Tag Archives: Policy

Dear Justine Greening MP

Congratulations on your appointment as Secretary of State for Education. It is quite a Brief so l hope that those of us who have been grappling with it for a while help you.

I was very heartened to hear you say on the Andrew Marr show that you wanted education to be part of your ambition to improve social mobility.   The door to social mobility is opened even before birth and there is a wealth of research, experience and knowledge which shows how the Early Years holds the key to narrowing the achievement gap. As CEO of the London Early Years Foundation (LEYF), the largest childcare social enterprise in the UK, our whole community nursery model is designed to increase social mobility, using a combination of subsidised fees, local employment and apprentices. We want all children to have the best possible start in their lives, we want parents to be involved, we want our employees to be the best they can and lastly, we want the education and raising of children to be a community affair. The fact that many children don’t have the best possible start in their lives is something we need to strive to change together. 24954704121_d7741abf3d_z

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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.


A Promise of 30 Hours Free Childcare heralds the Big Childcare Conversation

The Government made childcare a central component of its election manifesto. Mr Cameron insists that his Government will extend the childcare ‘free offer’ to 30 hours a week, 38 weeks of the year, to any parent working eight hours plus; the same threshold as the tax free childcare scheme.  It’s interesting that the policy talks of childcare not early education, is this a shift or has the Government finally understood that childcare and education are totally integrated?

This promise has deep implication for the sector including making childcare a key part of the British infrastructure.  It’s a shift that may have happened as a last minute election promise to outbid Labour’s offer of 25 free hours. Either way we are now facing the challenge of how we make this policy work and we need our own conversation to help us to do this.


Frustratingly, this promise fails to reflect the repeated warnings from the sector about the perennial problems such as:

  • Funding the costs of a place correctly. ( If you have been asleep for the past ten years then read the Ceeda Report and the Affordable Childcare report)Sleeping-Beauty-Wallpaper-sleeping-beauty-6259616-1024-768[1]
  • Reconciling two different policy targets with one approach therefore creating a high quality service for all children but guaranteeing that those children from disadvantaged backgrounds are benefitting in a way that narrows their attainment gap. More information from  OECD Starting Strong Reports
  • Insufficiency of places in the right areas and with the flexibility that makes work viable Family and Childcare Trust report
  • Unfair rules about registering and inspecting nurseries in schools which means that schools can open nurseries more easily now and have less inspection and external quality control.
  • The challenge of how to address the situation that 1 in 4 children in Primary Schools are obese.  The Early Years must be supported to take a strategic approach to helping the children eat well and exercise well so we prevent even more health disasters.
  • Training and recruiting enough Level 3 staff for such an expansion including sorting out the qualifications fiasco. Do you know that all the young graduates completing their degrees may not be counted in the nursery ratio because they haven’t got A to C GCSEs but have been selected using an equivalency test not approved by the DfE?
  • Replacing and funding Local Authorities CPD and quality support services. If quality depends on well trained staff then what is the solution to this?
  • Maintaining the year on year improvement in quality with 83% of providers rated good or outstanding. So why bully a sector that shows such promise and capability for improvement?
  • Meeting the two year old programme targets if all the attention is focusing on extending the 30 hours. Half all local authorities have insufficient places for two year olds and the growth of school nurseries is hampered by increase in school rolls. So if disadvantaged children benefit more than other children why have a system that limits access for the very children that need us most?
  • Getting the Childcare Bill through the House of Lords within the timeline for pilots operating from September 2016
  • Agreeing what the Regulations will look like given the devil is in the detail for example defining ‘working parents.’  Will it include people in training? Zero hours contracts? Parents with disabled children? Grandparents?
  • Establishing whether the existing policy of 15 hours has achieved its intended outcomes.

However, we have been thrown a concession in the form of the Childcare Commission LINK to appease our worries about fair funding.  I hope that they will listen to us with the same candidness and perspicacity of Lord Sutherland and his Select Committee.

The 30 hour policy is the Government’s attempt to reward hard-working families by reducing their childcare bill.  Done well it will be popular and helpful and may achieve its intention to boost employment rates among women with children under 5 years. Long term employment rate for this group has risen over the last two decades from 49% in 1996 to 61% in 2014.  In doing that the Government has confirmed absolutely that childcare is a significant part of a modern British infrastructure.

Surprisingly, we may have an unexpected ally in Mr Osborne.  In the Budget he promises the Living Wage, a calculation based on what it costs to live developed ten years ago by Citizens UK. This must surely be a very good benchmark for the Childcare Commission as they work to define a funding strategy that pays the full cost of childcare.

7164409713_9254a12dc7_zIn the meantime, we are strong only when we have one voice – we proved that with the #OBC.
So respond to the Childcare Commission and come to the *Big Childcare Conversation conference on the 19th September at Middlesex University where we will be debating the issues and ensure we remain motivated, upbeat and able to “Occupy Childcare”!

Please follow the LINK for further details and book your places ASAP! https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/big-childcare-conversation-tickets-17807118571



Where does Early Years fit in the ‘British Values’ in Education Debate?

