Archive for April 2013

Coffee, Cake and Chat with Bea Heath director of ICM-SE   Leave a comment

While in London for the Flourish Summit over the weekend, I took the opportunity to meet with Bea Heath. I consider Bea to be a friend although this was actually only the second time that we had met – the rest of our friendship being based on social media contact and emails – and even then due to our very busy lives, not even much contact that way.

When Bea and I met for the first time earlier this year, we both said ‘You are just like I thought you would be’ and ‘I feel like I have known you forever’.

I generally find that is how it is with some people (and many of my friends)- you share so much in common and particularly ethos, values, principles and a passion for childminding – that it does feel like you have known them forever.

And so as I have explained I had a pre arranged meeting with Bea on Friday 26th April. Much to my relief she was there at Southfields tube station to greet me after my long journey from Kidderminster to London, and the stressful (for me) navigation of the tube system from Euston to Southfields.

After a hug, the safe storage of my suitcase in Bea’s car, and with coffee and cake in hand, we settled down at an outside table, in the welcome sunshine.

I had many questions that I wanted to ask Bea – and it became apparent she had a few that she wanted to ask me.  However first we chatted about our families – we have things in common as we are both grandparents – although I have rather more than Bea. Then of course we moved onto More Great Childcare and our shared concerns.

Although we  share concerns, we do deal with these issues in different ways – I tend to react quickly and to respond to media articles etc via a blog or comment on Twitter or Facebook – which as an individual I am able to do. Bea, on the other hand retains her professional distance and rarely comments publicly or expresses personal opinion – which as a director of the newly formed Independent Childminders Social Enterprise, is the approach Bea feels she should take.

You see, it is not that Bea does not have either personal or professional opinion – believe me she does – but Bea does not want to be in the limelight, she would prefer to stay in the background and let people find out about ICM-SE and not her.

I fully understand where Bea is coming from, as I also hate being in the limelight but as I said to her, sometimes you have to do things you would rather not do, for the greater good – and as  people have a lot of unanswered questions,  she is not doing herself or ICM-SE any favours (and it seems the other directors of ICM-SE agree with me).

So it is with Bea’s full agreement that I am writing this blog and providing some answers to the questions that I personally have and maybe others have as well. Although I did not conduct a interview with Bea and nor did I take any notes, the responses here are Bea’s responses – not word for word but close enough.

Penny    ‘Why did you start ICM-SE?’

Bea          ‘ I became aware of the governments plans around the same time that you did Penny – so well over a year ago – and I had the same concerns. When I had opportunity to meet with Ms.Truss  in person, I was even more concerned and decided that childminders who did not want to be agency childminders would need support and maybe a totally different format to what was currently available ‘

Penny     ‘ How did you decide on the actual format that childminders might want or need?’

Bea           ‘ I (we) consulted with childminding colleagues over a long period of time – asking questions and discussing possibilities. We did this discretely, not making a fuss, by face to face discussion and email. You may remember that I email you about a few things, Penny?’

Penny     ‘Yes I remember’

Penny     ‘ Why is there not more information on the ICM-SE website – sometimes I don’t find the information that I want?’ (It should be noted that I am a member of ICM-SE and so have access to the member areas)

Bea     ‘There are two main reasons. The first is that I have never set up a website before and I am learning as I go a long’

Penny ‘I can relate to that as I am also having to learn as I go along – and sometimes my lack of IT knowledge frustrates me. However surely within the ICM-SE team you must have an IT expert?’

Bea   ‘ We will at some point in the future (or I will get much better at IT things) but for now we do not have the funds to pay anyone to be our expert, in fact at the moment no one is getting paid for the things they are doing for ICM-SE”

Penny ‘That may surprise some people – are you saying that you do not have any funding for setting up and running  ICM-SE?’

Bea       ‘We have not had any funding from any where and are completely self funded’

Penny   ‘I don’t think people are aware of that, when you say self funded you mean from your own pockets?’

Bea     ‘Yes’

Penny  ‘ So do you make your money from selling insurance and other things?’

Bea   ‘No, not at all. For example ICM-SE insurance is sold to our members at cost price’

Penny ‘I think people are going to be surprised about this, as some people think ICM-SE is all about trying to make money from childminders’

Bea  ‘Couldn’t be further from the truth. ICM-SE are not about making money and any profit made in the future will be ploughed back into the business to provide further support for members. Our Childminder playgroups are the same – at the moment they do not make a profit, but when they do, the profits will be ploughed back into ICM-SE”

I don’t see this current lack of funding or ability to self fund everything at once as a negative – in fact most of the long established membership organisations started like this with a few dedicated, passionate people, very little money but the desire to help and support others’

Penny ‘‘While we are talking about what people think – some people think that ICM-SE plan to be a childminder agency in the future, and that ICM-SE are involved with talks with the government’

Bea ‘ Yes I am aware of these rumours but I will take this opportunity to pass on the message that ICM-SE are totally against childminder agencies and will never support the idea or be part of it’

Penny ‘And the meeting?’

Bea ‘It is true that we are invited as ICM-SE to attend some meetings with the government – but to be honest not that many. It is also important to make clear that we are invited as independent observers and do not really have much opportunity to ask questions, however we do speak up whenever we can – usually on the lines of ‘That won’t work for childminders’ or ‘childminders can’t do that’

Penny ‘How do you and ICM-SE see the future for childminders?’

