Encouraging Sixth Formers To Become the Next Entrepreneurs

I enjoy Desert Island Discs especially if I have been up long enough to have started doing something useful like baking.

Derek ImageThis week, I caught the words Sevenoaks School and I pricked up my ears. English filmmaker Paul Greengrass – best known for directing Matt Damon in the Bourne action thriller series and more recently Tom Hanks in Captain Phillips – described the school as being hugely influential in his life by giving him the opportunity to make films.

Recently, we have been involved with Sevenoaks school. We were introduced to 20 sixth form students by Derek Brown from Entrepreneurs in Action.

Derek connects schools with businesses by asking us to provide sixth form pupils with a real-life business challenge in return for the pupils to be given the opportunity to present their findings to the team.

Sevenoaks school 1My challenge to them was to present some ideas as to how we could better attract young people to work at LEYF. I wanted them to look at the whole recruitment process through the eyes of a young person and give us some advice.  They worked together and presented with confidence and aplomb. Look at their presentation video to see how impressive they all were.  What was evident is they took the task seriously.  They worked in functional groups such as Finance, Social Media, Marketing and Technology.  They were led by Juliette who was allocated the role of CEO.

The outcome was very pleasing so much so that Juliette, Max and Cameron all stayed for a further week of work experience! And work they did, completing allocated business tasks including implementing some of their suggestions. And I am happy to report that Juliette has written a nice review about her time with us, it’s great to see students who take the time to give feedback. Thank you, Juliette!

What was the lesson for us?  Never underestimate the ‘yoof’ [sic]! They are smart and focused and a lot cheaper than a bunch of consultants. There is a great social enterprise Livity which has built a marketing business on the principle of having young people as the people who can comment best on things they buy.  It’s a smart approach and one that gets my approval.

My challenge to readers of this blog is this – give young people the opportunity to view your organisation through the lens of youth, you won’t be disappointed; in fact you may even be delighted. Read more about working with Entrepreneurs in Action 

Come and Join the Ofsted Conversation And Put Your Mind At Ease

I am looking forward to the London OBC on the 19th of September at 2pm hosted by Bain London, 40 The Strand, Invitation attached.

It’s aGill Joneslways a pleasure to meet Gill Jones and her team. Imagine we got to this position by having a very big conversation! It’s a long way from the antagonistic place we were in two years ago, when Ofsted ignored us, patted us on the head and told us to go away! 

Now, it’s different. I like working with Gill  She is thoughtful and open to hearing what we say.  A pleasant change in our current world.

The Julianplan for the meeting is that we hear from Ofsted and they hear from us. In addition I have invited the very informed Dr. Julian Grenier to share his thoughts  about his recent book about the Ofsted inspection. I know Julian always give a coherent and thoughtful presentation.

The agenda is devised to frame the afternoon. However, our best OBC meetings are where we have great conversations or as I would say to LEYF teachers ”pedagogical conversations”!

Here is the agenda, and if you want to check out previous meeting look here 


  • Progress with the in house Inspections
  • Satisfaction Rates and Complaints
  • Paid For Inspections
  • SEF Debate
  • Progress on Scrutiny Panels
  • British Values
  • Ofsted   

                           Keep Calm Mug







The following items came from colleagues in the sector and from the Champagne And Lemonade campaign 

Name  Item
Keith Appleyard Invoicing. It would seem that Ofsted no longer send an email or ”real letter” reminder. Instead you are send a note telling you that  you have been deregistered. This causes panic although when you get through to Ofsted they say it’s a process so not to worry. This may have less issue for those paying by direct debit.
Kate Peach Wants to remind Ofsted to tell inspectors that ”conditions of registration” no longer in operation but inspectors still asking for them.
Helen Simpson Wants to know more about the progress for registering trustees.
Dawn Nasser Wants to check what guidance Ofsted is giving inspectors as to what to look for when inspecting how we are applying the 30 hours eligibility criteria.
Lala Manners  What we need from Ofsted is a revision of the assessment framework for PD (a ‘prime area’ of EYFSC) – it does not adequately support children’s health – the ‘exceeding’ for this domain is ludicrous (hop and skip in time to music – hold a pencil etc. – these are children entering year 1!) Developmentally - children would have to live in a cave not to achieve this – the bar is set that low. Assessment must be aligned with CMO guidelines launched – in response to the dire warnings re children’s physical health (mainly obesity related). These are primarily focused on the recommended amount of PA children experience (180 mins daily) – there is no stipulation re intensity – and no idea as to assessment -what we do know is that less than 10% of young children actually achieve this level. The CMO guidelines appear as a footnote in 2017 – The revised EYC – are not embedded in the curriculum therefore wasting a major opportunity to address children’s health issues because there is no incentive for all teachers to address levels of PA.


