Tag Archives: Leadership

Ofsted has discovered Child Poverty

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

The specific details look like this:

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

 What did Ofsted think we need to do?

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

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

Skeptical baby

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




I’m Alright, Jack

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

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

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

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

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

Click on graph for bigger image

Click on graph for bigger image

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6 hat thinking









White Hat:  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.


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

What is teaching and who are the teachers in Early Years?

Recently, the Chief Inspector for Schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw launched the Annual Report on Early Years 2012-13 with a fairly controversial speech.  He threw down the gauntlet to the sector announcing that we were failing our poorest children because we were not teaching them to be school ready. This raised quite a few hackles and many a blog was written challenging his views but at the heart of his challenge lay the question what is teaching and who are the teachers?


Continue reading

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.

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

The Tale of Two Michaels; ‘Le Ofsted Split’

The breakup of relationship always fascinates us. We are drawn to the details like a moth to light. The intricate relationship between the Secretary of State for Education and Ofsted is currently disintegrating very publicly. Last week the Sunday Times (in a piece aptly placed next to the French Prime Minister ‘Le Split) exposed Sir Michael Wilshaw’s distress at Michael Gove’s tacitly approved attacks on Ofsted. This week, Mr Gove sacked the Chair of Ofsted and is trying to convince the world that he wont appoint a crony.


According to the Sunday Times Sir Michael Wilshaw was displeased, shocked, angry and outraged by right-wingers questioning the integrity of the Inspectorate whose job it is to rate the quality of schools and which he credits as having done more to raise standards in the last 20 years than any other organisation. It would seem the crux of the problem is a right-wing dislike of Sir Michael’s insistence on inspecting and finding fault with flagship academies and free schools as well as his belief that the Local Authorities should have the overview of these schools. Think Tanks such as Civitas want a special inspectorate for academies and free schools while Policy Exchange (set up by Gove) is drafting a paper asking if the schools inspectorate is fit or purpose.

Sir Michael’s worry is that that these people don’t know anything about education and want children to be lectured for 6 hours a day in serried ranks. He is against this arguing that we need a balanced approach to teaching as children need to become independent thinkers, able to co-operate and work in teams as well as pass exams and build up skills and knowledge.  He sees these attacks is the right-wing blob simply trying to replace a left-wing and neither are informed, learned or expert about education.

I am not having the Government or anyone else tell me and the inspectorate what they should assess as good teaching‘ He says he ‘won’t be leant on.’
I admire this as some young whippersnapper advisers tried to lean on me when I dared to object to Government policies; a most distasteful experience…for them!


Now, you may wonder if I have become an Ofsted groupie?! Afterall, I take the same view as Sir Michael and dislike people telling us what makes good childcare and education, especially when they know nothing about the subject. However, I admire both the ‘Michael’s’ desire to improve things but I am prepared to challenge their methods. I was, after all, the principal instigator of the #OfstedBigConversation which exposed the weaknesses of inspections in Early Years. In fairness, Ofsted has begun to listen and we are making some progress under Sir Michael’s leadership and for that we are thankful. I am hoping he is willing to continue to talk to those of us who are very clued up about what makes good education for very small children.  The DfE certainly won’t.

So, the public spat between the two Michaels and the emerging battle between the Secretary of State’s office and Ofsted begs some serious questions. Firstly, what role should advisors play in the shaping of education policy and practice? Secondly, should education be the playground of politicians? Finally, why are jobs such as Chief Inspectors and Chairs of Public Bodies in the gift of politicians?