The London Challenge Roundtable

Last week, I began the week with a challenge to the security at City Hall. Arriving for a meeting with the Mayor’s Education Advisor, I popped my bag onto the security x-ray machine. As it went through, the security guard asked me to explain the strange items at the bottom.  Baffled, Kitchen drawI looked intently at an orange and blue x-ray image. It meant nothing to me until prompted by the guard, at which point I realised it was two packets of dinner knives I had bought from Poundland to restock our depleted kitchen drawer at Central Office.

Luckily , they had a sense of humour and they allowed me to proceed which is just as well as I was back at City Hall on Friday for a Roundtable, led by Deputy Mayor for Education and Childcare, Joanne McCartney,  to examine how we do more to address London’s Childcare Challenge, something I have already written about.

Right now I think London’s childcare and education sector is lucky that Mayor Sadiq Khan is taking our work seriously.  He has no statutory duties but he is a powerful advocate for us and maybe he can help us get the public to understand just what it is we do. He certainly has embedded the idea that childcare is central to the life of the city.  The phrase childcare as part of our infrastructure was very much in evidence.

IMG_4574

This is important given the research findings that both the Family and Childcare Trust (FCT) and IPPR shared at the meeting.  None of this was a surprise :

  • Childcare in London remains unaffordable and that’s a huge issue as London is full of JAM

jam

  • Childcare costs in London are higher
  • Childcare staff are leaving London along with the other care marchingstaff from police to fire officers, railway staff to teachers
  • The higher the deprivation, the lower the quality (a point also made by the Social Mobility Sate of the Nation report last week)
  • Existing subsidies are too diffused to make a cumulative financial contribution
  • Universal threshold too low for expensive parts of London
  • Maternal employment is lower in London
  • Higher numbers of parents need atypical hours.
  •  The Early Years Pupil Premium (EYPP) is not taken up consistently
  • Supply is an issue as 50% of Local Authorities are short of places for two year olds

What to do and some solutions? We need many more, so you’re welcome to send in answers on a postcard, but in the meantime here are a few that were shared :

  • Better planning with more demands on Section 106 planning power
  • Co-locate existing spaces (aren’t they children centres?)
  • Make better use of devolved budgets
  • Double the EYPP and make it easier to access
  • New housing must include childcare as part of the initial planning design, not as an afterthought
  • Co-commission health and education (good luck!)

tfl

  • Use Transport For London (TfL) to advertise the message about the power of good quality
    early years education
  • Ensure nursery staff are considered “key workers” for housing
  • Reduce the business rates
  • Find some buildings we can use through the Community Asset Transfer legislation
  • Build more housing for key working staff to stop the drain of key staff leaving the city.
  • Provide reduced or subsidised travel for low paid key staff

But here are my top three :

  • Advertise across TFL for Early Years staff
  • Create special London keyworker Oyster Card deals
  • Identify brownfield sites in London and build studio flats for staff working in essential London services and give nursery staff priority status.

And finally, we need to work together. London’s businesses need to be more involved to  filter money, to train and develop our staff through Local Economic Partnerships. (LEPs). Sadiq is the chair of the London LEP.

Of course, ultimately what we need is for our Mayor and the Deputy Mayor to drive a campaign that brings alive the important role Early Years plays in contributing to the economic and social fabric of London.

Can We Top Trump’s Childcare Policies?

trump

Last week the US electorate put two fingers up to the neoliberal establishment and voted in Donald Trump to be the next president of the USA. While I, along with many others, watched in silent fascination as this was played out, I was also preparing to meet two politicians who may have a greater say in our world.

On Thursday evening we held the annual Margaret Horn Debate. The subject was a debate about the challenge of childcare in London. We hosted the newly appointed Deputy Mayor for Education and Childcare for London, Joanne McCartney.  I was chuffed to have her there as this is the first time that we have a dedicated Mayor for education and childcare, so a pat on the back to Sadiq Khan who has included this in his manifesto. Joanne was joined by colleagues to look at the wider issues including family friendly work spaces, the role of fathers and the huge issue of child poverty in London. child poverty blogChild poverty merits a blog of its own, but clearly childcare has a role to play in reducing it. I am keen that we understand that childcare is part of London’s infrastructure, so the discussion needs to address the cost of affordable housing and transport for staff as well as childcare featuring as part of the city’s economic partnerships.

Joanne has begun a process of listening including organising a roundtable. This is a good start along with accepting the challenge to make London a beacon of excellence. I modestly pointed out that she has a good start as LEYF is the largest provider in London and has the highest number of Outstanding and Good Ofsted results despite the areas within which we work! However, the audience made it clear that patience was limited and the infrastructure of childcare itself such as funding, recruitment and quality improvement needed immediate attention.

Later that week , I met Tulip Siddiq MP who is the newly appointed Shadow Minister for Early Years Education.  Clearly Tulip is smart and interested in her brief, particularly as she is a new Mum. She is also launching a Taskforce to look at childcare especially as a lever out of poverty.  As a London MP she is also aware of the specifics of London, although of course she has the country wide brief.

Tulip-min

As with Joanne, I pointed out the impact of poor policy such as the recruitment crisis on early years education. This highlights inadequate funding but also the inability of politicians to relate the complexity of childcare as infrastructure to the public. The public need to understand the purpose of childcare, the state subsidy, the financial contribution and the power and trump populism toy storyimportance of childcare in evening out the widening disadvantage in Britain today. The Early Years sector has a fundamental role to play in social integration, bridging divides and including the marginalised at a time when the marginalised are increasingly turning to populist solutions (Brexit and Trump).

What does this look like in practice? Social integration is about more than mere words; our children spend time with the elderly, we give youth at risk work experience in our nurseries to give purpose and confidence, our settings get to know their local communities by being present outside of our nursery doors. This creates connections between divided peoples, in turn creates cultural capital and acts as a preventative measure against isolation and the myriad anti-social dangers that come with isolation.

This took me straight to Donald Trump.  Here is a man who had connected with the public, so watch this and see how he seduces the audience with promises of tax-reduced childcare including for those stay-at-home mums.

If Trump can teach us one thing, it could be how to influence the public to think the way you think and become your fans.  Even when he makes the baby cry, he makes his parents smile. So is there is a lesson here for our politicians?

Get the childcare message right and they might just win the day! !

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.

IMG_4574

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.

IMG_4575

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 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 London’s first Deputy Mayor for Education and 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, 17.30 at the BT Centre, 81 Newgate Street (closest tube, St Pauls).

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/margaret-horn-debate-tickets-28686249344

 

 

An Invitation to the 2016 Autumn London Big Ofsted Conversation

keep-calm-show-ofsted-how-fab-you-are-2

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 : https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/ofsted-big-                                                                                               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

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 http://www.thebigofstedconversation.co.uk/

 Ofsted Actions from the Last OBC

These can be found at https://www.leyf.org.uk/blog/the-ofstedbigconversation-london/

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?

an-ofsted-inspector-calls-copy

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

(Wittgenstein)

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.

logo

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

Continue reading

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

 

Continue reading