Archive for July 2014

Why is the sofa in the garden Penny ?   9 comments

A very good question from the children who attend Penny’s Place – for this morning (24th July 14) there in the garden, balanced on top of the sand pit was the sofa that had been in what we call the ‘middle room’ when the children had last attended.


As can be seen in the photo



So WHY was the sofa in the garden?

WELL – I consider myself to be a very reflective practitioner (even if the inspector who inspected me does not think I am), and I reflect all the time, I make changes all the time, as and when I feel changes are needed. I don’t have an action plan – other than the very short term one that is in my head. because I action things straight away. I make a note in my diary about what I have done and why – and that is it – unless of course I reflect about the changes made – and decide further changes are needed, or indeed that the changes are not working and need to revert back to how things were. And in my opinion this is how it should be – constant reflective practice to ensure that the needs of the children and families attending are met. Any inspector worth their salt should be able to recognise this through observation that the practice and environment of the setting – ON THAT DAY are working, and meeting the needs of the children attending. A quick check of documentation – either photos or notes in a diary or folder should provide evidence that changes have been made – as needed.

In my opinion – putting stuff in a SEF or having a yet to complete action plan – are not the only ways of  demonstrating that you are a reflective practitioner – it is one way – but not the only way – in fact Ofsted themselves say this.

Anyway, I need to get off my soap box otherwise this blog is going to turn into another ‘moan’ about my inspection and further evidence how deeply upset, frustrated – and indeed angry I am about the flawed inspection that I experienced and the failure of the complaints system to be able to deal with tool kit evidence and inspectors word – that is not based on honest, factual recording.

So to get back to the children’s question – Why was the sofa in the garden?

Over the last couple of weeks, I had realised that the layout of my setting and the storage of resources was not working very well – and in particular I was spending a lot of time before children arrived setting up, moving the large 2 sided mirror and heavy book box, getting resources out of the garage (or the conservatory where inevitably things ended up being put at the end of of busy day and before rushing out for meetings) . and at 5pm moving it all again, when I cleared the lounge, and then after the children had gone home when I put everything else away for ‘family’ use of  the house.

On average – 1.5 hrs a day – which made my typical 10 hour day of hands on childminding into a typical 11 hr day (as the 5pm clearing of the lounge children were still present)

This issue now has further relevance as Mr.Penny’s Place and myself are foster carers and have a 12yr old foster child living with us – who has his own needs including that of space, of privacy, of family time.

It was Mr.Penny’s Place who had first mentioned (a few months ago)  that I would have more space if the sofa went – but at the time the layout was working reasonable well, and the children in my care at that time were more or less the same age and so their needs were similar. However, things are changing and those older children will be starting school in September, and there will be more babies attending in September as well as 2 and 3 year olds (different combinations each day) Plus the toll on myself of moving resources so much is begin to tell ( especially important as the doctors have still not got to the bottom of why my haemoglobin is so low).

And so during a fairly relaxing weekend in the caravan last weekend, I did some reflecting in my head  and came to the conclusion that changes were needed. So my in my head action plan was started.

First stage – speak to Mr. Penny’s Place about how he felt about the ideas in my head – his opinion was – if it makes it easier for you – go for it. Although I do wonder if he was fully listening ! ( as comments made later will show).

Still – the go ahead had been given – and as I finished work slightly early on Wednesday 23rd July) – I set about the mammoth task – you see I had decided to change the layout of the conservatory and the middle room to create an environment that did not need setting up every day ( or putting away every evening) PLUS I wanted more resources to be available for the children to select themselves (without the need for me to get out of the garage for them) PLUS I wanted the lounge to just be used as a ‘free space’ not as a  space that needed setting up on a daily basis – not a lot to ask but incredibly difficult to achieve.

So first I had to take nearly everything out of the conservatory, and push the rest around as I made the changes. My pre planning – and use of tape measure had informed me that there was only one place to have story corner set up all the time – and that space was in the conservatory. However before I started to put the resources and equipment in their new storage places – I had to do some cleaning! Rice from previous rice play sessions had managed to get into the places where the no one normally see (such as behind the play kitchen, and in the very small gap under the skirting boards) – and of course it would have been silly not to clean surfaces before putting the equipment /resources into its new place.

