Tag Archives: Staff

Baby Look into My Eyes…

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

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

What is teaching and who are the teachers in Early Years?

Recently, the Chief Inspector for Schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw launched the Annual Report on Early Years 2012-13 with a fairly controversial speech.  He threw down the gauntlet to the sector announcing that we were failing our poorest children because we were not teaching them to be school ready. This raised quite a few hackles and many a blog was written challenging his views but at the heart of his challenge lay the question what is teaching and who are the teachers?


Continue reading

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/

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.


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…

The London Men in Childcare Network Wins its First Award

Yesterday I woke up late, nursing a heavy head; a combination of a rotten head cold, three glasses of red wine (that’s one too many for me!) and dancing into the early hours in celebration of us winning a Nursery World award on Saturday night at the Grand Connaught Hotel. Yes, the London Men in Childcare Network (#meninchildcareldn) scooped the Inclusion Award. Our photo on the podium said it all as we were 8 men and three women quite the reverse to all the other winning groups.

mic award

#meninchildcareldn @ukindian126 @PaulSpinks3 @RoseHouseSchool @peacharno ‏@xMrBrettx @SueChambers14 @Mr_PaintPots @OreOduba

Continue reading

The Power of Good Old Fashioned Care: Love, Chat and Adele

A few weeks ago Wave Trust in partnership with the DfE published its report Conception to Age 2 – The Age of Opportunity. I was part of the Special Interest Group that helped shape the report, along with an eclectic group of colleagues representing a variety of areas affecting babies – such as mental health, training, health visiting and psychology. I learned much from this group, chaired by the erudite and softly spoken George Hosking, CEO of Wave Trust. The full report is 135 pages long and a text book in its own right, but the shortened version designed for local busy commissioners is a useful summary with reference to all the relevant links.

Continue reading

Can the Genie of the Lamp help us find the best staff in Early Years?

LEYF nursery staff trainingThere was a flurry of activity at our Central Office last week because we were interviewing for new staff. We need new staff because we have increased our capacity to accommodate more two-year-olds. The morning saw the arrival of the interview team of LEYF nursery managers and deputies expressing great hope and enthusiasm: new staff, new blood, more stability for teams and less dependence on agency staff. Hurrah!

As someone invited to sit on Professor Nutbrown’s Expert Panel, I supported the intention to have the best quality of staff in our settings. I am keen that the Level 3 is relevant and appropriate. By this I mean that anyone wanting to work with children are given a solid grounding in both child development and how children learn, so they know how to care for a child in a warm, empathetic and good-humoured way. We have long despaired about the qualification being watered down to the point where it has become too broad. As such, I welcome the opportunity to comment on the review of Level 3 qualifications.

Nonetheless, I am a pragmatic person and wondered how we would achieve this baseline quickly enough to meet the needs of the Two Year Old expansion. The outcome of our interviews last week was telling…

Three hundred hits on our advert results in 200 CVs being submitted. These are then followed up with instructions to download the information pack and complete an application form. At this point you see a big drop off: seemingly people just don’t want to write the letter (literacy, literacy, literacy). Those who do are invited to interview. Here at LEYF we call this an assessment centre, where potential staff complete a selection of activities and get to visit a nursery. The final interview pulls all this together to ensure we can both work together successfully.

The outcome is depressing and predictable. We had people who had managed to achieve their qualification within 10 weeks (and you could tell). We had recent college graduates who did not know what was meant by the EYFS. We had candidates who really struggled with spoken English. One manager said they had asked if candidates saw the position as a job or a career (don’t knows just don’t cut it). The enthusiasm began to wane throughout the day…

I chatted with our man from HR: is there not high unemployment he asked, scratching his head? There is, only the trouble with recessions is that staff sit tight, especially those in lower paid jobs (they cannot afford the risk of moving). According to the Office for National Statistics, 2012 saw a 42% drop in people leaving their jobs and the labour market at its least dynamic for 13 years.

So what shall we do? LEYF staff interviewing said they used courage (one of LEYF’s five core values) to help them in the selection process:

We will give one or two a chance for three months, during which time we will balance the risk, complete the induction and observe their impact on the children. (We think it’s a risk worth taking rather than continuing with agency staff.) We will then make a courageous choice to say ‘Goodbye’ if its not working.

Back in HR there is talk of reviewing the selection process. Maybe we will scrap the application form; does it tell us enough anyway? Yes, says Mr HR but we have to remember that any recruitment process must reassure Ofsted that it’s robust.

Does it feel like déjà vu? Remember 1997? The great ambition was to take on 100,000 new staff to expand childcare and enable people to work. Fantastic, if only it weren’t for the same problem we now face: getting enough of the right staff in place to turn the ambition into a reality. Without the power of the genie’s lamp, we can rub all we like, but we simply cannot ‘magic up’ enough good staff. As a result, twelve years later, and further stymied by a dogged recession, we appear to have made little progress.

So, here is a real task for our Minister: use the LEYF value of courage to get out there and talk the sector up!

