Tag Archives: Children

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





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





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





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





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





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.


Cleaning my teeth with Laura Henry & other surprises from a Trip to Froebel’s Birthplace

Recently, I wrote about the importance of visiting other nurseries so I was delighted when I was given a “golden ticket” by Community Playthings to visit Keilhau where Froebel set up his first school. My introduction to Froebel came in 1998 when I studied for an MA at Froebel College now better known as the University of Roehampton. I was touched by his approach to teaching small children using the power of play.getfsslideimage c

Play is the highest level of child development….it gives…joy, freedom, contentment, inner and outer rest, peace with the world… The plays of childhood are the germinal leaves of all later life.

I loved his ideas of a community of work, play and learning which shaped my work at LEYF.

Thinking and doing, recognising and responding, knowledge and ability should be united at the inmost level.’

Finally, how could you not like a pioneer who in 1849 started the first college to train women to become Kindergarten teachers and said,

‘The destiny of nations lies far more in the hands of women, the mothers, than in the possessors of power, or those of innovators who for the most part do not understand themselves. We must cultivate women, who are the educators of the human race, else the new generation cannot accomplish its task.’

The general rule is “what happens on the trip stays on the trip” but somethings have to be shared (so I won’t mention Froebel groupies, Irish Dancing, Drunken Sailors, German cakes, Scottish hilarity or midnight singsongs.) However, we agreed to reacquaint the sector with one of the first pioneers and so you will have already read the thoughts of Julian Grenier , Penny Webb , Laura Henry and Nursery World.getfsslideimage xx

From our arrival at Heathrow, to the five hour coach journey from Frankfurt into the heart of Thuringia and for the entire three days, I basked in an extended pedagogical conversation.   Everywhere we went, whether on the coach, hiking across the hills, in the museums, sitting for breakfast, having a glass of wine in a hut or in chilling in pyjamas, words like pedagogy, engagement, mudology, research, play, blocks, outdoors, wallow, reflection, blocks peppered the discussions.

The experience was particularly uplifting at a time when early year’s policy is so depressing. It’s important to realise that you are not alone which deals with feelings of isolation and paranoia or thinking you have a guest role in an episode of Stepford Wives.

I won’t spoil your revisiting of Froebel by telling you what happens at the end but a good summary would be in a book written by a LEYF colleague called Theories. But as you are all busy people here are are my top 10 Froebel nuggets:

  1. Froebel himself had a very hard time and was seen as a threat to society because of his radical thinking about how best to educate children.
  2. Froebel was a social entrepreneur setting up his school with just 5 children and building up a movement.
  3. It’s true that you cannot be a prophet in your own land. Despite his coining the term Kindergarten (we visited the site where he did this and we could see what he meant when he described the area as a very beautiful valley for education). Nurseries in Germany are not called kindergartens.getfsslideimage
  4. Froebel didn’t have a defined philosophy and pedagogy which he the scientifically applied to his school. Instead, he used his life experience and the continual learning and responses from the children and adults to mould and remould his approach.
  5. Froebel realised that architecture was key to pedagogy and the shape and design of the building was crucial. He insisted on panelling to make classrooms homely, windows low enough for children to be able to see outside, and nooks and crannies and steps and corners to make the building interesting and quirky and non-institutionalised.
  6. Froebel said that every adult had to have love for each child and a passion to help them succeed.
  7. Froebel reminded us that to teach children you need the right resources. The systematic tools of the kindergarten were intentionally simple, intended for maximum variability, infinite potential. Self-activity, self-direction and play were the engines of the kindergarten.
  8. Froebel designed his gifts as tools to teach small children to observe, reason, express and create blank slates for infinite imagination, story-telling, preliminary mathematics, and systematic design. The gifts provided a comprehensive system and extended to sticks for picture making, drawing on grids, paper weaving, origami, sticks and peas for picture making structures (think toothpicks and mini marshmallows), simple blocks and clay. tools –With music, dancing, nature walks, and gardening, the first kindergarten children learned lessons in eco-consciousness, how nature designs, and a sense of their individual perfection in unity with all creation.
  9.  Froebel reminds us of the importance of parents

    It is not only conducive but necessary to the development and strengthening of the child’s power and skill that parents should, without being too pedantic or too exacting, connect the child’s actions with suitable language and behaviour.’

  10. We have to see Early Years Care and Education within the social and historical context of the day. We are at the heart of the political and economic maelstrom. We can only change things if we articulate what has happened that shapes what is happening.


Smart Nurseries Develop a Culture of Creativity

On the 10th of October it is Social Saturday and as a social enterprise, we will be celebrating.


