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.

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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):

UK

  • 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

London

  • 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_WBK

 

 

 

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

Red_hat_WBK

 

 

 

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

Black_hat_WBK

 

 

 

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

Yellow_hat_WBK

 

 

 

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

Green_hat_WBK

 

 

 

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

Blue_hat_WBK

 

 

 

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.

imalrightjack

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! https://twitter.com/EYTalking

Cleaning my teeth with Laura Henry & other surprises from a Trip to Froebel’s Birthplace

Recently, I wrote about the importance of visiting other nurseries so I was delighted when I was given a “golden ticket” by Community Playthings to visit Keilhau where Froebel set up his first school. My introduction to Froebel came in 1998 when I studied for an MA at Froebel College now better known as the University of Roehampton. I was touched by his approach to teaching small children using the power of play.getfsslideimage c

Play is the highest level of child development….it gives…joy, freedom, contentment, inner and outer rest, peace with the world… The plays of childhood are the germinal leaves of all later life.

I loved his ideas of a community of work, play and learning which shaped my work at LEYF.

Thinking and doing, recognising and responding, knowledge and ability should be united at the inmost level.’

Finally, how could you not like a pioneer who in 1849 started the first college to train women to become Kindergarten teachers and said,

‘The destiny of nations lies far more in the hands of women, the mothers, than in the possessors of power, or those of innovators who for the most part do not understand themselves. We must cultivate women, who are the educators of the human race, else the new generation cannot accomplish its task.’

The general rule is “what happens on the trip stays on the trip” but somethings have to be shared (so I won’t mention Froebel groupies, Irish Dancing, Drunken Sailors, German cakes, Scottish hilarity or midnight singsongs.) However, we agreed to reacquaint the sector with one of the first pioneers and so you will have already read the thoughts of Julian Grenier , Penny Webb , Laura Henry and Nursery World.getfsslideimage xx

From our arrival at Heathrow, to the five hour coach journey from Frankfurt into the heart of Thuringia and for the entire three days, I basked in an extended pedagogical conversation.   Everywhere we went, whether on the coach, hiking across the hills, in the museums, sitting for breakfast, having a glass of wine in a hut or in chilling in pyjamas, words like pedagogy, engagement, mudology, research, play, blocks, outdoors, wallow, reflection, blocks peppered the discussions.

The experience was particularly uplifting at a time when early year’s policy is so depressing. It’s important to realise that you are not alone which deals with feelings of isolation and paranoia or thinking you have a guest role in an episode of Stepford Wives.

I won’t spoil your revisiting of Froebel by telling you what happens at the end but a good summary would be in a book written by a LEYF colleague called Theories. But as you are all busy people here are are my top 10 Froebel nuggets:

  1. Froebel himself had a very hard time and was seen as a threat to society because of his radical thinking about how best to educate children.
  2. Froebel was a social entrepreneur setting up his school with just 5 children and building up a movement.
  3. It’s true that you cannot be a prophet in your own land. Despite his coining the term Kindergarten (we visited the site where he did this and we could see what he meant when he described the area as a very beautiful valley for education). Nurseries in Germany are not called kindergartens.getfsslideimage
  4. Froebel didn’t have a defined philosophy and pedagogy which he the scientifically applied to his school. Instead, he used his life experience and the continual learning and responses from the children and adults to mould and remould his approach.
  5. Froebel realised that architecture was key to pedagogy and the shape and design of the building was crucial. He insisted on panelling to make classrooms homely, windows low enough for children to be able to see outside, and nooks and crannies and steps and corners to make the building interesting and quirky and non-institutionalised.
  6. Froebel said that every adult had to have love for each child and a passion to help them succeed.
  7. Froebel reminded us that to teach children you need the right resources. The systematic tools of the kindergarten were intentionally simple, intended for maximum variability, infinite potential. Self-activity, self-direction and play were the engines of the kindergarten.
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  8. Froebel designed his gifts as tools to teach small children to observe, reason, express and create blank slates for infinite imagination, story-telling, preliminary mathematics, and systematic design. The gifts provided a comprehensive system and extended to sticks for picture making, drawing on grids, paper weaving, origami, sticks and peas for picture making structures (think toothpicks and mini marshmallows), simple blocks and clay. tools –With music, dancing, nature walks, and gardening, the first kindergarten children learned lessons in eco-consciousness, how nature designs, and a sense of their individual perfection in unity with all creation.
  9.  Froebel reminds us of the importance of parents

    It is not only conducive but necessary to the development and strengthening of the child’s power and skill that parents should, without being too pedantic or too exacting, connect the child’s actions with suitable language and behaviour.’

  10. We have to see Early Years Care and Education within the social and historical context of the day. We are at the heart of the political and economic maelstrom. We can only change things if we articulate what has happened that shapes what is happening.

 

Visiting Each Others Nurseries Brings Many Benefits – From Social Enterprises to Fairy Gardens

Recently, I was lucky enough to enjoy the company and conversation of a number of Early Years colleagues; I met colleagues from OMEP Ireland and Acorn who wanted to know about childcare social enterprise and how we do it at LEYF. We may be establishing the ground work for a national directory of social enterprise nurseries.

