Tag Archives: Child Poverty

Margaret Horn 2016 : The London Childcare Challenge

Margaret Horn

Margaret Horn

Every year during the November Global Enterprise Fortnight we host the Margaret Horn Debate to celebrate Social Enterprise Day. Margaret Horn was the first director of the charity that in 2008 become the social enterprise London Early Years Foundation (LEYF). I know very little about her, (despite our research) but I do know that she was a pupil of Octavia Hill, a woman I have always admired for her energy, ambition and social enterprise.

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Last year we debated the importance of businesses being family friendly and it was a very popular theme and so therefore it seemed logical to continue the debate especially as we have a new London Mayor, Sadiq Khan (for those of you who have been sharing Sleeping Beauty’s glass box) who seems much more in touch with what needs to happen to support Londoners live well and work successfully. Certainly, during a visit to a LEYF nursery, our Mayor demonstrated a greater grasp that childcare is a crucial part of our city’s infrastructure, helping parents to work, improving children’s educational outcomes and helping narrow the achievement gap between disadvantaged children and their more affluent peers.

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London has a lot of childcare challenges particularly if it is to provide the range of places. available to meet the number needed to put the number of children across our very diverse city.  We need to have sufficient staff to run the nurseries and provide the best service to all our children.  This is tricky as nurseries receive insufficient Government funding which is sorely felt in an expensive city where childcare costs are on average 23 per cent higher than the rest of England.  At LEYF we subsidise nearly 48% of places but that can’t be sustained given the increasing living costs and the difficulty of recruiting staff who can no longer afford to live in the city where housing costs are around 50% higher than the rest of the UK and transport costs overwhelming. I won’t comment on Southern, my local rail operator, just feel my pain.

When it comes to child poverty, 700,000 children living in London are below the poverty line, that is 37% of all children compared to 26% across the UK. Children in London are much more likely to live in poverty with 14 out of the top 20 local authorities with the highest rates of child poverty across the UK. Half of 0 to 19-year-olds in London (1.1. million) live in a family that receives tax credits. 640,000 children benefit from in-work tax credits. Poor children in London are less likely to be able to afford everyday items than those elsewhere in the country.

We need sufficient providers running sustainable services to offer the 15 funded hours childcare to local families, the Two Year Old offer as well as children with learning needs and disabilities.  That’s problematic as property costs in the city are exorbitant and there is no London funding for capital expenditure.  In a Huffington Post blog, I wrote in March this year, I raised the difficulties childcare providers face in London trying to keep childcare fees affordable when the Government subsidy still only meets half the cost of a place? I also commented on one of the many unintended consequences of poorly drafted Government policies which is resulting in the emergence of two-tier services with separate provision for those children on the ‘free offer.’

Finally, there also needs to be a bigger conversation with parents and the public about a wide range of issues such as what education for small children looks like in different settings, what that means for their children, limiting early and unnecessary transition to school and understanding why community nurseries are a good thing for children in London because they help create social capital by building local networks, reducing loneliness and nurturing community spirit.

This is a flavour of this year’s debate.

So, don’t lose hope. Join us for a lively discussion and debate with London’s first Deputy Mayor for Education and Childcare, Joanne McCartney alongside a panel of colleagues,  about how we can address the London Childcare Challenge together.

Sign up below for the Margaret Horn Debate on 10th November, 17.30 at the BT Centre, 81 Newgate Street (closest tube, St Pauls).

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

 

 

Ofsted has discovered Child Poverty

“If we get the early years right, we pave the way for a lifetime of achievement. If we get them wrong, we miss a unique opportunity to shape a child’s future.” Pg. 3

I was recently invited to the launch of the new Ofsted report called ‘Unknown Children- Destined for Disadvantage’.  It was launched by the new Chair of Ofsted David Hoare who has made his views very public about the negative impact of inequality especially for our youngest children. Indeed, he has come out strongly as an advocate for early years and the power of early intervention.

But the report upset and angered me in equal measure. Why are we still hearing about child poverty as if it was a new phenomenon? Why is Ofsted so shocked ? Has it been asleep for the last 10 years? My challenge at the meeting was,  “Wake Up and look outside your front door, there is a raft of reports going back years and we seem to have an increasing not reducing problem“.