The aim of Social Saturday 2015 is to raise awareness of just how easy it is to support businesses that trade quality items and services and invest profits in projects supporting the local community, international development, the environment, charities and a wealth of other progressive schemes

In the spirit of collaboration, we have invited From Babies With Love to join us and celebrate the day. We will be showcasing our children’s art work at one of our newest nurseries in New Cross and welcoming the Mayor of Lewisham to Chair our panel of judges.

Please do come along by clicking this link


The LEYF pedagogy is all about finding and responding to children’s interests from a very young age and engaging with them so they are excited about learning. Creative and kind approaches are key. We share the view of the great Armenian philanthropist Calouste Gulbenkian (89 -55) who wrote,

‘Creativity and imaginative experiences help us develop the full range of human potential.  When adults support small children you can see them become more confident happy and secure.’

Trevarthen (2008) in his studies of babies found that infants under one year who have no language still communicate powerfully and constructively with receptive adults.

  • Art is so important to children and to their life skills because it allows children to experience and investigate and build confidence through their individual responses to the world around them.
  • Art helps children weave ideas into practical activities where they also apply their physical, social, cognitive and communication skills and understanding.
  • Children need to experience opportunities for mark-making, drawing, painting, textile, printing, pattern-making and modelling in 2 and 3 dimensional forms.
  • A rich variety of materials are important including cards, papers, plastics, wood, textiles, adhesives, fasteners, natural and malleable materials.
  • Work can be large and small, indoors and outdoors, individual and collaborative. Children are fascinated by shapes and patterns and contrasts between light and dark.
  • Children also need to have sensory experiences which develop their oral, aural and tactile experiences.

From an early age, children can explore a whole variety of materials – paint, glue, clay, markers, paper and cards, plastics and woods – finding out what they do and how they behave. Young children need opportunities for sensory exploration of materials and objects in the environment around them – not just toys but the feel of wet grass, smoothly carved wood, cold metal, or stroking a soft warm rabbit.  Adults can encourage and share responses and feelings – for example, the touch, colour and scent of blossom or delight at the sound and feel of slowly trickling water. Mark-making with different materials on a variety of surfaces is important, including large scale work which encourages confidence and whole arm/body movements enabling children to associate marks with the movements they make.


Extract from The LEYF Approach to Creativity:

  • LEYF staff support the children’s creativity by themselves being
  • Happy and friendly
  • Playful
  • Explorers and communicators
  • Imaginative and creative
  • Interested in the children
  • Curious about our environment
  • In touch with ourselves
  • Willing to take a risk

The benefit is much greater as the future needs adults who are creative thinkers.  Big social enterprises are not going to be built in the future unless we nurture creative leaders.
At LEYF we have long used artistic practices and techniques drawn from the visual arts and performing arts including some great partnerships with Shakespeare in Schools, Tate Britain and Tate Modern to help release the creativity found across the organisation. We found that artists helped us gain a new understanding of a particular issue.

We hope other business copy this and release the creativity which the rigours of the business processes keep suppressed. Arts and culture improve the quality of life by offering opportunities for recreation and social interaction, mental stimulations and physical activity, thereby contributing to good health and well being. Participation in arts and cultural activities offers a chance for self-expression and learning new skills which increase self-esteem, broaden our horizons and raise our aspirations.  On Social Saturday, our aspiration is to celebrate LEYF as a social enterprise, enjoy our collaboration with From Babies With Love and appreciate the pleasure of the children’s art and the pure enjoyment of being absorbed in something creative.


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.


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



Welcome to the House of Fun

Last week I met colleagues from the EarlyArts and www.telltalehearts.co.uk. It’s always fun to explore elements of good practice with lively people and we spent the morning considering the importance of creative learning environments.  Amanda from Formation People reflected about the need for creative leadership. She reflected about the leaders she meets who continue to see creativity as a module rather than a way of behaving as Einstein said creativity is contagious, so let’s spread a creativity virus.albert-einstein-quote-on-creativity[1]

Why do we need to build a creative learning environment? The early years world is subject to constant change from external factors from economics and policies to internal changes such as new children’s interests and expectations. Creativity needs to be our backbone, our raison d’etre or modus operandi (…I can’t think of this is any more languages just now!)

Why? First and foremost, creativity leads to happy staff because it gives you space to play; play with ideas, words and activities and have fun. It does not take much research to show that a fun environment where you feel happy and engaged is more likely to bring the best out in people.  Why does Google, Bain and other big companies put games and toys in their buildings? They want happy staff who will give more and succeed more and who become creative thinkers, transferring their skills and knowledge to make interesting and creative connections.


Fostering creativity is fundamentally important because creativity brings with it the ability to question, make connections, innovate, problem solve, communicate, collaborate and to reflect critically. All of which is vital for children to be able to play their part in their rapidly changing world.

