified the children entitled to additional funding, and some could not account for the spend.
  • We need to improve parents’ skills and the home learning environment
  • Ensure access to free two year old early years education.  A third of eligible children ( 80,000) did not take up their funded places in 2015.

Really, now tell us something we didn’t know!

Skeptical baby

Can you guess why I was depressed?  Here we have a report which shows that things are getting worse for many poor children but present solutions that shaped a National Strategy twenty years ago and led to initiatives such as Sure Start which have been kicked into the political-ideological long grass.

Sure Start was created to provide childcare and support services in areas of poverty, including health and education as one offer, supporting families to better understand their role as leaders of their children’s learning in the home.   Yet, instead of being improved and perfected it’s been left to die slowly by our previous Coalition Government and the more recent Conservative approach of Tackling Disadvantage led by Mr Cameron may never see the light of day.

The challenge of Ofsted to local authorities for a strategic approach comes very late in the day when local authorities are starved of resources.

The access to free childcare is stymied by the lack of funding and a policy of requiring A to C GCSEs as entry requirements for Early Years staff which has more or less dried up the pipeline of qualified staff and centres working with disadvantaged children need the best staff.

So feel my frustration given my life’s work of creating LEYF; a social enterprise which has at its very heart reducing disadvantage and where all of our 38 nurseries are good or outstanding. There are many others like LEYF also feeling this frustration too. What is needed is not a report with a list of solutions that have been rejected very often on politically and/or ideological grounds.

Turn the report around and start with all those leaders who  are doing a good job for children from poor and disadvantaged families. Collect this evidence in one place and share it widely. Create a directory of social businesses and look much more closely at small changes that can make a big difference.

The GUS report repeatedly demonstrated that better cognitive ability is linked to home learning activities. Home learning benefits all children irrespective of social class but for those who are from poor and disadvantaged families it can moderate, though by no means eradicate, the effects of socio-economic disadvantage. The research (Bromley 2009 & Bradshaw 2011) revealed that being read to everyday from 10 months, being actively involved in daily home learning activities at 22 months and visiting a wide range of places from 22 months were all significantly related to vocabulary ability and improved cognitive skills even after taking account of socio-economic background.

At LEYF we looked at this research and the very elements that make the difference.  We run action research like a thread through the organisation developing pedagogical leadership as a core com18672405083_e1129f13dc_mpetence. That means instead of looking at high level and often unassailable solutions we look at what we can do and how we can develop and apply research in each nursery. For example, deputy managers like Jessica Whiteley are examining how literacy rich environments and working with parents will improve the vocabulary and receptive language of the children, especially boys.  Across the organisation we have Each One Teach One champions who are rolling out the pedagogical conversations with parents to improve our approach to Home Learning.

So, I challenge Ofsted that if it really wants to reject the stark differences between children from  disadvantaged families and their better off peers, then use its power as both a regulator and improvement lead to shout out about what is happening in the sector and show where and how those leaders and practitioners are working together to make a difference rather than  present a set of solutions which are a bit old hat and have not created the necessary systemic change.




Dear Justine Greening MP

Congratulations on your appointment as Secretary of State for Education. It is quite a Brief so l hope that those of us who have been grappling with it for a while help you.

I was very heartened to hear you say on the Andrew Marr show that you wanted education to be part of your ambition to improve social mobility.   The door to social mobility is opened even before birth and there is a wealth of research, experience and knowledge which shows how the Early Years holds the key to narrowing the achievement gap. As CEO of the London Early Years Foundation (LEYF), the largest childcare social enterprise in the UK, our whole community nursery model is designed to increase social mobility, using a combination of subsidised fees, local employment and apprentices. We want all children to have the best possible start in their lives, we want parents to be involved, we want our employees to be the best they can and lastly, we want the education and raising of children to be a community affair. The fact that many children don’t have the best possible start in their lives is something we need to strive to change together. 24954704121_d7741abf3d_z

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Men in Childcare, why are we still debating this?

Just when you think that you are beginning to open people’s eyes and ears as to the benefits of having men working in childcare settings, along comes the ill- informed and ignorant commentators. This time, and most worryingly from Andrea Leadsom; a woman who thought she could be Prime Minister on the basis of her speechifying about Brexit. I hope our new Prime Minister pays attention to her Brexit team’s combined diplomacy…3


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I’m Alright, Jack

Last Thursday was a day of momentous historical significance.  It may be linked but the weather also decided to create havoc on that day.  Determined not to be beaten, I battled monsoon rain, negotiated the pathetic train system and with the help of Uber, managed to get to the Festival of Education hosted by Wellington College. fest-of-education-1460102998

Luckily I was accompanied part of the way by Neil Leitch and upon arrival at Wellington joined Catriona Nason, Sue Cowley and Laura Henry so at least the conversation was lively.  We had been invited to talk about Early Years and the implications of poor policy in the sector.  So as you can imagine I talked about the impact of the recruitment crisis, something I have been writing about a lot.

As ever Neil Leitch from the Pre-school Learning Alliance articulated the issues facing the sector about the funding and the 30 hours. On the slow train to Guildford, we worked out the deepening unfairness of the system by analysing a significant line in the Childcare Bill which states on page 8:

The additional 15 hours will be available to families where both parents are working (or the sole parent is working in a lone parent family), and each parent earns, on average, a weekly minimum equivalent to 16 hours at National Minimum Wage (NMW) or National Living Wage (NLW), and less than £100,000 per year .

We figured out that someone earning £100k a year needs to work no more than 2 hours at £102 per hour to claim the fifteen hours while someone on a low income has to work the full 16 hours at the NLW (£7.20)  to have reached the required threshold to claim. Interesting!