Meanwhile while I am doing this, visitors arrived – daughter 4 and her husband – as the thing I have forgotten to mention is that the 23rd July is actually Mr Penny’s Place birthday – so a break was taken and birthday cake eaten – a very welcome break and lovely to see family members – and to chat about the impending arrival of grandchild 9 (due in a 3 weeks time) and about the visit to Ray’s Farm, that day with mindees and foster child (a duel purpose visit as was also a contact visit for foster child with his siblings.

However the break did put me a little behind schedule and as I was very aware that minded children would be arriving as usual in the morning and as it was the setting was far from re organised and not safe – I had to make the decision to carry on with the grand reorganisation. By the time Mr.Penny’s Place went to bed., I was still far from finished – although I could see that the basics were in place and there was light at the end of tunnel. Mr.Penny’s Place however could not see this and commented – ‘I can’t see how this will benefit the children’ – and – ‘Why are you moving stuff from the garage?’ and ‘WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO WITH THE SOFA?’

The first two comments made me realised that he had not fully grasped what I had explained before – and when he gave his OK for me to go ahead (so a quick check was needed to ensure that he was OK for me to continue with this major reorganisation – he was) but his last comment was very valid as at that moment in time the sofa had been pushed out of its usual place in the middle room and was jammed into the only available space blocking movement between middle room and conservatory and restricting access to the kitchen – plus it was piled high with ‘stuff’ that needed to be found ‘homes’.

So Mr.Penny’s Place goes off to bed and I continue reorganising, cleaning and so on in an effort to be ready for the children to arrive in the morning.

Around 11pm I realise that I need to move the sofa somewhere and the only place to move it to is the garden – so I start to move it – and almost straight away regret doing so.

Luckily it is a 2 seater rather than a 3 seater – but even so it is solidly made, and not easy to move it on your own. I managed to tip it on its side and drag it the few inches to the door between the conservatory and the middle room – and get it stuck!!!

However as no one available to help – I had no choice and had to get it free, jiggle it around until I finally get it through the door way – and down the step into the conservatory. THEN I had to turn it 90 degrees, tip it on end and get it out of the door into the garden – these are double doors – but the one side was locked – and the keys were – yes in the middle room on the hook where they always are, ready in case an emergency exit is needed – and I was in the conservatory with the doorway to the middle room blocked – by the sofa. More jiggling of the sofa – which appeared to be getting heavier by the minute and my patience and strength was getting less by the minute. Still I eventually got the keys and opened the door – and dragged the sofa into the garden – and was presented with two more issues – one gravel is not the best for dragging sofa’s across; two I needed to find somewhere that I could risk access as safe from a childminding point of view and also somewhere I could protect the sofa (as hope to recycle it / find it a new home).

I do of course finally do it – as can be evidenced by the photo at the beginning of this blog – but by the time I had it on top of the sandpit I am shattered and shaking – not good with my health issues – so a sit down, a drink and something to eat where needed. Still the job was almost done – a bit more sorting and I could finally go to bed.

Still needed to get up extra early – so around 4am to finish sorting and putting things away – and to run the vacuum round – but mission completed in time – WELL – NO – not completed as still need to do more reorganisation of drawer / cupboard / shelf storage – and some downsizing of resources also needed – but that could wait (hope to do at the weekend)

So how does the reorganisation look like? Judge for yourself!

The middle room first










Now the conservatoryIMG_4239IMG_4240IMG_4241












I really like the new layout, and set up takes just a few minutes, the children loved using the space – and before he went to work this morning Mr.Penny’s Place said ‘This works, doesn’t it’ – but to ensure I don’t forget the task is not yet fully completed he added – ‘If this was it – the childminding space – I could live it’


Yes – I know – more sorting needed and some downsizing of resources needed – a never ended story here at Penny’s Place – BUT – I will do my best to recycle / sell / get rid of things – and more importantly to try really hard not to buy anything else

(Ok, Ok – I can hear those that know me well saying ‘IMPOSSIBLE’ – so will change that to ‘Will try really hard to buy less in future )


Goodbye Ms. Truss and Mr. Gove, and thank you ……..   6 comments

………. for all the time that I have personally given up in my campaigning – hours every week –  time spent writing this blog and letters; and in travelling to London; and in maintaining my professional campaign based facebook page; and in phone calls and emails working in partnership with others – all   adds up – at a rough estimate to around 2,240 hrs

………….. for all the expense of campaigning – in travelling to meetings, paper, ink and stamps – again a rough estimate around £1,000 of my my own money – and this would have been a lot more if it was not for colleagues who helped with travel costs and free overnight accommodation.