Bea ‘My personal opinion and that of ICM-SE are much the same – we don’t know, only that change will be involved’

Penny ‘ And the question you wanted to ask me, Bea?’

(Actually, I can not tell you about Bea’s question to me at the moment, as it is only an outline proposal at the moment – but if and when Bea makes the formal proposal to me – you can be reassured that I will tell you)

However as a result of Bea’s question to me about the future – I did have one more question for Bea

Penny ‘ As you know Bea – I am a active member of the Pre-school Learning Alliance and my loyalty is with them. How do you and ICM-SE feel about this?’

Bea ‘I am glad you asked this question Penny because ICM-SE believe there are enough childminders for all the membership organisation to do well. Also ICM-SE are not at all bothered if one of our members is also a member of other membership organisations or not, as it does not make any really difference. In fact we think it is beneficial for people to be members of whatever organisations they want to be members of , without feeling guilt or trying to hide the fact. It may eventually lead to more sharing of information and good practice, between membership organisations – which can only be a good thing, as in my opinion it is far better to be open and honest than to try and gain information through not being up front about membership of other organisations.

NB Bea has been in touch, as although I have not said that ICM-SE is a membership organisation – I have mentioned membership organisation in the same line (above) and Bea wants to make it very clear that ICM-SE is a Trade Association – not a membership association

So to answer your direct question Penny, It does not make any difference to us if you are a active member of the Alliance or not – and this will also apply to the situation that we have just discussed. In fact ICM-SE would like to work closely with the Alliance (and others). The only time where there might be a conflict of interests,  is if you eventually became employed by either ICM-SE or the Alliance – in which case I am sure you would act responsibly and confidentially.

Penny ‘Thank you Bea – that is a relief to me and I am sure it will be to others. As to being employed by ICM-SE or the Alliance in the future  – I don’t think that will happen.

Bea ‘Don’t underestimate yourself Penny – if we were in a position to employ you now – we would’

By then it was time for Bea to head home to look after her grandchild and for me to head off to my friends house who was kindly putting me up for the weekend.

I do hope that I will have opportunity to talk to Bea again (or one of the other ICM-SE   directors) as I have more questions to ask.

The Flourish Summit Day One – Lunch time to home time   2 comments

After lunch we had a look at the displays and the things that you buy – amazingly I  didn’t anything – don’t get me wrong there were plenty of things – especially books to buy that I would like, BUT travelling by train does make you think twice!

When we returned to the main hall there was a film showing – ‘August to June’Bringing Life to school’  but to be honest I didn’t really pay much attention, not because it was not interesting but because I was to busy chatting and flicking through the free booklet on Mud Kitchens that Jan White had given out in the morning – but that had been popped in the bag and not looked at.

The next session Wendy Scott – Short History of UK early years education which was was it said on the tin! However Wendy had clearly had enough of the governments interference in the early years sector and expressed some strong personal views – views that I entirely agreed with – and judging by the reaction of those in the room – so did most of the audience.

Next there was a presentation by Dr Richard House about  Unhurried Pathways. As I had been in Winchester in October last year when this was launched- this was not new to me – but it was to Jen – and if it is new to you Click here for PDF Unhurried Pathways

The next presentation was given by Dr Sami Tamimi  on the subject of  ”Why psychiatric diagnosis and medication doesn’t help’, as a grandmother a of a grandson with Asperger’s I thought that I might find this very interesting and enlightening. However I didn’t mainly because I found it difficult to follow. I found that I was not agreeing with many of the points made that I did understand – such as the use of brain images and the use of medication – based on my own knowledge and family experiences.

I am not saying that Dr. Tamimi is wrong – in fact I agree that children are labelled to easily and sometimes given drugs they don’t need, but I am saying his talk challenged what I know (limited though that is) and I need further explanation – as 30 mins really was not long enough for me to grasp the main facts being presented or to reflect on if my knowledge is incomplete or out dated. So food for thought – and to start off my journey in this direction (and maybe readers of this blog) here is an article I found

After Dr. Tamimi came Sally Goddard-Blythe  talking about “The Significance of Neuromotor Readiness for Learning  I have heard Sally talk before – although my recall was not very good without notes – so this was a welcome refresher for me. Sally spoke about children being developmentally ready and able to learn. Something I believe in and the reason why I am personally so against the earlier and earlier formal ‘teaching’ in this country.

Sally refers to the A,B,C of learning (actually A – E)

A = Attention
B = Balance
C = Coordination
D = Developmental Readiness for
E – ducation

In other words if a child has not had opportunity to fully develop their attention, balance and co-ordination – they will not be ready or able to learn.

By now the post lunch nap was trying to kick in! I always find it very hard to sit still for long as I have restless leg , but it is even harder than usual when trying to concentrate in a warm room full of people and chairs which after a few hours seem to become even harder than they were at the beginning of the day. Personally what I need was a cup of coffee – but the programme told me I had to wait a bit longer.

So onwards – and a presentation by Catherine Prisk  on The Importance of Play luckily both short in time and a subject that I am passionate about. Cath posed a very important question ‘How come all the good play stuff (ie the natural stuff) has been removed from children’s parks / playgrounds. Cath’s talk complemented the one from in the morning from the the two mum’s Alice and Ingrid.