So this is a taster. Sign up and join the OBC. Never take granted the work we did to get Ofsted on side. Relationships take effort so in the words of Andre Maurois the French essayist a happy marriage is a long conversation that always seems too short! Or even better is a quote from Boyzone

”…all I need is a good conversation to put my mind at ease”.

Welcome Tracy Brabin, to the wonderful world of early years education!

titleOn Friday 4th August at LEYF, we had our first conference in three years.  We were joined by 450 staff who all came to catch up and reconnect whilst enjoying “The Wonderful World of Words”.  We had the fabulous Alice Sharp to lead our day. She is a great friend to LEYF and they enjoy her every time she works with us.  It’s worth linking onto Alice’s Facebook page called CID (curiosity, investigation and discovery) which is full of ideas and clever activities.

aliceWe wanted to remind staff about the importance of using luscious language in their everyday conversations and to include resources such as chandeliers and candelabras to provoke multi syllable language in a natural way.

I also announced that all LEYF staff would be now known as LEYF Teachers or LEYF Assistant Teachers. They were delighted to now have the title that describes their job perfectly.

tracy1However, like all good conferences we needed someone interesting and important to open it.  This year we were delighted to welcome our new Shadow Minister for Childcare, Tracy Brabin MP. This was her first Early Years speech and I wanted to share some of her thoughts with you.

She was very lively and engaging and I am sure her work as an actor and a screen writer on shows such as Tracy Beaker, Hollyoaks and Shameless helps with this.  She mentioned some of her memorable parts including A bit of a do, Ghosthunter, Outside Edge, Eastenders, Emmerdale and Coronation St. For those who remember, she played Trish Armstrong, the terrible Mum of Jamie.

 “Playing my feisty young son was a gift of a part but today in my new role in Early Years I’d probably advise her to find a SureStart or quality nursery to give her a bit more support.”

 She was very open about her past and recognized the pressure continually facing the Early Years sector. I was therefore unsurprised that she liked our social enterprise model and applauded our ambition,

Changing the world one child at a time

Tracy supported our mission with eloquence and passion:

I hate that prejudice and poverty hold children back and will do my utmost to support you in ensuring all children get the best start in life… Please rest assured I’m passionate about the life chances offered to children and families through accessing quality Early Years provision.

Tracy is the MP for Batley & Spen which, as you will know, was previously held by Jo Cox MP who was murdered by a right wing fanatic.  It is a brave MP who takes up the reigns in this constituency beset by tragedy.

That is important as bravery and a willingness to listen and challenge is what we have been missing and what we need.  I enjoyed the reference to Jim Callaghan, Labour Prime Minister (1976-79), taking from his speech at Ruskin College stating that he wanted a child’s personality to ‘flower in it’s fullest possible way’.  She also addressed our concern about the quick succession of Shadow Ministers we have recently, pledging to

“…provide stability and continuity in this new role.

Our Shadow Minister is keen on the arts and creativity.  She certainly loved our colourful and fun approach to the day. This is important because the arts and early Years sectors have not connected in a coherent and long term way.  I blogged about the ImageNation report arguing for greater and sustained effort to ensure that the early years and arts sectors are collaborative and inclusive to ensure our nation’s children have equal access to and encouragement to create and express themselves through the arts. This is not a ‘nice to have’ but necessary for children’s development and ability to engage with their emotions and those around them with empathy.

Her other comments were about the challenges of the 30 Hours offer.  She questioned the funding and suggested that on average we were receiving  39p per hour less than the going rate. She also noted with deep concern the removal of the line “as long as parents are not required to pay any fee as a condition of taking up their child’s free entitlement place” by the Department for Education from their implementation guidance. She condemned this as risking a two-tier system where parents in poor circumstances may not be able to access a place. Finally, she expressed concern that 390,000 children will be eligible for a 30 free hour place in September, but just 200,000 will take up their entitlement, not helped either by the complexities of the application system. She stands by the Labour manifesto and the promise,

 “…to extend 30-hours to all two-year-olds, overhaul the existing childcare system in which subsidies are given to parents who often struggle to navigate their options, transition to high quality childcare paid directly by government subsidy whilst making significant capital investments,”

as well as stopping the closure of SureStart and creating a National Education Service to support cradle-to-grave learning, free at the point of use where ‘Every Child – and Adult – Matters’.