Mr Gove seems unable to avoid controversy and so began another educational debate when he decided that schools would need to promote ‘British values.’
As ever, Early Years education was ignored but in fact values are a central and quite explicit element of the way we educate our youngest children, not least because we cannot educate small children without the very active and close involvement of parents and their communities.
What is a value? Is it not a set of principles and standards of behaviours about what is important in life? Of course these principles are mostly unconscious as we translate them into our rules, attitudes and moral codes of conduct and behaviour. The issue of values is a live one for Early Years Education as we battle to get Government and policy makers to recognise its centrality for achieving those very values described by our Prime Minister, David Cameron as freedom, tolerance, respect for the rule of law and belief in personal and social responsibility.7164353399_cb49b0119f_z
However our politicians, schooled in the art of blandness, continue to come out with the usual clichés to describe values, presents us with a bigger problem. This statement to teach ‘British values’ is another opportunity for Government to disrupt the whole sector. The pattern so far has been to issue a dictum, ‘consult’ and then ignore the consultation and insist its done their way. Early Years education is one example but the whole of the Education sector has been in a constant state of flux since politicians started to really mess with it. In the past, the duty of the Education Secretary was to squeeze money for milk from the Treasury. Nowadays, they are meddling with the pedagogy and curriculum while ignoring any research or experts. What happened to the thinking of Rousseau, Dewey, Froebel, McMillan and Vygotsky among others? Is it all to be abandoned in favour of what politicians refer to ‘common-sense?’ I remember the wise words of my first Open University tutor (my first degree was OU and I have liked the University ever since.) He said we are here to think deeply so let’s give ‘common sense’ a break.
There is plenty of evidence to identify British Values. The British Social Attitudes survey  has been conducted annually since 1983. Every year the survey asks over 3,000 people what it’s like to live in Britain and how they think Britain is run; tracking people’s changing social, political and moral attitudes. It informs the development of public policy and is an important barometer of public attitudes used by opinion leaders and social commentators. The 2013 survey focused on the case for immigration. There is the UK Values Survey on Increasing Happiness. Citizens of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales were found to share seven values in common: caring, family, honesty, humour/fun, friendship, fairness and compassion.

Their personal values show that:

  • Meaningful close relationships with others are important to them and are central to the decisions they make.
  • Kindness, empathy and consideration are crucial to their interactions with others.
  • They seek to ensure that people are treated justly and fairly.
  • They have a fun loving approach to life and enjoy sharing good times.
  • They appreciate freedom and autonomy and prefer not to be reliant on others


The views of 42,000 children aged 8 – 15 formed the basis of the research commissioned 2012/3 by The Children’s Society. The resulting report Good Childhood: Searching for Values in a Competitive Age by Richard Layard and Judy Dunn in 2012 which found in summary children wanted was a happier society which valued and ensured stable families, where schools developed emotionally resilient children eager to contribute to the social good in safe and secure communities, where a greater spirit of equality increases mutual respect and trust, where employment was stable and there was no risk to economic policies that jeopardise the stability to increase economic growth.
Thomas Jefferson said that the care of human life and happiness is the only legitimate object of good government‘. So this Government should make the happiness of the people the main outcome which they pursue and maybe apply the value of listening.
Currently at LEYF we are refreshing our values to make sure they rightly reflect the views and ambitions of children, parents and staff. Everyday, our organisation welcomes 3000 children from a wide range of communities and cultures across London and it’s important to us that the organisation listens, articulates and translates our shared values into a clear message. This is modern Britain and so we are articulating our British/Education values. To describe LEYF values: words like nurturing, brave, fun and inspiring are front runners. How do those words translate the values into action and behaviour?

  • Using play as a significant means of teaching is essential as we believe children should have fun while building the cognitive, social, and emotional skills necessary for healthy growth and development.
  • We want to inspire our staff to reflect and challenge and improve research to continually inform our approach so we can be brave and stand up for what is best for children.
  • We want to ensure our staff are trained to nurture children and their parents and be empathetic and kind in their behaviour and language while ensuring secure, consistent and responsive attachments.

These are some of our British values and they reflect what we believe to be right for children in London today. They form the basis of our modus operandi.

But Mr Gove, in answering your request that we teach and live by our British values, will you leave it at that? Will you prevent policy meddling when some of the values do not fit comfortably with yours or that of your Government? Will you trust our British values?banksychildlabor-582x436[1]

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

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?

Stonehenge, Farms and Icebergs: Developing Successful Growth Strategies

I am rarely found up at 6am on a Saturday unless I am on my way back from some lively event but this Saturday I headed off to Paddington Farm for a strategy awayday. It was a glorious clear morning with a romantic frost over the Salisbury plains. Passing Stonehenge made me wonder whether our prehistoric strategists realised 3500 years ago that they were building the most important prehistoric monument in the whole of Britain.moonrise stars Stonehenge Wiltshire England UK

The point of a strategy is to plan the action needed to ensure we meet our mission statement in a way that secures us economically.  It is a day to remind us all about the core business ( in this case educational farm holidays for people who are in need ) and what we can do to sustain and develop it.  It is quite broad in that we try to avoid drilling into how we will achieve the strategy.  We have to stick to asking ourselves over and over is this the right direction of travel.  Will this help us achieve our aim? Are we fit for purpose?

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Get on Board Ofsted: Listen and Respond to the #OfstedBigConversation

I came back from holiday last week to a bunch of emails which included one from Ofsted asking for feedback on their performance.  I laughed out loud and went straight to the LinkedIn group that began four months ago when I asked a question about people’s experience of the new Ofsted attitude.

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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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More Great Childcare? Don’t think so…

The delayed response to More Great Childcare (or ‘More Great Childcages’ as coined by Penny Tassoni) filled me with dread. I looked and saw it was 52 pages and I groaned. Should I bother to colour it in with my highlighter? Will Liz Truss be our Minister for much longer? Is it worth the effort given the fact that she may be promoted in October, leaving us to start all over again with a new Minister? (Maybe third time lucky!?)

However, I decided to dive in and plough through, and eventually by page 27 I could really start using that highlighter…

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