Archive for June 2014

Nick Hudson asks a really important question in his blog ……   4 comments

……. which I hope many people – especially those who work with early years children, or who are experts in the early years field – will take the time to answer.

Indeed – Gill Jones has suggested that it would be good if all those involved with the Ofsted Big Conversation would take the time to look at Nick’s blog and think about the question individually and in regional groups.

If you have not seen Nick’s blog here  is  the link      Nick Hudson blog on TES . The blog has the title ‘Teaching the Under Fives’

To aid the purpose of this blog I have copied and pasted to two paragraphs of Nick’s blog that I want to focus on because I want to be sure that readers can read Nick’s words – not my version of them.

However, within the copied text there are some words in blue – these are my words – not Nick’s and are my comment on what Nick is saying.

The first one has the sub heading What Works’ – as follows

What works

We are not interested in prescribing how or what providers should teach. That is already set out clearly in the Early Years Foundation Stage.

Totally agree – it is clearly set out – but it would appear that some inspectors either have not read it or not understand it.  I know that Ofsted have taken the training of early years inspectors back in house and hopefully over a period of time things will improve – but for now there are a lot of settings that are getting lower grades because the inspector who inspects them has a personal opinion on what should be taught and how. Unfortunately, when those settings complain, their complaint is unlikely to be upheld, because the complaints system is not working at the moment.


We are interested in seeing if providers themselves are focused on helping children to learn and develop to be ready for school. Our current evaluation schedule for inspecting early years provision makes this clear. Teaching, as our evaluation schedule says, is a broad term which covers the many different ways by which early years staff help young children to learn.

I agree with Nick – there are many ways through which early years staff can help young children learn. There are also many things that can not be ‘taught’ but which are just taken on board through the provision of appropriate environments and modelling by adults through everyday routines.

As to if providers are focussed on helping children to learn and develop – and to be ready for school – most are BUT the providers who get drawn into the pre planning and the tick box assessment are the least focussed on helping the children because they are focussed on filling in forms and getting children to take part in all the lovely experiences planned for them – rather than going with the child and letting the child lead their own learning. The biggest problem at the moment is that many inspectors have personal opinions about just what  is helping children to learn and what is not – and their opinion often differs from that of the qualified / experience practitioners who look after the children.

We want to see adults assess what children know, understand and can do, as well as take into account their interests and how well they learn. Early years staff will then be able to plan the child’s next steps and monitor their progress.

Yet again I agree with Nick – as  of course – this is how it should be – and actually how it has always been – long before the days of EYFS, planning, formal assessment and next steps. In years gone by this was done mainly in practitioners heads and by talking to the parents. I have been in childcare for over 30 years – and I can say ‘hand on heart’ that things have got worse not better – children are stressed, they are pushed into doing things they are not ready for and often have no interest in, practitioners spend hours of their own time on paperwork and preparing activities, parents are made to feel their child is failing and that they as parents should provide more and more formal activities filling every minute of a child’s day – and often evenings as well.

My experience is that inspectors want to see written assessment forms and pre planning, they want  details about where the child is at any moment in time – and should a practitioner have not recorded something, or  in the way the inspector wants it recoded –  because there were more important things to do – like following a child’s interest, having a cuddle, fetching other resources from  storage or helping to child to create a den, or any other supportive action – the provider is mark down and deemed to be lacking.

Why is planning and documentation so important? What does it achieve?  Is there ANY evidence to prove that recording planning and assessment in writing does improve outcomes? Has anyone studied two groups of children – one where the practitioners recorded things in writing, and another group where they did not? 

I have to ask because from my own personal research into this based on the outcomes of children that I cared for in the past (now adults and some still in contact) and the children I have cared for more recently and currently care for  – I can say with confidence that written planning and assessment  has made not made any difference to the children – the outcomes are still excellent. HOWEVER – it has made a huge difference to my work / life balance; to my stress level;  and to my costs in providing ink , paper , new printers, folders, plastic wallets and so on; and to my time commitment.


As for written next steps / stages – what a waste of time . Children don’t follow nice pre planned journeys – they dip in and out of things, they change direction often, they connect one interest with another. Children don’t need adults to plan next steps – they need interested adults who know them well and who are proactive in THINKING on the spot and going with the lead of the child – and who have the children’s interests – and stage of development IN MIND when setting up the environment.

Practitioners should of course document the experiences offered and the children’s participation – but not against targets or goals.

Of course – there are some good and excellent inspectors out there – that understand this  BUT when looking at the good practice clips provided by Ofsted you see inspectors looking at written planning, and next steps and assessment – so it is not a surprise that both practitioners and inspectors think this is required.  However – where is the evidence that this sort of documentation does improve outcomes?

So when inspectors go into early years provisions they should see how well early years staff are helping children to learn, teaching children to socialise, and challenging children to think and find out more. They want to see really good professional practice.

Yet again I agree – the things Nick mentions above are all very important  BUT inspectors are ‘hung up’ on the developmental stages  – even though guidance documents are not statutory. In my opinion inspectors are looking at the wrong things – because all children learn in different ways at different times; many children show no interest in some areas of development for months but suddenly leap forward in those areas; some children have so much stress in their lives – and for a huge number of reasons that they ‘stand still’ developmentally – or even take a step backwards. In my opinion inspectors should not be expecting all children to be make good or better progress like little robots – they should not be bothered if little Johnny is not interested in creative work or mark making AT THE MOMENT; they should not be worried if little Suzie prefers to play alone AT THE MOMENT; they should not be worried about assessment charts and if development has been ticked off in nice neat little boxes.

We (and in particular Ofsted) need to think about what is ‘really good professional practice’ because at the moment it seems to mean a practitioner who spends hours recording useless pieces of information, who is often stressed and does not actually have enough time to properly observe the children, or to be proactive in supporting individual children, and therefore cannot support the children to develop  to their full  PERSONAL POTENTIAL.



