Tag Archives: Reports

An Invitation to the London #OfstedBigConversation

The London conversation will take place at 9.30 on Friday the 11th April at LEYF Head Office (121 Marsham St, SW1P 4LX).  The aim of the ‘Conversation’ is to identify how Ofsted inspection and regulation helps the sector achieve our shared goal of delivering outstanding early years education and childcare for all children and families.

As with our initial meeting this is an open meeting on a first come first served basis. However to make sure we get a fair representation please can those of you wanting to come:

  • Have a London focus
  • Apply for one place only per organisation
  • Send someone who can make decisions

It would be great to welcome colleagues from nurseries, pre-schools, childminder groups, local authorities, membership groups and policy makers.

I will Chair the meeting with my co-chair Catriona Nason, known to many of you for setting up and managing the OBC website.

To book a place please click through to this link. We are putting a limit on numbers as there is limited capacity so do hurry

The agenda reflects our initial concerns and the recent feedback from our colleagues in the South West and the North who have already met with their Regional Directors.  It will be strategic in tone and focused on the broader issues rather than addressing individual complaints.

In order to prepare and to make sure we have facts to support our requests and challenges, it is important to read some of the more up to date early years announcements from Ofsted.

The Agenda shaped as an issue and questions.

  1. Issue: Complaint initiated inspections (vexatious and /or malicious) are absorbing Ofsted resources and impacting on the inspection cycle.
    Question: How does Ofsted see its role in limiting the emergence of the public being able to make malicious or vexation complaints without robust evidence?
  2. Issue: Ofsted role with regards to improvement in the Early Years sector
    Question: Is it driven by statements or letters from their leader or a more coherent and researched approach?  How does Ofsted see the role of the sector in supporting the concept of improvement?
  3. Issue : Length of time for reports
    Question: Why is it taking up to 12 weeks to issue a report?
  4. Issue: Purchased Inspections
    Question: When can we buy an inspection?
  5. Issue:  Fair Reporting of Inspections
    Question: Why are Inspections published during an appeal period?
    Question: Why are complaints that are not upheld not deleted ?
  6. Issue: Nominated Person
    Question: Can we have more than a single nominated person?
  7. Issue: Contractors
    Question: How can we contribute to the commissioning process of future Ofsted contractors?

ofsted-300x256Last week, Sir Michael Wilshaw wrote to the early years inspectors urging them to ‘focus on evaluating whether children are being adequately prepared for the start of their statutory schooling’ and lists factors that he feels should be taken into account when considering a setting’s rating.

Wilshaw writes:
‘Inspectors should report on what makes teaching and assessment effective rather than on its style. I expect inspectors to apply common sense when observing how well children learn and how effectively adults teach children to develop skills, knowledge and understanding. I want to know how well settings help children to catch up when they enter with skills that are lower than those typical for their age. I expect reports to be clear about the extent to which a provider prepares children for school.’

Now in addition to these issues there are some bigger more philosophical shifts in Ofsted’s approach that will have implications for the sector. I added some suggested questions just to get you in the mood

  1. Question:  What does Ofsted think makes teaching and assessment effective?
  2. Question: What does Ofsted mean by teaching children and not focusing just on supervision and care?
  3. Question: What does Ofsted accept as effective means of extending children’s vocabulary? What will they judge is acceptable evidence?
  4. Question : What will Ofsted inspectors do to apply common sense when observing how well children learn and how effectively adults teach children to develop skills, knowledge and understanding?
  5. Question: How will Ofsted get consistency among inspectors to such broad statements and will there by a discussion with sector as to what this means in reality?
  6. Question:  Is Ofsted about to discount the EYFS?

Issue: London has seen a rise in the quality of its schools again this year and inspection outcomes overall were the best in the country in 2012/13. In recent years, the proportion of good or outstanding schools has increased dramatically. More than eight in every 10 children and young people benefit from education in a good or outstanding school in London. However, the picture for students post-16 is not nearly so healthy. Despite improvements this year, more than a third of the 45 colleges in the capital are less than good. and not up to scratch.