The importance of having a creative staff who can embellish and fascinate children by using imagination, creativity and all the arts available as part of children’s daily lives is what matters.

Creativity helps people understand more deeply and build the emotional intelligence needed to create harmonious relationships and happy environments which bring the best out in people.  Anything that will reduce our amygdala hijacks has to be a good thing. Do you often think of a better way of doing something? Do you want to think of a better way? John Howkins askes these questions in his book The Creative Economy. Last Friday I was contacted by Jane Parker, a music teacher from Devon who wants Children Centre Managers across UK to complete a surveymonkey.com/s/PLPTLVN in order to find out if there is a better way of using music teachers.

For creativity to flourish we need the freedom to ask questions, believe or disbelieve, explore possibilities and have fun doing so. Given how much time we spend at work lets develop our creativity and make our workplaces a House of Fun. We know what Jane wants to happen to improve music, what do you want to happen?7164650083_ab07ed1e49_z



Baby Look into My Eyes…

This week I attended the 5th Annual Baby Room Conference organised by Kathy Goouch and her team at Canterbury University.

The keynote speaker Annette Karmilof- Smith reflected on how her work in brain development had led her to think about how the baby learns. She opened her speech with a reminder that new-born children can remember the sounds they had been processing during their final trimester in the womb. Apparently, they remembered and responded to TV music themes you listened to or watched during pregnancy. According to YouTube, the top TV themes include ‘I Dream of Jennie’,  ‘Hawaii Five O’, ‘The A Team’ and ‘Mission Impossible.’ I must admit that towards the end of one of my pregnancies I took to eating smoked fish while watching ‘Neighbours.’ Had I known about the Mozart effect, I might have revised my dodgy musical options. Continue reading

Where does Early Years fit in the ‘British Values’ in Education Debate?

Mr Gove seems unable to avoid controversy and so began another educational debate when he decided that schools would need to promote ‘British values.’
As ever, Early Years education was ignored but in fact values are a central and quite explicit element of the way we educate our youngest children, not least because we cannot educate small children without the very active and close involvement of parents and their communities.
What is a value? Is it not a set of principles and standards of behaviours about what is important in life? Of course these principles are mostly unconscious as we translate them into our rules, attitudes and moral codes of conduct and behaviour. The issue of values is a live one for Early Years Education as we battle to get Government and policy makers to recognise its centrality for achieving those very values described by our Prime Minister, David Cameron as freedom, tolerance, respect for the rule of law and belief in personal and social responsibility.7164353399_cb49b0119f_z
However our politicians, schooled in the art of blandness, continue to come out with the usual clichés to describe values, presents us with a bigger problem. This statement to teach ‘British values’ is another opportunity for Government to disrupt the whole sector. The pattern so far has been to issue a dictum, ‘consult’ and then ignore the consultation and insist its done their way. Early Years education is one example but the whole of the Education sector has been in a constant state of flux since politicians started to really mess with it. In the past, the duty of the Education Secretary was to squeeze money for milk from the Treasury. Nowadays, they are meddling with the pedagogy and curriculum while ignoring any research or experts. What happened to the thinking of Rousseau, Dewey, Froebel, McMillan and Vygotsky among others? Is it all to be abandoned in favour of what politicians refer to ‘common-sense?’ I remember the wise words of my first Open University tutor (my first degree was OU and I have liked the University ever since.) He said we are here to think deeply so let’s give ‘common sense’ a break.
There is plenty of evidence to identify British Values. The British Social Attitudes survey  has been conducted annually since 1983. Every year the survey asks over 3,000 people what it’s like to live in Britain and how they think Britain is run; tracking people’s changing social, political and moral attitudes. It informs the development of public policy and is an important barometer of public attitudes used by opinion leaders and social commentators. The 2013 survey focused on the case for immigration. There is the UK Values Survey on Increasing Happiness. Citizens of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales were found to share seven values in common: caring, family, honesty, humour/fun, friendship, fairness and compassion.

