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

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.
    vv
  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.

 

Baby You’re Amazing

25832525006_6f7902931c_zAction research is very important for quality improvement and at LEYF it’s the basis of self reflection. We believe that practitioner led research is an often underused method of ensuring quality at every level of the business. Our action research is best described in three steps:

  1. Look: Ask the question or describe the issue to be investigated. Gather information.

Think: Analyse and interpret the situation. Reflect on what we have been doing. We look at areas of success and at any deficiencies, issues or problems.

Act: Judge the worth, effectiveness, appropriateness, from the findings and act to formulate solutions to any problems or confirm what is good and embed it in practice.

Step one is conducted at our LEYF Sounding Boards. These are gatherings after work with pizza and beverages to keep us all focused. A general invitation goes out to the organisation and the best Sounding Boards attract varied groups. The intention is to attract interested people although we will also invite those staff who will be most affected by the subject matter under the spotlight. Our recent subject was “Babies”, so many baby practitioners attended. We wanted to put the LEYF Approach to Babies under the spotlight because we are noticing more younger babies coming to nursery and we need to ensure that our service for babies is tip top and baby award winning.

This is particularly important because babies are amazing, little geniuses, explorers and observers. Just watch any of the TED talks From Patricia Kuhl or Alison Gopnik and you will understand the glory of the babies development. Read the books by Alice Sharp who rejoices in babies and what they can do.25737707052_f489c543ef_z

Some time ago I got involved with the Baby Room research from Kathy Gooch and her team at Canterbury University. http://tactyc.org.uk/pdfs/Reflection-Goouch.pdf

Sadly, she confirmed what many of us already know that baby rooms; that they are often led by inexperienced staff and that their status in the nursery and across the sectorwas low. Just look at Government policy, you would think everyone was born aged 3.

I have always believed that we should put the best staff in the Baby Room, babies need experienced staff with deep emotional intelligence. Practitioners working with babies need to be highly skilled and developmentally knowledgeable as the needs of a 4 month old child has a very different range of developmental needs, interests and skills as compared to a 20 month old child. We must raise the status of baby staff and make them experts in their field.

25228132994_c33eb68345_zAt our Sounding Board, I was humbled by the passion and leadership of the LEYF Baby Practitioners there. They shared many of their experiences and commented that many new practitioners were often ill-educated about babies and their practice was sometimes inappropriate for example, expecting babies to wait for long periods or not understanding how babies use their bodies to investigate.

Our meeting raised a number of questions which I think everyone caring for small children needs to consider: Let me share them with you and please ask others the same questions:

  •  Do you love your babies?
  • Do you know all their little ways and personalities?
  • Do enough people understand how babies learn and the importance of sensory activities and experiences?
  • Are you creative fun and brave in the Baby Room?
  • Do you adapt your practice to meet their individual ways and needs?
  • Is your baby routine and environment specially designed for the babies or a watered down version of the Over Twos routine?
  • Is the role of the Key Person, and the co-Key Person in the Baby Room specifically developed to meet baby needs?
  • Are your pedagogical conversations for babies just as important as for older children?
  • Is changing time a special opportunity for one-to-one time, where staff can engage with babies- talking with them, singing, being caring and building trust?
  • Does your changing environments and bathrooms reflect this?
  • Do you have dedicated attention in key group time such as island time?
  • Is your system of assessment appropriate for babies?
  • Is training and CPD for baby staff good enough and are enough baby practitioners leading the practice through coaching and in peer to peer support?The joy about bringing early year’s staff together is that you never know what tasks you will come away with. Here are mine:
  1. Our group wants to write another report like the LEYF Twoness of Twos entitled LEYF Babies are Amazing!
  2. They also want to look at how we can create really beautiful babytastic bathrooms!I feel a whole heap of visits to bathroom shops and letters to bathroom interior designers coming on!

first-year-landing-baby-care[1]

Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves…

IWD2016[1]March is women’s month. Starting with Mother’s Day on the 6th and International Women’s Day on the 8th – it means that we can look forward to enjoying and participating in lots of women events. My first event was on Thursday 3rd of March when I went to Brussels to speak at the launch of the Gender Balanced Map report. The mood of the event was upbeat and lively with none of the ‘woe are we’ hand wringing but sensible talk of why gender equality is the basis of good business for everyone. This is despite statistics that there are still so few women in charge.

My speech in Brussels was premised on my belief that gender balanced businesses are good for all businesses and I explained that was why I launched the Men in Childcare Group (London) four years ago. It was interesting listening to women running big and medium sized businesses as to why inclusion and equality make good sense. Heather Roy from Eurodiaconia made the point that the power of leadership starts with small children. She notes that girls should be encouraged to feel positive about leading and taking charge and not be reduced to the stereotype of ‘bossy,’ ‘domineering;’ put downs which can have quite a deeply affecting impact. I was very familiar with this as at LEYF we distribute leadership at every level of the organisation because distributed leadership has a direct effect upon learning and organisational improvement. This starts with putting teaching and learning at the heart of the leadership to achieve what Dr. Ferre Laevers calls, ‘Leaderful Children.’

Ultimately, the issues facing everyone across all industries represented at the conference remain similar; access to finance, recruitment, retention and as I was there – social impact! So it makes sense to create an approach that addresses these.8975928565_1c3ff96356_z

Afterwards I ran across a freezing Brussels boulevard with a group of ‘Women in Europe Lobby’ colleagues at the launch of their excellent report .

I was very pleased to connect with my European colleagues as I am keen that someone works with us to catalogue all the European social enterprise childcare organisations. This is in line with the Europe 2020 strategy, something I am keen to see happen. I want this data so we can have a bigger social enterprise conversation around its importance to childcare and in doing so, identify the common themes about:

  • leadership
  • ambitious pedagogy for all children (especially poor ones)
  • growth and replication
  • economic contribution to the local economy
  • employment for men and women
  • supporting their communities.

We hunkered over a Vietnamese Bowl of Soup; exchanging quips, jokes, funny stories, humour about all things women (some of which I cannot repeat here!) Women talk about lots of things and we covered politics and Brexit as well as the Womens’ Equality Party, Sandy Toskvig, Hillary versus Trump leadership, immigration, poverty, nails, face cream, motherhood, menstruation and menopause in no particular order.

55eb-1For International Women’s Day, I shall be giving a speech at On Tuesday I am giving a speech at the Generation Success Power Series  – come along! http://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/gs-power-series-international-womens-day-special-tickets-19784695557

The Evening Standard (oracle for the commuter!) featured Annie Lennox this week (you can guess which musical link will be at the end!) She talked about the transformative power of motherhood which spurs activism – it certainly was a factor in my LEYF journey. She describes activism and campaigning especially her work on HIV / Aids, gender violence and female poverty when she says, ‘Sometimes I feel like I am shouting into the void. The struggle is to inspire not to preach.’ I wonder if that is a female response given that two significant ways which silences even the bravest of women are to be accused of preaching or of being bossy. Annie’s story about violence against women made me think of a woman I met on the train a few weeks ago. She was lost at New Cross and needed to get to Crystal Palace. It was quite late and dark but she had an interview at a local hotel. I told her to stop worrying and I would take her there. As we travelled together I found out that she had fled Afghanistan recently because of her work on gender violence. Having just finished another great book by Khaled Hosseini I did not have to work hard to imagine the scenario.

So International Women’s Day is a time to draw attention to issues which face women.
For those asking, ‘why just women, what about all the men facing violence?’ it’s true the issue of war, poverty, cruelty and violence are human rights issues but just for one day lets shout out for all those women who very often are silently bearing the brunt of inequality.