She concluded that she wants to listen and learn and I leave you with her final words.

“I will be in your corner and together we can change the world one child at a time. I need to know what you’ve seen work, what doesn’t, because I know, like you do, we can change the world one child at a time and I will be with you every step of the way. Day in, day out you’re transforming children’s lives and your dedication and enthusiasm is clear to see so whilst you may not always get the recognition you deserve please know – you’ll always be appreciated by me and my door will always be open.”

So, connect with her and start a conversation.  She has much to learn and we have much to offer.

With a dash of imagination and a sprinkling of leadership…the recipe for Early Years success!

What do you do when you want to have the best cakes to eat at the annual LEYF Conference?

chef reading

You ask the chefs to bake them!

What do you get?


The delight of tasting them all!

I have been an advocate for nursery chefs for a very long time. A good chef is part of the team. They know the children and get great pleasure from providing the children with tasty meals as well as other activities! That’s why we wrote the Level 2 Professional Cooking, a programme that is accredited by Cache and is ready for delivery.

It’s true that it would be far more attractive if it was approved on the National Apprentice Framework. However, if getting a sensible action from idea to policy implementation was easy we would have certainly delivered a very cost effective and child focused National Early Years strategy by now! How many of us are still reeling from the whole A to C debacle?! In fact if we were to bake an Early Years cake, what ingredients would you add ?  Here is my starter and lets create the great British Early Years bake Off!

  • 150 grams of multi purpose flour as we need to do many things at once
  • 150 grams of healthy fat-free margarine so it fits with our reducing child obesity strategy
  •  3 free range eggs so our ideas can roam widely!  Chef note , avoid ostrich eggs as they result in poor results from  burying our heads in the sand!
  • Pinch of common salt  sense
  • Mix together well as collaboration gets great results
  • Grate the zest of a lemon to sharpen your practice
  • Add a sprinkle of cinnamon for a little spice
  • Cook in a medium oven and enjoy over a good pedagogical conversation


Six Steps to Influencing and Creating a Strong Voice for Children

While dusting the other day, in true Mrs Beeton fashion, I came across my recent trophy for the NMT Award, “Most Influential Person in Early Years 2017”.

NMT awardsI decided there and then that if I was to be so honoured I probably did need to think about what I could influence and what I would like to influence. The two are certainly not the same.


Early Years, despite all the research about its benefits both economically and socially, has not quite reached the gilded and giddy heights of the establishment. We make the news when something goes wrong, politicians want to attract voters or the Press want to give someone a hard time like the recent interview with Jeremy Corbyn on Women’s Hour when he couldn’t remember the overall cost of childcare to the tax payer. In fairness, as we pointed out the previous and current Governments have had plenty of time to figure out the actual costs but have yet to do so.  Figures bandied about oscillate between £1 and £6 billion, so that is quite a gap in my humble opinion.

So where would I focus my influencing capacity in a totally unhindered, unrestricted world?

  1. Raise the status of nursery staff so that people understand what we do and why we are not just one grade up from an Au Pair and two steps down from a school teacher.

my teacher hero

  1. Find the funds to set up the UK Institute for Early Years, an organisation for and with the voice of the sector with the child at the centre. Here we would have a central place from where we could collate the voice of the sector so as to influence the UK and the world about how we can support and develop the best Early Years services based on the principles espoused in the UN Rights of the Child.
  1. Extend the work of Ceeda to collect data from the sector and about the sector. We can then be assured of some information that is accurate, timely, up to date from which to start our debates and influence policy. Too much policy has been based on spurious and weak data. If you don’t believe me read this. This is research we accessed only through the power of the FOI Act and the very determined people over at the Pre-School Learning Alliance.
  1. Make childcare central to local and national infrastructure planning so that housing, green spaces, schools, nurseries and the designs of new living spaces are child friendly and reflect what children say about their world.


