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.

Image result for economism

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”.

Keep Calm, Be Kind and Build Bridges of Friendship for the Sake of the Children

In 2007 three of the LEYF nurseries were involved in the Edgeware Road bombings. I still remember it but the strongest memories that stay with me were of the kindness of people, the concern of parents bringing food and blankets for the staff who stayed late into the night and the letter I received from Ken Livingstone, then Mayor, who shared and supported the view that London would mourn those who lost their lives and keep their memories alive by celebrating the best in people and continue to connect people across communities. That Saturday our nursery in Lisson Green held a community party inviting everyone from the local population. It was a public display of human warmth centred on children whose futures demand that we do not allow fanaticism to seep into our lives and destroy trust.

Children holding hands

The event on Wednesday involved our nursery in the House of Commons. Not once did I doubt that the team would not put the children first and do everything to keep them safe. I was touched by the shared trust from parents locked out of the nursery until late into the evening.  The resilience of the staff and parents was that we opened at 8 the next morning and carried on.

Thinking about both incidents, I was struck by the similar responses from the new Mayor Sadiq Khan. Like Ken Livingstone he urged that we build on London’s resilience and carry on.  Certainly, Thursday seemed quieter but even Southern trains ran on time.

This time communication was easier. Emails worked and the phone network was much better than in 2007. However, while the staff and parents appreciated the regular emails throughout the day and evening, it was the 7pm reassuring phone calls from staff to parents that were most soothing.  Crisis and trauma needs a human response. Tell that to the humanoids.

The call for more security worried many of my team fearful that the nursery would prove a security risk. We would counter that by saying that if anything, building nurseries into our London infrastructure contributes to the humanity of people.  Think of the comments of MPs locked into the Houses of Parliament with visiting school children who raised their spirits by singing.  The nursery children kept people smiling as they prepared for a special nursery sleepover.  We must remember the importance of children in our social infrastructure if we are to build human bridges connecting all the communities of our great city.

Happy International Women’s Day


And so here we are at another International Women’s Day. I awoke to a card from South Bermondsey nursery wishing me a happy International Women’s Day. Well, didn’t this wake me up and make me appreciate not only all the wonderful people (men and women!) working at LEYF but also the great strides we have made towards equality and the great strides to come.

South Bermondsey card-min

International Women’s Day, which began in 1909, was originally called International Working Women’s Day.  Since then it has shifted and changed to embrace the challenges and plights facing many women.  However, I want to reclaim the working women element and highlight one significant barrier for many women who want to work.

The access to local, affordable and good quality childcare

This is a problem the world over.  In the UK we know that the cost and availability of childcare remains a problem.  The Government tried to ameliorate the problem by offering 15 funded
hours to three and four year olds.  However, that presents its own problem for the mostly female childcare businesses as the Government subsidy does not meet the actual costs of childcare and leads to continual financial business headaches for those trying to balance subsidy with actual costs especially in super expensive cities such as London.

Everyday feminism

Across the world there is a similar childcare crisis and for many the remedy is not very palatable. There are 671 million children under five in the world today and 60% of their parents will be working.  The majority have limited childcare options except leave the children at home, find very low standard childcare which is cheap or let them fend for themselves. Very little option for a mother making a judgement between childcare and destitution.

There are some formidable women shining a light on the often simple solutions to such oguntestructural inequalities and social problems which impact children globally which are blocked often by lack of political will or shared understanding of inequality. Over at Ogunte, Servane Mouazan gives women the professional support to work towards their own solutions to social and environmental problems. What could be more heartening? Women helping women helping alleviate social disadvantage?

Meanwhile, in Kenya, Sabrina Habib responded to the lack of options for women by setting up a
kidogosocial enterprise in Kenya called Kidogo.  She wanted to provide safe, high quality childcare for less than a dollar a day having found that mothers desperate to work were leaving their children in cramped, squalid homes as there was no alternative.

What Sabrina found in Kenya is to be found all over the world but especially among the poorest children with the most restricted access to early childhood support. Women continue to face economic disadvantage in a changing world whether through low wages, insecure and unsafe jobs, unequal access to social protection or a heavy unpaid care and domestic workload.

