Tag Archives: Partnerships

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Nets, Networks and Networking to Create Collective Impact

This week I visited the West Country to speak to a group of people working or interested in working in social enterprise. I really wanted to have a day at the seaside and take a train along the Dawlish track which was the subject of such dramatic TV footage last year. 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

#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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A Trip to the Farm and an Incident with a Chicken

I have the privilege of being the Chair of Paddington Farm Trust.  This is a 43 acre organic farm in Glastonbury Somerset, set up with legacy funds from the Greater London Council as a resource for children from inner London.  It was initially a group of well-meaning and interested Westminster residents that took it on and began a story which continues today…

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In Support of Childminders: You are not a Lone Voice Calling from the Wilderness.

On last week’s blog a LINK childminder made an impassioned appeal to the sector to support childminders.  She was feeling that we were less engaged with the argument against childminding agencies.

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A fine Scottish trinity: Islands, Carnochan and Mr Gove

It was a brave move when Isabel Dunn, recently retired chair of the Scottish Preschool Playgroup Association (SPPA) asked me if I would give this year’s keynote speech to their annual SPPA Conference at the Royal Concert Hall in Glasgow.  I always enjoy coming to Scotland, not least because I get to spend time with the lovely Alice Sharp from Experiential Play, who fizzes with ideas and is a mainstay of the LEYF Annual Conference (this year to be held again at Pimlico Academy, on Friday 2 November).

Counter to the stereotype, I always receive a warm and generous reception in Scotland, having shared the LEYF way across this mountainous country from Stornaway to Inverary Jail. And this trip was equally pleasant, despite having traveled on EasyJet which needs to replace its strapline with ‘EasyJet – great travel for those willing to wait patiently in queues and who don’t mind a scrum’.  Apparently having listened to their customers they are going to reintroduce booked and allocated seats.  Alleluia and not before time.  How many more companies would have saved themselves a lot of reputational risk if they had listened to their customers?

I stayed at a Citizen M hotel – which is really a trick hotel! Firstly, there is no foyer or reception until you go upstairs.  Then you have to check in on a screen.  (Great I suppose if you are looking for a private room to conduct a torrid affair.)  Most notably, and especially if you are a Luddite, everything is controlled by remote control – and I mean everything, from blinds to lights to TV.  Not the best hotel to bring the husband then if the statistics are right, and they tend to hang on to the remote (or the ‘mote’ as one apprentice described it, having never heard it given its full descriptor in her house).

Another thing I love about Scotland is dinner; always a more generous affair with lots of chat well into the wee hours. And this time I was particularly pleased when my pudding request was understood, as the clue came through my recalling my favourite Scottish detective’s name – not Taggart but John Carnochan. (As I’m sure you rightly guessed, my pudding was a Cranachan.)

As a smaller, more cohesive country, the Scottish have always been willing to think more creatively about the service they offer to small children. They have also been extraordinarily strategic and focused, and their ambition to make Scotland the best place for children to grow up is laudable.  The conference was opened by the youthful Children’s Minister Aileen Campbell, who gave an overview of the raft of initiatives she has announced that left everyone so speechless they had to be coaxed to ask a question.  She talked about the Scottish strategy for Early Years including a specific strategy for parenting backed by a national campaign.

She reiterated the need for collaboration across the private, voluntary and statutory sectors in order to succeed – especially true if they are going to provide 600 hours free childcare for two-year-olds from poor and disadvantaged families. In the course of my own speech later on, when I gave them a more realistic version of the struggle we are having in the South to meet the 510 hour requirement, it struck me how we are planning to spend more than a billion pounds of tax payers’ money on supporting these children, yet there is no special advisor on Early Years.  (There is one for women and Scotland!) Aside from this, I had been asked about leadership, a subject I often talk about because it’s really hard to do.  If it were easy, we would not be so short of truly capable leaders across all sectors. In the end, the audience was lovely and responsive, and I enjoyed them as much as they seemed to enjoy me.