  1. Have a public debate about what children need. They need physical and emotional boundaries that fit their developmental capabilities. They don’t need helmets to scoot but they need to learn to fall.  They need to play outside and go to bed on time without an Ipad or TV flashing at them.  They need a story and a chat.
  1. I might remind people that childhood is a time when children grow and learn and play. It’s not a step to school readiness or a preparation for anything. It’s the time to wallow in being a child and that in itself will mean children are much more likely to grow up balanced and kind. The White Stripes capture this fleeting and valuable time in all our lives so perfectly:

Do you agree with any of this?  Should we have a twitter debate link about what our five steps  of influence should be?  Let’s create a strong voice!






What’s in a Name?

Whats in a name

Last week I chaired a Roundtable with policy advisers, local authorities, council organisations and child poverty campaigners about the implementation of the 30 Hours and the challenge of getting the right staff.  The following day I joined NMT chaired by Neil Leitch, CEO of the Pre-School Learning Alliance (PSLA)  at a conversation on key issues in Early Years which unsurprisingly covered 30 hours, recruitment and retention.

Yesterday I answered a load of questions about recruitment in the sector for a report being written by the Education and Training Foundation.  I requested the researcher go back at least ten years and collect all the reports and research about  recruitment, retention and qualifications from Nutbrown to a recent one commissioned by Tactyc and weep at the ideological confusion that has hindered progress and keeps our status stuck at ground level.

The sector has to manage these  two issues in the middle of the political melee called Brexit. Early Years is therefore not on any political agenda.  You will notice the glaring absence of an Early Years Minister either real or shadow, (mind, you it means less political meddling which is a blessing!)

So what do we do?  Let’s take control of our own destiny in this vacuum. We know that we matter to the infrastructure of the country. Parents need to work and we help that happen.  We employ a lot of people and contribute about 3% to the national GDP. Good nurseries make a big difference to children, especially disadvantaged children, a number growing in parallel to austerity. Last week another report form the OECD made a strong  link between educational progress especially in Maths an Science with effective nursery education.

So what should we do? I am calling all my LEYF staff Nursery Teachers from August to celebrate the fact that this is what they do.  They agree and so do our parents.  How do I know?  We asked the staff and we asked parents in the annual parent questionnaire.  87% of 2000 parents agreed.

Teacher is not a protected term so we can use it as we wish. I am sick of being held back by a system that divides us by the snobbery of qualifications. Of course, we want our staff to be highly educated but we also want them to be experienced and capable. It won’t affect their terms and conditions and the more qualified the staff the higher their remuneration packages. Montessori has always called her staff teachers and in many private schools and academies staff are called teachers to describe their work. Therefore I believe we should describe the staff  in terms of what they do and they teach in a way that is play based, woven with care and enriched with emotional intelligence.

The NMT audience whooped and have all pledged to ask their staff what they want to be called. I was privileged to be awarded the most influential person in Early Years by the sector last month.   Let’s combine our influence as a sector and use it to effect change.  So what’s in a name? A lot when it describes what you do.

romeo and juliet


 As Shakespeare warned in Romeo and Juliet, let the name not be the enemy.

Choosing a Prime Minister

It was an interesting start to a short week. A Tuesday morning visit from Jeremy Corbyn. It may sound a bit grandiose when I say that I have met two previous leaders during an election campaign, both of whom became Prime Ministers. I don’t know what this means for Mr Corbyn!

Corbyn wowing our babies with his leadership skills!

Corbyn wowing our babies with his leadership skills!

His visit resulted in a lot of press energy because of his failure to answer a question on Women’s Hour about the projected cost of his childcare promises. I hope that we veered the argument away from Mr Corbyn’s inability to answer the question, instead focusing on the actual costs of childcare to the sector and the continuing inability of two Governments to deliver a correctly funded childcare offer.

Like the previous leaders I have met including Gordon Brown, Nick Clegg and David Cameron, Mr Corbyn presented as thoughtful, articulate and engaging.  It is surely what you expect from a leader. I remember being surprised and affected by Mr Cameron’s passionate espousal on the importance of Big Society over his cup of tea.  Mr Corbyn also enjoyed a cup of tea and was just as exercised about a range of issues at the heart of social justice.  Sitting there listening I was struck by their decency and integrity, unlike the haughtiness I have experienced during visits from more junior Ministers!

I haven’t met Mrs May so I cannot comment about how I would feel after sharing a cup of tea with her. All I know is that she describes her leadership as strong and stable.  The thing about leadership is that it’s an elusive concept.