Their personal values show that:

  • Meaningful close relationships with others are important to them and are central to the decisions they make.
  • Kindness, empathy and consideration are crucial to their interactions with others.
  • They seek to ensure that people are treated justly and fairly.
  • They have a fun loving approach to life and enjoy sharing good times.
  • They appreciate freedom and autonomy and prefer not to be reliant on others


The views of 42,000 children aged 8 – 15 formed the basis of the research commissioned 2012/3 by The Children’s Society. The resulting report Good Childhood: Searching for Values in a Competitive Age by Richard Layard and Judy Dunn in 2012 which found in summary children wanted was a happier society which valued and ensured stable families, where schools developed emotionally resilient children eager to contribute to the social good in safe and secure communities, where a greater spirit of equality increases mutual respect and trust, where employment was stable and there was no risk to economic policies that jeopardise the stability to increase economic growth.
Thomas Jefferson said that the care of human life and happiness is the only legitimate object of good government‘. So this Government should make the happiness of the people the main outcome which they pursue and maybe apply the value of listening.
Currently at LEYF we are refreshing our values to make sure they rightly reflect the views and ambitions of children, parents and staff. Everyday, our organisation welcomes 3000 children from a wide range of communities and cultures across London and it’s important to us that the organisation listens, articulates and translates our shared values into a clear message. This is modern Britain and so we are articulating our British/Education values. To describe LEYF values: words like nurturing, brave, fun and inspiring are front runners. How do those words translate the values into action and behaviour?

  • Using play as a significant means of teaching is essential as we believe children should have fun while building the cognitive, social, and emotional skills necessary for healthy growth and development.
  • We want to inspire our staff to reflect and challenge and improve research to continually inform our approach so we can be brave and stand up for what is best for children.
  • We want to ensure our staff are trained to nurture children and their parents and be empathetic and kind in their behaviour and language while ensuring secure, consistent and responsive attachments.

These are some of our British values and they reflect what we believe to be right for children in London today. They form the basis of our modus operandi.

But Mr Gove, in answering your request that we teach and live by our British values, will you leave it at that? Will you prevent policy meddling when some of the values do not fit comfortably with yours or that of your Government? Will you trust our British values?banksychildlabor-582x436[1]

The #OfstedBigconversation – London


The London Big Conversation was hosted last week at LEYF and an informed and lively audience greeted three inspectors.
Led by Debbie Jones, Regional Director for London and National Lead for Social Care accompanied by Jane Wotherspoon, an HMI with National Lead for EYFS and John Kennedy, a London Senior HMI.

This blog does not follow the exact pattern of the meeting but reflects notes taken by LEYF colleagues and comments from Simona McKenzie. I have also included comments from Ofsted’s John Kennedy (displayed in separate text boxes below.)

We welcomed them to what we anticipated would be an energetic dialogue and began by thanking them for listening so far and making some changes such as complaints led inspections no longer immediately triggering a full inspection and the options for judgements to go up as well as down. We also noted some positive inspections we had recently with humane, informed and listening inspectors.

Some positives:

  • respectful and supportive approach to safeguarding
  • prudent approach to quality assurance
  • pleased that complaints do not need to drive an inspection and that inspection judgements could go up or down
  • more of a ‘we relationship’
  • welcomed the regional approach

We set the scene and agreed the meeting would be a mutually respectful and constructive conversation. Examples to illustrate concerns would be open but there would also be space for the Ofsted trio to feel able to respond, challenge and comment within an agreed level of discretion and frankness.

Notes are summary notes of some key points. Text in italic indicates a comment from Ofsted during the discussion. The notes are grouped into key points for ease of reference.

Key foci for the discussion were signalled by the facilitator included:

  • the management of inspection
  • the inspection itself – what are inspectors looking for, for example, in respect of teaching
  • inspection outcomes, judgements and the report
  • focus on improvement – what is meant by it and what is Ofsted’s role

Ofsted representatives indicated that should there be questions they cannot answer, they would take they away for a response.

The group was shy for the first ten minutes but soon warmed to the theme.
The first question focused on the practice of conducting inspections when the nursery manager is on annual leave.  This is causing concern especially for small settings where the manager is a lynchpin.  Suggestions included minor adjustments to the diary function on the SEF where managers can note absences etc. Ofsted will check this out as an option but no promises.

Managers being on leave during an inspection. Ofsted was asked to consider what arrangements could be put into place to enable providers to indicate when managers are on leave, so that this could be considered by Ofsted when programming inspections. This was particularly important for a small setting where the manager was key. It was felt that the situation relating to providers was different to other settings such as schools, as they were not open all year round and leave dates were known in advance. One suggestion was to consider if a diary function could be set up to signal manager’s planned leave. We will bring this back for consideration but cannot promise anything re timing of inspections.

Unsurprisingly, we spent a fair amount of time on the complaints procedures. A key issue remains the length of time it takes to go through the procedure and the distress this causes.  We are still miffed that Stage 1 of complaining about a judgement or an inspector is investigated by the contractors themselves and it has to reach Stage 2 before it goes to Ofsted where there was a feeling that there was more chance of a fairer hearing. That said the number of complaints about the judgements overturned was depressingly low.