Our children will never know a world without insecurity, fear and precarity unless we give women the opportunity to equal pay and secure work. We should value the delicate balance women tread every day in providing the often disregarded emotional labour, domestic caregiving and labour out there in the working world. Equality for women and accessible, affordable childcare remain dependent social problems which women like Sabrina at Kidogo and Servane at Oguntu strive to address.

This year we ALL need to join forces and raise the importance of childcare as a step towards women’s equality.

Be Kind, Be Courteous and Remember Your Manners

Last week, I spent a morning with staff from two nurseries talking about pedagogy.  Kindness and what it means was central to the discussion on social and emotional well-being.  It’s quite the topic of the month with the Duchess of Cambridge saying it was more important to be kind soldier flowerand compassionate than to excel at sport or Maths. Blimey, I bet that made a few politicians choke!  Mrs May talks about creating an inclusive society and the British Values requirements were introduced, albeit in a clumsy method, to provoke a conversation about democracy, rule of law, tolerance and mutual respect. They might have been better understood if we had used the words of kindness, compassion and courtesy which I believe are the underpinning behaviours.

In a city as crowded as London, we need to dig deep into our ability to be kind and courteous. Call me old fashioned but in a very mixed city we need some common rules to make life easy and reduce the dirty looks and kissing of teeth.

Old person tube

So confused are people as to what are the common rules of courtesy in this modern world, that 10,000 have written to Debrett’s for guidance on social manners. Questions like :

  • Should I kiss a client on the first meeting?
  • Should I give up my seat on the tube?
  • Can I begin to eat before everyone else has been served?
  • Why must I remember to put my knife and fork together at the end of the meal?

As early years’ teachers, we need to practice kindness and courtesy so that the children imitate our behaviour. Unless we teach them they may never understand that it is polite to wait for all of our friends to be served lunch so we can all start eating together, or that putting your knives and forks together is the sign you are finished so waiters can remove your plate without any inconvenience or confusion.

'After you' said Miss Manners. 'Oh you first' insisted Mrs Etiquette.

Much inconsiderate behaviour is often not a deliberate provocation but thoughtlessness and ignorance and not understanding the subtlety of the societal rules. We all have our particular bugbears. For example, which of these really make you spit fire (in no particular order)

  • Answering the phone when purchasing an item at the check outs (is the checkout person invisible?)
  • Walking slowly on a busy thoroughfare looking at your phone (yes it may be the map but walk on the inside, don’t wander about all over the pavement!)
  • Applying make-up on the train (do I pay a train fare to be in someone’s bathroom?)
  • Smelly food and confined areas such as the train carriage
  • Dogs on the train seats
  • Barging in front of you in the queue
  • Dropping litter (especially when the bin is right next to you)
  • Just standing on a discarded free paper and not picking it up and sticking it on the carriage rack

Of course, we all have wonderful positive examples of good manners and joyful moments. I have had many incidents of people spontaneously being kind and courteous, last week a young woman must have seen my tired face and offered me her train seat, I enjoy regular chats at the checkout of my local Sainsbury’s, have had helpful customers suggest how I cook fish, add nutmeg to liven up spinach lasagne and explain whether to use crème fraiche or cream.

The Spanish guide to politeness

The Spanish guide to politeness

Last week, one of our nursery managers was getting on a crowded tube at Green Park when she spotted one of the nursery children squeeze on further down the carriage with his Dad.  Next thing she heard the TfL conductor announce “Good Morning Oscar”.  Later, his father explained that as daily commuters to nursery since he was six months old, the staff have gotten to know him and look out for him and welcome him over the the speaker system when they see him.  How lovely we thought. Our manager was so touched by that, she said it gave her a warm feeling all day.

Courtesy, compassion and kindness are interwoven and can be taught and replicated. If you are in doubt about what to do and you can’t find your nearest Debrett’s, just step into their shoes and be nice. Manners and common courtesy are 99% common sense and 1% kindness. People with good manners treat people with respect and remember that no one, no matter how busy, powerful or self- important is above that.