Question: How will the Ofsted’s improvement agenda address this? This is an issue for us recruiting nursery staff as from September 2014 they need an A to C to as entry level for a Level 3 qualification.

Issue:  Ofsted propose to introduce a separate graded judgement about the overall effectiveness of Nursery and Reception classes in the inspection framework for maintained schools and academies. We would also require inspectors to write a discrete paragraph evaluating this provision. We propose developing a separate set of brief evaluation criteria, which will be published in the School inspection handbook, to support inspectors reaching a judgement on this stage and to help schools’ self-evaluation. These criteria would encompass:
– achievement
– the quality of the teaching
– behaviour and safety
– leadership and management.

Inspectors would take account of this separate judgement when making their judgement on the overall effectiveness of the school.

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!


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.


Is the current Ofsted strategy masking something far more sinister?

Sir Michael Wilshaw was no doubt promoted to lead Ofsted because he successfully turned around a failing school.

It would seem he is taking the same approach to the Early Years sector except that we are a not a failing school. In fact year on year we have been improving. Ofsted’s own figures from their 2012 Report noted that 74% of early year’s provision is now good or better compared with 65% three years ago.

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It was raining on men and about men all week

Last week men featured quite highly on the agenda.  Along with Jai Patel and Paul Spinks, co-chairs of the London Network of Men in Childcare, I attended the APPG on Fatherhood, chaired by David Lammy MP and serviced by Working with Men. I was delighted to meet some old friends there including colleagues from Men in Childcare Ireland.

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A Thank You Letter to Mr Clegg

Dear Mr Clegg,

Thank you for listening to us about the potential changes to the ratios.  I can honestly say we were genuinely delighted that you understood our perspective and agreed to drop the policy. What I hope you and your politician colleagues understand is that if the sector believed the policy would benefit children, the majority would support it and go out of our way to make it work. In this case however, except for those few happy to take the King’s Shilling (!), we as a group agreed and understood the negative impact it would have. The Early Years sector attracts a great many passionate and positive people who want to make a difference – not in a clichéd and trite way but in a pragmatic and constructive one. A good group of people to have on side, I would urge you to have more dialogue with them.

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Asking Robin Van Persie to kick the childcare football straight into the Equalities net

Childcare is flavour of the week and quickly becoming a political football.  I wish we had an equivalent Robin Van Persie to either land the childcare ball in the net, or kick it so far into the distance that we have to begin a debate that gets us to really consider what we want from childcare.

At the moment the media and the sector are making a fuss as to why it’s taking so long for the Government to respond to the Childcare Commission. I have no idea why people are investing so much energy into this anticipated announcement. It’s not going to solve the fundamental question as to why childcare is so expensive.

The Commission was set up by Sarah Teather MP when she was Minister  of State in the Department of Education. Her approach was quite different to that of our new Minister Elizabeth Truss, unsurprisingly given that she is a Conservative and Ms Teather a Lib Dem.  I might also remind everyone that when the Childcare Commission was launched just before the summer there was great annoyance from the sector about the timing, the questions and the purpose.  The issue will never be resolved until we have a big conversation with ourselves about what we want for our children. At the moment two parallel drivers dictate childcare policy framed within  rather confused thinking about how it can help reduce child poverty. The first policy strand focuses on enabling women to work, and the second to support social mobility in an attempt to help break inequality.

This week the challenges of both policy approaches reflected my week.  First of all I attended the Child Poverty Alliance and was roused by My Fair London campaign’s reminder of the invidious consequences of inequality.  Quoting statistics to make your head roll, I was reminded that London has the largest gap between rich and poor of any city in the developed world, with two thirds of all wealth in London held by just 10% of Londoners.  I was reminded that the consequences of this inequality is bad for us all on so many levels, not least creating a lack of trust between the economic classes, poor child wellbeing (remember the UK  came last in UNICEF’s report), poor health, increased cases of mental ill-health and general all around human misery.

