Author Archives: June O'Sullivan

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).

Forget New Year Resolutions.  Read This for *** Sake!

Every year, there is one present that exceeds all expectation and this year one lovely friend surpassed herself.  She provided me with the antidote to the annual setting of New Year resolutions. She bought me “Swearing Is Go*d F*r You by Emma Byrne.


I come from Ireland where the use of an occasional swear word or a curse is tolerated.  In fact, the book describes this as a proud tradition of jocular abuse and disrespect for authority combined to make for a robust approach to swearing.

When I arrived in England, I shocked a number of people by using the word “Fe**” in what I thought was quite a judicious situation!  I was genuinely shocked by the reactions. Since then, the English public seem to have shifted their tolerance levels and welcomed Father Ted and Mrs Brown, who overly rely on curse words to finish a punchline!

Apparently, according to Byrne, swearing is surprisingly flexible and reinvents itself from generation to generation as taboos shift.  Recently there was an amusing story in the Metro about the residents of Bell End who want to change their road name.

So, instead of resolutions, I implore you to become an expert on expletives, replace the tedious book on management that is lying by your bed and spice up your reading list with a copy of Geoffrey Hughes book “Swearing: A Social History of Foul Language, Oaths and Profanity in English.”


What’s the point of this book? It has given me scientifically researched and approved permission to use one of my most instinctive coping mechanisms: swearing.

It confirms what most of us already knew, that swearing has many useful roles in communication.  It can be used to threaten, warn, amuse and funnily enough, reduce a tense moment.  I always thought the complete banning of the occasional swear word was weird – and of course, women who swear are doubly frowned upon.  But nothing can address a moment of anger with yourself like a strong sh***, or something similar.

So, let TheChaseus prepare for the challenges of 2018, which will be tricky, even economists will get that right this year.  Instead of feeling guilty about failing to achieve depressingly impossible resolutions – or even worse, smug SMART personal targets – read this book.  When you get a snort or a sneer from someone, chase them right back with some swearing science.

Here are my favourite facts:

 “ Teamwork… research shows swearing can help build teamwork in the workplace” (p2)



“… swearing has helped with the field of neuroscience and been used as a research tool for over 150 years including discovering some fascinating things about the structure of the human brain.” (p2)

“Swearing makes our heart beat faster and primes us to think aggressive thoughts while, paradoxically, making us less likely to be physically violent.” (p3)

“Study after study has shown that swearing is as likely to be used in frustration with oneself or in solidarity, or to amuse someone as it is to be used as fighting words.” (p6)


“Swearing is very specialised and emotionally fluent form of language that requires us to have a mental model of emotions not just of ourselves but also of the person who hears us swearing.” (p37)

“Swearing is a powerful shortcut – an emotionally freighted part of language that lets us communicate complex things in an urgent way.” (p45)

And finally: “Swearing helps you manage pain, illness and social discomfort.” (p60) – what better skill could you have in your repertoire when preparing to face a new year?

The Highs and Lows of the 12 Days of Christmas

Happy Christmas lovely people who bravely entered the Big Blogland House during 2017.


Thank you all for bothering to read my blogs throughout 2017.  I hope they brought a wry smile, a reason to shout or the start of a pedagogical conversation. Now take a leaf out of Santa Claus’ book and have a mince pie, a carrot (for healthy eating) and a glass of wine – or sherry if there is any left after soaking the Christmas cake – then put on your best voice and sing this loudly:


On the first day of Christmas the Government sent to me; No more funding!…
On the second day of Christmas the nurseries sent to me; A plea for some more staffing
On the third day of Christmas Ofsted sent to me; A disappointing report called Bold Beginnings
On the fourth day of Christmas Health and Safety sent to me; A fire pit and a climbing tree
On the fifth day of Christmas the politicians sent to me; Jeremy Corbyn, fleetingly
On the sixth day of Christmas Bikeworks sent to me; 56 bicycles to reduce obesity
On the seventh day of Christmas the drag queens said to me; Watch as I read theatrically
On the eighth day of Christmas social enterprise sent to me; a thank you for helping social mobility
On the ninth day of Christmas the sector sent to me; an award for being influential from NMT
On the tenth day of Christmas men in childcare sent to me; entreating me to keep the debate going
On the eleventh day of Christmas the LEYF staff said to me; Hurrah for recognising our teaching
On the twelfth day of Christmas parents said to me; please get the 30 hours working


And, if you don’t like this song, perhaps you can take a look at this one. Happy Christmas, and here’s hoping for a marvellously pedagogically sound New Year!