………… for my  increased stress levels and moments of despair and indeed ill health as a result of this stress and increased work load

……… the number of  childminding colleagues who have now given up childminding and who are therefore not part of my support network any more

…… for all the changes to frameworks and guidance – which have caused even more work

……. for the ill thought out idea about childminding agencies that are now law – but that only a handful of people are interested in

…… AND MOST IMPORTANTLY  – for all the damage you have done to this countries young children, their parents and those early years professionals who are passionate and committed to improving outcomes for children – but who you have pushed right to the edge in terms of toleration and acceptance


But the thing I want to thank you for most, and genuinely; is the way you tried to create a divide within the early years sector – because it did not work  – any more than any of your ill thought out ideas have worked  – you see the Early Years sector is now stronger, more united – and now also working in partnership with our colleagues in schools







Mental Health Issues in Young Children – and what we can do about it   1 comment

Over the last couple of weeks, I have been ‘dipping in and out’ of the Department of Educations document on ‘Mental health and behaviour in schools’ which came out in June 2014

If you have not seen it yet you can access it via THIS LINK

I am not sure if I am pleased the the Government has issued this advice to support schools – or horrified that they have felt the need to issue it.


I suppose it is a bit of both

However what I find shocking is that – in my opinion – current Government policy on childcare and family issues is going to make things worse – much worse, in the future and for our schools, the children and the staff.

So to explain why I think this, I am going to write about it in my usual reflective / questioning style. I will use text from the document in black bold, my main thought / question  (as usual in blue bold ) rest in ‘normal text’,  and if needed I will signpost to other available information.

Off we go then ……

This is advice from the Department for Education. All pupils will benefit from learning and developing in a well ordered school environment that fosters and rewards good behaviour and sanctions poor and disruptive behaviour

Do the Government really still believe that sanctions for poor and disruptive behaviour really do work – and especially for those whose life experiences are complex and confusing?

I will use my own recent experience as a foster carer – child  has past experience of such a complex and confusing life so far; history of exclusions from school (the sanction) prior to being placed with my husband and myself as his new foster careers.  Child does something at school that would normally result in such a sanction AGAIN – sanction carried out – two day exclusion. Returns to school – again does something that indicates exclusion is needed, suggest to school that sanction not working – suggest child remains in school. School agree –  child does not do anything again to indicate exclusion needed as behaviour has been modified, due to fact that been made clear that no matter what happens,  exclusion will not be implemented. Of course it is not as easy as that and there will be blips and slips back to previous behaviour because change takes time – but on the whole if you stick with the belief that change can happen – it will.

Now I am not a child – but if I was, my thinking would be – ‘ don’t like it here – what do I need to do to get me away from here for a few days?’ OR ‘Don’t want to do this piece of work, what do I need to do to get out of doing it?’

And if the first thing I try to avoid doing what I don’t want to do, does not work – I would just do something more extreme until I get the adults to modify their behaviour and act as I expect them to.

It is when a child is clear about the consequences – ie no exclusion – you will be going to school – that you can implement the rewards – but these rewards have to be about the child wanting to achieve for his or her self – not about a short term reward or to please others. Complex work – difficult to work through, difficult to engage with, requires short term additional funding – as behaviour may indicate that child need constant one to one support. However it is only relatively short term until the child realises that he / she can change things. Sanctions – including ones like loss of playtime, standing outside the heads office do not work, in the long term.

What these children need is self esteem and a reason to try – not reasons to try to ‘buck the system’

As a link to my own thinking and reflection, I took a look at the Government guidance to schools on Behaviour and discipline in schools LINK HERE and read this bit of the guidance on rewards and sanctions

When poor behaviour is identified, sanctions should be implemented consistently and fairly in line with the behaviour policy. Good schools will have a range of disciplinary measures clearly communicated to school staff, pupils and parents. These can include:

 A verbal reprimand.
 Extra work or repeating unsatisfactory work until it meets the required standard.
 The setting of written tasks as punishments, such as writing lines or an essay.
 Loss of privileges – for instance the loss of a prized responsibility or not being able
to participate in a non-uniform day (sometimes referred to as ‘mufti’ days).
 Missing break time.
 Detention including during lunch-time, after school and at weekends.
 School based community service or imposition of a task – such as picking up litter
or weeding school grounds; tidying a classroom; helping clear up the dining hall
after meal times; or removing graffiti.
 Regular reporting including early morning reporting; scheduled uniform and other
behaviour checks; or being placed “on report” for behaviour monitoring.
 Extra physical activity such as running around a playing field; and

 In more extreme cases schools may use temporary or permanent exclusion.


Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear – those sanctions might work for a child who was like me at school – was a ‘goody two shoes’,  someone who hated the limelight and would avoid sanctions, because sanctions drew attention to self. However for many children they believe drawing attention to self is good and needed – and the sanctions are  therefore ineffective. For some children being able to avoid break times, going home, being at home at the weekend is desirable – such are their experiences with peers and at home.

Let’s be honest when a document is issued to look at Mental Health and behaviour – we are not talking about the well adjusted students who have on the whole had positive life experiences and so for those children we only really need a verbal reminder – and they will conform to expectations – BECAUSE they know it is in their best interests to do so. We are talking about those who do not self regulate because they do not know it is in their best interests.

There maybe a few who might come under the ‘do as little as possible’ group, and who therefore need to be asked to re do work that is not of their personal best (rather than not of the required standard)

But on the whole – the rest of the advice about sanctions – in  my opinion – needs to be scrapped

Iinstead of missing break time;  a reward for completed a task, or not being disruptive could be to help set up a break time activity – and to leave class 5 mins early to do so – this could also enable child to use the toilets without fear from peers, plus have a role of responsibility and a ‘good’ reason why not outside during a break. To do this sort of work you need to know the children REALLY well and to follow their lead – one step at a time – as of course you may not get to the bottom of an issue for sometime – but you have to start somewhere.

Instead of setting EXTRA work – reduce the work requirement – put in support so the student can have success – look at reasons why not able to stay on task, look at the child as a whole – do not expect them to do their best when the rest of their lives are at crisis point for some reason. Sometimes to go back a stage or to revisit missed stages – pays dividend in the long run.

The list of sanctions to my mind says to the child you are no good – all of this is your fault, you are not trying hard enough -and actually for those children tottering on the edge of the  line of Mental Health issues, and those who have  complex and confusing life experiences – nothing could be further from the truth.

Government / schools –  try putting yourself in their shoes and seeing things from their perspective? Could you do your best if you were them? Would you respond well, if you were told that you should do better – and as you are not – here is your sanction?

Continuing with my look at the Mental Health and behaviour guidance document

I have noted that the advice on Mental Health and behaviour in schools will be reviewed in October 2014 – just 4 months from the publication of the current review which was published in June 2014 – I have to ask why? Are they expecting things to improve in that time scale or to get worse? My concern of course is, like with so many Government proposals at the moment there is not enough time allowed for impact to be known or for review to take place.

On page 6 of the document there is some very useful information

Factors that put children at risk
1.1. Certain individuals and groups are more at risk of developing mental health problems than others. These risks can relate to the child themselves, to their family, or to their community or life events.

1.2. Risk factors are cumulative. Children exposed to multiple risks such as social disadvantage, family adversity and cognitive or attention problems are much more likely to develop behavioural problems.



The document then goes on to talk about risk factors and children’s resilience, and why some children are more resilient than others; and it says;

Research suggests that there is a complex interplay between risk factors in children’s lives and promoting their resilience. As social disadvantage and the number of stressful life events accumulate for children or young people, more factors that are protective are needed to act as a counterbalance. The key protective factors, which build resilience to mental health problems, are shown alongside the risk factors in table 1, below.

Not rocket science is it? The more you have to cope with – the harder it is to cope – and this applies to adults as well as children. The saying ‘The straw that broke the camels back’ is very true – and it is often something quite small or insignificant that leads to being unable to cope any more.

The report goes on to say –
1.5. The role that schools play in promoting the resilience of their pupils is important, particularly so for some children where their home life is less supportive. School should be a safe and affirming place for children where they can develop a sense of belonging and feel able to trust and talk openly with adults about their problems

In an ideal world this would be the case – but teachers and support staff have a lot of other things to do, and large classes – finding the time can be difficult, ensuring the needs of so many students are met can be difficult.

