Tag Archives: Impact

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



Visiting the Farmer is his Den

Last week I visited Paddington Farm in Glastonbury Somerset of which I am Chair. It’s a lovely 43 acre organic farm which is run as a social enterprise. The farm offers holidays to groups and families at a reasonable price with lovely educational activities to give everyone a relaxing and fun holiday.

Children and staff from LEYF have visited the farm for the past twenty years and always come back relaxed and enthused and much more knowledgeable about the origins of their food. In a world where we trust less and are highly anxious about health and safety, a visit to the farm is almost essential. Of course, visiting a farm is not in the EYFS but you could probably meet most of the EYFS requirements after a week on a farm.

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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.

An Oscar Speech for Early Years Practitioners

Gold TrophyLast week I went to friend’s wedding and when it came to the speeches, she stood up and explained that as it was the day of the 86th Academy Awards she would give her speech in true Oscar acceptance style. I took a deep breath as some of the most excruciating Oscar speeches came into my mind; do you remember Halle Berry or Gwyneth Paltrow or James Cameron?
However, my friend works in Early Years and so would never take herself that seriously – her speech successfully dripped with stories and vignettes to make us all laugh!
I have been telling stories and making people laugh at a number of recent conferences and it certainly seems to elicit a warm and engaged response with people often commenting about why it’s so important we don’t take ourselves too seriously as it’s not about us but all about the children.
This was particularly heartening from practitioners working in a low status sector and coping with a national Press and Public which both misunderstand and misconstrue what it is we do. Look at last week, we were once again in the press, broadcasted as greedy expensive childcare providers.  On BBC Radio London Drive Time, Eddie Nester said to me that someone must be making a lot of money out of childcare. Well, I replied ‘introduce me to him and his credit card.’
We know that the problem is not the cost of childcare but the proportion parents pay. This proportion will increase all the more if more providers stop providing the ‘free offer’ because the shortfall between the hourly cost and the hourly rate  is placing their business in jeopardy. Given that 80% of costs in a childcare business is staff and we are not high earners, how do people think we are accumulating vast fortunes? For more details read the Family Childcare Trust report. teacht-kids-money[1]

I read on Twitter that Ofsted finds one third of settings as ‘not good.’  Let’s analyse what that means and not immediately assume it’s correct or a true reflection of the state of the Early Years. We are still working with Ofsted on getting a shared perspective. Look out for the #OfstedBigConversation and the London meeting on 11th April (details in April blog).
So to those enthusiastic and warm people I meet at conferences (this week I met you in Camden and Hackney) my  Oscar speech says hold your nerve and keep your positive attitude.  Continue to fight for what is right.  We are critical to supporting children to succeed.  We are also providing childcare which is an economic pillar to help families work and stay out of poverty. The research is consistent; good quality childcare makes a significance difference to children especially the most vulnerable. President Obama has just drafted a policy to increase childcare, the Australian Government has ploughed $44m dollars into it while this country continues to be confused about childcare instead of showing the way (a Razzie for them). This quote from an Oscar speech this year from Lupita Nyong’o is a fitting reminder of why Early Years practitioners deserve their own Osacar:

                                       When I look down at the golden statue
                                       May it remind you of every little child that 
                                       Wherever you’re from
                                       Your dreams are valid

Early Years where ‘Mary Mary quite Contrary’ is also an Environmentalist and Climatologist

Yesterday, I enjoyed watching a tranquil almost bucolic scene with rowers rowing up the Thames, families walking with their children and dogs and runners and cyclists cruising along the towpath. It could almost have been a scene from a Turner painting.

England: Richmond Hill, on the Prince Regent's Birthday exhibited 1819 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851
It was hard to imagine that only two days before the country was still in the thrall of storms and costal tempests the like of which we have not seen for a long time.

As someone who lives by the part of the Thames controlled by the Thames Barrier, I have been watching with trepidation as more and more of South East England has gone under water.  My close friend who lives five miles from me was surrounded by water for nearly three weeks. On Friday, I had to travel to the University of Reading to give students from Henley Business School a guest lecture on social enterprise.

I am grateful to South West trains for getting me there and back without a problem but I was shocked by how much brown muddy water I saw as we travelled through  Staines and Egham. It was not a rustic scene.

Last week, I had watched Newsnight from Wraysbury, a place I have only heard of because it is on my commuter train timetable. I listened to peoples’ views and decided at that point that we in Early Years have a significant part to play in this current climate conundrum. How’s that? I hear you say. So now we are climatologists, water engineers and scientists? No, we are Early Years teachers and we have to figure out how we can help prepare our children to become these people. Clearly, politicians are out of their depth and have resorted to playground tantrums.

floodDutch engineers were invited onto the Newsnight programme and they talked of changing our approach and working with the river.  Stop trying to work against it but understand how to manage it, build more green spaces for overflow, better storage of excess water, some dredging and a whole host of future proofing solutions.

This is what we need to think about for when we are supporting our children become the future managers of our environment.  Let’s begin with arguing for more green space not building over the green belt. Teach our children about their environment and how we are partners with our environment not dictators. Let’s think about ideas such as the living city project.

A few years ago we took our three and four year old children from the LEYF Lisson Green nursery, a highly concreted and busy place, on an environmental walk. We gave them cameras and asked them what they disliked the most: litter, bird guano and dogs were their consistent answers.  My point is, they had a view.