Not So Sure that they are Bold Beginnings

Armed with some tea and a KitKat,  I sat down to read the new Ofsted Report Bold Beginnings. As a child, I often caused my mother a great deal of stress by being bold (Irish for naughty).

Image 1
This fearlessness was usually in the form of “answering back”.  I can’t count the number of swipes of the tea towel I had because “ I was bold”! I was therefore looking forward to a bold report. In my book to be bold is to be brave and fearless and do something that has with it a risk like walking across the Sahara ( I learned about this when I sat next to Ben Fogle  at the NMT Awards last week!).

Sadly, the report is neither brave nor fearless.  It’s far too accepting of the policy of placing four years into school. It’s a confusion of perspectives not sure whether to align with what is right for our children or stick to the Government line, that all four years olds should go to school. There was far too much emphasis about preparing children for their school life, just accepting that it’s right for four year olds to be in Reception especially give their statistics that In 2016/17, the quality of early years provision was inadequate in 84 schools and required improvement in a further 331 of those inspected that year.

The report ignores what happens in nurseries, a place far more suited to little four years olds. The Head Teachers who were interviewed said that Reception was the beginning of education and children in Reception needed more than just a repeat what had happened at nursery. And I quote

Most leaders and staff acknowledged that Reception practice needed to be different from pre-school or nursery provision and then they give an example of good practice which I would describe as bog standard nursery practice,

“…snack time was planned and timetabled as a communal activity. Teachers prompted children to ask questions and remember their manners. It was a time to teach by counting plates and cups; describing the appearance or taste of new fruits and vegetables; singing a song; or reflecting on what children had been doing so far that day”

Hmmm, did this ignore the importance of how we teach in nursery and the time it takes for small children to practice and repeat so they embed their learning? Gill Jones in her blog disappointed me with her less than bold approach. She excused herself with the statement

“I want to stress that we are not criticising pre-schools, nurseries and childminders. Indeed, earlier this month, Ofsted published statistics that revealed the proportion of childcare providers on the Early Years Register judged good or outstanding is now 94 per cent. We know that this improving quality of provision really helps get our children well-prepared for Reception.” Come on Gill, this is anodyne, we expect more of you. We respect you and so should Ofsted as you are one of the people that gives Ofsted a good name.

Image 2According to the 41 Head Teachers interviewed, education in Reception is formal, although some recognised the importance of play. But then like Cruella de Ville they said that it was best to control the play so as to use the aspects of play suitable to direct teaching rather than learning directly through play!
And I quote
…they knew when play was the right choice in terms of what they wanted children to learn and when other approaches might be more effective. Even within play, teachers made decisions about how structured or unstructured, dependent or independent each opportunity would be.”

My heart sinks for those children as I think about how that is translated by the ill-informed and the NQTs who they referenced in the report as not being as well trained enough to lead good teaching in Reception.  So much for the obsession with all staff being graduate equates to the best quality.  What a basket of confusion and snobbery with our children the victims.

Much of the report needs to be challenged.  So many comments are unclear.  What do Head Teachers mean when they said that they did not accept that children can catch up later. What does that mean?  Catch up meaning having the time to achieve their milestones or have time to reach maturation like the challenges faced by summer born children?   Its not a race.  They need time and the right support to reach the same starting point as their peers but the routes could be many. I wonder, reading the report, whether we know enough about four year olds or whether we even like them. It’s almost a dismissal of what four year olds need to be.   Remember the importance of childhood as the rights of every child.