The updated poverty statistics from the London from the Child Poverty Alliance Group (CPAG):

UK

  • In 2014-15, UK child poverty increased by 200,000 to 3.9 million (after housing costs)
  • 66% of poor children live in working families (up from 64%)
  • London remains UK region with highest rate of child poverty (37%)
Graphic from: Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) 2014-15

Graphic from: Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) 2014-15

London

  • Child poverty in London remains unchanged from last year (2013/14)
  • 37% of all children in the capital live in poverty – that’s around 700,000 children
  • Nearly 1 in 5 poor children in the UK live in London (18%)

I spoke at a conference in Scotland earlier this year and the Growing Up in Scotland (GUS) ten year evaluation of child poverty implications was presented. LINK .Their report also made pretty depressing reading. Here is a summary:

Position of Children Higher income Lower income
Less good health during the first 4 years 12% 26%
Poor diet at age 5 13% 39%
Below average vocabulary 20% 54%
Below average problem solving ability at age 5 29% 53%
High social emotional or behavioural difficulty at8 years 3% 18%
Lowest level of life satisfaction at age 8 19% 29%
Poor mental health during their child’s first 4 years 6% 24%

The Ofsted report identified a similar picture although as with all things Ofsted the focus was on education and longer term school success whereas the Scottish report looked at health and also the health of the mother.  In 2015, 44% of children who had not reached the expected level at the age of five went on to securely achieve the national benchmark in reading, writing and mathematics at the age of 11. This compares with 77% of children who had achieved a good level of development.

The specific details look like this:

  • The speech and language gap between children from the lowest income families is equivalent to 19 months (Sutton Trust, 2012).
  • Poorer children’s basic level of communication was limited because they cannot confidently articulate their thoughts, ideas, opinions and views using a breadth and depth of receptive language.
  • Around one quarter of disadvantaged children were unable to communicate effectively because they lacked the concentration, vocabulary and listening skills to focus their attention and understand what others were saying
  • A quarter are unable to control their own feelings and impulses or make sense of the world around them to ensure that they are ready to learn.
  • One fifth of disadvantaged children lacked the confidence and independence needed to tackle new challenges, make new friends or understand how they were feeling so they understand their basic impulses.
  • Around a quarter lacked the experience and understanding of the people, places and environment around them to make sense of their world and their ability to interact successful within it.
  • Access to high quality provision in poor areas remains a barrier with only 8% of children living in prosperous areas in proviso that is less than good, while this is 18% in poor neighbourhoods.

 What did Ofsted think we need to do?

  • We need leaders across children’s services, health and education and in local authorities who have a broader understanding of what disadvantaged means and how to tackle it successfully.
  • We need leaders who understand what school readiness means and with specific regards to the importance of the wider health and social care contribution.
  • We need to reduce professional distrust, and limit the reluctance to share vital information therefore avoiding duplication among health and education professionals.
  • Professionals must increase their awareness about the circumstances faced by poor families.
  • Services need to be better joined up services with local authorities having a more co-ordinated strategic approach to tackling the issues facing children and families from disadvantaged backgrounds.
  • There is no place for weak leadership, lack of management oversight and inaction.
  • More needs to be done to ensure additional funding from the Early Years Pupil Premium (EYPP) has impact. Half the schools visited as part of the report had not identified the children entitled to additional funding, and some could not account for the spend.
  • We need to improve parents’ skills and the home learning environment
  • Ensure access to free two year old early years education.  A third of eligible children ( 80,000) did not take up their funded places in 2015.

Really, now tell us something we didn’t know!

Skeptical baby

Can you guess why I was depressed?  Here we have a report which shows that things are getting worse for many poor children but present solutions that shaped a National Strategy twenty years ago and led to initiatives such as Sure Start which have been kicked into the political-ideological long grass.

Sure Start was created to provide childcare and support services in areas of poverty, including health and education as one offer, supporting families to better understand their role as leaders of their children’s learning in the home.   Yet, instead of being improved and perfected it’s been left to die slowly by our previous Coalition Government and the more recent Conservative approach of Tackling Disadvantage led by Mr Cameron may never see the light of day.

The challenge of Ofsted to local authorities for a strategic approach comes very late in the day when local authorities are starved of resources.