Our discussion on teaching is emphatically not a ‘misguided drive to over-formalise’ childcare. Rather, it is recognition of the fact that the best early education is creative and engages young minds to fulfil their natural curiosity. Ofsted inspectors want to see really good professional practice and children being challenged to think.

More agreement from me – It is a shame that some inspectors do not recognise this when they see if – and a few do not even look for it because they either spend too long looking at documentation and not observing: or they do not move from where their laptop is.

To me, really good professional  practice is mainly about the direct work with the children, not if there is planning or if that planning is followed

I would expect that early years providers would be proactive in telling our inspectors about the great things they are doing.

Some practitioners find this really hard to do – but most  have things like photographs that tell their story about what they do day in and day out. Inspectors who understand how hard it is for practitioners to explain in detail to them, and how hard it is to continue to do ‘the day job’ AND  discuss in detail about things (other than what they are doing at the moment) – especially if you work alone or in a very small group, will take this into consideration – but not all do.

 And it has to said – even when you have a practitioner such as myself who can and does tell the inspector about the great things they have been doing – it does not always work, as some inspectors don’t record what they are told, some don’t even have an understanding or knowledge about the things they are being told.

So what are the best ways to help young children learn? I want to hear from you. I want Ofsted to be a facilitator that spreads best practice as well as the organisation which inspects and regulates the early years sector.

I would like to thank Nick for this opportunity to tell him what the best ways to help young children learn are. I think we have to believe Nick, when he says he wants Ofsted to be a facilitator that spreads best practice – and we have to have faith that he will start by ensuring that  ALL early Years inspectors are able to recognise best practice when they see it.

However, I still have major  concerns about anyone setting their own goal posts and  being a facilitator and an inspector, and in my opinion this will not work. It is my understanding that this was the very reason why Ofsted was created in the first place.

So for Nick – and all the readers of this blog – here are my thoughts 

As a starting point – take a look at the Save Childhood Early Years manifesto – I had some input into this document and so it does reflect my view BUT is also filled with relevant research and the views of others who are experts in the early years field and others who like me,  have years of experience in working with young children

Save Childhood Movement Manifesto Putting_children_first


 My main points for consideration

  • The Government and all those involved in assessing the practice of early years settings,  MUST TRUST that settings know what they are doing and will do a good job.

(The only thing that the current framework for inspection is doing is making settings tick boxes and live in fear of not ticking the right or enough boxes. This does not improve outcomes this just improves the data on number of boxes ticked. And if you want proof of this just look at the young people in this country, who despite years of government demands and constantly changing goal posts, are still not achieving the personal potential.)

  • Children are not robots – they can not be programme to learn at set times or in set ways.

(This is why pre planning does not work. Further it does not matter if a child is not interested in a particular part of the curriculum while in the Early Years – provided the child has had opportunities to take part. A child who is not interested at 3 or 4 or 5, may just not be ready for that experience, may  be very interested and focussed on another experience, may be too stressed by other life events to even consider new things at that moment in time BUT who may well show interest and even excel in at some point further on in their education. One size does not fit all and the skills that the government think are important are actually not that important – in society we need all sorts of skills and all should be valued. In short everyone adults and children – should be encouraged but they should be valued for who they are and the skills they have. Those that feel ‘good’ about themselves will achieve more. those who feel they have failed will give up trying and will not feel ‘good’ about themselves.)

  • We do not need detailed assessment about those children who are developing well within the ‘norms’ – a few photographs / notes, and discussion with parents will ensure enough information  is recorded and shared.

(Even those who are doing  ‘ok’ do not need detailed assessment  – because with the right environments and the right support based on the practitioners knowledge / experience – and passion/ commitment  to do the best they can for each child – the children will achieve their personal potential)

  • It is when we have a concern about a children that we need to ensure we have enough time and opportunity to observe and record about those concerns, and to work in partnership with parents and other professionals to ensure we provide the right support.

(This all takes a lot of time and because practitioners are so busy filling in forms and doing formal assessment where it is not need , sometimes those who need focussed support get missed or there is not enough time to support them fully.)

  • In general we do not need any formal assessment of children in the Early Years Foundation stage.

( Children need to be children first, they need to have time to establish the basics of social and emotional development first, and to have developed all those essential physical skills first. We just need to know if further support is needed for a particular child in the main development areas – and early years practitioners need other professionals to listen when they pass on concerns – and act on them. All too often children get caught in long waiting lists even to see a specialist / consultant or early years practitioners concerns are brushed aside)

  • In general reception teachers agree with early years practitioners about what ‘School Ready’ looks like

(It is the government – and Ofsted through their inspection framework who disagree, and who try to push children in to doing things they are not ready to do, cause huge amounts of damage to self esteem and willingness to try, by doing so. Would it not be a better idea to ask those who work with early years children – the reception teachers and the early years practitioners – to draw up the list of what ‘school ready’ looks like – in fact would it not be better to have a ‘reception ready list’? After nearly all children are four when they start reception – some of them only four and a week or so, they are a whole school year ahead of being at the end of the Early Years Foundation Stage – in fact some of them will leave reception and still be four.)

To answer Nick’s direct question, the best ways to help young children learn are;

To provide – Play, play and more play – child led play with a caring, knowledgeable adult, watching, listening, supporting if needed – but most of the time very much in the background.

To provide – Natural resources, inside and outside – including sand / water  – and all the alternatives, available all the time

To facilitate – Spontaneous singing, stories and indeed all activities – with one child, or a small group of children following their lead and their interests

To offer – Time to think, time to stand and stare,  a basic routine structure but within that flexibility and spontaneity

To provide – opportunity to be early years children able to explore, be creative, to make connections, to learn by their own trail and error investigations.

To ensure children can – – To touch, to see, to hear, to smell

To provide an environment that supports asking question – Why? Where,? What? Who?

To only sit or stand or be still when they decide themselves that they should be.