“Dance. Dance for the joy and breath of childhood. Dance for all children, including that child who is still somewhere entombed beneath the responsibility and scepticism of adulthood. Embrace the moment before it escapes from our grasp. For the only promise of childhood, of any childhood, is that it will someday end. And in the end, we must ask ourselves what we have given our children to take its place. And is it enough?”
Richard Paul Evans, The Christmas Box Miracle: My Spiritual Journey of Destiny, Healing and Hope

What’s the difference between a four-year-old in their own clothes or a school uniform? Nothing at all so why do we need to treat them differently? A child attending a nursery may have the gift of time to learn the pleasure of books, to wallow in words and songs, to learn to read on the lap of an adult. This Ofsted report is talking about the same four year old learning to sit on a chair, to grip their pencil correctly as well as getting their heads around phonics. Do they really need this at four?  Show me the research that says imposing this formality on four year olds makes their ability to read, write and count better, more embedded and confident? Why is it essential to learn all this at four when they will just as easily achieve it by six years giving them time to go through their development stage and maturation with an appropriate nursery education.  European children seem to cope perfectly well with that system and exceed us in many of the measurements throughout the educational journey.

Ofsted, so quick to castigate should really have exercised some bravery here. How is it right to think that children benefit from the view of Head Teachers who
“…made deliberate, informed choices about the body of knowledge their children needed in order for them to succeed. These leaders began by making sure that their staff started teaching quickly, including the specifics of reading, writing and numbers. They did not believe in a prolonged settling-in period, even when children arrived from a number of pre-school settings rather than from the school’s own nursery. Many schools, especially those with two-year-old or nursery provision, did not offer a staggered start over the first few weeks. 

“Some headteachers did not believe in the notion of ‘free play’. They viewed playing without boundaries as too rosy and unrealistic a view of childhood.”

Shame on you!  Inspectors visiting nurseries would quite rightly challenge this if they were doing a nursery inspection and wonder as to how we were sensitively managing transitions. This is a report that does not merit the title “Bold Beginnings”.  It’s a travesty full of confusions and contradictions. Ofsted, you were neither brave nor bold.  You have simply accepted the Government view that education is all about formality. Great educationalists continue to point out that childhood is a time in its own right. If we value that short five years and provide children with the high quality experiences and appropriate opportunities children will become great readers, writers and mathematicians.  There is no need to rush.

”A Child Mis-Educated is a Child Lost.”
John F Kennedy

Image  3Generate a love of learning

Tolerance Needn’t Be A Drag

The common perception about those of us working with children is that we are nice but dim and we spend our time just playing. Nothing could be further from the truth. Visit a great nursery and what you see will surprise you.

Children are the litmus touch of society and when things change we see it in them first whether it’s the impact of dietary changes or attitude changes to people and their environment. Babies and toddlers of all race, colour and creed play together without fuss or favour. They are open books – until they reach three years and then they start absorbing all the isms we adults lock into by imitating the adults they love and admire. However, this is where the power of the nursery starts to shape. Firstly, we start to see or hear the changes in children and secondly, we can think about how we respond in light of both the curriculum requirements and the values of the setting. For example, LEYF has four values; Inspiring, Nurturing, Brave and Fun. Of course, we wouldn’t do anything without engaging parents and getting their take on things but it’s very interesting to watch how children can hold their parents to account. Here are some four-year-old rebukes I overheard recently and there are many more…

“Don’t drop the litter Mummy its bad for the environment.”
“We have to walk to the bus coz it better for your heart.”
“Don’t shout at me, we have to be kind to each other.”

The LEYF pedagogy has seven elements and the fourth is focused on Harmonious Relationships. We look widely at how we build kindness and tolerance into our daily lives. This is for staff, parents and children especially as we are a community of people from 80 different countries. We are always looking for opportunities, especially in the big city to find ways of addressing intolerance. We have nurseries right in the heart of the city from Soho to Fitzrovia, Edgware Road to Westminster. The children are taken out for walks daily and it’s interesting to see how people behave. Just the other day a child asked, “Why is everyone so cross? It makes me sad”.