The access to free childcare is stymied by the lack of funding and a policy of requiring A to C GCSEs as entry requirements for Early Years staff which has more or less dried up the pipeline of qualified staff and centres working with disadvantaged children need the best staff.

So feel my frustration given my life’s work of creating LEYF; a social enterprise which has at its very heart reducing disadvantage and where all of our 38 nurseries are good or outstanding. There are many others like LEYF also feeling this frustration too. What is needed is not a report with a list of solutions that have been rejected very often on politically and/or ideological grounds.

Turn the report around and start with all those leaders who  are doing a good job for children from poor and disadvantaged families. Collect this evidence in one place and share it widely. Create a directory of social businesses and look much more closely at small changes that can make a big difference.

The GUS report repeatedly demonstrated that better cognitive ability is linked to home learning activities. Home learning benefits all children irrespective of social class but for those who are from poor and disadvantaged families it can moderate, though by no means eradicate, the effects of socio-economic disadvantage. The research (Bromley 2009 & Bradshaw 2011) revealed that being read to everyday from 10 months, being actively involved in daily home learning activities at 22 months and visiting a wide range of places from 22 months were all significantly related to vocabulary ability and improved cognitive skills even after taking account of socio-economic background.

At LEYF we looked at this research and the very elements that make the difference.  We run action research like a thread through the organisation developing pedagogical leadership as a core com18672405083_e1129f13dc_mpetence. That means instead of looking at high level and often unassailable solutions we look at what we can do and how we can develop and apply research in each nursery. For example, deputy managers like Jessica Whiteley are examining how literacy rich environments and working with parents will improve the vocabulary and receptive language of the children, especially boys.  Across the organisation we have Each One Teach One champions who are rolling out the pedagogical conversations with parents to improve our approach to Home Learning.

So, I challenge Ofsted that if it really wants to reject the stark differences between children from  disadvantaged families and their better off peers, then use its power as both a regulator and improvement lead to shout out about what is happening in the sector and show where and how those leaders and practitioners are working together to make a difference rather than  present a set of solutions which are a bit old hat and have not created the necessary systemic change.

 

 

 

I’m Alright, Jack

Last Thursday was a day of momentous historical significance.  It may be linked but the weather also decided to create havoc on that day.  Determined not to be beaten, I battled monsoon rain, negotiated the pathetic train system and with the help of Uber, managed to get to the Festival of Education hosted by Wellington College. fest-of-education-1460102998

Luckily I was accompanied part of the way by Neil Leitch and upon arrival at Wellington joined Catriona Nason, Sue Cowley and Laura Henry so at least the conversation was lively.  We had been invited to talk about Early Years and the implications of poor policy in the sector.  So as you can imagine I talked about the impact of the recruitment crisis, something I have been writing about a lot.

As ever Neil Leitch from the Pre-school Learning Alliance articulated the issues facing the sector about the funding and the 30 hours. On the slow train to Guildford, we worked out the deepening unfairness of the system by analysing a significant line in the Childcare Bill which states on page 8:

The additional 15 hours will be available to families where both parents are working (or the sole parent is working in a lone parent family), and each parent earns, on average, a weekly minimum equivalent to 16 hours at National Minimum Wage (NMW) or National Living Wage (NLW), and less than £100,000 per year .

We figured out that someone earning £100k a year needs to work no more than 2 hours at £102 per hour to claim the fifteen hours while someone on a low income has to work the full 16 hours at the NLW (£7.20)  to have reached the required threshold to claim. Interesting!

Click on graph for bigger image

Click on graph for bigger image

The debate was lively but the sector needs to step up a bit more. This debate is about what is best for children, not the type of setting and how good or bad it is. Comments such as, “well, I think debate has to be inclusive and not just be anti-school”,   “Well, my school is very good, we understand what small children need, you wouldn’t find our children sitting in rows” have no place in a real debate. Of course there are many good schools, nurseries, pre-schools and childminders. That is not the point. These comments let policy-makers off the hook. The issue is, what drives the policy?

Dump your ego because it’s the biggest barrier to effective thinking. The ego gets in the way of deep thinking and instead becomes an opportunity for showing off, put downs and soundbites, (just watch Question Time if you can bear it).  Such behaviour leaves us exposed as it allows politicians to choose their favourite examples and scratch their pompous heads or toss their golden locks and say   “it’s not the policy which is wrong but your incompetence because ********* does it so well”… Remember Nick Gibbs MP’s obsession with phonics from Clackmannanshire.