I do agree with much of what Nick Hudson says  BUT my personal experience of inspection and my involvement with the Ofsted Big Conversation tell me that the Early Years inspections are far from fair, consistent or right.

I hope that Nick and others read this  blog  and bear in mind what I and others have to say.

Our children depend on us – they are too young to fail, or to be made to feel that they have failed. Too Much, Too Soon  is not the right  way to do things.

Oh – and do I think we need inspection – YES – I do because not everyone in childcare actually cares about the children – most do but a few don’t – so some sort of baseline assessment is needed, to safeguard children.

What we don’t need is interference in what we teach or in how we do it, and we don’t need to assess children in the Early Years Foundation Stage.

I would be interested in your thoughts – so please leave your comments – you don’t have to agree with me – let’s open up the debate and give Nick Hudson plenty of suggestions and ideas


This is a golden opportunity to add our views and therefore help Nick Hudson and Gill Jones ‘get it right’


Fingers crossed everyone that our views are listened to.

Telephone Discussion with Gill Jones – Ofsted’s Deputy Director of Early Years   3 comments

On Friday the 20th June 2014 I had the pleasure of having a one to one discussion with Gill Jones who is the Deputy Director of Early Years for Ofsted.

I say pleasure because Gill listened, showed empathy and understanding – and came across as really wanting to make changes that would benefit children and early years settings.

However prior to the telephone discussion I was a nervous wreak and asking myself how I found myself to be in the position of expecting a call from such a senior Ofsted person.

So a little back tracking before I write about the actual phone discussion with Gill.

I had first met Gill Jones at the round table talk with the Early Years Minister Elizabeth Truss back in March 2014 – although I did not speak directly to her – but as I blogged at the time about that meeting –  I liked what Gill had to say.

I then had opportunity to meet Lorna Fitzjohn who is Ofsted West Midlands Regional Director, whilst wearing my chair of the West Midlands Ofsted Big Conversation ‘hat’, as Lorna attended the West Midlands meeting on 29th April 2014. Lorna suggested I emailed Gill as she thought we could support each other in our totally different roles but shared desire to improve things around Ofsted inspections and the complaints procedure.

So I did as suggested and I emailed Gill – in fact I emailed her a couple of times, stressing that I wanted to work in partnership with Ofsted.

And Gill – who is a very busy person, and so forgiven for not responding straight away – suggested that we have a discussion, which is how we got to the point that a date and time were set for a discussion between us.

I guess some people may be asking themselves;

‘How come Penny gets to talk directly with Gill Jones?’

And maybe also asking themselves;

‘Is this anything to do with Penny’s complaint about her inspection?’

The answer to the first question is – I did ask if I could work in partnership with Ofsted …….. but I think it might have something to do with the fact that I do represent a lot of people wearing my various volunteer hats, and I do share information with a lot of others via my direct partnership working with many early years organisations, my blog, and my Facebook groups …….. and so by talking to me Gill could be sure that I would be representing not only myself and my childminding colleagues but also all other EY sectors as well ….. and she could be sure that I would would share the key points from our discussion with many others.

The answer to the second question is a NO …… and a YES All will be explained in the feedback about the call – but for now I need to make it very clear – the call was not about trying to get Gill Jones to intervene in my personal complaint about my inspection or to get the grade given changed. Gill does not have the authority to do that – and I knew that before I even contacted her – my discussion with Gill was about the ‘bigger picture’ of inspections and complaint procedures.

The actual feedback of the discussion between myself and Gill Jones

On the morning of 20th June, my friend and colleague Carol Messenger came round to help supervise my minded children during the phone call – and to be honest to help calm my nerves by chatting about other things.

The call was due to start at 11am and when by 11:05, the phone had not rung I was getting a little agitated as I was stressed – and worried at the same time. However the phone did ring shortly afterwards and when I answered it – I gave Carol a ‘thumbs up’ and went and sat on the stairs in the hall – so that I was not interrupted but instantly available if Carol needed to ask me anything or indeed needed me to end the call to meet the children’s needs.

Gill started by giving her official title , thanking me for being available to take the call and apologising for be a bit late in calling. She then threw me slightly as she asking me what I wanted to discuss – I was thrown as Gill’s PA had told me Gill would be telling me what she wanted to discuss so that the conversation aided her work.

I recovered quickly from the shock of having to take the lead – and told Gill that I would really like to discuss the inspection and complaints processes – and that if it was OK with her that I would like to use my own personal experience – and the inspection stories that I had heard through my involvement with the Ofsted Big Conversation, and my networking with others.

Gill responded by saying – yes that was fine with her and would very much support the work she is currently doing with Nick Hudson, as they wanted to engaged with settings during their review of Early Years inspections.

Gill explained a little bit about the work that she and Nick are undertaking – explaining that it was a huge piece of work, and it was going to take considerable time to complete – but that were both working as hard as they could to not just complete the work but to get it right.

I found this very reassuring as listening to Gill, I could hear her commitment and her desire to improve things.

I went through my own personal experience (but also mentioned others experiences while maintaining confidentiality, when appropriate)

I have blogged about my inspection experience and the resulting navigation of the complaints process – so I won’t go into the detail here as I did with Gill – but I will give an overview of things discussed.