We’ve introduced lots of kindness activities – whether it’s working with elderly people to making friends with the Big Issue seller. We have started to explore intolerance; a significant issue across the world. It was in analysing the benefits of this that led us to do something completely different. We partnered with Drag Queen Story Time (DQST) – a simple ambition to connect children and drag queens through the art of storytelling and fun interactive events.

The project aims to teach children of all ages to spread a message of tolerance and kindness and is taking place across seven LEYF nurseries in London – with a view to a wider rollout across our 37 early years settings in the near future. Activities such as story-time, face painting and high tea have all been confirmed and met with the full support of nursery teachers, children, parents and colleagues.

Drag Queen event

Greg Stewart Lane, manager at LEYF Soho Nursery who coordinated the events says: “With recent reports showing that the number of hate crimes in England and Wales has increased by 29%, sadly we live in a world where people face homophobia, racism and general discrimination on a daily basis. Yet these are all learnt behaviours – we aren’t born with any form of hatred, you get taught it over time. If events like DQST can help curtail this and teach children about tolerance and kindness then that has to be a good thing.”
DQST focuses on conventional fairy tales aimed at young children. Its aim is to challenge negative views at a young age – providing an alternative view of tolerance and kindness; all within an educational environment and in the very busy diverse city that is London.

Men in childcare

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

Five years ago, in August 2012, I wrote my first blog about men in childcare.  It was prompted by a LEYF male colleague, David Stevens who said we should not just concentrate on increasing men into childcare at LEYF (8% of LEYF workforce were male) but open up the debate.

New pcitures for blog

At the time he was managing a nursery with four male staff out of a team of five. People were amazed and we received lots of comments about men in childcare which both reflected a positive approach and the usual stereotyped anxiety that men saw as a barrier to entry. These included 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.  In fact, reading the list, one would wonder why any man wanted to work in the sector?

We decided to stop asking others and ask the men themselves. “Why do you want to work with children?”  Despite the range of age and backgrounds, the overwhelming response was that they had all come into childcare because they were interested in child development and wanted to teach small children.  They generally found the views of the sector annoying. People talking for us and about us!  They noted that the proportion of male teachers and Head teachers in Primary Schools was higher but nobody commented on that!

In the wider world there was more happening. David represented us at the Men in Childcare conference in Dublin and was the only UK representative and had to cope with the high jinks of the Irish, the Danes and the Scots!  However, the Daycare Trust now rebranded as the Family Childcare Trust  brought interested organisations together with the support of the DfE. However, unlike Europe where Manner in Kitas received 14 million euros for theory-based research into the benefit of men in childcare, we were doing it for the usual barter and free gratis approach.

The more we drilled into the subject, the more interested we became.  As LEYF CEO, I was constantly urged not to take the subject off the radar.  We broadened our thinking into the wider issue of  equality. This was also to mitigate a common knee- jerk response  suggesting we would never get properly remunerated nor our status raised unless the sector had men!  How depressing for a female led sector? We decided what was needed was for the public and policy makers to better understand what do we do when we talk about education in the early years.. Yes it’s more than smiling, washing hands and being patient while our male colleagues play really good rough and tumble while acting as surrogate uncle to all the children in female led families!

To move this forward, we did two things. With the support and encouragement of many male and female colleagues we launched the London Men in Childcare Network on the 19th of November 2012 which is International Men’s Day. The date also coincided with the Jimmy Saville scandal, the news of which had broken that week. We decided to brave it out and the result was a useful article in the Evening Standard repeated here to say that “no, not all men were paedophiles”.