Then it was time for a short but very welcome tea /coffee break

After the break we were shown a film made by Baroness Susan Greenfield – Early Foundations – The new Climate Change

Fantastic speaker – down to earth, humour, fast paced but easy to  follow. As someone with very little knowledge in this field I found the talk, thought provoking and reassuring. Thought provoking as in just what is possible in the future and how much we still have to learn about the human mind – just what will the future be like?  robotic people? ability to control everything and communicate just by thinking?  Also lots to consider from the ‘I would like to suggest …’ comments from Susan. Reassuring because some of what Susan was saying reinforced my own limited knowledge about how children learn and most importantly the things that very young children can not master / achieve because developmentally difficult,  if not near impossible (exceptions to the rule,  as always, possible).

As the conference was going on until 6pm – there were still two more speakers

First

Dorothy Marlen – Conscious Caring –  21st century early childhood care  in a nutshell this talk was about not rushing children into sitting and standing- but allowing them to do it in their own time. There is of course more to it than that so take a look here

The final speakerof the day (apart from the summary) was Terri Harrison – Nature Nurture: From Vulnerability to Resilience a inspirational and powerful presentation but how even small changes and taking the children outside can have huge benefits for all. Made me sad, made me happy, made me reflective. Find out a bit more here

And so summary over and back to Jen’s house – by Taxi as Jen not feeling to good and needing to take her inhaler and her preventative tablets.

An excellent first day at the Flourish Summit

Posted April 29, 2013 by psw260259 in Conferences that I have attended

2013 Flourish Summit – Day One – Start – to Lunchtime   3 comments

I am a supporter of Open Eye, Early Childhood Action and now Save Childhood Movement because I strongly believe in the things these organisations stand for.

The Flourish Conference is organised by Save  Childhood Movement – if you have not heard of them click here

I knew I was in for a very busy packed with inspirational speakers as soon as I saw the Summit Progamme! Day One Saturday 27th April programme was as follows

SATURDAY APRIL 27th

9.00 – 10.00                 Registration

10.00 – 10.45                 Introductions

10.45 –11.30                 Emeritus Professor Philip Gammage – The Big Picture – Setting the context

11.30 – 12.15                 Tim Gill – Careful now! Risk, resilience and everyday freedom in children’s lives

12.15 – 12.30                 Alice Ferguson and Ingrid Skeels – The Playing Out Project

12.30 – 1.45                   LUNCH and FILM – August to June ‘Bringing Life to School’

1.45 – 2.00                     Wendy Scott – Short History of UK early years education

2.00 – 2.30                     Dr Richard House – Unhurried Pathways

2.30 – 3.00                     Dr Sami Tamimi – Why psychiatric diagnosis and medication doesn’t help

3.00 – 3.30                     Sally Goddard-Blythe – “The Significance of Neuromotor Readiness for Learning 

3.30– 4.00                      Catherine Prisk – The Importance of Play

4.00 – 4.30                     TEA BREAK

4.30 – 4.50                      Baroness Susan Greenfield – Early Foundations – The new Climate Change
                                        Susan will be in Australia at the time of the summit so has prepared a dedicated film for us to show

4.50 – 5.20                      Dorothy Marlen  Conscious Caring –  21st century early childhood care 

5.20 – 5.40                      Terri Harrison – Nature Nurture: From Vulnerability to Resilience

5.40 – 6.00                      Summary

I had heard some of the speakers before when I attended the Early Childhood Action conference in October 12 click here to read my blog about the ECA conference

My friend Jen and I arrived early and so we were able to have a relaxed coffee and look at the displays and wide choice of things to buy – we both resisted buying anything – but I have a feeling that I will be buying things on day 2!

The conference hall was very large with plenty of space to stretch legs and put bags etc, a mention should be given to the Quakers who provided the use of ‘Friends’ which enabled a much bigger conference to be organised. With its prime position right opposite Euston station it could not have been easier.

A mention should also be given to the volunteers and Community Playthings ladies who worked hard to ensure that all the delegates were booked in, given goody bags and directed to refreshments and toilets. One of these people was Julie Cligman who I had not met before but had chatted to on Twitter – nice to meet you Julie. Many thanks to all of the volunteers

Before the introduction to the summit we were treated to the delightful sound of children from the Camden Youth Choir singing.

After the introductions – which had set the scene as to why we were at the Flourish Summit, I listened to Emeritus Professor Philip Gammage who spoke with passion and humour from his many years of experience about the important things a child needs – as he called them ‘the soft skills’ which are hard to measure but make all the difference to children’s well being and future success in life (not just in school). Many questions posed and much to ponder on about why we do things the way we do them – what the benefit to the children is – and is their any point because children will grow and develop if we measure their development – or not. Very much inline with my thinking and my refusal to implement planning, assessment or tracking, just because the government says we should. Anything I do is for a reason – to benefit the child. Therefore it was nice to have some of my views agreed on by some a highly qualified and experienced person.

The next speaker was Tim Gil who spoke about risk taking and risk resilience – making the point that today’s children are over protected and do not learn how to manage risk themselves. A view I very much agree with – to the point that in my setting there are no risk assessments, no tick sheets, no removal of things that don’t need removing – however of course I do support the children to learn about risks and how to keep themselves safe.

The next two speaker were two parents – mothers in fact, Alice Ferguson and Ingrid Skeels  who spoke to us about the The Playing Out Project, which in a nutshell is about enabling childre to play outside their front door, on their street and in their community by closing the streets to through traffic for a few hours.