Bill Clinton

There is no one perfect model. No one way to do it.  It requires the right balance of  knowledge , experience, confidence and skills that enable flexibility, agility, intelligence and strength.  If it was easy we would have a surfeit of good leaders.

Right now, we are being asked to choose our future Prime Minister from television debates, radio interviews, Twitter, newspapers and all the range of modern media which gives us everything from detail to soundbites, gossip to chatter.  I liked the quote from Harold MacMillan, Prime Minister from 1957 to 1963.

harold-macmillanI read a great number of press reports and find comfort in the fact that they are nearly always conflicting.

Few of us are lucky enough to meet them in person. In the past we had the hustings where there was a chance of the public meeting the candidates. It may have given us more of a sense of how the leader makes us feel?   Do I feel strongly enough to believe?  Am I convinced that they are telling the truth and will listen?   In the end, whoever becomes the next Prime Minister will need us to trust them and  willingly engage in the social contract that requires us to pay more tax or give up our autonomy or accept their word of honour. I wonder whether a media focusing only on the leader’s mistakes, confusions or policy u-turns gives us the right information to make a fair judgement that is best for the whole country?


When is an entitlement not an entitlement? When it’s 30 Hours Childcare!

A previous election manifesto addition was to promise parents 30 hours of free childcare. This is an annual increase from 570 to 1140 hours, whether 30 hours term time or 22 hours stretched across 51 weeks of the year. If you are one of the many parents struggling to pay for childcare, “free” is an overstatement or I should simply state, it is misleading.

It is worth noting that when a manifesto declares childcare ‘free’, they’re counting on a lot of hardworking citizens in a climate of stagnating living standards and wages to lurch for anything called “free” without much thought about what free really means. Since we now seem to live in an alternative fact, post-truth world, I can unreservedly tell you:

Someone always pays

nothing free

How to tell the difference between free and subsidy

Childcare is a subsidised offer funded by the tax payer and the sector.

Childcare, like schools, cost.  The majority of the costs (approximately 77%) pay for staff and the rest is used to pay the rent, rates, buildings, food, resources, business costs and contingencies. Therefore, someone needs to pay the costs of this.  Up until now the local authorities allocate a proportion of their Government funding to childcare and the sector picks up the rest. So we can be given anything between £3.60 and £6.00 to fund a child’s place which may cost much more per hour especially in London. Just as an example, the National Living Wage is £7.20 and the London living wage is £9.40 so that gives an indication of some of the baseline costs.   The National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) calculated that on average the sector lost £900 per place per year.

The second word used was “entitlement”. People generally translate this to mean they can access this because they are entitled.  This is not the case. Parents may be entitled to apply for a funded place for 30 hours childcare but that is only going to happen if the childcare sector provides sufficient places. More recently guidance uses the term eligibility which is broad and covers most parents whether working a weekly minimum equivalent of 16 hours at national minimum or living wage to earning up to £100,000. The issue is availability. According to the recent Pre-School Learning Alliance report, only 44% of providers were considering providing the offer. The DfE itself published a report that said they anticipated a shortfall of 10,000 places.  4 in 10’s report ‘At what cost: The 30 hours ‘free’ childcare promise in London’ has identified that:

  • Just 13% of settings said the funding is sufficient, and over half said remaining financially viable over the next two years would be very challenging.
  • 40% of settings are not sure or definitely not going to take part
  • 33% of settings said they will not offer more 15 hour places for three and four year olds over the next two years

This reality means that many of the parents will be disillusioned about the 30 hours. That is certainly what I found when I have talked to parents about if and how we could offer it at the LEYF nurseries. I made the same point to a group of local authorities at a conference recently, warning them to get the message right to parents to avoid disappointment and discontent.

Is the sector being unreasonable?


That’s a resounding, NO!

A sector in crisis : first came the recruitment fiasco, then came the 30 hours

We are still reeling from the recruitment crisis needlessly manufactured by previous Minister Elizabeth Truss, who insisted that to enter the profession, candidates and apprentices needed A to C GCSE in Maths and English.

Well, I hear you cry, why was that such a problem?

Many who choose to become nursery teachers don’t have the required GCSEs and as a result, the sector experienced a shortage of permanent staff. As is the norm, when there’s a shortage of qualified staff and the demand soars, you know it is going to be costly to solve the workforce problem. The sector had nowhere to turn except to hiring agency and temp staff, the outcome of which was a huge increase in staffing costs, demoralised and exhausted permanent staff and ultimately a big risk to the quality of care.