  • Frustrations that can not provide evidence during a complaint – or pay for someone to come out and check additional evidence or facts.
  • That providers do not have access to the toolkit documentation if putting in a complaint – I explained that in my case information from the toolkit was given to counter points that I raised – but I was not able to refer to the toolkit documentation. I said that I felt the evidence within the draft report was not sufficient to base a complaint on – and so often came down to an inspectors word against the providers BUT because the evidence in the toolkit is taken as ‘gospel’ providers are often told throughout the complaints process ‘snippets’ of information – which if they had had at the beginning they could have presented their case a lot more robustly. I gave Gill details of where in my personal case – toolkit evidence about my inspection was within my daughter ‘s stage 3 complaint report – but was not given at all in relation to my stage 3 complaint. If I had had that information at the beginning of my complaint – I would have been able to show that the inspector had ‘ made things up and had not recorded things honestly.
  • The providers feel that they simply are not believed, and are left distraught, stressed and with the belief that they are powerless to change things – because no one believes them.
  • That providers are left not knowing what it is that they are supposed to do to improve because the recommendations are vague or personal opinion – or as in my case not based on the evidence seen / read. Gill asked me to tell her what my recommendation were and why I did not understand what I had to do to improve. So I went through them one by one – including the one that I said I would only accept – if the inspector could justify how it would improve outcomes – and that the inspector did not justify. Gill did not say if the recommendations were valid or not (and she couldn’t as not there on the day) but she did say she could see why I felt that I could not make improvements based on those recommendations.
  • The fact that grades given are not consistent – and I used the example of the same inspector, inspecting on the same day giving myself and my co minder the same grade for leadership and management – when my co minder did not lead or manage the setting, and this was acknowledged by the inspector.
  • The issue around recent comments (including in my complaints documentation) that   inspectors guidance is only for guidance and therefore if it says Must or Should – it did not mean that. Gill disagreed and said if it says Must or Should in ANY guidance document – including that for inspectors  – then that is what it means.
  • The number of complaints received by Ofsted about inspections. Gill said that Ofsted think that for every complaint they receive there are about 12 others that don’t complaint – I said that I thought that there were many more than that. I spoke about how much courage it takes to put in a complaint and how much time it takes to navigate the complaints progress. Gill made me aware that she personally understands; this because in the past she has not complained when maybe she should have – and it was because  she was worried about the consequences of doing so. This was very reassuring to me that some one in Gill’s position had personal experience of an inspection that was not 100% satisfactory and also the has experience of not complaining when she should have done so. It can be easy to sit in our settings and say ‘They (Ofsted) don’t understand’ when clearly in this case Gill does understand; and I suspect that many within Ofsted do understand

Gill was keen to hear about the malicious complaint that was made against me, and the visit of the compliance inspector. She wanted to know the compliance inspectors name and also if I would have preferred a full inspection at the time. I replied that I would because for a honest, passionate provider like myself if is stressful to have to wait for inspection, and I would prefer a judgement to be made on how it really is. I commented that delaying inspections meant that those who are not as honest, not as passionate about getting it right every day – would have time to hide things / change things / borrow things and therefore present on inspection day a far from normal day. Gill allowed herself a small laugh and said – yes, I think the same and I know such things go on. I suggested she took a look at social media where some openly say they are due an inspection and ask for support with resources, policies, and other documentation.


Gill gave an outline of the work the she is doing with Nick Hudson without going into detail – it is extensive and will cover all areas from inspectors tool kit documentation, to actual inspections and what looking for as evidence,  and to the complaints process, to guidance documents  – in other words the whole lot.

Gill said that the time scale is to complete by Sept 15 – so a huge piece of work that Gill and Nick are talking the time to do thoroughly.

As we all know the EYFS 12 (and therefore the reviewed EYFS 14) is due to complete its cycle, and a new framework to be in place by Sept 16 – and so although Gill did not specifically say so, it is easy to imagine that the two will be brought together and designed to work together

Of course I cannot possible comment on if the end result of this review of Early Years inspection and regulation frameworks will be ‘fit for purpose’ and will be an improvement on what is currently in place but ……

……. when I heard Gill Jones say things like ‘We clearly have a lot of work to do’ and ‘We would hope that our inspectors were professional and did the job that they are paid to do – but clearly a few do not’  … I have hope – in fact a lot of hope that there is a light shining at the end of the tunnel and from my discussion with Gill, I also have faith that she will do her best to ‘make things work’ and to improve things so that inspections will do what they are actually supposed to do and drive up quality and improve outcomes for children.

Naturally being me and as I have spent two years of my life in relentless campaigning about childminder agencies – I had to mention them. I asked Gill if I could help her with her work around the framework for the inspection of childminder agencies and spoke about some of my personal concerns. Gill responded to say that yes in the future – but at the moment things were still firmly within the remit of the Government.

Finally Gill ended our discussion by thanking me for my time and said that our discussion had been very useful to her; she asked if I would send my report to her to aid her work – and she said that from that she would also be able to access my whole complaint documentation. I have since done this – and also with permission sent my co minders report. She wanted the name – spelt correctly  – of the inspector – which she now has.

She said she was sorry that she could not do anything about my personal inspection experience, but I knew that before I contacted her – and engaging with Gill Jones was never about me personally but was to try and work in partnership with Ofsted to benefit us all.

Gill also asked if I would mind if she stayed in touch and contacted me as when needed, to support her and Nick in their work.  I think you will all know what my response was …………………………………. YES, PLEASE DO GILL.


I hope that like me, you are reassured that there is a lot going on behind the scenes and that although we should continue to raise awareness of our inspection stories through the Ofsted Big Conversation; and we should also complain when our inspections are flawed in any way – that we should also acknowledge that Ofsted are listen and are being proactive in listening and in addressing our concerns –  and even if like me you feel personally that no one is listening and you are banging your head on the wall – that in terms of the bigger picture – things are happening.

I would like to publicly thank Gill for her time and for listening to my concerns. I hope that I have opportunity in the future to engage with Gill (and maybe Nick as well) as they continue with their massive task.



Confusion about so called agencies – that are not agencies!!   6 comments

Over the last couple of weeks I have been seeing a number of posts on Social media – and spoken to a few people who are really worried.

These people are all registered childminders – and are all worried about the same thing!


It seems that some local authorities are either not using the right terminology – or – are not explaining things very well, about just what it is that they are going to be doing in their area.

Childminders are telling me that their Local Authority is setting up a childminder agency – and they are very upset and very worried about this.

So before anyone panics any more than they need to – there is one VERY IMPORTANT question you need to ask.