We set ourselves some targets:

• Support male childcare workers
• Present a positive coherent message to London that men who work with children are doing so because they are keen to support all children and give the best education possible
• Conduct action research on ways to improve education for boys
• Disseminate ideas about better gender balanced workplaces
• Engage Dads in some of the research
• Build a London focus to working in childcare
• Fund a national men in childcare network

Sue Chambers wrote the Men in Childcare report  for LEYF. The key findings from our research was that 60.7% of staff said they felt the main reason for the low numbers of men in the sector was because men were not encouraged to join the profession by people and 51.8% thought that it was because of society’s attitude to men in childcare. However, when considering the benefits of men working in childcare, 75.0% believed it was very important for men to be seen as nurturing and sensitive role models and another 66.0% felt they could change society’s attitudes towards men working with children.

We did other work including podcasts with which were a series of inspirational stories from successful men in childcare including those who have been in the industry for decades as well as those at the beginning of their career with the aim to encourage more men to enter the sector.

A further report 2012 from the Pre School Learning Alliance confirmed that parents were quite supportive of men in the nurseries. When we asked 4 year olds what they liked to do with male staff, it was interesting that the only time children commented about staff gender was a reference to who could wear jewellery and Pink. Worryingly, children saw reading and singing as a female activity. At this stage, we needed our male colleagues to be positive role models to help challenge this view given the worrying data about boys’ literacy skills and the continuing negative attitude that reading is for girls only! Given, success in education is predicated on competent literacy – failing to address this almost confirms failure for many male children.

2013 was a good year for us. In June we held our first conference and later that year in September we won the Nursery World Inclusion Award.  We were commended for our bravery for raising the issue and developing the argument through an inclusivity lens including identifying the benefits to business of a gender balanced workplace.  That was also the year we had a chapter in Wellbeing in the Early Years; Critical Approaches looking at the benefit of men in childcare to the wellbeing of the nursery.

Have things changed?  There has been movement and some other groups have been created especially in Southampton and Bristol.  David Wright in Southampton took up the mantel and has moved the debate further. He has since led two national conferences: one in Southampton and one in Bradford and he represents men in childcare at the World Forum. David is writing a book on Men in Childcare with Dr Simon Brownhill. Our previous Minister, Caroline Dineage was publicly supportive of this and ensured there was a section on encouraging men into childcare in the 2017 Workforce Strategy . The DfE Task and Finish group referenced in the strategy has now been formed to push the agenda forward. Jo Swinson talked about including a chapter on men in childcare in her book on equality and inclusion.

The Fatherhood Institute is developing a campaign to encourage men into childcare #MITEY.  My great friend, Alice Sharp is creating some great work in Glasgow encouraging dads into childcare. Last month in the Evening Standard there was an article by Rohan Silva saying why he was attempting to employ 50% men and women at his new workplace creche

This year, CEEDA has just reported that 5% of the 3,930 staff working in the PVI sector were male. That is positive as we still have a target across the sector to achieve 2%.  That said , its but a drop in the ocean.  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 pedophiles.   Sadly, there are plenty more where these came from.

In the light of the somewhat hysterical, headline grabbing press coverage about sexual harassment we need to be alert as to how that response can close down debate, simplify argument and encourage reliance on safe and often negative stereotypical responses which closes down discussion. Issues such as men in childcare are prey to this.

So, to avoid this let’s have a rounded conversation on the 28th November. Join us at 40 The Strand at 6.30pm to take up the gauntlet and lead a thoughtful debate that focuses on the benefits for children and business of having a gender balanced workforce.

The free childcare debate – an open letter

Dear Mr Goodwill

Last week, as I watched the debate on thirty hours “free childcare” initiated by Ruth George MP sitting on the Green bench, I wondered why something that everyone appeared to agree was a good idea needed to become party political. Both parties advocated more funded hours to reduce childcare costs for parents in their manifestos. Those MPs from both sides of the House attending the debate reiterated this view and accepted the principle of supporting parents work by funding their childcare was a good one.  As an observer, I noted that the main issue being scrutinised was in fact, the implementation of the policy and understanding the devil in the detail.

