Author Archives: June O'Sullivan

Murder in the Playground

Waiting for the bus the other day I stood and read this.

MurderIt reminded me of a conversation I had with a colleague earlier this week. It occurred against a backdrop of the screaming headlines that more than 50 Londoners are dead and no one seems to be able to do anything.

The press asks “what can we do?”  and the responses are varied.  Families cry and look bewildered saying “but he was a good boy, I just don’t understand it”. Perhaps we need more police, more opportunities for young boys, better housing, more engaged Dads, happy families, boxing clubs, sport training, youth clubs, access to education, better support for parents… the answer is probably all of this, but at different times, at different levels and in different formats.

In the meantime, of 670 LEYF staff, two have lost a brother to street violence. We also had a gang related murder on the front step of a nursery in broad daylight. However, the most poignant conversation I ever had was with one of LEYF’s fantastic nursery managers,  the content of which left me aghast.  Living in a London housing estate in a gentrified borough she fears for her two teenage sons’ safety. She recalled a discussion they had in the light of the headlines. Here is a snippet:

Do you feel safe when you go outside?
All the time?
What can I do to help?
Nothing, this is how it is.
What do you do to stay safe and out of the eye of the gangs?
Don’t wear Adidas.
What else?
Wear football clothes, they respect that and will leave you alone.
What happens if they stop you?
Careful how you answer, remember to say “I live in” not “I am from”…
One says you must be part of another gang and they will attack you?
What if you wear your school uniform, does that keep you safe?
Don’t be ridiculous, it’s just as bad there.

Imagine how she feels as a mother.  She says where they lived before her sons could go and play football, be out on their bikes, feel safe to travel to events.  Now, they limit their outings and stay indoors. No one is happy but they are safe. Is this right? She said the worse thing was the acceptance of this as part of their lives.  There was no drama from them, they described their reality factually and calmly.

The Serious Violence Strategy blamed gangs, drugs, and social media. The police confirm this, saying that it’s hard to get arrests because they are met with a wall of silence. That’s unsurprising, given the issues faced by ordinary people sharing their neighbourhoods with such thuggery.

Politicians spat about the number of policemen on the beat having fallen to its lowest comparable level since 2014.  Although, the following weekend there were 300 extra police on duty but mostly in central London.  My nursery manager did not see anyone walking about her South London estate.  There has been a 16% drop in actual numbers of police officers taking it from 144,353 police officers to 121,929.  The debate is out as to what the numbers mean, is it local community police, drugs trafficking departments, more police cars or stations? Bandying numbers about without some focused and purposeful researched debate on how to best use the police we have is just smoke and mirrors and lets politicians off the hook. That includes you too Mr London Mayor.

While this has occurred there has been a blatant increase in drug trafficking on the streets with some drug barons using corporate marketing techniques such as loyalty card system to compete with rival gang drug distribution.  They have also got the use of social media down to an art form.

Police try and pressure Twitter, Facebook etc. to delete gang contact as well as placing restrictions on online sales of knives and a ban on the sale of corrosive substances to under 18s. But we know how difficult it is to get these corporate companies to act.  We have had direct experience of this, trying to managing a disturbed and disgruntled staff member who appears to be allowed to continue to post malicious, abusive and slanderous messages online.

Some years ago, we invited John Carnochan who set up the Glasgow Violence Reduction Unit. He told us the story of David, best articulated in the Ken Loach film the Angel’s Share. He was clear that we needed investment in children and families as early as possible because a stable and secure community is the best place to police itself.  We need to help young people join what Michael Oakeshott calls the conversation of mankind. Our schools must worry less about exam results but more about helping students to be able to reflect, think, ask questions and debate. We need our young people to be brave enough to identify and call injustice into question. I have recently seen great examples of this at City Spark and Enactus UK.

Mr Mayor, let’s help shape the London communities by investing in infrastructure that connects people. Consider the systemic issues of poverty, alienation and lack of care.  Too many young people have to find their way in societies being transformed by the liberating yet profoundly destabilising forces of globalisation, raising issues of culture, identity, belonging and belief.

Make it easier to take apprentices and employ locally.  Invest in more accessible childcare, community hubs, libraries, and the many ways we can access to play, sport and learning. Make it easier for small local business to thrive. Give tax breaks and ask local authority to stop raising rents on High Streets so only faceless corporates can afford to be there.  Let’s work in a coordinated way and show community leadership!