If the answer is YES – then your Local Authority are NOT setting up a childminder agency.

If you don’t know the answer – please ask your LA – as soon as possible – because the answer is critical in knowing if  they are going to set up a childminder agency or not.

To be a childminder agency, all the childminders in the agency have to be registered and quality assured through the agency – there is not an option within the Children and Family Act for an independent Ofsted Registered childminder to be part of an agency – although of course they may be able to take part in training and so on for a fee if the agency allows this.


What a lot of Local Authorities are doing is becoming a ‘Commissioning Service’ – this means they will stop providing services such as support / training / advice themselves to early years settings – although they will retain some statutory duties towards those who are graded inadequate or requires improvement.

In practice what this means to childminders (and other EY settings in the area) is that will will pay a fee to a private company for the services that they need / want.

Some of these companies / Local Authorities will be setting a yearly or monthly fee, which will give childminders (and other EY settings) certain services – such as statutory training – like First Aid and so on.

Others will be offering a ‘Pay as you go’ service when you just pay for services as and when you need / use them.

Some will be doing a combination of both these things

Some will still offer statutory training for free or at a subsidised price but will charge for other things.

It will be a bit confusing with each area doing something different – but once we get our heads round it – it won’t be any different to now – with the wide variation in level of services and prices charged. It may turn out to be a good thing  as we may get more choice or availability – and even market place competition that may make training courses and other services cheaper.

HOWEVER PLEASE DON’T PANIC – If you are told your local authority is setting up an childminder agency in your area or you are told a private company is setting up offering support services  – ASK THAT ONE VITAL QUESTION


And just for information and your interest – although I do not have the full details and non of the information I have has been officially confirmed  – to the best of my knowledge – at this moment in time ……….

……… It may be quite hard to find a full blown TRUSS TYPE childminder agency where you DO NOT need to stay registered with Ofsted –  to join – as a lot – if not most of the agency pilots ………


A webinar for childminders from the Pre school Learning Alliance on managing your Ofsted inspection   9 comments


You can register HERE


Regular readers of this blog are aware that I am a member of the Pre school Learning Alliance and also a volunteer – holding the post of Chair of the Worcestershire sub committee.   I am really pleased to provide information about the webinar below – which is the first webinar that the Alliance have provided specifically for registered childminders.   I have personally registered – as I am interested in finding out what information the Alliance are providing to childminders. I do personally know Mel Plicher who is leading the session, and can confirm that she is knowledgeable about Ofsted Inspections and childminders,  although I do not know Rose, the childminder who is taking part.   Registration was easy – you just need to give your name and your email address – and press ‘submit’. You then get a confirmation email – which also tells you how to access the webinar.   If you take part, I would be interested in your feedback – and I will provide my feedback in due course.   Managing your childminding Ofsted inspection Wednesday 25 June – 7.30 pm to 8:30pm This webinar aims to support Childminders to prepare for an Ofsted inspection, acknowledging that the experience can be very different for those people who are working alone and caring for young children in their own homes.   The session is led by Melanie Plicher, Policy and Standards manager at the Pre-school Learning Alliance. There is no doubt that having an understanding of the process, and a good knowledge of what is expected will help Childminders to achieve the best possible outcome on the day. We are pleased to be joined in this session by Rose who is a Registered Childminder and will be able to bring her perspective to the discussion     Click here to register     PLEASE NOTE – THE WEBINAR IS OPEN TO ALL – YOU DO NOT NEED TO BE AN ALLIANCE MEMBER   Apology  Really sorry that the webinar did not take place – I was one of the people logged in and waiting. I have been in touch  with senior Alliance staff and there was a problem with the organisers login. They had to end it in the end. I apologise on behalf of the Alliance – although nothing they could do. I have been told that as they have everyone’s email address that they will be issuing a personal apology.

The Alliance Early Years Agenda:Interim Report – Part Two of my thoughts   Leave a comment

In Part One, I gave an overview of the Alliances interim report – and looked at the area of funding. For Part Two I am going to do as I promised I would – and dip into another aspect of the report – this time childminder agencies – which starts on page 27 of the report.

Childminder Agencies

Of course this aspect is very close to my heart and those who know me well, know that my personal campaigning against childminder agencies has been going on for over 2 years, ever since Elizabeth Truss first mentioned the idea.  I have also been working in Partnership with the Alliance as the organisation that I volunteer for, in expressing our shared concerns about childminder agencies – but also with other organisations who represent childminders – as I believe it is only by working together that we can fully represent the concerns of the childminding sector and indeed the whole early years sector.

So this part of the report is very interesting to me as gives an indication of the views of others – not just the childminders who completed the survey, but others who answered the questions in relation to childminder agencies.

There is, as there is for all aspects in this report some background information about the whys and hows of this government proposal which was just presented as ‘something that was going to happen’. And despite continued objections not only from myself but from all the early years organisations – to varying extent and about varying concerns, huge protests from registered childminders themselves – apart from some vary limited and ineffective consultation the government has continue to demonstrate a ‘not listening’ approach and worse a ‘not giving any detail about the costs or the benefits or indeed the framework for the business model that government prefer. Instead the best has been – either ‘no response’ or continual repeating of statements from More Great Childcare.


Looking now at the data in the report – in response to the question based on –  ‘Do you support the proposal not to inspect all agency childminders on an individual basis?’

85% said NO they did not support that proposal and only 3% said yes they did (with 4% not giving an opinion). I find that shocking  – 85% do not support the proposal – and yet the government claim that people are in favour of agency inspections from the results of their own survey. Very clever use of data from the government, as of course their consultation did not ask the above question – it just asked – if agencies should be inspected – a totally different question, and of course people want some form of inspection – on the lines that something is better than nothing – BUT if the direct question is asked about individual childminder inspection  – you get a totally different answer.