For all children to benefit we need intelligent policies and intelligent debate.  We cannot have an approach where some but not all children will benefit. Those lucky ones who live near a “good“ school or nursery. Those lucky ones whose parents can afford a place, can move or manipulate the system to get a place – this is absolutely unacceptable. Here I agree with Michael Wilshaw who says that too many poor children are still losing out on good quality education.

The response needs to be that the policy is wrong .We need policies that work to change the system and the behaviours and embed them in a way that changes what we do and how we do it.

Our job is to keep bringing us back to the core message which is:

How does the policy benefit all our children’s best interests?

To do this I recently re-read Edward de Bono’s 6 Hats Thinking.

6 hat thinking

 

 

 

 

White_hat_WBK

 

 

 

White Hat:  It’s all about using neutral, check-able facts. Stay Cool.

Red_hat_WBK

 

 

 

Red Hat: It’s all about emotion. Seeing Red.

Black_hat_WBK

 

 

 

Black Hat: Its all about pointing out the weakness of the arguments. Be cautious and careful.

Yellow_hat_WBK

 

 

 

Yellow Hat: It’s all about being upbeat, positive and hopeful.  Be sunny and optimistic.

Green_hat_WBK

 

 

 

Green Hat: It’s all about creativity and new and verdant ideas.  Be full of fertile ideas.

Blue_hat_WBK

 

 

 

Blue Hat: This is the blue sky thinking, the big wide proposition. Organise your thinking.

You are probably too young to remember Peter Sellers in the film “I’m Alright, Jack”, a satirical take on the business world. Along with the usual slurs about business corruption, greed and government incompetence, there was a message about remaining focused on the greater purpose. Our response has to be that the policy is wrong and the facts bear this out. Let’s choose our hats carefully and pay particular attention to when we wear the red one.

imalrightjack

A Promise of 30 Hours Free Childcare heralds the Big Childcare Conversation

The Government made childcare a central component of its election manifesto. Mr Cameron insists that his Government will extend the childcare ‘free offer’ to 30 hours a week, 38 weeks of the year, to any parent working eight hours plus; the same threshold as the tax free childcare scheme.  It’s interesting that the policy talks of childcare not early education, is this a shift or has the Government finally understood that childcare and education are totally integrated?

This promise has deep implication for the sector including making childcare a key part of the British infrastructure.  It’s a shift that may have happened as a last minute election promise to outbid Labour’s offer of 25 free hours. Either way we are now facing the challenge of how we make this policy work and we need our own conversation to help us to do this.

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Frustratingly, this promise fails to reflect the repeated warnings from the sector about the perennial problems such as:

  • Funding the costs of a place correctly. ( If you have been asleep for the past ten years then read the Ceeda Report and the Affordable Childcare report)Sleeping-Beauty-Wallpaper-sleeping-beauty-6259616-1024-768[1]
  • Reconciling two different policy targets with one approach therefore creating a high quality service for all children but guaranteeing that those children from disadvantaged backgrounds are benefitting in a way that narrows their attainment gap. More information from  OECD Starting Strong Reports
  • Insufficiency of places in the right areas and with the flexibility that makes work viable Family and Childcare Trust report
  • Unfair rules about registering and inspecting nurseries in schools which means that schools can open nurseries more easily now and have less inspection and external quality control.
  • The challenge of how to address the situation that 1 in 4 children in Primary Schools are obese.  The Early Years must be supported to take a strategic approach to helping the children eat well and exercise well so we prevent even more health disasters.
  • Training and recruiting enough Level 3 staff for such an expansion including sorting out the qualifications fiasco. Do you know that all the young graduates completing their degrees may not be counted in the nursery ratio because they haven’t got A to C GCSEs but have been selected using an equivalency test not approved by the DfE?
  • Replacing and funding Local Authorities CPD and quality support services. If quality depends on well trained staff then what is the solution to this?
  • Maintaining the year on year improvement in quality with 83% of providers rated good or outstanding. So why bully a sector that shows such promise and capability for improvement?
  • Meeting the two year old programme targets if all the attention is focusing on extending the 30 hours. Half all local authorities have insufficient places for two year olds and the growth of school nurseries is hampered by increase in school rolls. So if disadvantaged children benefit more than other children why have a system that limits access for the very children that need us most?
  • Getting the Childcare Bill through the House of Lords within the timeline for pilots operating from September 2016
  • Agreeing what the Regulations will look like given the devil is in the detail for example defining ‘working parents.’  Will it include people in training? Zero hours contracts? Parents with disabled children? Grandparents?
  • Establishing whether the existing policy of 15 hours has achieved its intended outcomes.