If we don’t we will continue to see young people murdering each other for time to come. We cannot afford to stand idly by, the next boy murdered could be yours.

Goodbye to a Very Dear Friend and Great Supporter of Early Years

I have been asked many times about who has influenced my life and I am usually publicly quite non-committal and say “friends”. However, my dearest friend who shared my passion for Early Years died on Good Friday and she was most definitely an enormous influence as well as a supporter of all my work that led me to founding LEYF.

Sue front imageI first met Sue Chambers in 1994, when my daughter Clodagh was four. One of our first shared experienced was taking Clodagh on the march against nursery vouchers up to the Methodist Hall. I think that and our shared love of short skirts and high boots cemented a 25-year friendship. Not a week went by during all those years that we did not talk, sometimes briefly but more often long telephone calls, always covering something to do with education. Long chats on my journey home were made easier by mobile phones. A habit that continued until she was hospitalised a few weeks ago.

Sue had a passion to raise the status of Early Years. She was the head teacher of Chertsey Nursery School, having come up the ranks as a nursery nurse and then a nursery teacher in Bristol before becoming a head teacher in Surrey. I loved her passion and energy. She went up against the staid establishment of the local authority, looking for and finding supporters to help her set up a Special Needs Unit and getting funds to support families. She and I worked together to set up a HomeStart in her school as well as working out the first baseline assessment for three-year olds so we could track and support those children starting school from a disadvantaged home. I was inspired by her initiatives in Chertsey, her big science projects, her garden ideas and her passion for books. Her energy and enthusiasm was infectious. Nothing was impossible! She managed to get money from many so she could fund parent trips, buy new resources and carry out school improvements to the beautiful, but hard to maintain, Queen Anne school building.

Sue’s campaigning and feisty approach meant she ruffled feathers. As we see so often, the establishment favours the anodyne and the self-serving and Sue being stubborn and determined would never sell out on her principles. It was one of the many things I loved about her. When I went through my own annus horribilis she was there to help me, hold my nerve and be the grit that formed the pearl in the oyster.

Her early retirement meant Sue could do more work at LEYF. She was one of the few I would trust. I knew she would be fair and sensible in her approach and would deliver good advice. She did many things from preparing for Ofsted, to improving teaching, assessment of NVQ students to supporting Sencos. She wrote the Men in Childcare report and then we did our chapter on wellbeing. We never got to write the book about Two Year olds that was to come out of the Twoness of Twos report. When she became too ill to continue her active support some years ago, I missed her not being able to visit and provide balanced and well-researched counsel.

Sue loved the internet, social media and all things that made her passion for research easy. She used this interest to write some great articles for many Early Years publications especially Nursery World. She always delivered on time, much appreciated by any commissioning editor. Sue was diagnosed with Addison’s Disease some years ago, it was the beginning of her slow demise. She became a member of the   Addison Charity and did a huge amount of research and also provided support to many fellow sufferers. She wrote a cookery book to support the charity persuading the famous including celebrities, prime ministers and local dignitaries to share their favourite recipes. LEYF recipes also had a starring role.

Sue book
She also figured out how to make good use of her phone. I was always turning up wailing about not being able to do the simplest thing and she would slowly (and with a glass of wine or one of her great cakes) calm me down and explain the rules with the rhythm, rhyme and repetition worthy of a phonic!

I have so many happy memories from paragliding on holiday in Cyprus to our health farm trip in Surrey when we couldn’t find our way round the garden, hosting my birthday party, her singing Puff the Magic Dragon as we chugged down the Thames while husband, Alan tried to ignore us! Her making Abba dresses out of pillowcases so we could do the Karaoke and sing Money Money, Money at the 80s themed LEYF New Year Party, trips we made to the Harry Edwards Alternative Healing Centre when we were both ill, gossiping while knitting as we watched the boats on the river, her shouting at them to be careful of the swans! But it’s the ordinary “take it for granted” times and our daily chats that I will miss most.

I could go on but I am beginning to sound maudlin and sentimental and that would irritate Sue. I can’t quite believe I will never see her or hear her swear down the phone about early childhood policies or poor practice. I have lost my lovely researcher friend who always looked out for me.