So now we need to consider how we get our children to understand about the climate and what that means for them.  Simple events can help.  For example the LEYF Family Events will be held from 14-23 March to raise parents understanding of how we can grow food and support our children’s interests no matter how urban the environment.

 LEYF Nurseries use methods such as urban forest school, gardening, weather charts, mud kitchens, visiting local parks and green spaces and environmental activities to introduce the idea of the climate and environmental responsibility.  It’s a small step and emulated in nurseries all across the country. So colleagues in Early Years, we have seen the country thrown into disarray and confusion by storms, rain and floods. We can be assured this will increase not diminish. Our children will, no doubt, have to face a future of environmental turmoil.

Our job is to be aware of these issues and in our own quiet and proactive way to build in an understanding at the earliest age.  So when someone tells you that you are just a childminder or a nursery nurse or Early Years teacher, stand up straight and be assured that you are building the future environmentalist, scientists, engineers  and climatologists.

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



Leading a change; a challenge or a headache?

7165607001_1cd23d8824_zThe role of the CEO is a varied one and this week I found myself commenting on assignments LEYF staff had done on change. I was really rather chuffed by their thoughtful approach to the change process. Of course I was also very flattered to see them quote my book Leadership in Early Years!  Their most common reflection was that change comes no matter what, good or bad and the challenge is being ‘change ready’ because people will resist it even if it improves their lives. They reflected on the sense of urgency for change and the energy needed to make the change. Its right to assume that change of any kind makes you tired.  Just thinking about it makes your head ache. I was therefore reassured that all five assignments demonstrated a good understanding about the culture of change and the ability to seek, assess and incorporate new ideas and practice avoiding teaching people to get better at a bad game. They got extra marks for backing up their intentions with a robust action plans to ensure that each step of the change was plotted, planned and monitored.
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If you are happy and you know it come to work

Given that January is the month when we have a collective “Blue Monday” and the highest number of disgruntled workers reach for the job vacancies, we need to think about how we welcome staff back in a way that motivates them and makes them want to stay at work. 130120BlueMondayAs January comes every year, a raft of books about ‘happiness at work’ has now emerged and the many ways to achieve it. I always think it’s best to begin with Maslow’s hierarchy which best sums up the steps we need to reach a platform of happiness at work.
Last year the Government said that it was going to measure the happiness of the nation.  This year the nation’s favourite headmaster Anthony Seldon tells us he is teaching his pupils at Wellington College about happiness. They will get a couple of hours coaching to help them develop personal techniques to deal with adversity. Back in the days when I attended a convent school we were sent on retreat with the intention to develop some inner strength that would secure our sense of contentedness and help us manage life’s challenges. At the time I did not appreciate the significance of this opportunity as I was so overwhelmed to be within the convent walls and nun 2walking in the nun’s private garden.

I read recently that happiness is having low expectations. I liked that so much I tweeted it as it’s such a refreshing alternative to the celebrity and L’Oreal generation.
In a recent book called Happy Hour is 9 to 5. The Danish authorAlexander Kjerulf defines happiness at work as ‘feeling good about work most of the time.’ That is a sensible recommendation coming from him as apparently the Danes are the happiest workers in the world (Will that include Martin from The Bridge who has to work with Saga?)  I would be very happy if I thought that the LEYF staff were happy most of the time as this generally accounts for the ups and downs of life. John Stuart Mill the utilitarian tried to apply the principle that happiness is the sole object of desire. This pursuit of happiness troubled him so much that he ended up having a nervous breakdown.  Please don’t copy him.
To ensure happiness at work Kjerulf suggests what we all know; that managers should look for as many chances as possible to warm relations between staff.  He suggests bringing you tea unprompted (that keeps me very happy as Jenny well knows – especially a cup of Barrys) greeting each other when we arrive in the morning, leaving positive messages on desks, giving positive feedback. I must add that at LEYF we value curly wurlys, staff parties, cake, Mr Fenton’s quiz and prizes for meeting specific targets. 10455314873_864b58ee0d_z

About six years ago I gave a keynote speech at a nursery conference on the subject of happiness at work.  I searched out my notes and not much has changed even with Mr Kjerulf’s book.  The main message is that purposeful work tends to have happier staff. So childcare is high on job satisfaction levels despite the fact that we work for little rewards, in a highly regulated sector which is much misunderstood and low status. People continue to dislike office politics and posturing and positioning , keeping the wrong people in post and poor management which leads to negative stress.  People also hate having no control, being ignored and discounted, and having to be rushed and put under pressure all the time. Nothing surprising here then.

What staff like is:
•    shared values
•    a place where they are proud to work
•    high job satisfaction
•    recognition
•    opportunity to learn new skills.
•    working with other committed staff
•    responsibility whether it’s a small budget or to lead a project.
•    feedback which is constructive and positive

Given that so many of us depend on the goodwill and voluntary extra work of staff, especially in early years, we need to think carefully and creatively about what we offer staff which will recognise and reward them. Salary counts less than training and extending staff with challenges and resources. So think about this when you have the offer to go to a conference or an APPG or you have the chance to work with some new resources. Engage the team.  Take them with you. It’s the little things that matter.
Happiness, happiness the greatest gift that I could give or to quote John Spedan Lewis (1885 -1963)
the supreme purpose of the John Lewis Partnership is simply the happiness of its members.”