The presentations from Ruth George MP, Tracy Brabin MP (our Shadow Minister) and their colleagues were helpful.  They were well prepared and the debate was well chaired with a business like and unemotive approach; something that David Dimbleby  and the Question Time panel could emulate.  You had time to hear a range of examples that brought to life the cogent arguments made about costs versus funding rates and associated difficulties such as business rates.  There were many real examples of the implications of an insufficient national rate. Some gaps by as much as 20% against the real costs of childcare and early learning. Sadly, this is not a new argument. Colleagues such as Neil Leitch from Pre School Learning Alliance  is consistently eloquent on the matter. The NDNA have conducted surveys which highlight the cost differential and the campaign so aptly entitled Champagne and Lemonade was set up to ensure the discussion remained clear and well informed, a purpose for which it was given well deserved credit at the debate.

Like many policies before it, there are often unintended negative consequences. For someone who runs a social enterprise designed to support up to 40% of our families, we are concerned that the poorest families are not accessing the funded offer. Many barriers are in their way including complexity of registration, eligibility criteria and a shortfall of settings able and willing to provide the 30 hours without inviting parents to pay for additional services.  This is an issue which really needs to be understood especially if the consequence is to exclude those very vulnerable children who benefit most from high quality early learning, a point noted in the recent Sutton Trust report.

So, Mr Goodwill, please listen to the argument both as a representative of the people and as the Minister tasked with implementing a new policy. The sector is neither being deliberately obstreperous, nor trying to make your life more difficult. We recognise that the Government has other serious issues to address, not least Brexit. However, in failing to listen and responding by repeating the same argument that the pilots went well ergo all is well, you do yourself and your Government a disservice. The issue of implementation is complex so work with the very sector who understand this complexity. It’s in our shared interests to make this happen successfully.  Don’t be stubborn and risk alienating the very sector that you need to implement the policy. We have seen this happen before such as the A to C GCSE requirement debacle. This positive ambition was scuppered because the Minister failed to work with the sector to implement it sensibly and intelligently. It was so poorly implemented that many nurseries were financially damaged and in the end, a coherent campaign Save Our Early Years stopped it before many other nurseries failed and the pipeline of future staff dried up.

Show that you can listen and learn.  Failing to listen is disrespectful. Consider those 56% of nurseries which think they may be out of business in the next 18 months. How is that going to help parents, employers and the economy? As a country, we need to be pulling together.  Childcare is part of the national infrastructure.  So, even if you care nothing for the sector please at least consider the implications of this policy on the country’s economic happiness and security.

Yours sincerely

A Pedagogical Postcard from Italy

On the 29 August three LEYF managers and I boarded a luxury Easyjet to attend the EECERA Conference in Bologna. Any of you who are kind enough to read my blogs will spot previous stories from EECERA conferences, which is now the largest early childhood research conference.


There are a number of reasons why I try and attend the annual conferences:

1. They are interesting.
2. They are run by Professor Chris Pascal, a great supporter of LEYF
3. They are a place where practitioners and academics can meet and chat about the true meaning of action research.
4. Italy’s always wonderful to have an opportunity to talk pedagogy for three days with colleagues.
5. They are always in Europe but attract people from outside Europe so no red eye for us!

Conference slide 2The hardest challenge I have is deciding how we choose who from LEYF can attend. Out of 700 staff, I can generally only afford three places, although I was able to bring 10 nursery managers with me twice but that’s when we were small and we did not have so many fiscal challenges!

To attend this year, I asked managers to write a paper about their contribution to action research and I was pleased to have three very clear candidates, one of whom speaks Italian and actually studied at Bologna University. This proved very helpful during the week as we negotiated the complexity of Bologna geography and eateries because to save money we stayed in a hotel 40 minutes in the opposite direction to the conference. The results were beneficial to the left side of our brain! We had to figure out the buses, map our route through some complicated medieval streets and learn how far we could walk in 32 degree heat!

Collage 1The highlights of the conference were many.  A trip to Reggio Emilia to meet their passionate staff and see the schools without the children.

Surprise tickets to the conference dinner from our great supporters in Tasmania,

Seeing examples of practice described as ”great and innovative” which is commonplace in LEYF nurseries.

