Tag Archives: Early Education

When is an entitlement not an entitlement? When it’s 30 Hours Childcare!

A previous election manifesto addition was to promise parents 30 hours of free childcare. This is an annual increase from 570 to 1140 hours, whether 30 hours term time or 22 hours stretched across 51 weeks of the year. If you are one of the many parents struggling to pay for childcare, “free” is an overstatement or I should simply state, it is misleading.

It is worth noting that when a manifesto declares childcare ‘free’, they’re counting on a lot of hardworking citizens in a climate of stagnating living standards and wages to lurch for anything called “free” without much thought about what free really means. Since we now seem to live in an alternative fact, post-truth world, I can unreservedly tell you:

Someone always pays

nothing free

How to tell the difference between free and subsidy

Childcare is a subsidised offer funded by the tax payer and the sector.

Childcare, like schools, cost.  The majority of the costs (approximately 77%) pay for staff and the rest is used to pay the rent, rates, buildings, food, resources, business costs and contingencies. Therefore, someone needs to pay the costs of this.  Up until now the local authorities allocate a proportion of their Government funding to childcare and the sector picks up the rest. So we can be given anything between £3.60 and £6.00 to fund a child’s place which may cost much more per hour especially in London. Just as an example, the National Living Wage is £7.20 and the London living wage is £9.40 so that gives an indication of some of the baseline costs.   The National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) calculated that on average the sector lost £900 per place per year.

The second word used was “entitlement”. People generally translate this to mean they can access this because they are entitled.  This is not the case. Parents may be entitled to apply for a funded place for 30 hours childcare but that is only going to happen if the childcare sector provides sufficient places. More recently guidance uses the term eligibility which is broad and covers most parents whether working a weekly minimum equivalent of 16 hours at national minimum or living wage to earning up to £100,000. The issue is availability. According to the recent Pre-School Learning Alliance report, only 44% of providers were considering providing the offer. The DfE itself published a report that said they anticipated a shortfall of 10,000 places.  4 in 10’s report ‘At what cost: The 30 hours ‘free’ childcare promise in London’ has identified that:

  • Just 13% of settings said the funding is sufficient, and over half said remaining financially viable over the next two years would be very challenging.
  • 40% of settings are not sure or definitely not going to take part
  • 33% of settings said they will not offer more 15 hour places for three and four year olds over the next two years

This reality means that many of the parents will be disillusioned about the 30 hours. That is certainly what I found when I have talked to parents about if and how we could offer it at the LEYF nurseries. I made the same point to a group of local authorities at a conference recently, warning them to get the message right to parents to avoid disappointment and discontent.

Is the sector being unreasonable?


That’s a resounding, NO!

A sector in crisis : first came the recruitment fiasco, then came the 30 hours

We are still reeling from the recruitment crisis needlessly manufactured by previous Minister Elizabeth Truss, who insisted that to enter the profession, candidates and apprentices needed A to C GCSE in Maths and English.

Well, I hear you cry, why was that such a problem?

Many who choose to become nursery teachers don’t have the required GCSEs and as a result, the sector experienced a shortage of permanent staff. As is the norm, when there’s a shortage of qualified staff and the demand soars, you know it is going to be costly to solve the workforce problem. The sector had nowhere to turn except to hiring agency and temp staff, the outcome of which was a huge increase in staffing costs, demoralised and exhausted permanent staff and ultimately a big risk to the quality of care.

It took two years and continual lobbying for the new Minster Caroline Dinenage to rightly address our concerns and rescind the GCSE requirements, giving us flexibility to increase the entry requirements but at a pace that was realistic for the sector.

The future for childcare

So, what are the options?

We cannot charge parents for any part of the free entitlement, either directly or indirectly.  So we will have the raise the fees. We can charge for activities we currently provide as part of the offer and we can charge for meals or parents can provide a packed lunch. This leads to many other issues that challenges inclusivity. For example, a Nursery World survey found 43% considered that 30 hours will negatively affect their settings’ food provision. They were worried about the quality of food and managing two lunch arrangements. There is a space issue as packed lunches need to be stored safely. Also, how do you create an inclusive environment where one child gets a meal cooked by the nursery chef and the other child is tucking into cheese and crisp sandwich?!

Finally, while the DfE has clarified that it’s not fifteen hours of education and fifteen hours of childcare, its coming across as that especially if they are insisting on the flexibility of using fifteen hours to wrap around the child. This is a backwards step in the quality debate which demands integrated care and education to meet full developmental needs of a child. The sector needs a serious conversation about 30 hours with parents. We need parents to understand the issue of quality, why 30 hours isn’t just “childcare” but deeply important early education. The research on quality needs to float right to the top of the argument.

In summary, for parents to access the 30 hours we need more funds to ensure we can deliver a sustainable offer.  This week’s Children & Young People Now (CYPN) noted that over half the nurseries across the sector (that’s could be up to 9000) are in financial difficulty and may close. We need childcare to be part of the local infrastructure and if we want quality education for our children, we must factor the following into provision :

  • Affordable housing for nursery teachers
  • Nurseries near transport links for working parents
  • A workforce strategy that supports us in swiftly rebuilding the recruitment and retention staff pipeline
  • Better and stronger relationships with employers so we can collaborate to build a more family friendly society

Childcare is just another way of describing early education.  It’s a serious offer for our small children.  It needs to be good quality.  So, if we want to help parents access it to ensure they can work and have their taxes filtered through the system, let’s cost it right and divert the funding correctly so there are no financial pinch points.  That way, we can provide the 30 hours and more and childcare will be a perfect vehicle to strengthen our infrastructure in a way that drives social and economic benefits at every level.