Sarah Steel from Old Station Nursery group was interested in Ofsted’s view about how we claim compensation when we have a complaint upheld but which has taken six months to achieve. The details to apply are buried very deep in the Ofsted website, a point conceded by Ofsted. We also reiterated our dissatisfaction that reports are posted on the website with no message to indicate to readers including parents that the report is being contested.

Complaints – There seems to be a high proportion of complaints that are not upheld and the process seems very long. It would also be helpful to have a flag on the website indicating to parents when a provider was complaining about an inspection, given the delay in the report being published.

We are looking into the whole area of complaints to identify what improvements can be made.

Some concerns were expressed about complaint-driven inspections where the complaints may be fuelled by other factors e.g. ex staff. It was felt that there needs to be an ‘intelligent way’ to consider complaints and decisions about inspections.

Providers made the point about the serious implications which can result from complaints-triggered inspections where a provider is not allowed to work. Some providers felt that they should know who made the complaint. There are limitations on what can be divulged in order to protect anonymity. We look carefully at complaints to separate out those which may have little substance from those, for example, which relate to safeguarding and where an inspection is essential.

Some asked about compensation when a complaint has been upheld and why there did not appear to be anything very easy to access on Ofsted’s website about compensation for providers.

A question was asked about a specific case and the importance of not having a significant gap between a complaint coming to Ofsted and an inspection report being published so that parents are made aware without undue delay of specific issues relating to a setting so that they can be informed before placing their children there.

A comment was made that it would be helpful to have an appeal process as there seems to be no way to question inspection findings other than making a complaint.

Point was made about online complaints and that it was not possible to send in other evidence. The complaints process should involve contact with a provider and providers should be able to submit additional evidence to support their complaint

There was a reoccurring theme throughout our three hour meeting that many inspectors were poorly trained and that the sector had a real lack of faith in Tribal.
A question was asked about whether Tribal QA did their own work? Ofsted explained that they do random sampling checks and look at the match between the report and the evidence. They address issues when they find reports that are not fit for publication usually through performance management and more training for inspectors. Attendees at the meeting suggested that the process required more transparency and rigour if it was to have credibility, a view shared across the sector.

Quality of inspectors. A number of concerns were expressed about the quality of training of Tribal inspectors. These concerns were not expressed about non-ISP inspectors working internally in Ofsted. The inconsistency raises questions about credibility.

A number of specific examples were given where providers believed that newer inspectors’ judgements on compliance-related aspects, legal issues, regulations were open to question. It was felt that training was focussing on pedagogy, communication, language, literacy etc.

Individual concerns regarding some experiences of inspection included:

  • instances where a second inspector may be accompanying an inspector (without any pre-call to alert the childminder), for example, as a shadow and the impact this has on a childminder, given the size of the setting
  • an inspector arriving at the setting without a photo ID
  • an inspector arriving late to the setting
  • inspectors making unprofessional or personal comments
  • individual comments by an inspector, e.g. that a setting could never be outstanding if they did not have free flow for children Not accurate for an inspector to make such a generalisation – the context is important

Some childminders find it hard to challenge inspectors.

Some also commented positively on their experience of inspection and particular inspectors.

A point was made that it could be better for a provider to have the same inspector

A question was asked as to why local authorities could not be given the responsibility for undertaking the inspections of childminders.

Ofsted is placing high priority on a number of key points in relation to inspection practice (a) the quality of training; (b) ensuring an accurate match between evidence and judgement and (c) ensuring consistency.

Regulations about managers. View that Ofsted should be discussing regulations about managers with the DfE. Point was made about social care background of a person. You could potentially have a situation where you employ a disqualified person.

The debate led on to a comment about the high number of complaints-led inspections:

‘Brought forward ‘inspections triggered by safeguarding issues and malicious and vexatious anonymous complaints. There was a general view that not addressing this in a proportionate way will skew the balance of fairness and justice as there is no comeback on the complainant but the nursery or childminders can have their business and reputation ruined when this occurs. There were some graphic examples to highlight this including disgruntled staff members with a grudge. Neil Leitch, CEO of the Pre School Learning Alliance noted that 69% of complaints triggered by parents were by parents with debt and fee issues. Ofsted  say they are looking carefully to understand vexatious complaints balanced against issues of safeguarding but in the meantime safeguarding is a priority and inspections will be brought forward if there are any issues that suggest children are unsafe or at risk.

We discussed the issue of Improvement with Ofsted and agreed that the regional structure was better as they could get a better grasp on local issues and respond more quickly through local seminars and good practice examples on the website.