Statistics show that in countries with the lowest levels of inequality, trust levels are five times higher and involvement in the community much greater than in countries where inequality levels are highest. What’s more, where inequality levels are high, children of families on the lowest incomes are already a year behind in their development by the age of five when compared with those who are better off (a fact that made me put down my current book Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens to re-read The Spirit Level; to be honest all of a similar theme).

Given that early education is considered a key factor in addressing this inequality – because it gets people to a place where they are more likely to succeed, and ultimately people with more education earn more, pay more taxes, are more productive, vote and are generally happier – a then access to childcare and education for young children as a driver of social mobility makes sense.

Midweek, I went to hear the Resolution Foundation research about improving  childcare to be an even more effective  policy driver for getting people, especially women, into work. They told us their findings that  showed that two parent households of low to middle incomes (£17,000 to £41,000) are little better off than those on poor incomes. In fact they confirmed what we already know, that instead of taking working parents out of poverty, childcare costs were driving working parents into debt and poverty (an already all too familiar picture at LEYF). At this point, it is worth recalling the work of Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman, who showed the link between inequality and the financial crises. He pointed out, it is no accident that both major modern crises – the first beginning in 1929, the second in 2008 -coincided with historic levels of inequality.

While there was much ooing and aahing from the Resolution Foundation audience of media, policy makers and charities, the question remained what to do. A  key solution from was to offer parents an extra 10 hours a week at £1/hour for children aged 2, 3 and 4. I was slightly dismayed by this idea, given that Governments past and present have so far steadfastly refused to pay even the going rate for childcare, meaning providers like ourselves already subsidise the cost of childcare to families by up to £500 per child per annum. How then would we get any Government to pay for an additional  properly costed  contribution of  a further £3billion?   This and finding out  what happens to the current £7billion is what the Childcare Commission should be addressing? Not tinkering with deregulation, alienating the sector and suggesting some regressive tax breaks.

In essence, the fundamental issue is exactly what David Cameron has already said himself:

More unequal countries do worse according to every quality of life indicator.

David Cameron, Hugo Young memorial lecture, November 2009.

The Government therefore needs to weave the two strands of its policies together more coherently. Employment and social mobility should be one, so all families are supported out of poverty, not into it; and early education is delivered in a way that supports the longer term aim of creating a more equal society with all its attendant benefits.

Ofsted Annual Report? A great read, but please tell us something we don’t already know.

Last week Ofsted produced its Annual Report, the first from her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Education, Children Services and Skills, Sir Michael Wilshaw. It also had the First Ofsted Annual Lecture on Early Years given by the Director of Education, Sue Gregory. The report admittedly was slightly overshadowed by the news of the Royal pregnancy, but the findings merit as much attention as the Duchess of Cambridge’s morning sickness.

The report used findings from 24,559 inspections of which 6074 were in nurseries or childcare on non-domestic premises. The report was framed within the usual context that good quality early education is critical to children’s subsequent educational progress and life chances, and that education in the Early Years has an impact on children’s later learning and achievement. And so say all of us.

The report confirmed what we always knew, namely that the large majority of the 1.3 million places available for children under the age of 5 are provided by nurseries, that the sufficiency of places is variable across the country and there remains considerable turnover in the sector.

On the standard of service, the report noted that 74% of Early Years provision is now good or better, compared with 65% three years ago. There was, however, little improvement between this year and last in terms of proportion of good or outstanding. This suggests that improvements brought about by the introduction of the EYFS are levelling off. A third of children had not reached the required standard in language and literacy by the age of 5, a figure that rose to two fifths in deprived areas. Overall, nurseries were rated better at preparing children for school than childminders.