The Minister touched on three areas which have an equally high focus at LEYF at the moment: the parent journey, home learning and our multi-generational approach. I was delighted that Scottish colleagues have discovered the validity and importance of these ways of working.  I have already started to use Alice Sharp’s Tickle Giggle Experience and her home learning fun cards. At LEYF we have been leveraging the EPPE research for our approach to home learning, and especially the five activities that the EPPE team tested.  The Scottish have 30 ideas which I shall certainly share with my colleagues, including tickling your child and looking up in the sky to spot an aeroplane!

I also told the conference about how at our impending Staff Conference in November – A journey to a better future for more of London’s children – we have invited Alice and five colleagues from the Scottish Islands to help extend our multi-generational approach into all our nurseries, and learn more ways to create little villages through each nursery.

Another Scotsman – our Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove MP – gave a very uplifting speech at last year’s LEYF staff conference.  This year I asked a Londoner, our Mayor Boris Johnson, to open the event, but his people said ‘No’.  I have to admit that I was disappointed, as I think he would have added a real lift to the proceedings; not only for a London childcare organisation, but one that has been taking apprentices for many years without the encouragement of the Evening Standard. Well hey ho… or maybe Ho Hum, I smell the blood of an Englishman!

In any case, I’m delighted to say the LEYF Scotland partnership seems set to continue, so if anyone from a Scottish university or organisation would like to extend it – by helping us measure our Home Learning impact or the multi-generational impact – they would receive a very warm welcome, lots of tea, wine and curly wurlys – and we may even manage a Cranachan.

A LEYF approach to Men in Childcare: not quite as quick as saying Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

Not so long ago, David Stevens, Manager of the Angel Nursery, which for a while had 4 male staff out of a team of five, represented us at the Men in Childcare conference in Edinburgh. He had already been to the Men in Childcare Network Ireland International Conference, where he was the only UK representative and had to cope with the high jinks of the Irish and the Danes and the Scots! Enough said. Since then he has become even more interested in why there should be men in childcare and constantly urges me not to take it off the radar.

David and I have long questioned the actual reasons for having men in childcare. We are less than impressed by the standard responses we hear across the sector. The usual reasons trotted out are all about fear and barriers to entry. These include poor pay, lack of promotion opportunities, poor status, fear of accusations of abuse and paedophilia, discomfort working in such a highly female work environment and an expectation that one man can address the shortfall of positive male roles in so many children’s lives. Reading that would you want to come into childcare?

David feels all of this detracts from the main question which is “Do you want to work with children?” When speaking to our male LEYFstaff (of which there are 8% of the workforce) we found that they had all come into childcare because they thought they could be good Early Years Practitioners. For them being a sole man in a nursery was probably the biggest barrier and so we now try and place two men in each nursery, though this is not always possible. Generally, the men working at LEYF were both annoyed and depressed that all the talk of men in childcare became negative and focused on barriers to entry. Many reiterated that they always wanted to work with small children and that what we should be looking for is men who want to work with small children because they are interested in child development and how children learn and they think they have the ability to give them a really fun and exciting experience. The same argument or scenario does not play out in the Primary Schools as men ride up glass elevators to senior management and headteacher positions before you can say supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

David has been involved with some very interested organisations drawn together by the Daycare Trust with the support of the DfE. However unlike Europe where Manner in Kitas received 14 million euros for theory based research into the benefit of men in childcare we are doing this on the usual barter and free gratis approach. Europe is also focusing on gender and equality issues which I think would be interesting and avoid us falling into the usual knee-jerk response that until men really take a hold in childcare we will see no improvements in pay or status. How depressing is that for a female led sector? What is needed is for the whole sector to be understood by the public and that policy makers help shape policies which assist the public to understand what we do… yes it’s more than smiling, washing hands and being patient while our male colleagues play really good rough and tumble while acting as surrogate uncle to all the children in female led families!