Click on graph for bigger image

Click on graph for bigger image

The debate was lively but the sector needs to step up a bit more. This debate is about what is best for children, not the type of setting and how good or bad it is. Comments such as, “well, I think debate has to be inclusive and not just be anti-school”,   “Well, my school is very good, we understand what small children need, you wouldn’t find our children sitting in rows” have no place in a real debate. Of course there are many good schools, nurseries, pre-schools and childminders. That is not the point. These comments let policy-makers off the hook. The issue is, what drives the policy?

Dump your ego because it’s the biggest barrier to effective thinking. The ego gets in the way of deep thinking and instead becomes an opportunity for showing off, put downs and soundbites, (just watch Question Time if you can bear it).  Such behaviour leaves us exposed as it allows politicians to choose their favourite examples and scratch their pompous heads or toss their golden locks and say   “it’s not the policy which is wrong but your incompetence because ********* does it so well”… Remember Nick Gibbs MP’s obsession with phonics from Clackmannanshire.

For all children to benefit we need intelligent policies and intelligent debate.  We cannot have an approach where some but not all children will benefit. Those lucky ones who live near a “good“ school or nursery. Those lucky ones whose parents can afford a place, can move or manipulate the system to get a place – this is absolutely unacceptable. Here I agree with Michael Wilshaw who says that too many poor children are still losing out on good quality education.

The response needs to be that the policy is wrong .We need policies that work to change the system and the behaviours and embed them in a way that changes what we do and how we do it.

Our job is to keep bringing us back to the core message which is:

How does the policy benefit all our children’s best interests?

To do this I recently re-read Edward de Bono’s 6 Hats Thinking.

6 hat thinking









White Hat:  It’s all about using neutral, check-able facts. Stay Cool.





Red Hat: It’s all about emotion. Seeing Red.





Black Hat: Its all about pointing out the weakness of the arguments. Be cautious and careful.





Yellow Hat: It’s all about being upbeat, positive and hopeful.  Be sunny and optimistic.





Green Hat: It’s all about creativity and new and verdant ideas.  Be full of fertile ideas.





Blue Hat: This is the blue sky thinking, the big wide proposition. Organise your thinking.

You are probably too young to remember Peter Sellers in the film “I’m Alright, Jack”, a satirical take on the business world. Along with the usual slurs about business corruption, greed and government incompetence, there was a message about remaining focused on the greater purpose. Our response has to be that the policy is wrong and the facts bear this out. Let’s choose our hats carefully and pay particular attention to when we wear the red one.


What’s Brand Got to Do with the Early Years?

I seem to be visiting the homes of great Early Years pioneers at the moment. Last month to Keilhau home of Froebel and last week a short holiday to Naples, where the great Maria Montessori published one of her many books. When announcing we were going to Naples to the Italian Tourist board apart from the usual ‘Really? Italy! Again?’ ( we are complete Italianphiles) we were issued with a series of warnings about crime, litter and Mafiosi. Instructions included:

‘Don’t look like a traveller.’ ‘Don’t wear any jewels.’ ‘Bring lots of tissues because of the smell.’

cropped-napoli[1]Even the Evening Standard had a review of the latest book on corruption in Naples by Italian journalist, Roberto Saviano who remains under Police Protection. Eek!

Slightly cowed by this, I visited Trip Advisor and while I found mostly positive comments I noted that while 40 million tourists visit Italy every year, only 13% go to Naples. Great! No crowds for me but if Naples needs tourists and visitors to its city then it might need to work on it crime focused brand. Despite this worrying introduction to our trip we actually had a fab time. It’s a gritty city but very true to itself, no pretence, Neapolitan to its core, good, bad and ugly. It’s definitely more than just a stopping point to the Amalfi Coast.

But why do brands matter? Why does it matter if Naples has a poor brand while its sister cities in Italy have strong, wondrous brands? Think of Verona, Florence or Milan – glorious!

Branding is the expression of who you are as an individual, a company or an organisation and what you/they offer. Branding is often thought of only in relation to products like Nike, Apple, Versace or Primark but brands also represent a name John Lewis or a sign, e.g. Royal Approved or a service e.g. Royal Mail.

Royal-CoA-crest[1] apple[1]john-lewis-logo-large[1]
Brands help you stand out in a very crowded space. Good brands understand their customers and demonstrate this at every level of their engagement. If it’s working well, those brand values are seen in the environment and behaviours from everyone across the organisation. A good brand does the following:

  • Clearly delivers the message
  • Confirms your credibility
  • Emotionally connects your target customers with your service.
  • Motivates the buyer to buy into the service
  • Creates User Loyalty

Early Years doesn’t currently have a strong brand. We cannot even be clear how we describe ourselves. Are we Early Years? Childcare? Early Childhood? Nurseries? Early Education? Where are the children in the centre of the Early Years brand? What does all that mean for children and parents? What are they expecting from us when they start to figure out what all that means? Well usually confusion.

Let’s do the brand test:
Are we always credible? Probably Not. We have a mixed reputation.
What do you think, does seeing the words ‘Early Years’ automatically motivate parents to engage with us? The figures speak for themselves – no they don’t.

9741659662_1a1eabe805_o-544f7fef6fb54[1]It’s time that all of us working with small children get brand smart. I don’t mean marketing our own services but creating a brand around what we do. We need an emotional connection with the public so that when they say Early Years or Early Childhood they immediately connect that with smart, warm staff who understand pedagogical theories, child development and play a significant part in helping society care and educate our youngest citizens. We need to be taken seriously by the public including those with or without children. Building a strong brand which articulates a set of brand values is one of the most powerful ways we can influence and advocate for children.

  • Let’s start agreeing the Early Years Branding Conversation…I feel an #EYTalking session coming on!