A fantastic project which has had some critics – and therefore in my opinion needs more of us to join in and support by creating more play spaces in our own communities. Of course not all communities will have streets that can be closed for even short periods – but what about car parks, or parts of car parts,  or unused patches of ground (which maybe still have ‘No entry’ signs or ‘No Ball Games’ signs, or dare I suggest it – school grounds that are closed for huge periods of the year (before ./ after school, weekends, school holidays) If parents took turns are providing a adult presence ( not adult direction) then why not? It would only need 2 or 3 adults to oversee each ‘play out space’ yet all the children of the neighbourhood could access the space if they wanted to – remember this is not childcare in any shape or form – with no responsibility for other people’s children – other that that which would be similar to that provided when a child attends a party or comes to play in your child’s home / garden.

By then it was lunch time – which was a packed lunch – choice of sandwich, piece of fruit, large piece of cake and a carton of juice – all very fresh and all very nice. There were plenty of spaces inside and outside to sit eat, and chat. Jen and I chatted to a primary school teacher who had as many concerns as we do, and objected as much to the things the government expected her to do as a teacher, as we do to the things the government expects us to do as childminders.

A bonus for me was I got to meet Julie Lightley from ‘The Village Nursery’. Julie is a fellow campaigner against the governments proposals and has had several letters and articles printed in papers and magazines.

Part two of day one to follow – but for now I need to get ready to attend day two

Posted April 28, 2013 by psw260259 in Conferences that I have attended

A few questions for those who are going to running childminder agencies   2 comments

It seems the government are going to push ahead with childminder agencies – without proper consultation and as it were slipping them in through the ‘back door by including in the Children and Families Bill ( I have to ask why is this step needed if the government intends to listen to the views  of childminders,  membership organisations and early years experts  – surely the consultation should come first?).

So far there has been very little information about agencies and how they will work in practical terms. So far we know;

  • Childminders will have a choice if they join an agency or not 
  • Each agency coud potentially be different as they will be able to set their own working practices.
  • There will be opportunity to remain self employed or to be employed by the agency
  • Agencies will offer support, training and be able to register, inspect and de register childminders.
  • Ofsted will inspect a small number of childminders in each agency for quality assurance reasons.

And that is it at the moment – many childminders are frustrated with this lack of information and want to be given further information either from the government or from those who pln to run the agencies.

Therefore I have jotted down some of the questions that I want answers to  in the hope that someone will provide the answers.

General agency questions

With the possibility of childminders with different current grades joining the agency – will you differentiate in level of support and recognise the expertise, knowledge and understanding of those with Outstanding grades.

If so – as those with current Outstanding and  good grades will need less support than those with current satisfactory grades, or those just registering as childminders, will the agency fee be the same for everyone or will it be dependent on grade both on joining and once inspected / assessed by the agency?

If not what incentive will there be for a childminder in an agency to improve or maintain their standard of practice?

If as a result of an agency gaining a lower grade than the childminders in the agency had previously – how will you compensate for this loss of grade and reputation?

Self employed model agencies

Will you providing support / training to assistants and co minders?

If so will they have to register with the agency and pay a fee themselves? Or will the childminder have to pay a higher fee if he / she employs an assistant or works with a co minder?

Will childminders be given any credit for having  additional resources?  – because some childminders have just the basics, some childminders have extensive resources – and of course those registering may not have any resources to start with.

Will the agency fee be based on per childminder or per child  space?

If a childminder wants to joins the agency and has no spaces available – and even has a waiting list, will that childminder still be able to join?

Employed model agencies

Will you be ‘buying’ each childminders existing resources – because if employed it is not the norm to provide free of charge the ‘tools of the trade’ – teachers for example may supplement resources available but that is their choice – and they do not supply the basics in the classroom like tables and chairs, the whiteboard, the pencils and paper. And if so who will set the price paid?

If I was going to join an agency – I would be very tempted to sell all my resources myself at a price I set and bank the money – and start from scratch with resources supplied by the agency- as at the moment I provide extensive quality resources to ensure the success of my business – I will not continue to provide them to ensure the success of an agency business. The same with my car, my pushchairs, car seats and all the other equipment – it is mine paid for by me, for use in my business, not to for use in someone else’s business.

What will happen if my co minder chooses not to be part of an agency – will she still be able to access training through the agency (even if cost involved) ?

How will paying a co minder work, would I still be responsible for this – and if so would you pay me more because of my co minder?

Same for childminder assistants – will you pay me more to cover their wages? – especially on the days when numbers of places are not increased but an assistant is use to ensure safety and needs of children being met – for example on day trips, or if caring for a child who needs extra support.

Will you cover the extra costs of day trips, home cooked food, craft activities, transport to and from the children’s home or school?

As each childminder is different and offers a different service, will you have a pay scale so that extra costs involved in providing that service are covered? If not what will be the incentive to continue to provide all the extras?

How will you compensate parents who might faced a fee increase from what their current arrangement is with their self employed childminder,  if that childminder becomes employed by an agency?

How will you ensure that standards are maintained / improved in a employed model – without incentive (such as personal reputation, being able to charge for services actually provided) childminders in an agency may well have a ‘It does not matter attitude – I will still get paid if I do the statutory stuff – why do more?’