Unsurprisingly, the provision remains weakest in areas of highest deprivation. This is particularly true in the case of childminders, where the gap between the quality of provision of high and low deprivation is wider than for any other type of childcare provider. In the UK, children from the poorest fifth of homes are on average 19 months behind children from richer homes in their use of vocabulary by the age of five. This is worse than two of the three major English speaking countries (in Canada the gap is 10.6 months, and Australia 14.5 months).

In her lecture, Sue Gregory commented on the disproportionate funding for schools and alluded to a special premium for those Early Years providers operating in poorer neighbourhoods or with higher proportions of families living in poverty. In its recent report, the IPPR said that Early Years and youth have seen cuts of 20%. At the Daycare Trust Annual Conference on Tuesday, Lucy Lee of Policy Exchange noted that since 2000 funds to Early Years had gone up just 5.6% while schools had received increases of 55%. So for all the talk about how important we are in setting the scene for successful education, we are still short changed both in reputation, funding and correct support. Is it any wonder that the poorest areas are still feeling the pinch and getting the worse deal?

The Ofsted report findings show that what makes the most difference is the quality of the interaction between adults and children, which leads them to developing good quality early skills. In the best settings, children’s interest is constantly stimulated and adult intervention is well timed so as to respond to children’s curiosity and to challenge their thinking. That will only happen with the involvement of well qualified professionals with at least a relevant Level 3 qualification. The Nutbrown Review 10 year timescale is considered unambitious because it is longer than most children spend in the whole of their early years and primary school education. The report also found that the quality and type of local authority (LA) support for early years provision was variable and often not targeted effectively at those providers that most needed improvement. They listed the top ten LAs and the worse ten. Luckily LEYF is neither operating in the top 10 LAs or the bottom ten LAs. This suggests we are in the satisfactory majority of 132 LAs. Apparently, what makes for outstanding is where LAs offer tailored support to meet the requested needs of particular groups or providers.

Overall, the report notes that too many children are still entering school without the basic skills they need to learn. However, pre-schools and nurseries are better than childminders at preparing children for their next stage. While most childminders provide children with good level of care, many have found it more challenging to provide for the learning and development set out in the EYFS.

The report includes a suggestion that the quality of early learning would benefit from strong links between weaker and stronger providers. It also suggests that good and outstanding providers with high quality leadership and management should operate as nuclei or hubs for networks of childminders and weaker group care providers in their area.

So, what does this report say that we don’t already know?

  • The Early Years matters a great deal
  • To get the best from the sector we need well qualified staff who have all received relevant and robust training
  • Funds need to reflect what we do and be equitable to schools
  • Pay attention to our poorest children, they deserve the best
  • Make all nurseries communication-rich environments at every level
  • Ensure the quality of the interaction between adults and children is rich, stimulating and well-timed so as to respond to children’s curiosity and challenge their thinking (a critical factor for high quality)

The Minister, Elizabeth Truss, had obviously read the report because her speech at the Daycare Trust Conference reflected these very points. Unfortunately, she tempers her thought with continual references to deregulation and reduced ratios. In my view, this will be the unraveling of all the work we have done to get to 74% good and outstanding, with still much to do to get 100% in all areas.

To have high engagement with small children, you need a lot of capable staff. I spent the day with two year olds the other day to remind myself of the demands they place on staff, both physically and emotionally. We had twelve children and four staff with a fifth available… and me! We worked hard to ensure we were responding to those children, following their schemas, playing and talking to them, giving them cuddles while keeping them safe, fed and clean. Fewer staff would have been a high-risk strategy. Babies also need hips and we each have just two.

The Minister is fond of quoting Europe, but the OECD has admitted that the statistics that often finds the UK towards the end of the league tables are old, unreliable and insecure. In fact the OECD is about to re-do them. The European child-adult ratios are lower than ours, but that does not make them right. French visitors to LEYF last week noted how they admire our ratios and want to follow us, especially in their crèches which offer services to those under the age of 3 years.

Let me leave you with the thoughts of a young struggling teacher, Ursula Brangwen in DH Lawrence’s book The Rainbow. In the light of all our research, ask yourself is this what you want for staff and children?