In Early Years there are many ordinary women doing extraordinary things and Sue was one of the greatest. We must remember these women because we all stand on their shoulders. Goodbye Sue, gone but never forgotten.

To purchase a copy of Sue’s charity cook book with proceeds going to Addison’s Disease Self Help Group, visit:

The Easter Egg Sugar Rush

Supermarket_1Soon the whole country will be taking part in a giant Easter Egg hunt. A collective response to a marketing campaign that has replaced the reason for Easter with a chocolate egg fest.


The chocolate manufacturers all collude in this sugar frenzy and the children who will receive an average of four Easter eggs each will achieve levels of hyper activity guaranteed by the 24 spoons of sugar in each average egg.

Oh you spoil sport , it’s just once a year.  That was maybe true when I was a child. We looked forward, though were not guaranteed, one Easter Egg on Easter Sunday after having given up sweets for the 40 days of Lent.

Nowadays, there is less of the Lenten fast and more of the child obesity. The statistics are scary with almost a quarter of British children overweight by the time they start Primary School and while obesity is highest among older children, around 11.2% of 4 -5 year olds are obese with a 40 to 70% chance they will become obese adults.  Diet related ill health costs the NHS £5.8 billion every year with childhood obesity related illnesses such as asthma in England costing £51 million per year.

ChangeforlifeChocolate advertisers are part of the problem, creating and selling confectionary which has led to us becoming addicted to sugar. Interestingly, last July the Government implemented a ban on online advertising of foods high in fat, salt and sugar aimed at children including stopping characters and celebrities popular with children to advertise unhealthy options. This was a positive step especially as research from Ofcom found that children aged from five to 15 spend around 15 hours a week online – overtaking the time spent watching TV for the first time. However, there is much more to do given the annual £143 million spent by the top18 companies promoting crisps, confectionary and sugary drinks.  Coca Cola and Cadburys are right at the top, this is in stark relief to the £5.2 million that the Government spends on its anti-obesity Change4Life social marketing campaign.

The Mayor of London has recently appointed Paul Lindley from Ella’s Kitchen to lead the child obesity taskforce. He will be joined by Professor Corinna Hawkes. This is welcome as London has the highest obesity rates than comparable cities such as New York, Paris, Sydney or Madrid.  He promises to respond with ideas, momentum, expertise and leadership to reimagine what is possible to create change to ensure London becomes somewhere all children grow up healthier.

Congratulations Paul, I hope you will work with us at LEYF Link to support our range of early years initiatives from specific chef qualifications, our collaboration with EYNP to increase nutritional knowledge in nurseries  Link and our partnership with Bikeworks to provide children in London with access to bicycles.

In the past children feared the plague and we know they thought roses and posies of flowers would protect them. Today we are plagued by a different epidemic which requires a whole new nursery rhyme. Let’s support Paul and his taskforce to create an equally unforgettable  rhyme.


More men in early years education. That’s the plan.

I19385050371_f1bd2dd43f_ot might be understandable if we were frustrated by slow progress given our first report on the state of men in childcare. However, it’s not in my nature to give up and actually we have made slow but steady progress. I could list all of the various activities that we have done at LEYF and other colleagues have done across the UK but that would be churlish. Let’s move onto what we are doing now!

JamelNew independent research by CEEDA among nearly 4,000 Early Years staff revealed just 5% are male – an increase on the figure of 2% last captured in a large-scale survey by the Department for Education in 2013.

In November, we invited David Wright to join the panel for the annual Margaret Horn debate and discuss men in childcare. He was joined by Jo Warin and Jaime Leith from Manny and Me who were much more positive about the engagement from the public and the sector. Since then we have voted David to be the Chair of the DfE Task and Finish Group on Inclusivity with the support of the Minister.

14931361157_6c73c036f0_oLast week, Mark Deyzel, Chair of the LEYF Men in Childcare found an interview with the Daily Mail less than encouraging. He was then interviewed on BBC Radio London (skip to 1:15), the approach from the Nick Ferrari from LBC radio was constructive and well researched, followed by a healthy and wide ranging studio discussion live on the sofa at the Victoria Derbyshire Show (BBC 2).

Nursery Pictures for Inhouse CommsIt’s true that the producer of the Victoria Derbyshire Show, Chris Hemmings was quite an expert himself as author of Be A Man, but that was in itself a step forward. Ten years ago, we would never have found such a well-informed TV producer. We know from experience, we were part of the Channel 4 programme Daddy Daycare.