At the moment childminders often use their discretion to charge some parents less than their normal rate to support families through difficult times – will this be an option once agencies are responsible for fee setting and payments?

Personal Summary

The above questions are not all the questions that I have, but there seems little point in asking more questions until the ones above have been answered. My professional opinion is that the answers to above questions – if provided – will provide the evidence that agencies will not work in practice.

Each childminder is a unique person offering a unique service. Each childminder is responsible for the success of their business – and their Ofsted grade. Take that away and there will be no incentive for any childminder in an agency to improve practice, to support parents, to offer any extras such as extended hours, discounts, quality resources and so on.

There are much better ways to achieve the government aims – such as a higher Ofsted fee, charging for services provided by the local authority, supporting those with lower grades to improve practice, using peer support / volunteers more effectively, and so on.

Proper consultation and effective listening to those who are qualified to express professional opinions – would have  led to further improving the excellent progress made so far

Well – I watched Newsnight ………………   3 comments

I have to admit that I missed the programme last night but thanks to the wonders of the internet, I was able to watch early this morning.

Link to Newsnight 24.4.13 – if not seen

I was hoping that Ms Truss will have used the opportunity to explain to all of us who object to the proposals in More Great Childcare – why we are wrong and she is right – I had even checked my bank balance – just in case I would have to fulfill my promise and place adverts to apologise to Ms Truss.

Let’s just say – my money is still safe in the bank.

So these are my personal views after watching the programme

They showed 3 year olds in a nursery – not two year olds. Why I wonder?

The outside area appeared to be provided to enable  children to let of steam – I have to ask why? Where were the opportunities to do things other than climbing, running etc. My personal opinion is a) what a wasted opportunity, b) poor children – they were clearly in need of that opportunity to let of steam – such as we might see in a group of reception age children in this country – desperate to be able to move about and not  be directed in what they do by an adult. Again my personal opinion is children of 4 should not be subjected to this and children of 3 certainly should not.

I saw and heard more than one adult during the circle activity – the camera did not show the whole class at once so I could not count the children. But as a guess I would say the number of children and number of staff were not very  different to those seen in our state nursery classes. Now is that because actually there is no difference when you count the lesser qualified staff – the assistants (or TA’s)? Or is it because the French did not want us to see what really happens in  a class with just one adult? I have to ask are we seeing the ‘whole picture’?

Although I do not speak French – so no idea what was being said – the adult voice in the background when the children were coming into the classroom – sounded to me to be raised and in a tone that I would describe as ‘sharp’ – actually just like the one I might use if a child was doing something that was a danger to themselves or someone else – in other words rarely used . So did I not hear correctly? was it it an occasional voice?  or do adults in France always use that tone of voice and if so why? Crowd control comes to my mind – and remember there was more than one adult with that group of children.

The adult at the creative table appeared to be providing an activity that I might provide, appeared to be providing the same sort of support that I might offer – I have to ask would completing my degree make any difference? (because due to re registering  as a childminder and not being able to attend lectures – I have not completed by degree ) Personally I think not – a degree requires one to undertake study – reading books, arguing a point in assignments and so on – it can if the student is motivated increase knowledge and understanding – or if not motivated  build skills in being able to quickly gather quotes and rephrase others words  – in other words – it is not the degree than gives you that hands on ability with children – the skills needed to support children in a creative activity – it is the desire to want to understand children better and to provide the best possible care and education – and in my experience not all graduates are bothered about the actual children.

What I did not see – because not shown – was if the children had any choice in which table activity they choose to do – or if they were able to change tables when they wanted to – or even not take part if they didn’t want to – or if other non table activities were available.

In my opinion – if the things I did not see were not options for the children – then I would say the children might as well have been robots or maybe programmable dolls. I would like to hear Ms.Truss’s views on what she sees as the benefit of these activities – as it certainly is not part of the Early Years Foundation Stage or backed by research into how children learn.

Then there was a childminder setting – oh what a lucky childminder to have such a large home to have all that space in the play area – hardly typical of the average British lounge – and again so lucky to have all that soft wipe clean matting – I wonder if her family sit on that matting in the evening to watch TV? – but then again maybe it wasn’t part of the ‘family space’

I wish that they had shown the childminder on her OWN at the meal time because I saw lots of adults helping out – maybe parents? maybe assistant? How would the childminder have coped with 8 x 2 year olds on their own?

It must be remembered that although Ms.Truss is not suggesting that childminders in this country have 8 children on their own – it will be possible – if a childminder choose to – to have 4 children under the age of two – in fact possible to have 4 children under the age of 13m because will be able to have 2 under 12 months and 2 over 12months – so as 13m is over 12 months and would be legal.

Then there was the interview with the head teacher – of course he will mention all the good points – I would have been more interested in the not so good points – the views of staff and the parents of the children. It may not surprise anyone who has met the children who attend Penny’s Place – that they are making the same exceptional progress – as  judged not only Penny – but by their Health Visitors (2 year old checks actually taking place around the children’s 3rd birthday).

I am not going to comment on the studio discussion because I found Truss to once again being very vague, not given facts, just her personal opinion, being rude in that she did not really listen to the points made by the other guests and was just on a mission to say what she had come to say.  Manners? I wish our early years minster displayed some during TV interviews.