In my opinion the government should now be using this research by the Alliance to reconsider their approach to the inspection of childminders who choose to join an agency – but of course they won’t because as with so many government proposals at the moment – this is all about saving the government money – nothing to do with high quality settings and nothing to do with best interests of the child.

The Alliance report goes on to mention the problem of agency staff qualifications and training – something which I am personally concerned about and have raised on several occasions. I know from personal experience that to be able to support childminders you need to understand childminding and either to have personal experiences as a childminder or to have specific training from someone who has the appropriate experience and qualification,. Furthermore because their is no set model or criteria (that we have seen yet) about the training of the actual agency childminders – there is going to be a huge variation in the amount of training provided and the quality of that training. It does not take much imagination to realise what the potential impact could be if the training of staff and / or agency childminders is of low quality or of insufficient level or quantity.

The report highlights the concerns that have been expressed over and over again about the loss of individual inspections for childminders – again something that I have personally done my best to highlight is the issues of this loss of individual childminding inspections, through this blog and through encouraging people to fill in consultations and to write to MP’s and Minister Truss, Ofsted and anyone else that mat be able to influence a change in direction on this.

Continuing with my thoughts about the Interim Report – there ids a question about if childminders are planning to join a childminder agency – and for the first time since I began my campaign I have seen evidence that someone is interested – in that one %  of respondents said that they were defiantly interested in joining an agency – so to be clear that is one % of the childminders (or prospective childminders as we can not be sure that those who responded to this question are childminders)  so 1.2 people which due to % translation difficulties has to mean ONE person, however a further 2% said that they would probably be interested which is about 2.4 people.

I applaud these people for answering honestly, as to date no one that I or my extensive connections of colleagues have spoken to anyone who is interested in joining a childminding agency – although in the last couple of weeks one person has said she might be interested via my Facebook group. Being generous with the numbers and rounding up rather than down, that means POTENTIALLY there are FIVE childminders / propestive childminders who are very interested or partly interested in joining a childminder agency. Even if we add the 10% who are undecided – about 12 respondents – it is hardly the huge interest that the government claim to have had from childminders.

Looking at the number of respondents who have said they do not want to join a childminder agency you can see the contrast and the other side of the coin. 60% definitely do not intend to join a childminder agency and 26% probably will not join – so adding those together we have 86% who definitely or probably will not join a childminder agency – about 96 people.

Of course no one can tell if these percentages from the survey are representative of the views of the entire childminding sector – but for the purpose of this blog – let’s assume they are. If we take a ‘ball park’ figure of aprox 53,000 registered childminders – if 86% don’t join a childminder agency – it will leave 7,420  who might join a childminder agency. That does not sound that bad does it – a possible 7,420 agency childminders?

Well actually – it is terrible news for the government because that is the number all over the country – scattered across all the Local Authority areas – so 10 here, 20 there and so on.

Add in the fact that we do not yet know where childminder agencies will be set up – due to lack of feedback to date about the pilots and who is going to go forward. So it is entirely possible that we may have an agency set up in one area but only a few or even no childminders willing to join – and childminders willing to join in an area where no one is going to set up an agency.

I wonder how the government are going to manage this and declare agencies a success?

In fact I wonder how the government are going to go forward with agencies at all – because despite the lack of official feedback from the pilots – feedback is slowly coming to light via those who have taken part or those whose LA’s have taken part – and to date – it is not a very positive picture for the government – as many (if not most) of those who have made their position known, have decided either not to go forward at all or not to go forward at this moment in time and to wait for others to  prove agencies are sustainable / workable.

There is more in the interim report about the impact on cost and worry about quality, and the view that agencies will not encourage more people to become childminders. I hope you will read the section on childminder agencies in full for yourselves (link to the report is in part one of my blog on this Link to part one of this blog )


However for me this research by the Pre school Learning Alliance has given me some evidence that despite a few coming forward to say they are interested in childminder agencies – the numbers just don’t add up. So thank you Pre school Learning Alliance.

I will look at another aspect of the Interim Report as soon as I have time.

The Pre – school Learning Alliance – Early Years Agenda: Interim Report   1 comment

The Pre -school Learning Alliance have been in the news over the last few days due to the publication of their Interim Report into the Early Years Agenda

If you have not seen it yet you can download it here Early Years Agenda:Interim Report

I admit that I have been a bit slow off the mark in writing my own personal review of this report – however since I received my personal copy at the Pre school Learning Alliance AGM on Friday 6th June – my life has been hectic to say the the least – and it was not until the evening of 14th June while in my caravan for a weekend a way – that I actually found the time to read the report in full – from cover to cover.


And so – a bit delayed but here are my personal thoughts on the Early Years Agenda: Interim Report. I am not going to go through it page by page or word by word as I do sometimes with other reports – instead I am going to dip in and out of the report, picking up on the things that stood out to me – and so this review will be a rather unusual!

As I am rather pushed for time at the moment – I have decided to provide my feedback on the Interim Report in stages – so this is Part One. More to follow as and when I have time – but hopefully in the meantime people will access the full report themselves and have a read.

I am going to start near the end of the report – on page 53, because the information on this page puts the report into context.

It explains that this report is the first of a number of in depth pieces of research that the Alliance is going to commission. Other areas to be covered will be

  • The true cost of delivering free entitlement places
  • Pay and conditions in the early years sector
  • Parent views on the current childcare sector and proposed government changes

All of this research – once completed will be used to underpin the Alliances ‘Early years manifesto for government’. This will be a realistic plan of action with these three key principles

  • The needs of the child must always be at the centre of all decision making
  • Policy should be based on an extensive body of evidence, not the personal views of government ministers (or other policy drivers, such as Ofsted.
  • Consulting with the early years sector should be the first step of policy development, not the last.

And in my personal opinion – quite so – I could not have put it better myself – those three key principles are what is sadly missing at the moment, and we are all now beginning to have to ‘put up with’ (can’t bring myself to say accept) the consequences of these three principles not guiding our current government.