And before this inhuman number of children she was always at bay. She could not get away from it. There it was, this class of fifty collective children, depending on her for command… there were so many that they were not children. They were a squadron. She could not speak as she would to a child. Because they were not individual children; they were a collective inhuman thing.

The Rainbow, DH Lawrence (p376)

Could more men in childcare have a real and lasting effect on the inherent prejudices of society (or only as long as the media take an interest)?

David at LEYF's Angel Nursery

What nobler employment, or more valuable to the state, than that of the man who instructs the rising generation.


Was it fortuitous or bad timing that we launched the London Network of Men in Childcare amid the Jimmy Savile scandal, not to mention the misguided Philip Schofield/David Cameron television interview and the Newsnight debacle? Ironically perhaps, we actually chose November 19 for the London Network launch because it was International Men’s Day! Either way, mishandling of the child abuse scandal has been wholly unhelpful, since it has unlocked some incredibly ignorant thinking about men working with children – including comments from too many of those who should know better, affirming and embedding some pretty negative mind-sets and a mob mentality.

Worst of all (but unfortunately not unsurprisingly), we have many people assuming that an allegation is sufficient proof of a charge of abuse. Have they forgotten that in this country the rule of law declares you are innocent until proven guilty? This week the call to ignore this basic human right has been staggering, though sadly very familiar to men working with children who almost inevitably have to prove their innocence once an allegation is made. Surely the point of a police force is to find evidence to support an allegation before charging a person, and for a judge or jury to then decide on their innocence or guilt. It is this very process that ensures well-founded allegations are distinguishable from the false variety. This is the law and the rights of all men.

We have been supporting the notion of men into childcare for many years in our own LEYF way. We think it’s a good idea to have gender-balanced workforces. We think it’s good for staff and good for children; what is more, we think it’s good for business. And now we can finally present research that bears that out: both staff and parents agree that having men in the nursery is a good thing.

The journey to this apparently simple conclusion began with us taking advice from our own male staff. They told us they wanted to work in childcare because they were interested in child development and education, liked children and enjoyed the team spirit of working in a nursery. We learned a great deal from our male staff about the support they needed from colleagues, but also from management, to feel protected when or if they face unpleasant comments, allegations or negative parental responses. We then talked to parents, and heard how staff deal with the anxieties of fathers about men looking after their daughters, especially parents from more macho cultures. We considered issues such as isolation and how it feels to be a trophy staff member, and changed induction and recruitment policies to try and make sure we addressed these, including placing two men together in a nursery rather than spreading them thinly across more settings, and where possible giving a male apprentice a male mentor.

Richard at LEYF's Furze Children's Centre Nursery

Previous research (what there was of it) identified the main barrier to entry as negative stereotypical attitudes, assuming that men who worked with children were more likely to be paedophiles. Our research confirmed this. We found that 60.7% of staff said they felt the main reason for low numbers of men in the sector was because men were not encouraged to join the profession by others, whilst 51.8% believed it was because of society’s attitude toward men in childcare. By contrast, when considering the benefits of men working in childcare, 75% believed it was very important for men to be seen as nurturing and sensitive role models, whilst 66% felt they could change society’s attitudes towards men working with children.

We also asked children (23) aged 4 what type of activities enjoyed most with male staff. It was interesting that the only time children commented about staff gender was in reference to very common examples of society’s gender-stereotyping, for instance the colour pink and wearing of jewellery.

Michael at LEYF's Angel Community Nursery

We know that most people assume men will be better at football, rough and tumble and other similarly physical games, and so we should expect to see children showing a preferences for male staff in those areas. Not at all! Our research Men in Childcare: Does it matter to children? What do they say? in fact found children predominantly preferred to play football and rough and tumble games with women. They did not seek men out to play construction or trains, and chose men and women equally to cook with. Superhero play, on the other hand, confirmed research findings as an activity where men could bring something special, with almost all the children in the research project choosing to carry out this particular activity with a man.