I fully agree with the mum on the show – parents in this country often do not have a choice about if they work, they often do not have the option to work part time – and the transfer of tax allowances would help. I do not support parents who think it is ok to live off benefits –  as my view is you should personally support any children you bring into the world (however if reason for not working such as caring for disabled child then benefits system needs to support this)- but I do fully support those parents who would like one parent to stay at home, or to work part time. In fact I have commented in the past – many times – that if all children could access free childcare then the parents would have real choice, and parents would be enabled to choose if they worked full time, part time or not at all – as needed to meet their own personal family costs. Childcare costs should not be the deciding factor.

Finally – the Newsnight programme demonstrated once again that this is not about the children of this county (loved the question ‘Do you care about the children of this country?’) It is about saving the government money – they are not even prepared to pay the costs involved in gaining higher qualifications, or in being part of a childminder agency – surely if the government was really concerned about the children of this country having the best possible early years care and education they would be proactive in financially enabling these changes to happen.

Furthermore if the government were really interested in the well being of the children of this country – they would listen to parents, practitioners, experts of this country, not to ‘ put on a show’ people from from other countries – especially as we now know the truth about the previous favoured model from the Dutch. These are British children not Dutch or French or from any other country – our system works well  – of course reflection, evaluation and taking on new theories and increased knowledge of brain development and so on, will always be required – and has always been part of the practice of  the majority of early years settings in this country. However you should not make major changes without research and evidence to back up why changes are needed.

Ratio increases are all about trying to create more childcare places – at no cost to the government

Higher qualifications are a smoke screen – because although to be encouraged and financially supported – the government are just interested in giving a reason why higher ratios are possible (but do ask yourself why they do not have the same requirement for childminders? As they are proposing higher ratios for childminders but no requirement for a formal qualification at all – could it be that government money would be needed or that they would risk a further drop in childminder numbers, that they can’t risk because of the need for two year old funded places?)

Childminder agencies are nothing to do with increasing quality, or helping parents find childcare – no it is all about saving the government money – again.

Here we go again – Truss in the papers expressing personal opinion   5 comments

So yesterday Ms. Truss added to the personal opinions that she is expressing about pre school age children. I have to say it is her personal opinion because she is once again cherry picking bits of information, once again comparing to what she thinks is the situation in other countries, and more importantly not bothering to say which piece of research, which expert in early years is informing her opinion.

If you have not read it yet Truss views on unruly toddlers and their lack of manners

I find it rather annoying – no, very annoying that the early years minister can go on and on and on about early years practitioners needing higher qualifications, needing to do x,y and z to improve outcomes for children – when she herself does not have any formal qualification in early years childcare and education.

How can someone who does not have any qualifications in early years, does not listen to the expert knowledge that is available to her from those the government commissions to provide research, does not listen to the leaders of the national early years organisations, does not listen to the thousands and thousands of practitioners who work with pre school age children, does not bother to listen to views of parents – be ‘allowed’ to base government policy on her personal views and to propose such major changes to a system that has worked so well for many years – and that has shown improvement in outcomes for children year on year?

In my last blog I challenged Ms.Truss to provide the research that backs up her views and her proposals – and although I know full well that she does not take any notice of what I write or even reads it – I still stand by my pledge that if Ms.Truss can provide the research and the evidence, that I will personally apologise via a full page advert in Nursery World and Early Years Educator. So if anyone reading this does happen to meet with Ms.Truss in the near future – please pass on the information about my challenge to her.

So let’s unpick the article and express my personal opinion – that is opinion of someone who has studied to level 5 in early years and childcare, someone who has worked directly with children for over 30 years, someone who, dare I suggest, knows not everything but a fair bit more than our early years minister.

Ms. Truss says ‘Nurseries are breeding a generation of toddlers with no manners, who run around all day doing what they want to do’

In my experience children in nurseries, in pre schools and at childminder settings do not run around doing what they want to do in the inside environment – most settings do not let the children run inside due to safety reasons – but the children do walk between activities, when engaging in role play, and when fetching resources to support their free play.

Maybe Ms.Truss;

  • Finds a group of children moving around with a purpose unbearable and she thinks they are running or out of control – as has been said elsewhere – a skilled observer (that is someone who understands child development and play) – see’s purposeful play – a unskilled observer (as I suggest Ms.Truss is ) see chaos.
  • Or she does not understand the difference between free play in the inside environment  and the outside environment – where there is a huge difference and children do run, and climb and hop and jump and crawl and so on, in the outside environment – and for very good reason (maybe someone should explain to Ms.Truss about child development  and how children develop the necessary skills, muscle control and strength and so on to be able to progress towards being able to write)

Then there is the manners side of things – all the children in my setting have lovely manners- and so do the children I meet from other settings – in my opinion children are taught manners through good modelling by staff of manners and social skills such as listening and responding to others in turn,  and by staff having high expectations. Unfortunately not all children have the same experiences at home  (and usually because the parents  do not have support, have been failed by our education system (not our early years system) and are under so much stress and worry that they are unable to do anything more than survive as best they can).

Also –  again being bold children learn from the lack of modelling from  TV interviews – for example the ones in which the early years minster does say ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’ but does not model the other important social skills – namely listening to others, considering their views and not interrupting or talking over those that want to ask questions.