And also having behaviour policies such as those mentioned above with sanctions as described, hinder not help.

BUT – even if teachers and support staff had the time, the resources, the smaller class sizes and the training – their impact would not be enough – because when you add up the total number of hours a child spends in school (actually in class) in a year, against the total numbers of hours at home, or in the care of others – you quickly get the picture that number of hours in school is rather insignificant.


In the report there is a very good table / list of risk factors – and a not so good list of protective factors because some of those given are school based and currently almost impossible to achieve.

There is mention of the need for things like good housing, high standard of living – but although important these are not really protective factors because actually even children who have these things can still develop behaviour problems and mental health issues.

It is this part of the list – that comes under ‘In the family’ that I think needs more consideration with the first one in my opinion  being essential

At least one good parent-child relationship (or one supportive adult)
• Affection
• Clear, consistent discipline
• Support for education
• Supportive long term relationship or the absence of severe discord

You see it is my belief – and indeed that of many others that it is the demise of quality family life that is at the route of many of the problems in children and indeed in society.

It is not about just about money – although having a living wage, suitable housing and being able to make real choices about what to eat and what to do are based on  personal choice not lack of income is important  – it is time that is the real issue – and that all important ‘one good parent / child relationship (actually I would say one good family adult / child relationship – as it could be Granddad, or aunt or foster carer)

Some of this lack of time is as a direct result of changes to working patterns, some to financial pressure and the need for two incomes, some the fast pace of life and the belief that every minute should be filled with activities outside the home, some because of lack of understanding of the value of family time together – especially the relaxing and playing together times – and much of it is connected to Government policy – particularly the drive to get more women into work and therefore more children into childcare.

Add to this the government policy of increasing ratio’s in early years settings / schools by promoting the idea of graduate led workforce and 1:13 ratio’s, and relentless drive for ‘school readiness’ and a adult led curriculum – so children do not have so much time to engaged in unstructured play either at home or in their early years setting  – and we have a recipe for things to get worse,  much much worse  – don’t take my word for it – look at some of  Peter Gray’s work via THIS LINK or watch this You Tube clip on the decline of play 

You may also like to take a look at the Save Childhood Movement Early Years Manifestio – a document that I had some input in Save Childhood Movement Manifestio Putting_children_first or  the Primary Charter  CLICK HERE

If you are a member of a  membership organisation or a trade union that supports those that work with children and young people, take a look at their websites to see what they have to say – organisations such as Pre school Learning Alliance, PACEY, Early Education – to name a few.

Any internet search will bring up a lot of documents, You Tube clips, research papers, all saying the same thing – and surely all of those experts and people like me with years of hands on experience – can’t all be wrong!

I will end with another of my personal reflections – as a foster carer I am very aware of the benefit of a loving, stable family life for children – and have experience of how a loving, stable family life can make a huge difference to children and young people – including their educational attainment and indeed behaviour at school. If young people who have had complex and confusing life experiences are best placed in secure, loving family homes where one adult is usually at home  – why is the connection not being made by the government – that all children will benefit from secure and loving family homes where one adult  is at home – especially in their early years?

In addition I have seen for myself the huge benefits of unstructured play in supporting those with complex emotional needs;  to help work their way through things that are troubling them; to help fill in gaps in their development that they have missed for whatever reason; to help relax and simply ‘chill out’; to help  become less stressed, less worried and therefore able to change things and to go on to achieve their personal potential.


In my opinion the Government have got it wrong – it is not schools that are going to alter the decline in children’s mental health, it is not schools who are best placed to support children’s functioning skills – and it is not schools who will improve the attainment of children, who have not had the best start in life.

Speaking in general – as  ‘in most cases’;

This is not a reflection on teaching staff and support assistants – they are doing a brilliant job and if  they could have classes with more students who are ready and able to learn, they would be able to get on with their job and not have to spend time trying to pick up the pieces of Governments interference in family life and children’s early years experience.

It is also not a reflection on colleagues in the maintained nursery sector as they are also doing a brilliant job – and as the  children are only in those settings usually for 3 hours per day – the rest of the time the children are in family homes – including those of registered childminders who due to the high adult:child ratio and home based setting do provide a similar experience to a family home – they get the best of both worlds

Nor is it a reflection on colleagues of group based early years settings – who on the whole refuse to operate at the suggested 1:13 ratio – even if they do have graduates working in their settings – and so each child gets individual attention including support for their family.