So here is what we are going to do:

  1. Set up a London Men in Childcare Network beginning by bringing the LEYF male staff together to discuss the issues and formulate a shape.
  2. Find out areas to research including David’s big question which asks us to compare the levels of physical and superhero play in nurseries with and without male colleagues? Then examine the impact that has on boys and girls play. Does it make a difference to their development?
  3. Use Men in Childcare website set up by Kenny Spence to post new information.
  4. Work more with our local Schools and Academies to promote men into childcare both through our apprenticeship programme but also as part of the schools careers options. (I feel a film coming on…)
  5. Seek more engagement from parents in the issue. Get a sense of their views about the promotion of the role of men as carers and educators of children. I read recently that parents use blogs as their main source of information.  LEYF parents, have a look at this!

Men in Childcare is one aspect of a much bigger question which is what is the role of men in our society today? It’s certainly changing at different social, economic and political levels so let’s weave this into a much more comprehensive debate.

RiRi, Bedouin Tents and the I Ching: Welcome to 2012

Happy New Year and welcome back to my blog. (Thank you in advance!)

As I recover from cooking, eating, talking, reading and watching TV (little different there then, except this time a lot of it was done with my extended family, including the delights of my youngest brother and my nieces and nephews who are placed on this earth to remind us about our duty to listen to the young), I have checked out the predictions of Nostradamus, the Mayan calendar, the I Ching and various political pundits in order to sound informed. Ironically, the best advice came from RiRi, my favourite pop singer of the moment, who in Fading (Away) tells us that life is too short to worry. The only downside to the lovely RiRi is her acceptance of lyrics which lack any reference to women’s rights or suffrage! She is certainly no feminist.

Back to the gloomy predictions of 2012: deflation, interest rises to 8%, employment increasing to 4%, tougher economic year than 2011, crazy election results, Eurozone debacle, cyclones, volcanoes, storms… and frankly more of the same. Hey ho.

Of course, here at LEYF we work with children – preparing them for this very future – so let’s take RiRI’s more optimistic, pragmatic view and challenge this dire outlook with a positive attitude. (We know that optimism breeds positive attitudes and a better chance of successful outcomes; in my book that means balance risks but don’t ignore the opportunities.)

For us, irrespective of the bigger issues, this year I hope to do more around our core LEYF values: being child focused, collaborative, courageous, creative and constant.

First and most important of all, we will strive to be even more child focused than ever before, as we know children are the ones most hurt by poverty and stupid adults.

We will collaborate more, particularly with parents. I learned a lot from a meeting I had with parents at our Noah’s Ark community nursery recently, and it’s a lesson I won’t forget. Parental perspectives matter and need to be valued and understood.

Even greater courage is required as we discover how many more children are suffering economically and emotionally from some of our leaders’ dim-witted policies. We really must do things differently, and so I hope we get our LEYF research hubs motoring in 2012. I want to have Meet-ups with parents and all those who want to talk about new ideas or anything that will get our little grey cells operating. (Yes, you guessed it – I received a box set of Poirot for Christmas!)

Creativity is a fascinating value and one that is demonstrated in many ways. For example, I have just finished the biographies of Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton and his wife Isabel Burton, both great Victorian travellers. He was an irascible character with a fascination of the East and wrote prolifically, including a translation of Arabian Nights and Kama Sutra. He showed creativity in how he overcame the challenges of exploring and brokering relationships across unknown places; his grasp of languages and understanding of cultural behaviour was a clear means of ensuring that he could broker a mutual understanding. However, his creativity was less well received by the stuffy and hierarchical hide-bound Victorian society. When he died he was snubbed by the establishment and refused a burial place in Westminster Abbey, so his stalwart and loyal wife Isabel persuaded the British public to fund a mausoleum in a cemetery in Mortlake in the shape of a Bedouin tent, one that she designed. She was both constant and creative in her efforts to support her husband in a way that celebrates what we struggle with today; a genuine and honest appreciation of east and west.

So, whatever Nostradamus and his pals say, here at LEYF 2012 will be shaped by the 5 Cs from a positive, creative and optimistic outlook.