“May you never lay your head down
Without a hand to hold;
May you never make your bed out in the cold.
You’re just like a good close sister to me,
And you know that I love you true”

Become an Early Years Teacher and Beat the Robots

I recently read a piece about the growth of artificial intelligence and the impact it will have on existing jobs, whether the driverless car or the extension of computer controlled decision-making.

The Birth of Artificial Intelligence

I can’t understand the rush into such an inhumane world.  Why do we want more automated services, more self-service machines that go wrong and more advice services which is simply a computer talking at you?

This week I wanted to check a simple fact with Ofsted, so I rang the helpline, which took me to a selection of options and when I finally got to the section I needed, it referred me to the website!

Courtesy of Justin Boyd @ http://invisiblebread.com

Courtesy of Justin Boyd @ http://invisiblebread.com

Irritated, I found myself on the Gov UK website , a site which is like a busy aisle in TKMaxx, everything is squashed on a clothes rail and it takes determination and persistence to filter out anything of interest. Is this the life we want?

How can we therefore guarantee a career which won’t be overtaken by robots?   Become an Early Years Teacher. Children will always need adults to help them learn and develop. There is no greater honour than contributing to the development of the next generation.

Next week the Nursery World Show will celebrate all things Early Years. It’s an opportunity to celebrate what we do and how we do it.  A good show provides networking, CPD opportunities, and recruitment. I always attend to do all of the above and this year we have a big LEYF presence. We have created a nursery space with the help of Community Playthings where visitors can sit and chat and enjoy pedagogical conversations with each other.  We have also persuaded David Neil our chef from Brixton nursery to do a cooking demonstration and Gary Simpson one half of our Learning and Development team to present on the Live Stage. It’s one of the top CPD opportunities as the best way to learn is to teach others!

The opportunity to talk, connect and celebrate the humanity of our roles is critical. In this mad rush to reduce human connection, we as a sector need to do the opposite.  If you get a chance to attend a show or be part of an exhibition, take a LEYF out of our book! Make it a time for a bigger conversation, new learning and a public celebration that robots and drones have no place in our world.

Devo, Beautiful World

Doing business by doing good : A Social Enterprise’s most valuable asset is hope

It’s hard to get a feel of what is going on with the Government at the moment. Communication is muffled and it feels like we are watching a foreign psychological thriller without the subtitles.


Scene from psychological thriller The Third Man

The Prime Minister has said some great things about social inclusion but the feeling on the ground does not comfortably align to her rhetoric.  What we see are Children’s Centres closing, cuts to support services, no advisory staff in local authorities and cuts to social services.  The
brexitBrexit strategy has been described as hard, soft and clean but again on the ground it feels stained and in need of a good wash before its clean enough for any of us to wear.  In the world of education, our minister Caroline Dinenage remains completely silent on the workforce strategy despite us meeting her in October to explain the recruitment crisis and despite a very powerful response from the sector to the November consultation on the sector qualification, not a word has been heard.

I was therefore very pleased to listen to Lord Victor Adebowale, newly appointed Chair of Social Enterprise UK, on which I am proud to be a Board member.  He gave a short but generous acceptance speech at the AGM thanking the outgoing Chair Clare Dove and unlike President Trump was magnanimous and kind about the work that Clare has led over her ten years as Chair. His overall message was positive. He reminded us that even in our darkest hours we must hold on to the view that social enterprise and the social entrepreneurship movement is driving a big change and can help reshape our current established pattern of business behaviour because we can show that we are doing business by doing good.

The positive uplift was reaffirmed the next day when one of the LEYF Area Managers sent me her progress on the action research she is doing with nursery managers about kindness. We are celebrating Random Acts of Kindness Day at nurseries, to encourage the spirit of generosity. The Kidogochildren are reaffirming kindness and courtesy in the nursery as well as donating to Food Banks and charity shops, supporting a partner social enterprise called Kidogo in Kenya and extending our multi-generational relationships especially with the old.

The sense of hope was energising.  It took me back to a great exhibition by Anselm Keifer at the White Cube Gallery. Two paintings transfixed me but gave me hope. The first painted destruction.

Detritis Walhalla

Anselm Keifer Rorate, Photo Charles Duprat White Cube Gallery

The second provided hope.  My husband looked at me in bemusement, Hope? Is this not about death and destruction?  However, while I am no art critic, I like art that makes me feel. This gave me hope and right now we need to try and find hope everywhere.