Communication and Ofsted’s website. Some felt that there are issues in getting through to Ofsted and also that the website is not as good as it could be. General feeling that it was not easy to navigate. We recognise that more needs to be done to improve this area. We drew attention to the good practice area of Ofsted’s website – some new examples were put on it last week

There was quite a conversation at this stage with colleagues from the local authority and the challenge they face with depleting teams to meet the  needs of improving setting that are judged ‘requires improvement.’  The general consensus was that by not supporting settings continuously, policy means we are shutting the gate after the horse had bolted.

Improvement and moving to ‘good’ A view was expressed that the timescale expectation for a provider to move from ‘inadequate’ to ‘good’ was too short. There have been some ‘getting to good’ pilot seminars and the responses to these have been positive. We have listened very carefully to local authority concerns. We will not be carrying out improvement visits to providers routinely as we do in schools. Instead, we will be visiting / discussing with local authorities what is happening in a local area to drive improvements. It is important to stress that we are not taking over the local authority role. A local authority representative indicated that the LA welcomed the annual early years visits that used to take place.

We are now looking at developing getting to good seminars at a regional level.

A question was asked as to why childminders were not included in the pilots. This was because non-domestic settings were the focus of the pilots. There was a general anxiety expressed by some that childminders feel undervalued and that changes relating to childminding agencies will move them further away from Ofsted. Some expressed the view that Ofsted / DfE should consult childminders more.

Catriona Nason asked about sleep rooms.  She wanted clarification as to whether we need sleep rooms, the rules about closed doors and supervision.  Ofsted referred to the statutory requirements which do not specify the need for sleep rooms. Each setting had to risk assess what they felt worked best for them, given their context, and kept children safe.

Childminders were disappointed they had not been part of the pilot of the ‘getting good seminars’ and queried whether this was a deliberate means of excluding them. There were comments as to whether Ofsted intend to de-regulate childminders but Ofsted shrugged this off and did not give a firm answer. A more specific question was posed by Simona about why are inspectors interpreting the variations differently and why are some childminders being downgraded for continuity of care?  Why are inspectors saying there is no such thing as 4 under 5s? Why has overlap not been dealt with as our Minister had promised she would address this as CMs were more likely to have these than any other provider?  Why is the ratio for childminders in 3 paragraphs compared to pages and pages for others in both EYFS 2012 and 2014? Ofsted said they would examine this but reminded us that they were independent and regulated against the Department of Education standards.

Emphasis given to childminders. Some were of the view that not enough focus is being given to childminders in the framework / guidance. The framework is a DfE issue rather than something that Ofsted is directly responsible for

LEYF Head of Compliance asked about delegating responsibility of the nominated person especially with regards to the management of safeguarding investigations known in the sector as LADOs. Ofsted have agreed to check this.

Ofsted were surprised when we asked why reports were taking up to five months to arrive. We had quite a few examples in the room. Ofsted will explore this as Tribal have KPIs and one is a 15 day target to issue reports. Childminders asked if they would extend the 24 hours to agree the report as it’s easy to miss this especially if you are a CM who may not look at emails for 24 hours.

We all agreed that the website needs improving. It’s complicated and the alerts are unreliable. Ofsted agreed that this is on their radar for improvements.

Late publication of reports. Late arrival of some reports, for example, a 4.5 month delay
Reports. There have been some delays in reports being published. Examples were given of a 4 or 5-month delay. Timescales are set out for the publication of reports and are part of the KPIs (key performance indicators) for Tribal, for example, for schools – so delays have implications for these KPIs. It was also felt that a 24-hour turnaround time for some providers can be unhelpful and it would be more helpful to have slightly longer – e.g. 48 hours. There is also on occasion a mismatch between the feedback during the inspection and what is then written in the report. A question was asked as to why the local authority does not get an inspection report before it is published on the website.

We asked if the contracts will be brought in house next year when the contract period is up. We did not really expect an answer but said that in the spirit of good commissioning we would be happy to help them frame the next contract. Currently, Dee Gasson is reviewing the regulations in order to make sure the principle of regulars working with those they regulate is embedded.  They are framing this within a report written in 2007 by Deloitte.  Colleagues from the Independent Childminding trade association are currently advising on the Regulators Code. Ofsted will update us on progress

Regulator Code of Practice. A question was asked about how far Ofsted has got in implementing the 2007 Regulator Code of Practice in helping to reduce complaints and ensure fair, proportionate and accurate regulation. A meeting has taken place with the Principal Officer Early Years Ofsted regarding this. This work is ongoing.

Finally, we asked what Ofsted mean by teaching. They referred to the published ‘Evaluation schedule’ updated in November 2013 which contains a definition of teaching but noted our comments given our anxiety about the variations in inspector’s judgements. To help give us a steer my next blog will address this very issue!