Six Steps For A World Leading Early Interventionist Childcare Strategy

Westminster storm

The election fever has begun.  Well, less of a fever and more of a virus at the moment. The manifesto writers are busy locked in a darkened room trying to shape their political parties’ ideas and offers. According to the media and political pundits the main subject of the election is Brexit but a general election needs to address domestic bread and butter policy as well.

The challenge of all manifesto promises is that they are great big statements with little attention to the detail.  More often than not, the translation of the manifesto promises is delegated to the local authorities. These, much maligned councils, very often find themselves having to interpret these promises into pragmatic solutions without the necessary resources. This is a concern for all local authorities given they are under huge financial pressure, not least in the area of social care and community support.

Some local authorities are still trying to deliver big manifesto promises from the last parliament such as Universal Credit which are still not implemented and emerging information shows that the promise is benefiting fewer than the anticipated headline numbers leading to greater complexity.  In fact, in the case of Universal Credit the very recent DWP figures confirmed that the number of people caught in the cross fire of a manifesto promise has increased from 8000 to 15000.  The result is more working people now live in poverty and around 2.3 million children in the UK are living below the Child Poverty Act 2010 relative poverty threshold, representing one-fifth of all children. By the same measure, eight million working age adults and, overall, over one-fifth of the UK population live in poverty. For those families stuck in a cycle of poverty the escape routes are limited. Routes out of poverty include cheaper housing, affordable childcare and flexible employment. These options are currently not freely available.

The issue of childcare is of great interest to me. As a social entrepreneur I lead the design and development of the largest community childcare social business, the London Early Years Foundation (LEYF). It was created to reduce poverty by providing all families but especially poor families access to affordable childcare.  However, despite successive Governments recognising the benefits to parents and children of good quality affordable childcare, we have yet to see a fully funded robust coherent anti child poverty childcare system implemented. Every Government has done something but never enough given the raft of national and international research which confirms the long-term benefit of high quality childcare and education for children, families and societies.

John Adams, the second American president from (1797 to 1801) noted back then that

john adams

A more recent advocate of this approach is Nobel prize winning economist Professor James Heckman who shows how childcare can reduce poverty and improve the educational achievement gap found in disadvantaged children.  This gap opens up between them and their more affluent peers at 22 months and is very hard to close.  He argued that Governments should invest in early years not least because of the rate of return which he calculated as a 7 to 10% return per annum through better outcomes in education, health, sociability, economic productivity and reduced crime. So, the argument for early intervention is strong, and quality childcare plays a significant part in this.

For example our Prime Minister Theresa May recently challenged us as a society for failing to tackle the issue of mental ill health which as she said goes right to the heart of our humanity.

Child mental healthShe cited government statistics that show one in four people has a mental disorder at some point in their life, with young people affected disproportionately as half of mental health problems start by the age of 14 and 75% by 18 at an annual cost of £105bn. Half of this would fund a world leading, life changing, society improving early interventionist childcare strategy.

There are many other benefits to taking an early interventionist route; employment that balances work and family enhances well bring, reduces poverty and sets a positive example to children.  Lone parents who have flexible work and accessible childcare step out of poverty more quickly and the cost benefit of enabling professional educated women to work while their children are young has innumerable benefits for employers and the country’s economy.  The challenge is therefore building and funding an early interventionist strategy that recognises how childcare can be key to our social and economic infrastructure.

The impending new government therefore has the chance to pull together all the positive elements of previous governments policy initiatives and create the most effective and powerful early interventionist childcare in the world beginning with these six steps:

1. Raise the profile and long-term impact of good quality childcare and how it benefits all children and society by leading a strong public front facing awareness campaign

2. Boost the involvement of employers in the awareness campaign so that they invest in better childcare and family friendly activates to attract and retain staff

3. Strengthen quality by investing in an Early Years work strategy that sets out and funds a national properly paid, attractive career pathway from apprentice to Masters degrees.

4. Develop a national housing policy which includes an explicit keyworker building programme especially for those low paid nursery staff.

5. Better fund the public childcare offer so that its fair and accessible to all parents not just those who can make up the shortfall through parental contributions.

6. Amplify and foster the important role of social businesses in the childcare market as sustainable means of providing high quality childcare within poor and diverse communities.

Become an Early Years Teacher and Beat the Robots

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

The Birth of Artificial Intelligence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Devo, Beautiful World

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.


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.


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).




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.


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



An inspector calls… and the sector arrives to listen and ponder.

On Friday morning I traipsed up to Camden to hear Sir Michael Wilshaw, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Education, Children’s Services and Skills announce his plans for Early Years at a Press Conference. I was determined to hear it from him directly, given the realities of what is happening on the ground at the moment.

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