It took two years and continual lobbying for the new Minster Caroline Dinenage to rightly address our concerns and rescind the GCSE requirements, giving us flexibility to increase the entry requirements but at a pace that was realistic for the sector.

The future for childcare

So, what are the options?

We cannot charge parents for any part of the free entitlement, either directly or indirectly.  So we will have the raise the fees. We can charge for activities we currently provide as part of the offer and we can charge for meals or parents can provide a packed lunch. This leads to many other issues that challenges inclusivity. For example, a Nursery World survey found 43% considered that 30 hours will negatively affect their settings’ food provision. They were worried about the quality of food and managing two lunch arrangements. There is a space issue as packed lunches need to be stored safely. Also, how do you create an inclusive environment where one child gets a meal cooked by the nursery chef and the other child is tucking into cheese and crisp sandwich?!

Finally, while the DfE has clarified that it’s not fifteen hours of education and fifteen hours of childcare, its coming across as that especially if they are insisting on the flexibility of using fifteen hours to wrap around the child. This is a backwards step in the quality debate which demands integrated care and education to meet full developmental needs of a child. The sector needs a serious conversation about 30 hours with parents. We need parents to understand the issue of quality, why 30 hours isn’t just “childcare” but deeply important early education. The research on quality needs to float right to the top of the argument.

In summary, for parents to access the 30 hours we need more funds to ensure we can deliver a sustainable offer.  This week’s Children & Young People Now (CYPN) noted that over half the nurseries across the sector (that’s could be up to 9000) are in financial difficulty and may close. We need childcare to be part of the local infrastructure and if we want quality education for our children, we must factor the following into provision :

  • Affordable housing for nursery teachers
  • Nurseries near transport links for working parents
  • A workforce strategy that supports us in swiftly rebuilding the recruitment and retention staff pipeline
  • Better and stronger relationships with employers so we can collaborate to build a more family friendly society

Childcare is just another way of describing early education.  It’s a serious offer for our small children.  It needs to be good quality.  So, if we want to help parents access it to ensure they can work and have their taxes filtered through the system, let’s cost it right and divert the funding correctly so there are no financial pinch points.  That way, we can provide the 30 hours and more and childcare will be a perfect vehicle to strengthen our infrastructure in a way that drives social and economic benefits at every level.

Six Steps For A World Leading Early Interventionist Childcare Strategy

Westminster storm

The election fever has begun.  Well, less of a fever and more of a virus at the moment. The manifesto writers are busy locked in a darkened room trying to shape their political parties’ ideas and offers. According to the media and political pundits the main subject of the election is Brexit but a general election needs to address domestic bread and butter policy as well.

The challenge of all manifesto promises is that they are great big statements with little attention to the detail.  More often than not, the translation of the manifesto promises is delegated to the local authorities. These, much maligned councils, very often find themselves having to interpret these promises into pragmatic solutions without the necessary resources. This is a concern for all local authorities given they are under huge financial pressure, not least in the area of social care and community support.

Some local authorities are still trying to deliver big manifesto promises from the last parliament such as Universal Credit which are still not implemented and emerging information shows that the promise is benefiting fewer than the anticipated headline numbers leading to greater complexity.  In fact, in the case of Universal Credit the very recent DWP figures confirmed that the number of people caught in the cross fire of a manifesto promise has increased from 8000 to 15000.  The result is more working people now live in poverty and around 2.3 million children in the UK are living below the Child Poverty Act 2010 relative poverty threshold, representing one-fifth of all children. By the same measure, eight million working age adults and, overall, over one-fifth of the UK population live in poverty. For those families stuck in a cycle of poverty the escape routes are limited. Routes out of poverty include cheaper housing, affordable childcare and flexible employment. These options are currently not freely available.

The issue of childcare is of great interest to me. As a social entrepreneur I lead the design and development of the largest community childcare social business, the London Early Years Foundation (LEYF). It was created to reduce poverty by providing all families but especially poor families access to affordable childcare.  However, despite successive Governments recognising the benefits to parents and children of good quality affordable childcare, we have yet to see a fully funded robust coherent anti child poverty childcare system implemented. Every Government has done something but never enough given the raft of national and international research which confirms the long-term benefit of high quality childcare and education for children, families and societies.