However, we have been thrown a concession in the form of the Childcare Commission LINK to appease our worries about fair funding.  I hope that they will listen to us with the same candidness and perspicacity of Lord Sutherland and his Select Committee.

The 30 hour policy is the Government’s attempt to reward hard-working families by reducing their childcare bill.  Done well it will be popular and helpful and may achieve its intention to boost employment rates among women with children under 5 years. Long term employment rate for this group has risen over the last two decades from 49% in 1996 to 61% in 2014.  In doing that the Government has confirmed absolutely that childcare is a significant part of a modern British infrastructure.

Surprisingly, we may have an unexpected ally in Mr Osborne.  In the Budget he promises the Living Wage, a calculation based on what it costs to live developed ten years ago by Citizens UK. This must surely be a very good benchmark for the Childcare Commission as they work to define a funding strategy that pays the full cost of childcare.

7164409713_9254a12dc7_zIn the meantime, we are strong only when we have one voice – we proved that with the #OBC.
So respond to the Childcare Commission and come to the *Big Childcare Conversation conference on the 19th September at Middlesex University where we will be debating the issues and ensure we remain motivated, upbeat and able to “Occupy Childcare”!

Please follow the LINK for further details and book your places ASAP! https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/big-childcare-conversation-tickets-17807118571

 

 

Early Childhood Care and Education must become a Global Issue

This week had an international flavour not because I was travelling to faraway places (my next trip is Walsall) but because I spent quite a bit of time considering how we share and learn about early childhood care and education in the developing world. On Tuesday I was with Save the Children and colleagues from UNESCO, UNICEF and the Department for International Development considering how we create global partnerships that support early childhood development. Later that week I spent a morning with colleagues from UNICEF explaining our social enterprise model which is now gaining traction with the UN and Europe 

because-i-am-a-girlThat evening I went to a most inspiring film from GirlsRising which was all about the importance of girls education . ‘One Girl with Courage is a Revolution’ was the title and certainly looking at the statistics beginning with one in five adolescent girls around the world denied an education by the daily realities of poverty, conflict and discrimination then we all need to ensure that we each help one girl to become educated, particularly because an educated girl is…

  • …less likely to marry and to have children whilst she is still a child.
  • …more likely to be literate, healthy and survive into adulthood, as are her children.
  • …more likely to reinvest her income back into her family, community and country

See more at the Plan UK website.

You will know from previous blogs that I have been looking to the developing world as a thoughtful innovator of  early childhood care and education.  Some colleagues and I are busy setting up the Institute for Early Years which will be an International and free access global platform. Across the world countries are recognising the broader social, economic and education goals (OECD) that comes from ECCE. However, the sector remains underdeveloped with gaps in provision, inadequate quality in services and limited or no regulation.

It is the gap in provision and the need to develop quality childcare community services that has attracted interest in the LEYF social business model. I am particularly keen to nurture this because I believe our model would replicate well across the world. But this is not enough.  Despite our advances we have, like our overseas colleagues, yet to convince the public and politicians about the value of ECCE. We therefore need a much louder conversation and sometimes you can only see what is staring you in the face if someone else says it. 9741549456_912689b555_z

So when looking at UNICEF reports such as study conducted by the Education International ECE Task Force in June 2010, the Children’s manifesto and the UN, there is a consistency. Everyone wants to consider:

  • Equality and gender equity particularly girls education
  • Sustainable services
  • Peaceful and safe communities ensuring we protect children from violence
  • Give children a voice
  • Global  partnerships

The UN is currently agreeing targets for 2015. Our Deputy Prime Minister has a vote on the relevant committee. He needs to hear our views as do local politicians.  Tessa Jowell MP is trying to get enough signatures and she needs 6000 more to get the UN secretary General Ban Ki Moon to put early development at the heart of the new post-2015 development framework .  Sign up and help amass a worldwide energy to understand how we best support and enhance children’s futures.