There have been a number of conferences including London, Southampton and the next one will be hosted in Bristol by Shaddie Tembo. I will be sending colleagues from LEYF and so should you!

drumsI forgot I had written a chapter about men in childcare some years ago with my great friend, Sue Chambers, but there are more books to come. David Wright will have one soon, as well as Jo Warin. So, look out for those.  In the meantime, listen to this podcast from  Eamon Doolan and also this one with Laura Henry and LEYF colleague, Ricky Bullen, or read this article, the story of Jamel.

In the meantime, join us to promote, replicate and share our four-point plan. This will be the LEYF action plan for 2018 and will be led by the LEYF Chair of Men in Childcare, Mark Deyzel.  Why don’t you do the same thing and contact Mark to make a big noise.  Think of it like an OBC for Men in Childcare.

This plan asks that we create actions to:15473760168_a97964a36d_o
Continue to garner widespread support (and acceptance) for men working in childcare across the Early Years sector among peers and parents.
2. Recruit Early Years male role models as ambassadors to schools, colleges and career fairs etc.
3. Develop a national Men in Early Years Advisory Group to meet twice a year to assess and monitor progress.
4. Create of a professional development programme to recognise and support personal contribution from employees, regardless of gender.

Join Us!

Now that Mr Hinds has discovered the error of the ways in education when will he have the same epiphany about Early Years?

The new Secretary of State for Education Damian Hinds MP has admitted that school funding is “tight” and an issue for headteachers. He agreed that it is “vital” for the education system to be “properly resourced”!  He didn’t say too much about the real cuts to education which have not been topped up by the additional funding which means the schools remain short changed.  He acknowledged that staff retention is a major problem something he hopes to tackle through his newly-announced recruitment and retention strategy. I suspect he may not be able to resolve this without looking at funding though!

Damian idea

Now he has had this epiphany, he might be wise to pay attention to the same issues in Early Years. Just a reminder, we have had a recruitment problem since Elizabeth Truss made the fatal decision in January 2013 to insist on A to C as an entry requirement. It was an ill-considered arrogant decision which we warned against.   We knew that it would cause a recruitment crisis that is still alive and kicking. It’s now an employer problem.  Rather serious when you think the sector brings £3billion (£685m from social sector) to the GDP.

So here we are with our dry pipeline and like schools experiencing a funding shortfall so implementing key steps of a retention strategy such as increase the status and upping the salary is hard.

The 2018 NDNA Report says:

  • Eighty six percent (86%) of nurseries have lost staff this year.
  • It is better qualified staff who are leaving with almost 20% fewer Level 3 qualified practitioners within the day nursery sector than compared to 2015.
  • Of those Level 3 staff who are leaving or who have left, 80% have gone to jobs outside the sector, with almost half of graduates and early years teachers following suit.
  • Two thirds of nursery managers say that they are unable to recruit suitable replacements for the qualified staff they have lost due to a lack of candidates.
  • Sixty nine percent (69%) of Level 3 leavers move out of early years because they have lost passion for working in the sector due to policy changes.
  • Fifty one percent (51%) of those entering as unqualified workers or apprentices have left or not been retained as they were unsuited to the role.
  • A third of employers are limiting CPD to mandatory training only due to budget constraints as a result of poor funding levels.

TinHeartWhat can you do Mr Hinds? You have a flagship Early Years policy which promises parents an additional funded 30 childcare which they want to access. However, the sector is without staff and many of the staff available give Dorothy and the Tinman  a run for their money. They have but a beating heart.

They are not good enough, well trained enough or capable enough to do what is necessary to lead fantastic teaching. We have tried rubbing the genies’ lantern to get more staff but it doesn’t work.

We know that we need, the best staff to drive the best services.  With low funding many struggle to pay the National Living Wage and consider the challenge for those of us in London desperately trying to pay the London Living wage, which keeps going up, but our income doesn’t.

There has been no investment in training and CPD. Yet we hear your well- meaning colleagues such as Robert Halfon MP asking us to deliver Apprenticeship Degrees?  We would do so happily and more besides, but how can we make all those costs align on £4.30 an hour? There is much change coming down the line with Technical Levels which requires us to be ready to support more trainees and apprentices.  Mentoring and training is key to this but where have we space or flexibility to deliver?