Teaching and framework changes. Question was asked about what is teaching and what inspectors are looking for. The grade descriptors are the key. Question about further changes to the inspection framework following proposed changes to the EYFS framework. We don’t anticipate substantial changes to the inspection framework in September – there will be some tweaks. Question was asked about sleep rooms. The key is what the statutory framework says and importance of a common sense approach to the context

If we want to improve the lives of poor two year olds, we need to have an intelligent Ofsted conversation

‘More nursery education should be carried out in schools to prepare children better for later education and help bridge the gap between rich and poor’ the Chief Inspector of schools has said.

Sir Michael Wilshaw warned that ‘too many early years education providers are failing to teach youngsters social, emotional and learning skills and get them ready to start primary school.’9739511441_f1f00e4de8_z

‘Pupils from poorer backgrounds are also too often falling behind their more privileged peers by the time they reach school age, but bringing “structured” early years provision into a school setting would help put them on equal footing.’ His comments came ahead of Ofsted’s first Early Years Annual Report, which will call for a radical shake-up of early years education in England.

And so screamed the headlines…blood pressure raised, heads shook, teeth were kissed by many in the Early Years sector as they listened to this while stirring the porridge.

The trouble was that the speech confused many issues into a simplistic message which was a shame because the central tenet that There is nothing inevitable about the link between poverty and failure is something on which Sir Michael and I totally agree. It’s the principle on which we built LEYF.

However, his conclusion that all this would be solved if we put poor children into school earlier is simplistic, arrogant and dismisses the whole Early Years sector as either meddling middle class earth mothers, or useless Early Years practitioners. No doubt, there is some truth in this but it’s a rather Homer Simpson approach. Doh! homer-simpson-doh

Let’s probe some of the assumptions he makes:

  1. Ofsted figures show continual improvement in the standards of quality offered by PVI nurseries, so why is he blaming us for the fact the children age four are not school ready?
  2. Children aged three have been in school for the last 12 years and there is no research that shows that by being in school they have successfully helped children become school ready.
  3. There is no research that says two year olds from vulnerable and disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to better success by attending a school environment. It hasn’t worked for three year olds.
  4. My experience of the two year olds on the two year old programme is that they have disproportionately higher levels of speech and communication problems, disorganised attachment, nutrition  issues and parents who are either unable or unwilling to be warm, authoritative parents which is, as we know, the most successful parenting style. How will schools cope with this?
  5. He says that because teachers are graduates then the quality of teaching will be higher. The research we did  shows quite clearly that the level of qualification could not be proven as key to quality for two year olds but the level of attunement, understanding of child development and the high ratios were the critical factors. Is he and Liz Truss in cahoots to get the ratios reduced?
  6. He wants us to ‘teach’ two year olds and provide more formalised learning. Well, we do teach two year olds using sensory and creative teaching, enabling environments, routine, small groups, outdoor play and continual conversation, language, singing stories and working with their parents. Two year olds are babies at 25 months, toddlers by thirty months and emerging small children by thirty six months.  They come sucking dummies, in nappies and hardly able to separate from their parents and become quite independent by three but the journey means we weave care, order and loving attachment into their learning.  Call that teaching if you want Sir Michael but it needs plenty of adults and home learning activities.
  7. Sir Michael, no one objects to children being able to know ‘how to hold a pen… the ability to count, to recognise words, to communicate well with each other and their teachers’ but we need to agree what your inspectors look for as we help children become skilled at such tasks.  We need to be able to do this in a paced way so we work in alignment with the child and not in some pressured race.  Perhaps you might rethink why we need to be able to do all this at four and five which is not even statutory school age.
  8. We agree we need to develop a shared baseline screening but the evidence so far is not hopeful that they help children progress. Let’s think of a better way to identify children’s starting points and track their progress.
  9. Sir Michael, we have for many, many years tried to engage with schools and it’s never been a coherent success. It very much depends of factors such as a willing Headteacher, locality, time, cover and Local Authority support.  Why do you think you can force a different course of action?
  10. With so many schools failing and in special measures and no Local Authority support how will deregulation ensure quality is assured in schools and guarantee children the best service.

Sir Michael, we are all on the side of children.  However, to succeed so everyone is life ready we need to have a coherent approach if we are to support children to succeed. You cannot do that by telling one element of the sector that it’s to blame for failing poor children in the face of contradictory evidence.  Why not use Ofsted’s role as an improvement catalyst and engage with the sector?  This is where we can all show real leadership. The issues are more complex than you acknowledge and we need a holistic approach.  Start by setting up a National Advisory Committee to tackle each element of the problem. Let’s begin by having a pedagogical conversation…


‘We worry so much about what a child will be tomorrow that we forget she is someone today.
Stacia Tauchser

An Invitation to the London #OfstedBigConversation

The London conversation will take place at 9.30 on Friday the 11th April at LEYF Head Office (121 Marsham St, SW1P 4LX).  The aim of the ‘Conversation’ is to identify how Ofsted inspection and regulation helps the sector achieve our shared goal of delivering outstanding early years education and childcare for all children and families.