Sign up and spread the word : Put early childhood development at the heart of the new post-2015 development framework with targets that promise all children care, support and services which work together for the best start in life

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First Thoughts on June’s #EYManifesto : Let’s start the Next Big Conversation

We have just had the party conferences and watched as each party started to position itself in readiness for the next election.  They are all hard at work shaping their manifestos. This is the time sensible politicians should seek the views of the public to initiate an open, balanced and fully informed national debate about what the public want, need and are prepared to pay for. We want to lead that debate in Early Years so we can puts the best interests of the child first and with that ensure the policies are in place to make it happen. Continue reading

Fly Me To the Moon….’Dunoon!’

It was a good omen when we were told our plane to Glasgow was a long haul plane and we would be upgraded to business class.  As this was my first trip out of zoo class I was chuffed but baffled by the whole seat arrangements and the range of buttons on the arm.  In fact I thought I was upgraded to pilot.

Things got back to normal when I arrived in Glasgow to rain. In the ten years I have been training across Scotland I have rarely arrived to sun. I was collected by Alice from Experiential Play, a great advocate for child focused nursery care and education and Paul Brannigan who has now collected his second BAFTA having already received a BAFTA Scotland for The Angels’ Share. Paul’s rise to stardom is meteoric not least given his uncertain start. His newest film Sunshine at Leith probably worth a view if it is as good as his previous work.

From Glasgow we head to Dunoon on the Firth of Clyde and this means getting a ferry across. The plan was to join John Carnochan a recently retired Detective Chief  Superintendent of Strathclyde Police who set up the Violence Reduction Unit for Scotland in 2005.  He believes that violence is preventable not inevitable and starting with the Early Years is the best solution. He also says “murder ” better than Taggart who is based in MaryHill where John was also a police inspector.  He says that unlike Taggart they could never solve a murder in 90 minutes!

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We had been invited by Kathleen Johnson of Argyll and Bute Council to present at their annual conference in Dunoon.  My role was to give a speech about why the Scottish Collaborative is so important.  I was expected to give a critique from the South, a sort of ‘view from the bridge.’  The Scottish Collaborative  is designed to create the sort of collaborative working across the sectors that will help everyone achieve the national vision  “To make Scotland the best place to in the world to grow up by improving outcomes and reducing inequalities for all babies, children, mothers, fathers and families across Scotland to ensure that all children have the best start in life and are ready to succeed.”

It’s ambitious but clear and its something I have blogged about before as I cannot understand why we have not come up with a similar vision down here in the South.

Early Years Collaborative (Scotland)

Early Years Collaborative (Scotland)

The Collaborative has ten underpinning principles:

  • A coherent approach
  • Helping children, families and communities to secure outcomes for themselves
  • Breaking cycles of poverty, inequality and poor outcomes in and through early years
  • A focus on engagement and empowerment of children families and communities
  • Using strength of universal services to deliver prevention and early intervention
  • Putting quality at the heart of the service
  • Services that meet the needs of children and families
  • Improving outcomes and children’s quality of life through plays
  • Simplifying and streamlining delivery
  • More effective collaboration

Our messages were very similar, the collaborative needs to work so that the child and the family access the right services at the right time with the right intervention.  It’s all about humanity.  I believe that too many systems and processes limit humanity and we forget about “the wain” as they say in Scotland. Look at the reprehensible situation of little Daniel Pelka.  Systems were coming out your ears, everyone knew what to do they just did not do it.  The Headteacher said she did nothing wrong.  In my book, she did nothing right because a child died on her watch.

The Scottish view is that a good collaborative could mitigate those situations because it would have helped create relationships and people would know each other and be able to talk and share so as to prevent the attitude of buck passing and avoidance. Paul brings this to life when he talks about his own life, living with abusive drug addled parents in a gang ridden hopeless place where no one reached out and tried to help or understand what it was like for him. John is passionate that no legislation should prevent you from helping someone. We all agreed that we need to stop complicating things and keep it much more simple. We need to get off our high professional horses, talk to each other without using jargon and understand why we are there. I hope the audience left feeling able to take the first small step because as John said,

‘If not you then who and if not now then when?’