MR Hinds refers to £42m additional fund to develop a CPD fund.  Perhaps you could make it easy for us to access the funds which increases training and other learning opportunities for staff. We need staff that can run high quality nurseries and schools which are creative, well organised, educational hotbeds fizzing with love and enthusiasm.  The “beating heart” needs to connect to the brain and the emotions to create teaching super stars everywhere.  As Secretary of State you are a leader and as such will share a lot of what we value and expect from great Early Years leaders. Show us your:


See if you can use some of these traits and behaviour to help us and in doing so build your credibility as a leader.  Here are four starting steps:


The importance of what we provide for children is paramount and cannot continue to be the political football it has become.  Do you remember Chumbawamba from the mid 80s? Our very creative Finance Director reminded me recently of their political reinterpretation of the rhyme Jack Horner from their album The Unfairy Tale (1985). The children rise up saying:

…Jack get out, don’t sell out, don’t compromise with Christmas pies. Keep shouting back, you tell ‘em Jack, don’t swallow none of their crap. Calling Jack Horner’s everywhere, don’t bend to authority which doesn’t care, you know they’ll keep you in that corner ’till you’re dead.

So, Mr Hinds, what will you do?

International Women’s Day; Champagne, Sex Toys and Birmingham ….

I am a girl from the late 70s. Feminism was a bit of a cult. Indicators of membership included buying the Spare Rib magazine and books from Virago. Meetings were arranged to Reclaim the Nights. Conversations about the inequity of pensions and pay were debated.  It was a time of energy and conversation and sometimes a little silliness.  But Simone de Beauvoir and Marilyn French  were on the bedside to bring order and logic to the debate.  Have things changed?


Well, this morning was a different start.  I woke at the dawn (I am an owl) and headed to the Stock Exchange to celebrate being announced as a finalist in the Veuve Cliquot Business Women of the Year Award. There are six finalists across three categories. Business for whom Ruth Chapman the founder of Matches Fashion and Liv Garfield the boss of Severn Trent were the finalists. In the New Generation category was Emily Forbes founder of community video-making app Seenit, alongside Stephanie Alys founder of luxury sex toy company MysteryVibe.  (the mystery for me is that it works from an app on your phone!). And Amanda and I as the finalist in the Social Purpose Award.

All at Veuve

I was allowed four guests and I chose warmly and wisely. I invited the LEYF staff to nominate someone inspirational from across the organisation. Staff were very generous in their nominations and wrote some lovely comments about kindness, warmth, creativity and going the extra mile. In the end we chose Molly Thatcher who retires this morning after 30 years in the sector. At 80 she did not baulk at commuting to London for a champagne breakfast. She laughed and said, I had two glasses June!

I was also delighted to invite three social entrepreneurs who are close to my heart. The award winCakening Jenny Hollaway from Fashion Enter, Margaret Adjaye from my local library UNLH where we are trying to create a new social enterprise model of libraries, and the aptly names Janet Bakar from LWS who has the best cake shop and café in Crystal Palace, training women who have been abused to become baristas and bakers.

The message from Diane Cote of the Stock Exchange was that Madame Cliqout was an inspirational woman, taking on the business as a 27-year old widow in 1804 when we were a long way off getting the vote. Under her leadership she perfected the art of riddling and took Veuve to its international greatness. She is definitely a biography worth reading. In celebration of 100 years of suffrage I am reading the biography of Sylvia Pankhurst. What book is by your bed at the moment that celebrates a woman?

On the way to catch the early and very busy Virgin train to Birmingham to speak at Cache Conference, I was interviewed by The Telegraph and City AM. I reflected that we won the Telegraph sponsored National Business Transformational Award in 2012, I was also on the Telegraph late last year as one of the 500 Debrett’s. Now we have hit the heady heights of Veuve Cliquot but what has changed ?

They asked what I would like to see? A High Street of Social Businesses. I want us to share the same platforms of “mainstream” businesses and our contribution to the GDP is recognised (£685 million from social nurseries annually). Please stop patting us on the head.  As a woman in business they asked me, were you ever told you could not achieve what you have achieved? Yes many times. Have you been there?