Practitioner led research or as we say at LEYF Action Research is more and more valued.

Conference slide

Best pedagogical conversations over dinner on warm Italian evenings or eating melting ice cream. Somehow, analysing pedagogical documentation and the challenges of embedding change doesn’t feel quite so tough when sipping an ice cold Aperol.

A powerful message for Mrs May and her tousled haired Boris as they work out our divorce from Europe, is to remember that we need to be strengthening our learning relationships with Europe not separating ourselves from them. We need to have somewhere to go to lead and contribute to challenging pedagogical debates. The keynote speech from Michel Vandenbroeck, Head of the Department of Social Work and Social Pedagogy at Ghent University reinforced this. I have always followed his work because of the emphasis on the impact of poverty and disadvantage on children. One of the LEYF managers also notes this and commented:

”I found Michel’s speech particularly inspiring as he refers to all of us who work in the sector as people who can impact on opinion and politics¦ We are part of the system that drives change in early years and ultimately we are one of the driving forces of education and have to promote children’s rights in Early Years regardless of their economic condition. We have the greatest part to play in delivering equality and justice in a child’s interest in our society, addressing and ensuring to deliver this in our daily practice. Furthermore our opinions as an educator do matter, as we are fundamental part of early years education in society and together with other relevant parties in the system we can achieve equality and justice in children’s rights.”  Selamawit

mix 2The trip to Reggio was interesting. It has always been an approach steeped in social justice and with great similarities in philosophy to LEYF.

We loved the way the Reggio teachers display their resources to really capture the children’s interest and appreciation of order and beauty; a key element of the LEYF pedagogy.  I hate clutter, disorganisation and disarray. I believe children deserve to be in beautiful places and learn to appreciate the joys of a clam ordered space. It’s a reason I get so fed up about litter. Clearly Reggio has the same respect for children. The team came away revisiting their approach to how to display Lego and pens and also how to create a really awe inspiring art gallery.

So what will we do at LEYF?

Mark and Leonie have been struggling with the best ways of supporting children’s wellbeing as part of the core DNA of the organisation. Their action research has involved looking at a range of broad approaches such as mindfulness, yoga, music, activities as part of the routine. The conference gave them space to start to fine hone their ideas and so they have reached their idea of just ‘Letting Children Be’ and not rushing children. We live in a busy city, we have busy parents, we have policy that drives rushing to meet the developmental tick box, talking, writing, reading, no time to wallow in play and come to all those things in a natural and appropriate way.

Girl bike riding






”We will remember the attention put into the art of display. Look at the pleasure children gain from such beautiful displays. We want to revive the WOW factor.”  Mark and Leonie

We will make the display and setting up as appealing as possible. Group the pencils by colour, provide some picture frames and flowers, group the wooden blocks by the shape. The simplest things can create the richest child led learning. Simple but effective.

Arts and crafts

We are going to have the confidence to re-establish projects and follow the children’s lead for as long as is needed. Marsham Street tested this recently building on the children’s great interest in fish. This led to a trip to the fish market to see the crabs and fish and then to the pet shop to choose their own fish. When staff members got worried that the fish tank had not been cleaned and was not ready for fish , we made the cleaning part of the project and got the children involved, adding solution, cleaning the filter and arranging the ornaments to create a fish palace. The experience was deeper, the concentration was intense and the language luscious.

We will strengthen the role of pedagogical mediator, something that merited quite a lot of debate in Italy.  It’s the means by which we mediate the learning of staff. So we probe and question in order to build a culture of enquiry not just accepting what has been told to you with no understanding of why.

There were some amazing art work where children had a voice. Warwick is now currently reflecting this by planning an ‘Art Gallery’ in the dining room. The children will visit the Tate and use their learning to plan their our own gallery. We will give them the opportunity to make a variety of art from wire sculptures to painting; anything they think art could be. Who knows  the children may discover a new form of art altogether!

Why should we attend?