John Adams, the second American president from (1797 to 1801) noted back then that

john adams

A more recent advocate of this approach is Nobel prize winning economist Professor James Heckman who shows how childcare can reduce poverty and improve the educational achievement gap found in disadvantaged children.  This gap opens up between them and their more affluent peers at 22 months and is very hard to close.  He argued that Governments should invest in early years not least because of the rate of return which he calculated as a 7 to 10% return per annum through better outcomes in education, health, sociability, economic productivity and reduced crime. So, the argument for early intervention is strong, and quality childcare plays a significant part in this.

For example our Prime Minister Theresa May recently challenged us as a society for failing to tackle the issue of mental ill health which as she said goes right to the heart of our humanity.

Child mental healthShe cited government statistics that show one in four people has a mental disorder at some point in their life, with young people affected disproportionately as half of mental health problems start by the age of 14 and 75% by 18 at an annual cost of £105bn. Half of this would fund a world leading, life changing, society improving early interventionist childcare strategy.

There are many other benefits to taking an early interventionist route; employment that balances work and family enhances well bring, reduces poverty and sets a positive example to children.  Lone parents who have flexible work and accessible childcare step out of poverty more quickly and the cost benefit of enabling professional educated women to work while their children are young has innumerable benefits for employers and the country’s economy.  The challenge is therefore building and funding an early interventionist strategy that recognises how childcare can be key to our social and economic infrastructure.

The impending new government therefore has the chance to pull together all the positive elements of previous governments policy initiatives and create the most effective and powerful early interventionist childcare in the world beginning with these six steps:

1. Raise the profile and long-term impact of good quality childcare and how it benefits all children and society by leading a strong public front facing awareness campaign

2. Boost the involvement of employers in the awareness campaign so that they invest in better childcare and family friendly activates to attract and retain staff

3. Strengthen quality by investing in an Early Years work strategy that sets out and funds a national properly paid, attractive career pathway from apprentice to Masters degrees.

4. Develop a national housing policy which includes an explicit keyworker building programme especially for those low paid nursery staff.

5. Better fund the public childcare offer so that its fair and accessible to all parents not just those who can make up the shortfall through parental contributions.

6. Amplify and foster the important role of social businesses in the childcare market as sustainable means of providing high quality childcare within poor and diverse communities.

Locating the child in the 30 hours offer

Like many of you, we spent a fair few hours on the motorway en route to the country for the Easter Weekend.  It’s a time to catch up on playing forgotten, new or favourite music. However, our car has a CD system known as Touchy that decides what it wants to play. If Touchy dislikes the CD she refuses to play or chooses another one instead. It’s the same with the radio.  She likes Magic, refuses Radio 4 and has completely stopped playing Classic! This weekend she has taken a liking to Jack Johnson’s CD from the film Curious George and his friends.

I must admit to being a terrible passenger and I am worse on the motorway. My eyes are squeezed tight, my stomach a permanent knot and I duck up and down as if watching a scene from a Scandi Noir.  The upside is that I focus my attention on listening to the lyrics of the music.  Jack Johnson benefited from all my attention and focus and I listened intently to his lyrics.  He sang about sharing and being friends and looking out for the new person and being kind.  This appears to be a theme for me at the moment.  It may be because I am not seeing much about kindness or care.

Is there a collective nervous breakdown going on in society at the moment? Have we have lost sight of what makes us human? The issue of care is now an issue of money, convenience and return on investment.  It’s considered acceptable by commissioners to give a lonely elderly person one hour of support a week or time the delivery of their meals on wheel delivery to exactly 10 minutes. Hardly time to say hello and goodbye.

In childcare we face the same challenge. The 30 hours offer is fast becoming a battle for funding. It is a conversation hijacked. The offer’s utility to society is measured only in how many parents it will free up to work and contribute to the great British economy instead of trying, as painful as it is, to understand the problems facing the early years sector and the compounding problems mounted on the sector by initiatives we can’t afford. This would entail putting the child first, not return on investment.

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Cacophony of calculations : Where’s the child in the 30 hours discussion?

Talk is of top ups and charging for lunches and tea when it should be of quality, health, nutrition and equal provision for all children. It’s shocking and poorer children will suffer more.  Let’s raise the status of care and the quality of care and start a national conversation with parents about what care should look like and what the 30 Hours should deliver.

In the words of Jack Johnson “ let’s not take the wrong turn”.