And if you don’t believe me, I completed the I Ching and asked what we might need to tackle. The answer came in the form of the hexagram KU. The translation is:

  • Work on what has been spoiled
  • Has supreme success
  • It furthers one to cross the great water
  • Afterwards there is order

Good Advice; let’s go forward. Happy 2012.

Celebrating Social Enterprise and scaling up

There has been so much for me to write about this week, it has been hard to choose! But as all blog guides say stick to one or two points, my views on the launch of the two year funding will have to wait for next week (sorry). In the meantime…

Global Enterprise Week kicked off with a youth-led event at the Westminster hub where we celebrated young entrepreneurs. I felt somewhat embarrassed to be on a panel of oldies, as most of the entrepreneurs were the same age as my children. I did however get an invitation to join a Chamber of Commerce, although could not be sure whether this was a compliment or reminder that I would never again be ‘down with the youth’!

On Tuesday I spoke at Understanding Social Enterprise in the very Christmassy Charing Cross Hotel; quite the Edwardian oasis in the busy forecourt of Charing Cross station. A great event, with so many people keen to change their business model to a social enterprise. It worries me though, just how many conversions and spin outs there are with only one customer. Social enterprises are businesses first and foremost and they need to know how they will survive in the market. Even more importantly, a social enterprise needs to be the best in the business, since any business operating from a social value is more open to criticism.

My constant advice is that you should:

  • know your business
  • know how it will make you a profit
  • be able to explain your social value
  • remember people choose you because you offer the highest standard in whatever sector you operate

Personally, I believe in social enterprises because the business is in itself the very means of reducing or dealing with a social problem.

The true purpose of business is to add value and make a difference – not just by providing useful services but also by adding value to the lives of employees, adding value to the life of the community, and adding value for the sake of future generations by treading as lightly as possible on the planet.”

Sinclair (2006)

Thursday was of course Social Enterprise Day when each year we give our Margaret Horn Lecture in celebration of a new and socially enterprising idea or issue relevant to Early Years.  I introduced this now annual event in 2006 to celebrate our first paid Director who gave 40 years of her life creating something special. As a pupil of Octavia Hill she learned that you could be a charity and still charge people, whilst being enterprising in your responses to local social and economic needs. This year I felt privileged to give the lecture, and better still as it was hosted by the RSA and chaired by Matthew Taylor.

June speaking at this year's Margaret Horn Lecture at the RSA

June speaking at this year's Margaret Horn Lecture at the RSA

With the title ‘Child Poverty: why social franchising is a giant step in the right direction‘ this year’s lecture told the LEYF story, with a specific focus on the past 18 months.  During this time, we examined our model to see how effective it might be in helping many more children achieve their potential and then take on the challenges of a fast changing world. In particular, we took a close look at our actual delivery model to check if we had consistently woven all our good practice into an outstanding curriculum and organizational set of practices, knowledge and attitudes.  Working with the Centre for Enterprise and Economic Development Research at Middlesex University (supporting their work with Third Sector Research Centre at Birmingham University), we explored a number of approaches to growing the business; including a great deal of time looking at social franchising. As a key part of this project, we also spent a year measuring our Social Return on Investment.

We concluded that we have an almost moral obligation to scale up, with social franchising of the LEYF community nursery model a possible means of reducing child poverty whilst also adding more value by creating local social entrepreneurs.

Nearly every problem has been solved by someone, somewhere.  The challenge of the 21st century is to find out what works and scale it up.”

President Bill Clinton

The event itself appeared to be well-received, and I hope it leads to us doing more research with the RSA.  I had been very nervous about being interviewed by Matthew Taylor, who often flexes his formidable intellect on the Moral Maze.  In a telephone call prior to the event Matthew reassured me that he is paid to be cantankerous on the radio programme, so far less likely to be the butt of his intellectual sophistication. Just in case, I went to bed reading Bertrand Russell. (Not quite TOWIE!)

On the very morning of the event, I was reminded how life is full of serendipitous moments, as Karen Buck (now Shadow Minister with responsibilities for Apprentices) came to meet our fantastic LEYF apprentices. Explaining that I had to leave to go to the RSA, she told me that she and Matthew Taylor were old friends.  I immediately relaxed.