Worryingly, children saw reading and singing as a female activity, with the majority choosing female staff for such activities. Challenging this view is critical, given the worrying data about boys’ literacy skills and the continuing negative attitude that reading is for girls only! Unless men provide positive gender-modelling in literacy, boys attending the nursery – particularly those who do not have male reading role-models at home – will continue to see reading and literacy as done only by girls and women. Considering future success in education is so often predicated on competence in literacy, failing to address will almost guarantee failure for a great many young boys.

Conor at LEYF's Katharine Bruce Community Nursery

As a result, a greater attention given to the role of men supporting children’s literacy – particularly boys – presents an exciting opportunity to devise new ways of working with fathers; helping to raise awareness of how  important it is for them to read with their sons and being seen reading for pleasure. Again, this needs to be linked to broader strategies aimed at  developing parent engagement and extending ways of enriching the home learning environment.

So the London Network of Men in Childcare has a number of things to do:

  • Support male childcare workers
  • Present a positive and coherent message to London; that men who work with children are doing so because they are good practitioners and, like their female colleagues, are keen to support every child receive the best education possible
  • Conduct action research on ways to improve education for boys
  • Disseminate ideas about better gender-balanced workplaces
  • Engage Dads directly in some of the research
  • Bring a London focus to working in childcare

Ultimately, I hope, the outcome will be a more gender-balanced workforce that listens to children.

So come on – let London lead the way!

Get off the diet kicks and learn to eat, serve and advise on nutritionally sound food.

9189594369_89f9aa6ca8[1]Admit it, you’re either going on a diet, thinking about a diet or have just given up a diet and busy trying to accept your muffin top or your beer belly. If you’re from TOWIE, you’re saving up for liposuction or a gastric band!

This was the opening conversation I had with three LEYF nursery managers from our Dagenham nurseries while we were offered free refills of Coke or Lemonade on tap and our meals came piled high with chips.

Every time you turn on the TV someone is telling you how to eat, exercise or overcome your food issues. From Fat Camp to BBC 2 we’re bombarded with how to stay thin. Did it ever occur to people that we stay thin by eating less and accepting the fate of most women over 35 which is to be constantly hungry and feel guilty when you do eat? I liked the programme Horizon: Eat Fast and Live Longer on BBC 2 which told us to eat what you like 5 days a week but restrict yourself to 500 calories twice a week and not only will you maintain the body of Elle McPherson you’ll also reduce the chances of  high blood pressure, diabetes 2 and a myriad of other illnesses. I was really up for that till I discovered 500 calories is three apples and a bowl of cabbage soup. Peter Kay, in his tour to end all tours, made me cry for laughing as he expounded on his terrace (his fat tummy) and why we shouldn’t shop when hungry because of the high chance we’ll have eaten 4 of the 5 Kit Kats before even reaching the check out. I ignore Kit Kats and head straight to the Curly Wurlys.

So here’s the irony, we who have so many issues with food, are probably overweight and delight in calorific foods, such as chips and wine (although red wine has anti-oxidant resveratrol which makes you more nimble), are responsible for the dietary wellbeing of so many children. Their parents listen to us when we talk of a healthy diet; a balance of carbohydrates, protein and vegetables. We know that small children lack zinc and carbohydrates and need a good tea, we also know that organic milk increases intake of omega three which has huge benefits for children.  We know much more than that, for example:

  • 28% of children aged 2 to 10 in England are obese. In London, the highest proportion are in Westminster, 4th are in Tower Hamlets and Kensington and Chelsea, and Lambeth are joint 8th (all places where we have nurseries)
  • 34% of children aged 11 to 15 in England are obese
  • Diabetes 2 (poor diet induced) is a growing problem in the UK
  • Children bombarded as they are by ads for fizzy drinks and fast foods are unable to distinguish between ads and TV content
  • A poll done by growingupmilkinfo.com found that 80% of children had eaten pizza and chips by the time they were two and 1 in 1000 parents had never cooked for their children
  • The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health is calling on the Government to reduce obesity and ensure that children in nurseries and Children’s Centres are served nutritionally balanced food as well as being able to offer correct and helpful information about food and eating

At LEYF we have been campaigning and even wrote the Standards for a National Qualification for Early Years Chefs. We recognise that the person in charge of the food should have a lead role in understanding what to cook, how to serve it and how best to support colleagues and parents understand about good food.