That’s why I am leaving the champagne and heading to the Cache Conference to remind the audience of trainers, colleges and employers that if we want to change the world and be taken seriously we need staff with grit, resilience, energy and most importantly passion that can be converted into more great business.

Language is the golden route to educational success

We all assume that everyone will learn to talk. It’s part of being human but actually there are levels of success when it comes to language. We can all learn to speak but the quality and range of vocabulary makes a substantial difference to long term educational success.

When I was figuring out the LEYF pedagogy, I wanted to know if there was a particular secret sauce for educational success because that would be central to our pedagogy. That way we could make sure our approach would help give children from poor and disadvantaged backgrounds an educational leg up. What we found after much research (starting with the work of Bourdieu from the 1970s) was a strong well-researched link to language.

The ICAN (2014) report confirmed that by 22 months a child’s language can predict outcomes at 26 years and by age three to six, a child’s narrative skills are a powerful predictor of literacy skills at eight to 12 years, something also noted in the Frank Field 2010 report. The 30 Million Word Gap report from Hart and Risley (2003) found that the language heard by poorer children compared to their more privileged peers could amount to a gap of 30 million words by the time the children had reached three years. The most concerning aspect of their findings was that the gap was difficult to close, leaving children at a long-term disadvantage in education and many children from the same socio-economic background two years behind their peers at GCSE level.

However, what was important was not just the language and vocabulary but the type of words and sentences construction.  It needed to be complex – long words, correct sentence structure, multisyllabic words and taking time to listen and allow the child to learn to correct their sentences. Bernstein (1973) found that children who have a grasp of formal language, rather than being restricted to informal language, were at an enormous advantage in the education system. This was, in effect, the distinction between the ‘restricted code’ which is accessible to both the working and the middle class (and which is characterised by a low level of vocabulary and limited syntactic variety) and the ‘elaborated code’ which belongs to the educated classes, and which has a flexibility which facilitates the expression of analytical and abstract ideas and arguments.  In other words, enriched language, correctly constructed was critical to poor children and could help reduce the educational achievement gap.


At LEYF this translated into a pedagogical ambition that puts language and literacy at the heart of our delivery.  It must be so heavily language and literacy rich that droplets of gold fall from every interaction.   Translated, that means staff also need to wallow in luscious language and build a language home learning bridge to and with parents.  I am strict with staff about this.  No sloppy vernacular, lots of words to describe things. If you can say “nice”, you can say, “beautiful”, “wonderful”, “glorious”, “pleasant”, “good” and “delightful”. It’s the same when introducing dinosaurs, they are not one but range from stegosaurus to halszkaraptor.   Remember that a child needs to hear a word 20 times before it becomes a part of their vocabulary. We also need to frame the sentence correctly, so as I often say to the staff – accents don’t matter but correct sentences do!  We have our mantra:

Two words together at two, 100 at three and fluent at four.

Conversations also matter.  Great dialogue supported by our daily usage of Makaton is key.  How better to extend children and adults but through great pedagogical conversations; a method of teaching and communication with which staff are very comfortable. A good conversation will include context, nuance, explanation, information, narration, coaxing, suggestions, encouragement, demonstration assistance and warmth. At LEYF we ensure conversations become pedagogical by including the explanatory links of “because” and “so” – thereby creating a mutual learning opportunity by opening up the conversational language.

Without conversation …the human soul is bereft. It is almost as important as food, drink, love, exercise. It is one of the great human needs. If deprived of it, we die’. Educators able to initiate and sustain such dialogue require special talents, wisdom, confidence and rich education, in the best sense of the word.
Zeldin [128]

Working with children is a service often only recognised by parents. But everyone in our society needs to understand this as it really does take a village to raise a child. Understanding the importance of language is a very good start and as Marks and Spencer’s would say it’s not just any chocolate pudding nor is it any old language!




What has love got to do with it?


PizzaValentine’s Day is another marketing dream. A flurry of hearts and fluffiness is thrust upon us.  The UK spends over a billion pounds on the stuff.   Foolish romantics will book a restaurant on the 14th and pay twice the price for the same pizza as the night before but this time shaped as a heart.

Valentine’s Day is sent to test us. It’s a source of confusion; like a scourer, the yellow sponge of nonchalance and rationality topped by a slight abrasive discomfort for not playing along with all its cheesiness.Cheesy

But love is worth discussing. It sometimes feels in short supply. A little four-year-old observed recently.  “Whys is everyone so cross?”  it led us to a revisit our understanding of love and kindness and what it means for us as early years teachers at LEYF.