As with our initial meeting this is an open meeting on a first come first served basis. However to make sure we get a fair representation please can those of you wanting to come:

  • Have a London focus
  • Apply for one place only per organisation
  • Send someone who can make decisions

It would be great to welcome colleagues from nurseries, pre-schools, childminder groups, local authorities, membership groups and policy makers.

I will Chair the meeting with my co-chair Catriona Nason, known to many of you for setting up and managing the OBC website.

To book a place please click through to this link. We are putting a limit on numbers as there is limited capacity so do hurry

The agenda reflects our initial concerns and the recent feedback from our colleagues in the South West and the North who have already met with their Regional Directors.  It will be strategic in tone and focused on the broader issues rather than addressing individual complaints.

In order to prepare and to make sure we have facts to support our requests and challenges, it is important to read some of the more up to date early years announcements from Ofsted.

The Agenda shaped as an issue and questions.

  1. Issue: Complaint initiated inspections (vexatious and /or malicious) are absorbing Ofsted resources and impacting on the inspection cycle.
    Question: How does Ofsted see its role in limiting the emergence of the public being able to make malicious or vexation complaints without robust evidence?
  2. Issue: Ofsted role with regards to improvement in the Early Years sector
    Question: Is it driven by statements or letters from their leader or a more coherent and researched approach?  How does Ofsted see the role of the sector in supporting the concept of improvement?
  3. Issue : Length of time for reports
    Question: Why is it taking up to 12 weeks to issue a report?
  4. Issue: Purchased Inspections
    Question: When can we buy an inspection?
  5. Issue:  Fair Reporting of Inspections
    Question: Why are Inspections published during an appeal period?
    Question: Why are complaints that are not upheld not deleted ?
  6. Issue: Nominated Person
    Question: Can we have more than a single nominated person?
  7. Issue: Contractors
    Question: How can we contribute to the commissioning process of future Ofsted contractors?

ofsted-300x256Last week, Sir Michael Wilshaw wrote to the early years inspectors urging them to ‘focus on evaluating whether children are being adequately prepared for the start of their statutory schooling’ and lists factors that he feels should be taken into account when considering a setting’s rating.

Wilshaw writes:
‘Inspectors should report on what makes teaching and assessment effective rather than on its style. I expect inspectors to apply common sense when observing how well children learn and how effectively adults teach children to develop skills, knowledge and understanding. I want to know how well settings help children to catch up when they enter with skills that are lower than those typical for their age. I expect reports to be clear about the extent to which a provider prepares children for school.’

Now in addition to these issues there are some bigger more philosophical shifts in Ofsted’s approach that will have implications for the sector. I added some suggested questions just to get you in the mood

  1. Question:  What does Ofsted think makes teaching and assessment effective?
  2. Question: What does Ofsted mean by teaching children and not focusing just on supervision and care?
  3. Question: What does Ofsted accept as effective means of extending children’s vocabulary? What will they judge is acceptable evidence?
  4. Question : What will Ofsted inspectors do to apply common sense when observing how well children learn and how effectively adults teach children to develop skills, knowledge and understanding?
  5. Question: How will Ofsted get consistency among inspectors to such broad statements and will there by a discussion with sector as to what this means in reality?
  6. Question:  Is Ofsted about to discount the EYFS?

Issue: London has seen a rise in the quality of its schools again this year and inspection outcomes overall were the best in the country in 2012/13. In recent years, the proportion of good or outstanding schools has increased dramatically. More than eight in every 10 children and young people benefit from education in a good or outstanding school in London. However, the picture for students post-16 is not nearly so healthy. Despite improvements this year, more than a third of the 45 colleges in the capital are less than good. and not up to scratch.

Question: How will the Ofsted’s improvement agenda address this? This is an issue for us recruiting nursery staff as from September 2014 they need an A to C to as entry level for a Level 3 qualification.

Issue:  Ofsted propose to introduce a separate graded judgement about the overall effectiveness of Nursery and Reception classes in the inspection framework for maintained schools and academies. We would also require inspectors to write a discrete paragraph evaluating this provision. We propose developing a separate set of brief evaluation criteria, which will be published in the School inspection handbook, to support inspectors reaching a judgement on this stage and to help schools’ self-evaluation. These criteria would encompass:
– achievement
– the quality of the teaching
– behaviour and safety
– leadership and management.

Inspectors would take account of this separate judgement when making their judgement on the overall effectiveness of the school.