I am now going to flick back to the beginning of the report for another crucial piece of information – on page 5 it says that this interim report is based on a survey (both online and via paper copies) conducted by the Alliance – to which 1270 people responded.

Flicking back to the end of the report on page 59, there is a break down of the providers type who responded – these are shown in % figures, and so with the aid of my calculator – I have tried to give approximate numbers of respondents – although of course I have had to round the figures and have chosen to round down, rather than up. So – there were;

304 nurseries

673 pre schools / playgroups

127 childminders

25 children’s centres

12 baby and toddler groups

114 other respondents

As those of you with calculators will work out a few numbers have been lost in the rounding down process – but it does give a clear picture of the number and type of respondents.


The questions in the survey were based on;


Schools (and out of hours care)

Childminder Agencies


and an area called ‘general’

I strongly recommend that you do click on the link at the beginning of this blog and read the report yourselves as there is a lot of background information that I am not going to reproduce here – but that is very interesting  – and useful.

However, for those of you with limited time, and those of you who would like a ‘heads up’ before deciding if should read or not – here are my personal thoughts;

Starting with the area of Funding;

Three and Four Year Old Funding

73% of respondents felt that the amount paid by the government for 3 & 4 yr old places was NOT adequate to cover the cost of providing those places. I find it interesting that 8% did not know if the amount was adequate – and think this must have something to do with the fact that settings are unsure of the true cost due to volunteers contributions, and staff and managers doing things in their own time.

Also interesting is the fact the those that did give actual figures – suggest that there is a average shortfall of 91p per hour per child. So if a child is accessing the full 15 hours of funding – there is a shortfall per child of  £13.65 per week, per child – or over £500 per academic year per child. For small settings it will be hard to absorb those costs – and for some larger settings – say with 24 places – the shortfall is an eye watering amount of  over £12,000 per academic year.

Of course for some settings the shortfall is not so large – but in these financially challenging times, any shortfall is difficult to cover.

Two Year Old Funding

In relation to funding for two years olds the responses indicate that many still feel funding is not adequate – but not as many for the 3 & 4 year old funding, and the average shortfall is less, at 60p per hour per child. Even so using the same example setting with 24 funded places this equates to a massive shortfall over the academic year of around £8,000.


The report gives a lot of background information in relation to the funding which is worth reading if unfamiliar with this.

One point that I agree with and have already mentioned is the ‘goodwill’ of those who work in early years settings, with many doing huge numbers of unpaid hours, or buying things to support the setting that never get claimed for because they get forgotten about, or were not pre approved expenses or the receipt was lost, or I had some at home – and so on, in general just well practised ‘excuses’ by those who know that actually the setting cannot afford these extra things.

Many practitioners do paperwork at home in the evening or at the weekend. Recently I carried out a mini survey on one of my Facebook groups – asking who was doing paperwork, or preparing for the following week – this was at 9pm on a Sunday evening! A huge number of childminders, some pre school staff and nursery staff were;- updating records, laminating stuff, emailing parents, doing their planning, – one was even sewing bean bags to use in the setting – all of this unpaid time – and often using resources from home – I am ‘guilty’ of doing this and I know that if I charged for these extra hours of work my setting would be unsustainable unless I put my fees up to parents – and I know that the amount of funding that I receive does not cover the real cost.

I will be really interested in the findings from the Alliances part of this research into the true cost of providing the free entitlement – and although not part of the Alliance research – I would be really interested in finding out what the true cost of provided a place at an early years setting is – if all staff were paid were paid for all the hours they work – and all resources were paid through the setting accounts not individuals bank accounts.

It actually goes a lot deeper than that – as many people give their time as a volunteer for early years organisations such as the Alliance, and in peer to peer support through social media and face to face meetings. If all this volunteer time had to ‘counted’ – I think the true cost of providing a place in an early years setting would surprise many – including myself – as how many of really know how much we provide for free in various wys?



Just a thought – but all this stuff about needing GCSE’s to work with under fives …….   Leave a comment

………. are the Government focussing on the wrong people and the wrong sector?

Read on and I will explain where this thought has come from.


I think most readers of this blog will know by now that I am personally very much in favour of appropriate qualifications for those who work with young children – indeed for those who work with all children and young people.

After all, I am a trainer myself and have always had high expectations of myself as a trainer and of those undertaking my courses. In fact when I used to teach and assess NVQ’s – the external verifier accused me of asking too much of my students – I disagreed – anyone who completed a course with me or who was assessed by me, would be equipped with the skills, knowledge and understanding to carry out the role that their qualification enabled them to undertake, regardless of the sector the worked in at the time of undertaking the qualification – or the sector that they worked in post qualification.

However, those who know me well / read my blog / read my comments on social media – will also know that I am against the Government plans to have GCSE’s as the entry requirement in the future to undertake formal early years qualifications – and for these qualifications to be the only acceptable qualifications for new entrants to the profession to be counted for ratio purposes.

I am concerned because some people find taking exams to be very stressful and in fact so stressful that no matter what their functional level is – they will never ‘pass’ a written exam. Furthermore – it is not a exam pass that says that a person is able to use those skills on a daily basis or in practical terms – because some people can remember facts long enough to pass an exam – but can not remember the facts in the long term.

I am also concerned that some people have other skills that are vital in those that work with young children – such as being empathic, caring and nurturing. And that those with these skills should be valued and be included for ratio purposes. It seems to me that those who have the paper qualifications may not have the other skills needed – and indeed might not actually like the ‘hands on’ side of childcare – preferring the paperwork side of things – and may have their eye on a quick career ladder to a management position.

When providing for appropriate care and education for young children, ALL aspects of their care and education should be considered, and that means having a range of skills in those who are providing that care and education.

But the point of this blog is not to focus on the GCSE requirement for those undertaking early years qualifications in the future – it is about the Governments rather hypocritical expectations of others who care for children and young people.

I am talking about parents/ grandparents and foster carers of children and young people.