It’s a great message for us all. Take the first step.

 

The Power of Good Old Fashioned Care: Love, Chat and Adele

A few weeks ago Wave Trust in partnership with the DfE published its report Conception to Age 2 – The Age of Opportunity. I was part of the Special Interest Group that helped shape the report, along with an eclectic group of colleagues representing a variety of areas affecting babies – such as mental health, training, health visiting and psychology. I learned much from this group, chaired by the erudite and softly spoken George Hosking, CEO of Wave Trust. The full report is 135 pages long and a text book in its own right, but the shortened version designed for local busy commissioners is a useful summary with reference to all the relevant links.

Continue reading

Asking Robin Van Persie to kick the childcare football straight into the Equalities net

Childcare is flavour of the week and quickly becoming a political football.  I wish we had an equivalent Robin Van Persie to either land the childcare ball in the net, or kick it so far into the distance that we have to begin a debate that gets us to really consider what we want from childcare.

At the moment the media and the sector are making a fuss as to why it’s taking so long for the Government to respond to the Childcare Commission. I have no idea why people are investing so much energy into this anticipated announcement. It’s not going to solve the fundamental question as to why childcare is so expensive.

The Commission was set up by Sarah Teather MP when she was Minister  of State in the Department of Education. Her approach was quite different to that of our new Minister Elizabeth Truss, unsurprisingly given that she is a Conservative and Ms Teather a Lib Dem.  I might also remind everyone that when the Childcare Commission was launched just before the summer there was great annoyance from the sector about the timing, the questions and the purpose.  The issue will never be resolved until we have a big conversation with ourselves about what we want for our children. At the moment two parallel drivers dictate childcare policy framed within  rather confused thinking about how it can help reduce child poverty. The first policy strand focuses on enabling women to work, and the second to support social mobility in an attempt to help break inequality.

This week the challenges of both policy approaches reflected my week.  First of all I attended the Child Poverty Alliance and was roused by My Fair London campaign’s reminder of the invidious consequences of inequality.  Quoting statistics to make your head roll, I was reminded that London has the largest gap between rich and poor of any city in the developed world, with two thirds of all wealth in London held by just 10% of Londoners.  I was reminded that the consequences of this inequality is bad for us all on so many levels, not least creating a lack of trust between the economic classes, poor child wellbeing (remember the UK  came last in UNICEF’s report), poor health, increased cases of mental ill-health and general all around human misery.

Statistics show that in countries with the lowest levels of inequality, trust levels are five times higher and involvement in the community much greater than in countries where inequality levels are highest. What’s more, where inequality levels are high, children of families on the lowest incomes are already a year behind in their development by the age of five when compared with those who are better off (a fact that made me put down my current book Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens to re-read The Spirit Level; to be honest all of a similar theme).

Given that early education is considered a key factor in addressing this inequality – because it gets people to a place where they are more likely to succeed, and ultimately people with more education earn more, pay more taxes, are more productive, vote and are generally happier – a then access to childcare and education for young children as a driver of social mobility makes sense.

Midweek, I went to hear the Resolution Foundation research about improving  childcare to be an even more effective  policy driver for getting people, especially women, into work. They told us their findings that  showed that two parent households of low to middle incomes (£17,000 to £41,000) are little better off than those on poor incomes. In fact they confirmed what we already know, that instead of taking working parents out of poverty, childcare costs were driving working parents into debt and poverty (an already all too familiar picture at LEYF). At this point, it is worth recalling the work of Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman, who showed the link between inequality and the financial crises. He pointed out, it is no accident that both major modern crises – the first beginning in 1929, the second in 2008 -coincided with historic levels of inequality.

While there was much ooing and aahing from the Resolution Foundation audience of media, policy makers and charities, the question remained what to do. A  key solution from was to offer parents an extra 10 hours a week at £1/hour for children aged 2, 3 and 4. I was slightly dismayed by this idea, given that Governments past and present have so far steadfastly refused to pay even the going rate for childcare, meaning providers like ourselves already subsidise the cost of childcare to families by up to £500 per child per annum. How then would we get any Government to pay for an additional  properly costed  contribution of  a further £3billion?   This and finding out  what happens to the current £7billion is what the Childcare Commission should be addressing? Not tinkering with deregulation, alienating the sector and suggesting some regressive tax breaks.