Generally,Love tends to be considered and communicated as the romantic love between two adults. But the Greeks had four words to describe love :

Philia: deep love between close friends, something that is to be treasured, says someone who is about to lose her best friend to cancer; Agape, the love of all humanity; Eros: passionate sexual love; and Storge, family love, between a parent and child.

AllI was giving a talk last week at the University of Middlesex (who very kindly gave me an Honorary Doctorate so I like to support their lovely students).  It was about wellbeing for staff and children. I raised the issue of love and the importance of us understanding what it means when you are working with small children.  The comments were wide-ranging but the agreement was that defining what love looks like between nursery teacher and child can be a messy fusion of agape, storge and philia.  Jools Page did some interesting work on professional love, describing it as messy and hard to articulate for many people, but  the reality is our ability to create deep, warm and nurturing feelings.

In direct opposition to this  and indeed to the tone of our discussion about love,  some colleagues talked about the  “no hugs” policies.  I had heard about this on the early years grapevine but had ignored it as ridiculous and inhumane. Ha, how wrong was I!  It would seem that this policy is alive and kicking, and disenfranchised junior staff are being instructed by their schools not to hug the children and if a child comes up and holds their hands they are told to slip their hand out as subtly as possible. I was shocked but so was everyone I spoke to, which is reassuring.  To refuse a child a cuddle or a hug is inhumane and certainly lacks kindness, which is one very real translation of love. This  policy and practice is particularly wrong on many levels.  Research from Harvard showed the importance of touch to children’s wellbeing.


It’s ironic that we have a policy green paper Transforming Children and Young People’s Mental Health Provisionwhich argues that schools can help reduce mental health issues especially for the  7% of children under the age of seven who have a diagnosable mental health issue. As ever a joined-up approach has been cited as ensuring a more successful outcome for children.  So, just from a common-sense perspective, would  it not be better to have school policies designed to support children’s healthy mental wellbeing rather than spend money training teachers to respond to the problems? Follow Laura Henry’s Facebook group to see  just how many and how often she posts about mental illness.  It’s staggering!

Mine Conkbayir would agree as her analysis of the impact of love on children’s brain development and mental wellbeing is significant. I rang her for a comment and she quoted from her book reaffirming the importance of love and sensitive adults:

 “Healthy socio-emotional development does not occur in isolation, nor can it flourish where a child does not have access to stable and affirming relationships with adults, who can guide them through this fundamentally important aspect of their life.” (Page 116)

In a society that spends billions on knick-knacks and overpriced meals to celebrate and wallow in the cheesy concept of romantic love, or as President Trump would say “fake love”, is it not more important to think about and discuss the complexity of love and what it looks like between adults and children in education? As Tom Shea said the other day in a social media conversation, mental health is everyone’s business. To get you thinking, listen to one of my favourite songs by Leonard Cohen especially written for everyone who teaches something to someone and who has a little bit of power to change some things.



Gender inclusivity? Don’t forget the men!

“What nobler employment, or more valuable to the state, than that of the man who instructs the rising generation.” – Cicero


I wrote my first blog about men in childcare in August 2012. It was prompted by a LEYF male colleague, David Stevens, who said we shouldn’t just concentrate on increasing men into childcare at LEYF (8% of LEYF workforce were male) but open up the debate entirely, so we launched the London Men in Childcare Network on the 19th of November 2012. These were the days of healthy recruitment pipelines and strong retention; a now dim and almost mystical memory.

The issue of men in childcare remains. But for me it’s not just about gender inclusion, resonant of the headlines hitting the BBC. Its also about failing to consider half the population when seeking out great staff to work in the Early Years.

We all know the perceived barriers to entry: poor pay, lack of promotion opportunities, poor status, fear of accusations of abuse and paedophilia, discomfort at working in such a highly female work environment and an expectation that one man can address the shortfall of positive male roles in so many children’s lives. We make progress and then take two steps back when we are confronted by unhelpful comments like those of Andrea Leadsom in July 2016 when she suggested we should not appoint males for childcare duties because they may be paedophiles. Sadly, there are plenty more where these came from and they keep on coming.