As a parent, grandparent or foster carer you are expected to be able to support the child with their homework – no matter what your own level of educational attainment is – and no matter how long ago it was since you last did Maths or English or indeed any subject.

And this of course includes children who are studying for the GCSE’s .

Now  –  I am not degree educated nor do I have the ‘right’ GCSE’s – but surely common sense would say that to support an  under five with their education, you need a GCSE in Maths and English far less than you do to support a child in High School with their education.

And yet as a foster carer of an almost 12 year old, I am required to be able to support the child concerned with all subjects – and of course he has not yet started his GCSE’s. However, because it is so long since I was at school – or indeed since my own children were at school – I really am a bit rusty, and I really do not have a clue which is the current preferred method of teaching. Will I be any better informed by the time the child starts his GCSE’s?

And what makes things worse is that like many foster children,  my current foster child is not accessing his full 5 hours education a day in school (time in school less breaks) – and as I do not want him to fall any further behind than he is already (due to his life circumstances, not his ability) I am trying to support him to at least match the number of hours education that most children have provided within school – so 25 hours a week, by providing homework support and extra educational activities at home.

I have not had any ‘training’ from the school to carry this out important role, the Government do not insist that I have GCSE’s to be a foster carer – there are of course plenty of other ‘requirement boxes’ that have to be ticked – such as all those caring skills, all the child development knowledge that I have, all that understanding of personal, social and emotional development that I have, all those listening to the voice of the child skills …… and of course all that love I have to give a child – and all that passion I have about wanting every child in my care – both childminded children and foster children – to reach their full potential. The Government also do not insist you have GCSE’s to be a parent or a Grandparent, you are just expected to care and educate the children – and to do a good job.

How can this be right? – it is acknowledged that qualified teachers status is vitally important when it comes to implementing the National Curriculum. Teaching is a skilled job – and people not only have to be competent in their subject knowledge – they also need to understand how to teach.

Certainly as someone who teaches adults, I have a qualification in teaching adults and I am competent in the subjects I teach – I would not dream of teaching a subject that I am not competent in.

However as a foster carer (and the same for many parents / grandparents), I (we) are required to support and in some cases when a child does not understand the homework – for whatever reason – we have to actually teach that subject in the specific area covered by the homework.

So my thought process is going like this;

The Government are saying that if people want to work with under 5’s and be counted for ratio purposes, in the future they are going to need a Maths and English qualification to do so.

And yet the caring skills that support the social, personal and emotional development are just as important – if not more important than  the formal educational side of things for an under five. The Government even acknowledges this within the EYFS – as the Prime Areas need to be secure before the Specific Areas become a focus – at least that is how it should be.


The Government are saying that a degree led workforce – which of course includes teachers with QTS – are vital and produce the best outcomes for children.

And yet the Government consider it appropriate for parents and foster carers and grandparents, to support children and young people with their homework and with their studies in general without any qualifications (including any GCSE’s ) in those subjects or in teaching.

And with the increasing amounts of homework – children can spend as many hours studying without qualified teacher input at home, as they do at school in actual lessons with qualified teacher input. Of course some children are very able and can do their homework without any input because they have understood what they are supposed to do and can follow the instructions – but for many children their homework is impossible to do without help.

So why the double standards and expectations.


In the  case of  my foster child – and for many other children / young people for whom the current education system is not working in terms of expectations to fit neatly into the ‘school tick box’, they spend more of their ‘education time’ either at home with no educational input at all, or they have support of a willing adult who is not only not qualified but who could through best intentions do more harm than good – and confuse the child / teach the wrong method / give too much help  – and in simple terms get it wrong.

When you add in the fact that in many homes – parents work long hours, having other commitments such as caring for elderly relatives or younger siblings, or maybe studying themselves or doing some voluntary work, or just stressed due to financial worries, or are dealing with poor housing or domestic violence or ill health (including mental health) – you will realise that the children of this country really are up against it – and so are their parents


My solution;

The Government should stop worrying about the care and education of the under fives – and implementing new ideas and new qualifications without first fully consulting with the early years sector and the wealth of research evidence. There is no evidence to support the fact that the interference and constant changes to early years has made any difference to outcomes for under fives – or indeed to achievement in later school life. Children need to be ‘school ready’ but not in the way the current Government think. They need to be able to dress and undress themselves, toilet themselves, ask for help and communicate their needs, to listen, to have respect for adults, to be able to make friends, to think, to be creative in their play, to be ready to try new things.

In my opinion – graduate led early years settings can be a good thing – but that does not even have to mean a graduate in every setting, because good practice can be shared – and the old LA  Early Years Mentors (different names in different areas) who had QTS were a good way of ensuring settings practice  was informed by a graduate. Experience and a track record of ‘doing a good job’ should also count and be relevant, and there should be more research and data  so show the true picture of the impact on outcomes of children who have not been to a graduate led setting, or have been to range of settings – and include those who did not attend any early years setting and stayed at home with parents or grandparents. As to the need for every person who is to counted in ratios in early years settings to have a GCSE in Maths and English it is just not needed – yes some sort of functional skills ability test is needed but not a GCSE), what will that achieve?


The Government need to start to look at the needs of older children in having qualified teacher input and thinking about a slightly longer school day / compulsory homework clubs- so all school work is completed at school and not at home. If children could do all their educational input at school and not have any homework, children to would be able to relax, to have hobbies, to sleep better, to have time for their brains to absorb the information from school,  to be more focus in school  – and not to be discriminated against just because their home life does not support completion of homework. In my opinion homework should be scrapped or at the very least limited to back ground reading from text supplied by the school.


Home life – family life would be enhanced, parents would be under less pressure, children would be under less pressure and maybe society would be under less pressure and we would all benefit.


In my opinion – this Government means well , they have good intentions – but they are making a complete mess of things because they are not qualified in the areas they are making changes to – and worse they are not listening to those who have the expertise in these areas.