In essence, the fundamental issue is exactly what David Cameron has already said himself:

More unequal countries do worse according to every quality of life indicator.

David Cameron, Hugo Young memorial lecture, November 2009.

The Government therefore needs to weave the two strands of its policies together more coherently. Employment and social mobility should be one, so all families are supported out of poverty, not into it; and early education is delivered in a way that supports the longer term aim of creating a more equal society with all its attendant benefits.

Déjà vu, all over again.

I am a nervous passenger generally, but my anxiety rises to a whole new level when we go on the motorway.

My coping mechanism is to work on my computer to avoid spending the whole journey gripped in a panic that we are about to crash into the lorry ahead. The upside is that I get time to trawl through my documents and keep calm. Meanwhile, the driver (usually my husband) is able to concentrate on the road, rather than having to continually threaten to throw me out. The downside is that I come across speeches, articles and blog entries which all smack of Déjà Vu.

This week was a case in point, as I found myself preparing a speech on leadership in the sector and a presentation for some funds to help us grow the business. As I began the process by finding similar speeches for inspiration, I was shocked to discover so many of the issues facing us today were exactly the same as far back as 2007. I know they say that change takes time, but this seems excessively slow.

So I thought it might serve as a fun game, as we head into the Jubilee-free weekend, to remind ourselves of the state of play and key issues back then, to see how much if anything has changed:

  • Universal child care was inadequately funded
  • It was felt that children should not go to school aged four (a sentiment supported by the Children and Young People Select Committee and National Primary Headteachers Association)
  • Ofsted was looking at its approach to inspection
  • I was arguing that Children’s Centres should be a hub for intergenerational work, with young and old learning together and developing relationships that could help achieve community cohesion
  • We were awaiting a Government re-shuffle
  • A Two Year Old Pilot was in discussion
  • Unhappy economic times were beginning, and talk of solutions and sustainability were beginning to quietly emerge
  • We had just taken our first group of apprentices called NEETs
  • Action for Children and New Economics Foundation produced a fascinating report called Backing the Future, setting out a plan to save the UK taxpayer £486 billion over 20 years and dramatically improve social wellbeing
  • According to economic analyst Rob Grunewald, (video here), if Government invested substantially in parenting and enriched daycare, they could expect a rate of return (in monetary terms) of between 3:1-7:1, and 17:1 by the time the child reaches 21years. He explained that social benefits were also significant, with a reduction in crime and prison, better educational attainment, healthier adults and reduced levels of obesity and a reduction in welfare dependency
  • The Cambridge Primary Review was challenging the notion of school readiness in their final report, reminding us of what Froebel said 250 years before – namely that Early Years was not a time to merely prepare for school, but a distinct phase to be celebrated and enjoyed in its own right
  • Remaining stubbornly high, child poverty was on the rise despite all attempts to reduce it – including provision of flexible work opportunities, training, childcare, improved incentives and investment in child benefit
  • Limited funds were available to provide a quality workforce, including employing many more graduates
  • Transitions to school were an issue

Peter Drucker said that management has no choice but to anticipate the future. Well then, we better start looking at the past, because the blueprint is already there. And as a leader, it’s probably wise to get organisations fit to manage the continual challenges that are not easily solved and are more entrenched than we could possibly imagine. Learning from experience is not enough.

Therefore, I’d suggest that one solution may be to create a learning organisation that can flex and re-shape, according to both the fast and slow pace of change. Consider the following ten steps, and maybe in this instance a bit of repeat, recall and déjà vu will be a good thing:

  • Learning is incorporated into everything people do
  • Learning for learning’s sake is encouraged and celebrated
  • Teamwork, creativity, empowerment and quality are fully supported
  • Staff are trusted and encouraged to choose and take decisions
  • People with different job titles learn together
  • Coaching relationships are promoted to enhance learning
  • Learning is an integral part of meetings, work groups and work processes
  • Everyone in the organisation has equal access to learning
  • Mistakes are embraced as learning opportunities
  • Cross-training is encouraged and staff that learn a broad range of skills rewarded
  • Continuous learning is considered a shared core value of the organisation

Do you agree with the above?  Let me know what you think in the space below.