Tag Archives: Learning

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

 

 

 

 

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

Red_hat_WBK

 

 

 

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

Black_hat_WBK

 

 

 

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

Yellow_hat_WBK

 

 

 

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

Green_hat_WBK

 

 

 

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

Blue_hat_WBK

 

 

 

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

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

imalrightjack

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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?

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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?
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  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.
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  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…

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

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

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.”

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

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

Fly Me To the Moon….’Dunoon!’

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

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

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

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

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

Early Years Collaborative (Scotland)

Early Years Collaborative (Scotland)

The Collaborative has ten underpinning principles:

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

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

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

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

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

 

#OfstedBigConversation: On your marks, get set…!

7772672352_b5afb592e1_kCharles Handy identified three attributes, ‘difference, dedication and doggedness’ as the mark of successful entrepreneurs. He quoted the poet Keats view on doggedness,

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