Despite an overwhelming array of information about food, staff and parents remain confused and obsess about body weight which to some degree misses the point.  We need to grow a body of capable and well informed staff who can give sensible advice, provide us with highly nutritional food, challenge the unhealthy obsessions with losing weight and focus instead on staying healthy by eating sensibly. As my Grandma always said “a little of what you fancy never did you any harm”…it’s when you are eating 5 Curly Wurlys at a go you should start to worry!

Mr Mayor, please take an interest in the childcare sector and build a London fit for the next generation

When I started working with children many many years ago, I never envisaged talking about children and the economy in the same breath. These days, I never give it a second thought.

As part of their broader London childcare project, the Daycare Trust provides an annual review of the capital’s providers; and while no one review can ever be perfect, it does capture a fair snapshot of the sector’s current state of play.

Of course, there’s no doubting London is an expensive place to live, work and do business – with its own peculiar issues that are not always easy to generalize.  Our great capital is made up of a series of villages woven together by the larger global village, and the challenge is making these two dynamics work in a way that allows for successful local economies and an overall successful city.

The survey represents 803 provider settings in London, providing a minimum of 15,275 full-time equivalent places across the private, voluntary and independent sectors (with the private sector providing the most places). So what did the sector say? Well unsurprisingly, the biggest worry is staying in business.

  • 52% said they were fearful that parents cannot afford the fees
  • 47% said they were hit by local authority cuts
  • 33% are still worried about the level of free entitlement funding for 3 & 4 year-olds
  • 31% are concerned about staff recruitment, pay and retention
  • 29% are worried about falling occupancy rates

In all, the sector is worried. But really, it’s the politicians that should be more worried. The economy first of all needs people to work, so they can earn a living and then spend it, helping to flow money through the economy and create new wealth. Having good, affordable childcare is a critical element in helping to make this happen.  Women have been hit particularly hard in this recession, so we need to do all we can to ensure they can work (especially as so many families depend on their vital contribution; the days of pin money are long gone and in many cases women are now the main breadwinners).

And why should we prevent women – who have studied and trained, and then built up a career – from working and making such a valuable contribution? We know the negative effects poverty has on children, families and society. Back in March, we complained that the Budget had done nothing to help parents with the spiralling cost of childcare, that George Osborne had missed a real opportunity to return the childcare element to its previous level and so help parents remain in sustainable employment.

So the sector has now asked the Mayor to step in, and step up to this economic challenge.  We want to see his true colours; and if he can show his central Government colleagues a thing or two about how to lead.  We know he can stick his neck out when things matter to him: he is keen on an estuary airport; he got very excited by Anish Kapoor’s embattled Orbit, the 120 metre public art sculpture at the Olympic Village; and he went head to head with Mr. Cameron on the Euro.

So Mr. Boris Mayor, please shake those famous tousled locks of yours and start with the following:

  • Lobby the Government to bring maximum childcare tax credits for low income families back to 80% [HMRC Child and Working Tax Credit Statistics April 2011]
  • Promote family friendly practice and childcare vouchers amongst all London employers
  • Include the Early Years in your current education inquiry

In his own words:

The strength of a city lies in its people – from the famous, the infamous to the heroically obscure. From an earlier Mayor of London, Dick Whittington to the tireless volunteers working to turn around London’s next generation. All whose endeavours have built the place we call home, I salute.

Boris Johnson.

Now do something that will help build a London fit for the next generation. Take an interest in childcare.