  • Make schools understand the importance of childcare as a career option
  • Build childcare into the Career Guidance DNA
  • Make child development a key subject on the school curriculum
  • Get the Treasury to understand that Early Years training and learning needs continual funding just like that for school teachers
  • Get the sector in the press for the right reasons

Children are all our responsibility from conception. Invest in this at every level of the education system, starting right here and right now.

Welcome to 2013: dump resolutions and LOL.

I have long rejected beginning the New Year with a hangover, and am even less keen to create a bunch of resolutions that rarely survive the month of January, let alone come to fruition in the long run. For me, the process seems far too negative and self-defeating, and in my experience typically short-lived.

My assumptions were pleasantly confirmed in an article in the daily oracle, otherwise known as The Metro. Apparently, 40% of people give up their resolutions within a fortnight – not surprisingly as the highest percentage of resolutions are about giving up something they like! (Food, chocolate, wine etc…). Whatever happened to my Grandmother’s favourite saying, ‘a little of what you fancy does you good’? I suppose the key word here is ‘little’.

Lack of will power is the main reason we rarely stick to resolutions, along with the fact that old habits die hard and no one copes well with change, even if it is good. At this point, I think we would do well to remember the words of Darwin, who says:

It is not the strongest of the species that survives,
nor the most intelligent that survives.
It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”

So perhaps we need a different mindset. If having the will power to break old habits is our Achilles Heel, let’s turn on it and make the whole process more successful; let’s focus on just a handful of more positive and achievable goals to start the New Year (and ones that may yet help us prepare for the triple dip recession, British winter weather, overdraft accounts after Christmas holidays, travel fare rises on public transportation, dreaded inflation, high childcare costs for parents, local authority cuts and all the rest of the doom and gloom that keeps the media smiling).

In essence, let’s do more of what we do well in the following ways:

Make work as happy a place as possible. The O2 Mobile study found that one in three of us make most of our friends at work, more than school or university.

Communicate more. Lack of communication is the top complaint of the unsatisfied employee. My suggestion? Try over-communicating a little bit. Make a list of the ways you currently engage with peers and then test which of these matter the most to your organisation. Wise men talk of seven different methods of communication. Staff and hopefully experience will soon let you know when you are sharing too much. (Save that for Reality TV).

Be more visible. Consider if you can do more MBWA (Management by Walking Around). Think about how you connect with staff and find out what helps them feel engaged. Be positive and genuine. Employees want and require feedback constantly. Even the smallest feedback can generate a great response from an employee. Think about ways to show the staff you care and are listening to them.

Support more staff in their professional growth and development. As an employer, giving additional responsibility to a hard working employee can be quite rewarding for both parties. Big bonuses, pay rises, and trips aren’t in the budget but we can always afford tea and cake. Too often leaders think that if a big raise to the team is not possible then there is little point in attempting to do anything else. Training opportunities, conferences, visits or any activity that can contribute to the professional development of your team can be quite inspiring to an employee. A little creativity can go a long way.

Keep people engaged in the vision of the organisation. Many of the happiest employees work for companies where they feel there is a clear sense of direction and they know how they are contributing towards achieving the vision.

Keep a sense of humour; it will ground you in the most trying times.

And if you are already stuck with the last one, here is something that will make you chuckle: Eric Pickles’ suggestions for local authority efficiency savings Fifty ways to save is as weirdly funny as Fifty Shades of Grey (and would make a great episode of The Simpsons. LOL).

I wish you all the best for 2013!

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!

LEYF Magic, coming to a nursery near you soon.

Friday saw another fantastic LEYF Staff Conference, once again successfully managed with great aplomb. Like another Chocolate Orange segment in the continuing relationship with our Scottish colleagues, I was as ever struck at the extraordinary similitudes between Scotland and London. Even in these days of potential Scottish independence, I look forward to further cooperation, as we share, debate and enrich the whole Early Years sector.

Alice Sharp has been involved in our conferences for the past 8 years; and long may it continue, as every year she brings something extra special to the whole experience. This year Alice partnered with Paul Brannigan, lead actor from our favourite film The Angel’s Share. Paul talked movingly about his difficult upbringing in a very forthright Glaswegian way. He summed up the impact on him of his lack of home learning and the emptiness he felt as a child, when he realised there was no one who really loved or would stick up for him. He talked about the need to have an adult – any adult – reach out and put their arm around you, make you feel protected and loved.  That finally happened to him when he was in prison, but it helped turn his life around. His point, so touchingly made, was that he was on a mission to get people to understand that the younger it happened, the better – especially when that warm relationship could be the very thing that helps build a child’s brain.  His performance left the LEYF audience touched and emotional. Little surprise he is now Bafta nominated and shortlisted for best newcomer to British film. No cliché in this presentation though. The message was stark: Early Years practitioners have the power to contribute hugely to the child’s brain development, giving them a power boost that could see their positive synaptic connections increase from 7% to 80%.

It was the central point of our conference and the reason we want to grow. There was something magic in the room on Friday, and it’s something I hear often when people visit our nurseries. Now is the time to bottle this magic, and give more children the LEYF experience – both by filling all our nurseries to their maximum capacity and by having more LEYF nurseries across London.  So look out guys, LEYF is on the march!