We had invited Karen Buck to celebrate Social Enterprise Day with our apprentices and to hear their views about the LEYF Step into Learning induction programme, which we think is essential to a successful apprenticeship.  They were very pleased she was visiting; to such a degree that Wahid had a tie and Pedro a suit – and boy did they look smart!

Like any good politician, Karen asked questions that drew ideas and answers from them till they warmed up enough to gain in confidence. They talked about their experiences of work and learning, and the confidence that grew from both. It was best summed up in the Sun newspaper article last week.  Interviewing one of our apprentices, Alex Appleby based in Eastbury Children’s Centre Nursery in Dagenham, it headlined with “It’s a Neet idea”, a much better way of describing the many young people for whom school is a fairly unsuccessful experience.

The reason why we invest so much in our apprentices is quite simple: we consider youth unemployment the second entry point into poverty, and so having an apprenticeship programme is a critical aspect of the LEYF model (even though it is often a loss maker). For a young person, being out of education, employment or training can have major ramifications, including long-term reductions in wages and increased chances of unemployment later in life – not to mention social or psychological problems as a result of sustained unemployment.

The systems in place to support younger apprentices, especially those who have limited educational success, are woefully funded. It would not take too much more money; perhaps a more creative use of the unemployment benefit – currently being wasted keeping people out of work – might be worth considering. The number of young Neets is growing, so we need to do something positive and concrete. In London Neet rates are very high, with levels greater than 20% persisting in Barnet, Camden, Enfield, Hackney, Haringey, Islington and Westminster.

I believe we have a duty both as adults and employers. It’s great to see a growth in the number of apprentices, but to gain even more success we need to tweak the system. According to our own apprentices, we need better advertising using media that engages young people, together with face to face support and advice. Elsewhere, Mine Conkbayir who runs our programme wants greater incentives and reassurance for employers to ‘take a chance’ with an apprentice. This in effect means funding for pre apprenticeship modules (we call ours Step into Learning) with Key Skills woven directly into a well organized and logical programme.  Mine is also keen on much greater links with schools, so 16 year olds can step into an apprenticeship as soon as they graduate. We are nearly there: just a few more steps and we could have the best apprenticeships in Europe – and finally move away from the folly of believing everyone needs a degree to do their job – a folly which sees London with the highest level of unemployed graduates in the country (unemployed and laden with debt; those poor wretches).

To close Global Entrepreneurship Week in style, we took a stall on Saturday morning at the London Councils Summit 2011 in the Guildhall; a beautiful setting in the quiet of the City of London. (Bit tricky though, with the usual levels of engineering work going on across the tube network. I can only hope this will be improved before the Olympics.)

The reason we took a table at this event was to meet as many local councillors as possible and persuade them to have a conversation with us about the benefit of having LEYF work with them. I was also keen to say hello to local councillors from the five boroughs where we already have a presence.  Sadly these were in short supply – except for one councilor from Barking and Dagenham who appeared most bemused by me for some reason!

The main speech given by Ed Davey MP Minister for Employment was a bit lack lustre. Still, at least it did provoke a fair amount of energy from the floor about apprentices, when I was both heartened and disappointed to hear over and over about youth unemployment in London and the issues of giving apprentices some support at the early stages of their programme.  Ed Davey suggested alarm clocks and train tickets, all of which we do at LEYF – and pay for!  Soft skills were also a common theme and their importance born out by Vic Grimes of the National Apprenticeship Service. Frankly, I could have put Mine on the stage and she would have given them plenty of practical ideas to support apprentices!

Elsewhere, councillors raised the issue of graduates unable to get jobs. Given that many of them lack experience, maybe the re-introduction of a programme like Future Jobs Fund would be a good way of paying employers to give graduates six months in a work environment. This in turn may lead to a job, but if not would give them real experience to boost their confidence and skills base and so make them more employable. That said, there will still need to be jobs out there; at least this could be a bridge while they fix the Eurozone and squeeze a bit of extra cash out of the bankers.