People were very interested in what we werPeople sitting down picturee doing, and it was a testament to the organisations culture of questioning that all of us were willing to confidently contribute and debate.

”…LEYF is really ahead of the game and the LEYF pedagogy really captures great experiences and outcomes for children for leaders and teachers to follow.”  Leonie 

”It is a rewarding experience for colleagues to attend ECCERA conference because of its wider perspective to Early Years. It gives a sense of pride to be part of a sector that is in constant evolution. It is a good opportunity to keep knowledge refreshed and up to date, reminding us of the important impact that we have in society and in children’s lives. What I have learned is to better understand children needs and to hear their voices in order to be an ambassador for them. I believe that I became even more child centred and reflective in my setting practice.”  Selamawi

”For me, the highlight of the whole trip was to spend an entire week talking about pedagogy, quality and children. No talk of occupancy or budgets, but a full focus on children’s learning. Meeting so many international colleagues, and finding out about their own struggles and successes within their respective countries. It was a true show of solidarity, with a sector determined to take control of its own future.”  Mark

”Spending five days with June also gets all your questions answered on all things LEYF, the future for early years and is also lots of fun!”  Leonie

”I arrived back in my nursery full of enthusiasm and ideas. Working as a nursery manager  requires balancing the nursery business needs with the quality of children’s learning. The conference reinvigorated me, and reminded me of my passion for high quality early childhood education, as well as the role I play in making sure that our nurseries are the best places for learning for staff and children alike.”  Mark

Nothing more to say but thank you to each of you who brought the LEYF Teacher to life.

People standing picture

Celebrate Because We Are Worth It!

I do not subscribe to the L’Oreal  line ”because you are worth it”. I reckon you have to earn that accolade. But at last weekend’s Nursery World awards  there were many who really are worth it because they had earned their stripes. Celebrating the few who represent the many was definitely the approach and it was a nice, warm cosy feeling. It was that fleecy rug you pull around your shoulders when you feel the chill wind of negative policy, business strain and tetchy customers.

I was pleased to be a guest of Cache which meant I could enjoy the company of Julie Hyde while discussing all things qualification, apprenticeships, panels and chefs. She had also provided me with a guest invitation which meant I could have the company of Feryal, a LEYF manager of Townmead nursery. She was keen to put her hair up to let it down on the dance floor with the LEYF team from the House of Commons nursery whose manager, Anjali won the Nursery Manager of the Year Award. She accepted the award as a tribute to her team and kept telling us she wasn’t worth it but in this case she really was!

Nursery World Award Winners





The thing about the Early Years sector is that despite the sector having 18,000 nurseries it feels quite smMineall and neighbourly. I often say to staff  “never be rude to colleagues in the sector as they will come back later on as your new manager”!  At an Awards “do” it is also great to celebrate the success of ex staff like ex LEYF Mine Conkbayir  who was commended for her book in the professional book category.

Someone who does not work for us but very often works with us to deliver training is Marie Richardson from Experiential Play who won  Trainer of the Year.  Just goes to show what good judgement we have!


Nursery World Picture 2 I am definitely a fan of celebrating our successes and using it to better understand what we do and what it looks like when we do it well.  What makes someone ‘Nursery Manager of the Year’? The judges noted that Anjali was chosen not just because she goes the extra mile on a daily basis but because she could also lead in a crisis. She led the team during the Westminster terrorist attack with calm, strength, humanity and competence and repaid the parents’ trust in her by keeping their children safe.  For me she aligned her values with that of LEYF – she was inspiring, nurturing, fun and brave. The children thought they were on a sleepover not a lock-in! The power of capable and credible leadership can never be underestimated. I was so impressed by the importance of leadership to create the kind of organisational culture and values which drives excellence at every level of delivery that I wrote a book about it.

So, this is the only time I will ever agree with L’Oréal because sometimes only a public accolade will build the value of what we do. So to all you winners and supporters celebrate  because ….

Loreal spoof

Encouraging Sixth Formers To Become the Next Entrepreneurs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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