Despite this we have also started to better understand the reasons men want to work in childcare. In the original LEYF Men in Childcare report, written by Sue Chambers in 2012 and in Wellbeing in the Early Years; Critical Approaches, we found that men were interested in child development and wanted to teach small children. It is important for us to continue to listen to men and actually hear what they have to say.

We continue to make progress, with some great male advocates, such as David Wright and the work he does with Paint Pots. From a Government point of view, I hope the DfE Task and Finish group of early years stakeholders focusing on gender diversity in the sector, constituted under Caroline Dinenage and supported by Robert Goodwill, will be backed by our newest Minister Nadhim Zahawi.

However, back to recruitment. We know that there are men who want to work with children so let’s encourage them. We are still short 25,000 staff across the sector and Scotland is expanding its provision, needing 11,000 new staff. In 2017, CEEDA reported that 5% of the 3,930 staff she interviewed in the PVI sector were male. That is positive as we still have a target across the sector to achieve 2%.

So let’s encourage more men, it’s another step in tolerance, something we seem very short on at the moment.

Hearing from them directly is the best way forward. Listen to a podcast or watch a video.  LEYF staff happily share their experience; deputy manager at Bird in Bush Community Nursery Ricky recently reflected on his journey, and Jamel shared his story last week, reminding us that: “If you’re a person who is nurturing, brave, creative, inspiring, fun, this is the job for you, regardless of whether you’re male or female.



Want to talk more? Come and meet us at the Nursery World Show this weekend (Friday 2 and Saturday 3 February). I will be presenting at the 10:00 on Saturday morning.

Attention to retention – Ministers leading by example?

Welcome Nadhim Zahawi,  the latest in a long line of Childcare Ministers. Now, let me update you on the recruitment profile of Ministers. I have put a photo in for your information and one or two little comments.


So let’s imagine we are going to have the perfect interview with the newest Minister. The sector is the interviewer.


Q. What is retention?
Well, according to the business dictionary its “an effort by a business to maintain a working environment which supports current staff in remaining with the company”.

Q. Does retention matter?appleturnover
Of course it does. Just from a financial perspective alone the cost of employee turnover is more than an apple turnover.
Generally it can cost six to nine months salary to replace an employee in recruitment, induction and training costs. Even in a sector of low pay that’s still a lot of money. For the high earner some predict that it can cost as much as twice their annual salary, especially for a high-earner or executive level employee.

Q. What are quitjobthe main reasons people leave a job?
This is usually related to poor salary and benefits. Dissatisfaction in a role grows when employees feel that nobody values what they do. Staff turnover and an unsettled team lead to dissatisfaction with management, while lack of training and development opportunities, difficult journeys to work and lack of work/life balance also contribute to unhappiness in the workplace.

Q. What can we A namtag sticker with the words Hello I Am Here to Stay to symbodo to improve retention?
It is imperative that we create job satisfaction and address factors that cause staff to leave. We need to attract new people into the sector who bring joy and fun as well as the willingness to want to learn.

Q. What does job satisfaction look like in the sector? We need happy and engaged staff who want to stay and continue, in order to cope with the recruitment crisis and training gaps.

DummiesQ. How can you help us to achieve a better retention rate than the current unviable 25% turnover? We need fair pay for a fair job, to prioritise listening and to communicate with staff. Accept feedback and don’t just toss it aside like an old jumper, take it seriously – oh and recycle the jumperIt’s important that there are opportunities for employees to get involved, we need more funds for training, learning and development and to increase the number of positive mentors in Early Years. We must get rid of bad employees to let thee good ones thrive, and we must move beyond the ridiculous expectation that just anyone can lead in Early Years, the necessary skills required to thrive in this sector will not be found in the Dummies Guide.

Life FailuresQ. What leadership will you show?
We value  commitment; resolve and perseverance and risk-taking – breaking conventions and developing new responses. We need to orchestrate a high-level plan that drives everyone toward the unified goal through motivate and encouragement. It is essential that we actively Listen and that we inspire staff to obtain the skills required to successfully achieve the colossal shared goal of great early education. This means getting the right people with a unique knowledge set to the table. Don’t quit. See it through!


June will be sharing strategy on how to build a skilled and motivated early years team at the Nursery World Show (2 February) and Warrington Early Years Conference (15 February).