Tag Archives: Research

Baby Look into My Eyes…

This week I attended the 5th Annual Baby Room Conference organised by Kathy Goouch and her team at Canterbury University.

The keynote speaker Annette Karmilof- Smith reflected on how her work in brain development had led her to think about how the baby learns. She opened her speech with a reminder that new-born children can remember the sounds they had been processing during their final trimester in the womb. Apparently, they remembered and responded to TV music themes you listened to or watched during pregnancy. According to YouTube, the top TV themes include ‘I Dream of Jennie’,  ‘Hawaii Five O’, ‘The A Team’ and ‘Mission Impossible.’ I must admit that towards the end of one of my pregnancies I took to eating smoked fish while watching ‘Neighbours.’ Had I known about the Mozart effect, I might have revised my dodgy musical options. Continue reading

The #OfstedBigconversation – London

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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

The London Men in Childcare Network Celebrates its Second Birthday and Launches its Video

Men in Childcare is women’s business’ said a colleague at the first official meeting of the London Men in Childcare Network for 2014 which was held last week.  It set the tone as we reviewed the first year of the Network and considered our shared tasks for 2014.

In 2013 we organised the first National Men in Childcare conference in London, won the Nursery World Inclusion Award and presented to the Government All Party Parliamentary Group.  We supported colleagues in other parts of England who want to form networks and we made a film to enlighten others about the benefits of having a gender balanced workforce. Not bad going given we have no budget and rely on old–fashioned barter and modern social media. Quite a combination. Read out Men in Childcare report – https://www.leyf.org.uk/articles/leyf-issue-men-in-childcare-report/

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However, the best reason to celebrate was a comment made by a female manager who came along with her new male member of staff. She very movingly said  ‘I would not have appointed a male member of staff but for getting involved with the Network.  I changed my attitude, my approach to recruitment and the whole way I operate and I am so glad I did.’

That is the outcome we want and it’s needed because two days later I had an email from a Director of a large chain of nurseries asking for support to explain to a Board member why they should support an approach to have more men in childcare.

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Men in childcare is good for children, good for staff teams and good for society. Read the LEYF report or my many blogs on the subject , the most recent for the Huffington Post
So, given we agreed that men in childcare is a women’s issue we are launching our video on the week of International Women’s Day because women need to ensure that the workplace is a welcoming place for men to join because it’s  good for children.

In the words of Abraham Lincoln:

                               ‘These men ask for just the same thing: fairness, and fairness only.

Watch, enjoy and share…

Fly Me To the Moon….’Dunoon!’

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

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

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

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

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

Early Years Collaborative (Scotland)

Early Years Collaborative (Scotland)

The Collaborative has ten underpinning principles:

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

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

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

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

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

 

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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The role of the modern politician

It’s 100 weeks to the next election… Remember at your peril, politicians can determine our destiny.

The call to roundtables is loud and the manifesto push is in full swing. So how can we save ourselves from the worst excesses of the modern politicians and lead the outcome with them in a spirit of co-operation? I have been to a few roundtables recently and I wonder at the role of the politician in this modern and fragile democracy. Just look at Eygpt.

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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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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.

Cicero

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!

Discovering Eva Hart and Ashley Banjo while doing Action Research in Chadwell Heath

Action research at LEYF is a key aspect of how we ensure quality. It’s all about asking questions of ourselves and checking how we can do things better to give children the best service.

One way of doing action research LEYF style is through our Sounding Boards, a phrase coined by our HR Director Neil King some years ago to better describe my ‘ideas dinners’ with staff. In essence, staff are invited to join us to discuss how we can improve or develop new ideas, and in return they get their dinner! In this, LEYF staff are to be congratulated for their generosity – both with their time and how far they will go for a free meal (or indeed simple Curly Wurly).

Male staff with children at the Angekl nursery

This week’s Sounding Board was all about men in childcare, and so I had specifically invited male staff. Richard from Furze hosted the meeting at his nursery in Chadwell Heath, on what turned out to be the wettest and stormiest night of the month (later we discovered another watery connection).

Our goal for the night was to agree how we might best establish children’s views in this area, both as part of our continuing exploration of the distinct role men play in Early Years provision and our plan to launch the London Men in Childcare Network on the 19 November. Unlike in Europe where Männer in Kitas received 14 million euros for theory based research into the benefit of men in childcare, we are doing our research using the LEYF model – namely by accessing our own considerable in-house talent! Amid great chat, crack and comments such as “OMG, it’s like doing a dissertation”, we put together a research plan with a really clever child-focused methodology. Such is the joy of having great practitioners in the room.

By eight o’clock I was desperate for my dinner, and so dragged the team to the most recommended restaurant in wind-swept Chadwell Heath: Weatherspoons Eva Hart, named after local resident Eva Hart MBE, survivor of the sinking of the Titanic on April 15, 1912. Despite a number of images of the famous vessel on display around the restaurant, there was sadly no sign of Leo di Caprio to help complete the experience. However, all was not lost during our rather lively Curry Night, since Rachel introduced us to a new heart throb: the rather dapper Ashley Banjo, leader of now famous dance troupe Diversity.

Action research LEYF style is to be recommended: a combination of intelligence, conversation and company… you could say, a better and more child-friendly version of Come Dine with Me.

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.