Ms Truss goes on to say ‘This isn’t about two-year-olds doing academic work – it’s structured play which teaches children to be polite and considerate through activities which the teacher is clearly leading,’

Oh goody – I am not expected to get the two year and three year olds in my care to take their GCSE’s – but Ms.Truss clearly has NO IDEA about play – and clearly has not taken on board the ‘Characteristics of effective teaching and learning’ as in the EYFS 2012 (By the way I do recommend that Ms. Truss bothers to read this document and to ask questions about the bits she does not understand – and maybe even to attend a training course – I can recommend Helen Moylett and Nancy Stewart  – through personal experience – as good trainers in this area, as they  actually  do know what they are talking based on theory, research and lots of observations of children, and years of experience).

Social media is full of comments from outraged practitioners, trainers and parents – things like

‘ I may as well give up now and de- register’

‘ I will not be able to train others, out of principal and what I know to be science / child development’

‘This woman needs to spend time in early years settings – not fleeting visits – hands on doing the job’

‘Maybe she should go and live and work in France – they clearly are better than us’

‘ This goes against everything that I have learnt on my training’

‘The children in my setting have very good age appropriate manners’

‘My children learn through free play every day’ (by lots of people)

‘This woman is dangerous – these are children we are talking about’

And many more comments – I think it is worth noting that I have not read a single comment in support of Ms.Truss – only that people agree children should be taught manners – but not just in the pre school settings.

Ms.Truss is once again going on about graduates and structured teacher led sessions …..

‘At the moment fewer than one-third of nurseries employ graduate-level teachers and have structured, teacher-led sessions. We know that’s very beneficial.’

……. what she has not said is who says it is beneficial

Ms.Truss is once again singing the praises of French nurseries ……

‘What you notice in French nurseries is just how calm they are. All of their classes are structured and led by teachers. It’s a requirement. 

‘They learn to socialise with each other, pay attention to the teacher and develop good manners, which is not the case in too many nurseries in Britain.’ 

……..what she is not saying is practitioners in France don’t like this – they think it prevents children from doing what children should do – ie learning through play. The French practitioners are not happy – they only have this sort of practice to keep children safe – because there are not enough practitioners due to high ratios to enable safe free play.

Ms Truss may be interested in this quote – made yesterday by the staff at Pizza Hut – one of the children I care for had her birthday party there – her friends from the setting all attended.

The children are some of the best behaved children that I have ever seen, they are very polite, play well together and a credit to their parents’

The mother of the party girl pointed out that they are a credit to their childminder.

I would go further and say they are a credit to their childminder and their parents – and the very good partnership working between parents and childminder.

I do have some further questions – They are for Ms.Truss – so I don’t suppose I will ever get an answer.

‘Ms.Truss what are your memories from your early years – those from birth to seven?

Do you remember playing with your toys – did you have a favourite?

Do you remember playing outside running, building dens, getting dirty?

Did you make mud pies and rose petal perfume?

Did you pretend your bike was a car, a train, an areoplane?

Did you enjoy having siblings or friends to play with – without an adult telling you want to do and how to do it?

‘What are your memories of primary school?

Did you prefer lessons to playtime or to going home time?

Where did you make your friends – during lessons or during playtime?

Can you remember a favourite teacher? – and why? – was it because you sat at a desk and were expected to learn things by rote? or maybe because it was hands on ‘experimentation’ moving around the class finding out solutions to the task set?

I ask these questions because most adults have the same responses –  mainly outdoor play, free play and knowing where adults were – but not having adult direction for every single thing.

And finally Ms. Truss – if you enjoyed the same things in your early years – would you say you ‘turned out ok?’

‘ Would you say people like me – and most of the people who work with pre school children have turned out ok?’

Or are you suggesting that the middle aged population are all ‘failures’ of our childhood and our education system?

And when you look at the younger generation – those without employment, those who come out of school without the necessary  skills to think for themselves, without morals, without hope – do you really think it is their pre school years that have created this situation?

Or maybe – just maybe  – Can I suggest it is;

a result of lowering the school starting age to 4 instead of 5?

a result of increased class sizes?

a result of teaching to take tests?

a result of more a more structured curriculum for younger and younger children?

a result of government demands for more paperwork?

a result of shorter playtimes to fit in more curriculum time?

a result of more parents having to work longer and longer hours, just to make ends meet?

a result of the push for academic qualifications and the complete disregard of caring skills and practical skills?

Maybe – just maybe – it is not the early years sector that you should be blaming and trying to force changes on that everyone in the early years sector knows are not in the best interests of children – but instead blaming the government and the school system.

Please STOP and THINK

Please reconsider – because I and almost the entire early years sector, the teaching profession, the mental heath profession and parents – all think you are wrong  – very wrong

And further that if you implement the proposals in More Great Childcare – you will make things worse.

But then again – maybe it will be a good thing to look to the French for ideas –  because those who have been through the French early years and education system do learn a few  things – they learn not to trust their Members of Parliament,  they learn that MP’s don’t know best – but rather than nice politely worded letters to newspapers, nice organised petitions that can be ignored, rather that lots of  complaining and shaking of heads in disbelief – the French have learnt that they need to strike, to hold protest rallies, to form blockades – to make it clear that they are not happy and quite simply often refuse to accept whatever it is the government are proposing.

So on that point I agree with Ms. Truss – there is something we can learn from the French – that is to stop being so politely British and to shout and stamp our feet a bit more – and refuse to do something we know is wrong and not in the best interest of those we care so much about – the children of this country.