“Life is very short and what we have to do must be done in the now”

We began the year of 2017 with the sad news of the second untimely death of another of our much loved young staff members.  Telling the organisation about his death was my first duty of 2017 and it quickly put things into perspective. It also made me realise the power of the workplace community and how it can scaffold and support during miserable times.

The first indicator of support was the ability of staff to talk openly and kindly to each other about death and their personal responses to it, raising very deep feelings, bringing up memories, focusing people on the transitory nature of time and making us think about our own mortality.   I take an Irish approach to death which is to grieve in whatever way feels right but most importantly to celebrate that the person lived and contributed something to your life.  In essence, don’t be reluctant to say their name, remember them openly and describe how they touched your life.

In 2016 lots of the people who touched my life, however tentatively, died. David Bowie was my first teenage fascination, Alan Rickman had a voice that made me think of Christmas, Terry Wogan, reminded me of hilarious evenings listening to his commentary about the Eurovision, Famous people died 2016Ronnie Corbett from the Two Ronnies and Victoria Wood, great favourites in our house and the doleful tones of Leonard Cohen kept me company from my late teens. Last year I also lost my lovely friend Dave Perry who died suddenly leaving me very distressed and mournful.

This year, we cannot predict who will die and leave us bereft but we do know it will happen to someone.  I have been listening to many TED talks on death and grief and the message is consistent, talking and sharing is the healthiest way of dealing with the unbearable.  2017 must therefore start with a strong intention and every effort to build as much resilience and kindness in the organisation as possible so we can be the sort of community that can help each other as we face grief.


Take the Christmas Quiz and See if You Can Remember Anything From 2016!

Many of you have broken up this weekend (or broken down!) and the rest of us continue to work flat out until Christmas Eve (another reason to support nurseries designed to ensure parents can work!). So put on a red hat, sing along to the tune of Mariah Carey’ s greatest Christmas hit while pretending to be the Eggheads and do this quiz at your last staff meeting of the year!

June1 June2 June3




Questions Answers
1 Which Member of Parliament said in her maiden speech ‘I’m the only member of the house who at the age of 16 and pregnant was told ‘I wouldn’t amount to anything’’. a. Angela Rayner
b. Tracy Brabin
c. Heidi Allen
2 What percentage of school children in year six are now clinically obese? a. 19.8%
b. 24.7%
c. 29.8%
3 What % of nurseries are rated ‘Good’ by Ofsted? a. 86%
b. 91%
c. 95%
4 Who was the charming Breakfast TV presenter who interviewed Gill Jones from Ofsted this year? a. Charlie Stayt
b. Ben Shepard
c. Piers Morgan
5 How many local authorities are piloting 30 hours of free childcare before the national roll-out in September 2017? a. 8
b. 10
c. 25
6 Which charity went into administration in August? a. Kids Company
b. 4Children
c. Care Leavers Foundation
 7 What policy is causing the sector to have a recruitment crisis? a. GCSE A to C Maths and English
b. Certificate in Child Development
c. Functional Skills
 8 If Santa was traveling at 650 miles a second, how many homes would he need to visit to deliver all the world’s gifts? (Hope you have your GCSE Maths!) a. 756 per second
b. 822 per second
c. 1915 per second
 9 Who refused to back the appointment of Amanda Spielman as the New Ofsted Chief Inspector? (They did the same to Anne Longfield when appointed Children’s Commissioner) a.  Sir Michael Wiltshire
b. Education Select Committee
c.  Justine Greening
 10 In August the DfE promised that from 2018, local authorities will need to pass what minimum proportion of Government childcare funding to the early years providers as part of plans for a national funding formula? a. 72%
b. 89.5%
c. 95%

Bonus Question: Name these old favourites (take that whatever way you like!)

June 2June 1June 3June 4








Happy Christmas! Prepare yourself for more chaos and confusion in 2017!


Answers : 1 (a) 2 (a) 3 (b) 4 (c) 5 (a) 6 (b) 7 (a) 8 (b) 9 (b) 10 (b)

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.


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


  • 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!)


  • 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?


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.


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! !