Another visit included at Child’s Place where I learned more new ways of doing things outside. Visiting other settings is such a good idea but we don’t do enough of it. Just getting out and about to all the LEYF nurseries is a challenge these days, such is the pressure of staffing and other demands. Yet when we get out and visit the benefits are immeasurable.

13868667485_fb8e8f7cc3_z‘The 21st century child is living in a world unimagined by many twenty years ago.’ Woodward (2004) suggests that ‘…changing social structures at global and personal levels create uncertainties, insecurities, diversity and opportunities. What is important is our ability to articulates influences on our pedagogical approach.’

Codd. A., An Leanbh Og OMEP, Ireland 2015 pg 78

Recently, I spoke at a conference and there were many questions from the audience about how to balance managing a demanding day job and keeping up to date, particularly in order to have the most relevant research and practical ideas to challenge practice and the expectations of small children. There were many worries expressed by young teachers who felt pressurised to use teaching techniques more focused on the past with insufficient attention on the understanding needed to develop the critical skills children would need to manage the future. They were debating the importance of play, personal skills, resilience, creativity and problem solving; all of which they felt would ready children to become Star Trekkers and go where no one had gone before.

18844184974_d06866423c_zWhat was the advice these young people received?

  • Visit other settings.
    It will have many benefits including challenging what we believe to be best practice either because it’s brilliant and you realise you need to improve. Remember, you want to light up the room when children come in.
  • Ensure you have a good pedagogical conversations either at or after the visit to challenge our practice. On a recent visit to see Tom Shea in Milton Keynes my colleague and I talked non-stop on the train about children’s learning, the environment, recruitment, and collaboration. Also, what I saw in terms of space, climbing, dens, bugs and fairy gardens inspired me and rekindled the “risky play” conversation.
  • Read when and what you can. Look for shortcuts such as blogs and twitter that take you straight to a link to new information.vd
  • Use social media to link up and connect. The Early Years needs a central collaborative voice so it’s heard above all the noise. Check out different ways of doing things such as @EYTalking or #eytalking on a Tuesday evening or an open access platform like @IeyToday.

Balancing Good Intentions with Reality? Another Challenge for Childcare.

The Government wants to upgrade the calibre of staff entering the Early Years profession.

So indeed does the sector, so what’s the problem?
The issue is the entry qualification. The Government wants it to only be GCSEs at C or above in English and Maths.
Why is that a problem, I hear you ask? Doesn’t everyone have this?
Well no, they don’t. In London approximately only 40% of students have both. This leaves us with a dilemma; Continue reading

Why we need to learn from the past and become Black Box Thinkers

It’s been a while since I went to a sector event so I decided to attend an event hosted by PACEY last week to hear if our Minster had anything new to say (he didn’t but what he did say was that he was listening!) The theme of the event was ‘partnership’ and how we better engage with schools. PACEY was celebrating the positive evaluation of a £350,000 DfE funded pilot called ‘Starting School Together’ created to help build good partnerships for children as they moved into schools. It was a very fine project involving four schools and the Headteacher who spoke was a Head we would all like to have; personable, engaged and fully cognisant of all the benefits of good partnership for everyone along the chain including nurseries, schools, childminders, parents and obviously most importantly the child.

I sat for a while before I was moved to speak. What baffled me was,

1. Why were we talking about the benefits of partnership like it was a new concept?

2. Had we all forgotten the Ten Year Strategy set up by Labour when they came to power in 1997 with operational targets to improve partnerships particularly through Children Centres?

3. Were Children’s Centre not designed for the express purpose of creating a systemic response to helping partnerships develop and sustain?

4. Have we still not learned that while projects are great they don’t change the system because they are too dependent on funding and when does the project end? When the funding stops?

5. Why are we allowing Children Centres to disappear if they are key to developing the very partnerships we applaud?

6. Hands up, how many of you got involved in a range of Local Authority led projects to improve transitions with school only to see it fail because of the lack of engagement from key people?

7. How many of you found that partnership depended on the personal relationships with the local Head, Early Years Adviser but most importantly the local community networks ?

8. What is the future of partnerships if all schools are to be independent Academies?

9. Add you own questions here…

fvThe concept of partnership is not new. It makes eminent sense. What we must do is consider why it continues to fail at every level of the system. We have not managed to create behaviour change. I recently read a book called “Black Box Thinking” by Matthew Syed. You will recognise the Black Box image from the aviation industry but this book uses a range of industries; health, car manufacturing, pharmaceuticals. In order to better understand how we can use failure to learn from our mistakes we must use deeper analysis so as to transform our performance and develop properly instituted learning cultures which lead to reduced failure and greater embedded innovation.

The challenge from Syed is for us all to become Black Box Thinkers. That means avoid blame and the usual knee jerking (not me gov!) but to take time and effort to understand what has failed and transforms our action. In a cash strapped children’s services world where every decision matters to the long term life chance of a child we need to get as much right as possible. We therefore owe it to every child to stop reinventing the wheel but to think, analyse and learn. This quote sums up for me why we all need to become Black Box Thinkers

Everything we know in aviation, every rule in the rule box, every procedure we have, we know because someone somewhere has died. …

We have purchased at great cost, lessons literally bought with blood that we have to preserve as institutional knowledge and pass on to succeeding generations. We cannot have the moral failure of forgetting these lessons and have to relearn them.