OUTRAGEOUS – Early Years Minster unable to answer a straight forward question   3 comments

The following has been taken from They work for you site and having read it I am fuming.

Sharon Hodgson

To ask the Secretary of State for Education which (a) organisations and (b) individuals in England have made representations advocating changes to adult to child ratios in childcare settings, other than in response to the Childcare Commission call for evidence.

Elizabeth Truss

I have had numerous conversations about staff to child ratios in childcare settings with individuals and organisations in England, as have officials of the Department. These conversations revealed a wide range of views. There is a recognition that staff to child ratios have remained the same for decades, and have not kept pace with the significant changes in child care and early education we have seen in this country. This reinforces the case for reviewing those rules and considering greater flexibility for providers to deploy better qualified staff to meet children’s needs effectively.

Penny’s opinion

Sharon Hodgson’s was very clear, and required a specific response – ie WHO has said that changes to adult to child ratio’s are needed. WHO as in a person or persons names or the names organisations.

The EY Minister’s response was at best vague and worse an insult to all those who would really like an answer to the question asked by Sharon Hodgson.

Numerous  conversations – well yes – I would agree. These would include the questions asked by the DfE when they visited my setting for the day, the questions set for the discussions groups with childminders – many which I personally coordinated and gathered the responses to – and provided DfE with comprehensive feedback – of course these are only a few of those ‘discussions’ but I know the response was a huge NO to increased ratios.

It will include discussions with membership organisations – the very organisations that have signed this petition against increased ratios so a good guess that they will not have been part of discussion that were in favour of increased ratios

Truss says there were a wide range of views – what a clever way of saying NOTHING. Surely if the minster had a long list of names of people or organisations in favour of increased ratios – she would say so – even if not by name (for confidentiality reasons) she would have said something on the lines of ‘the majority’ or given a % figure. To say ‘a wide range’ means to me that one or two may have supported the idea!

Then she said ‘There is a recognition that staff to child ratios have remained the same for decades, and have not kept pace with the significant changes in child care and early education we have seen in this country’.

That appears to be a case of putting two bits of information together – that are not actually linked.

It is not a recognition that ratios have remained unchanged – it is a fact – and a fact that has a very good reason behind it. The early years sector as a whole understands the development needs of very young children.

Yes, there have been significant changes in childcare and early education – and that which takes place in non school settings is based on the current ratios and has built on knowledge and understanding for years of hands on practice and numerous research projects. I have yet to see a SINGLE bit of evidence to suggest that ‘to keep up the significant changes in childcare and education we need to increase ratios – in fact I have only seen evidence that suggests LOWER ratios.

In addition the whole early years sector acknowledges that children need time to be children and must have to the support of an adult as they explore and learn through play – that is an adult with the time to respond to each child as and when needed.

Significant changes have also been made in providing a safe environment and in safeguarding – again nothing I have read has suggested that these two issues will be improved by increasing ratios.

And finally the Minister says ‘This reinforces the case for reviewing those rules and considering greater flexibility for providers to deploy better qualified staff to meet children’s needs effectively’.

My response is HOW?

As a sector we are supportive of the idea for better qualified staff and indeed over many years many staff have achieved higher qualifications in their own time and sometimes at their own expense because they want to provide the best early years and education as the can to the children in their care.

AND that is why I know the vast majority of the early years sector do not support increased ratios – because their training, their qualifications, their vast combined experience can not think of a SINGLE good reason to support higher ratios.

It is simple really qualifications increases practitioners understanding of  how children learn, how they develop in all areas of learning – what is does not do is increase practitioners physical abilities to wipe more noses or bottoms, to cuddle more children, to evacuate more children in an emergency, to soothe more children to sleep, to support on a one to one basis for those all important early speech and language skills, to foster creativity,or encourage the characteristics of effective learning, to have conversations with more parents, to fill in more individual paperwork – oh and have time to support Independence skills like toileting, feeding self,  tidying up.

Nor do qualifications increase a practitioners ability to look after increased ratios and still take a lunch break, not to take work home or come in early to complete tasks left unfinished the day before.

A qualification helps with knowledge and in some professions this can lead to greater productivity – but not in childcare – and it seems in the ministers case higher qualifications  have not improved her ability to be be a more effective as a Minister – as she only can sit in one meeting at a time, only write one document at a time and it seems only listen to one view – hers.

I challenge Elizabeth Truss to prove me wrong – and to give the information that Sharon Hodgson has asked for – so the names of  (a) organisations and (b) individuals in England have made representations advocating changes to adult to child ratios in childcare settings.

Further more to give details of the research that proves that;

‘There is a recognition that staff to child ratios have remained the same for decades, and have not kept pace with the significant changes in child care and early education we have seen in this country. This reinforces the case for reviewing those rules and considering greater flexibility for providers to deploy better qualified staff to meet children’s needs effectively’.

I am so sure that the Minister can not provide this evidence that if she does I will not only apologise via this blog but I will also pay for a full page advert in Early Years Education and Nursery World to say I was wrong and I apologise for questioning the Early Years Minister.

I think my money is safe  WHY?

Because over 80,000 people have signed the three main petitions – and although I don’t know who has signed the other two petitions – I know that many leading experts, early years practitioners, parents, experts from other professions have signed the petition that I started – surely if the evidence was available to support the ministers ideas either the Minister herself or one of the leading early years experts – would have corrected me by now?