What we need is;

What we need is a choice of high quality early years settings that maintain a maximum of 1:8 ratio with 3 – 4 year olds, and a 1:4 ratio with the younger children age over 24 months and who have an ethos of providing play based learning environments

What we need is a real choice for parents about if they work and use childcare that meets their needs and their children’s needs OR if they stay at home and care for their children themselves

What we need is investment in family life and in unstructured play opportunities within the home and the local community.

What we need is for all skills to be valued and not just academic skills because at the end of the day it is those caring skills and that understanding of young children gained through experience (included passed on knowledge through families) and academic skills (including on the job non exam based training) – both in families and in early years settings, that actually makes the difference to children’s well being.

What we need is for the acceptance than most parents and most early years practitioners do a good job

What we need is for support to be provided to families who for whatever reason need support to learn about family life, so they can stand on their own two feet and be proud of themselves and their families – and this is more of a time investment than just pouring in money.

What we need for those children who are already bearing the cost of poor quality family life and and and an education system based on a one size fit all academic based curriculum – is to step back a little and allow them to experience family life, and play – and to have time to catch up and fill the gaps in their life experiences.

In my opinion we are on a slippery road to complete and utter failure of our education system, family life and society as a whole.

If only the Government would stop their interference, and their insistence that they are right – and listen to those who have the knowledge, experience and professional reasons to ensure the children of this country are supported to reach their individual potential –  Rather than selfish, politically driven short gain reasons based on trying to save government expense and increase government tax revenue



And then  they would have no need – in the long term  – for documents such as guidance on Mental Health and behaviour in schools



I have now had chance to look at and sign up for MindEd which I found to be be useful and interesting – and will be returning to find out more and complete the sessions provided.

If anyone else is interested PLEASE FOLLOW THIS LINK


More reflection from Penny about inspections – and some ideas from outside the box and indeed turning the box up side down (and jumping on it!)   4 comments

Even if I say so myself – I am a reflective practitioner and I constantly reflect on …….. everything!

This includes reflection on things that I am not directly responsible for like Government policy and Ofsted matters – which is why of course I am an active campaigner – when I see, read, think about things that I consider not to be in the best interests of the children …… I have to say / do something.

And so in the very early hours of this morning I found myself reflecting on Ofsted inspections – my own experiences, others experiences that I have heard about through my involvement with the Ofsted Big Conversation, my discussion with Gill Jones, and my many discussions with friends, colleagues, and others from the early years sector.


So first a THANK YOU to all of those who taken part in these discussions with me about Ofsted inspections – I am sure that as you read this you will think – ‘ah I discussed that with Penny’ , but I am also sure that you will think ‘but we did not discuss that’ – because as part of reflection you should listen to, and take on board others ideas – put them in a mixing pot (your own brain) and then come up with your own personal view which will be informed by others but based on your own views, principles, vision, ethos – and so unique to you.

Of course we are all also part of a team – either in our settings, or as part of a membership organisation, or a trade union, or as part of the wider early years sector – and so it is vital to share those reflections – and to reach agreement within whatever ‘grouping of people’ you are aiming to work with and therefore to agree with – so that your personal reflection aids the reflection – and potentially changes to the practice of whatever group it is you aim to work in partnership with.

Therefore, my reflections (which I will come to in a minute) are for all of those that I work with to consider and to throw into their own reflection ‘mixing pot’. I am of course hoping that Ofsted – and in particular Nick Hudson and Gill Jones read this blog and reflect on my ideas because as we all know Nick and Gill are currently conducting a review of Early Years inspections  – and maybe, just maybe the time is right to think outside of the box and indeed to turn it over and jump up and down on it – and in doing so knock all the ‘silly bits’ out.

So my reflection about inspections;

I have done lots of reflection on this before – and blogged about and wrote letters and articles about it ……………………….

…………………………….. however this is some different reflection because instead of trying to adapt the inspection box so that it works better – I am thinking wider and drawing on all my own personal experiences as childminding network coordinator, quality assessor, practitioner and volunteer – plus those aforementioned discussions with others.


So to start at the beginning – ‘What makes quality assurance works?’

In my opinion – Involves all, is on going, is checked by those with specialist knowledge – frequently and if possible without notice, and is based more on practice than on paperwork.

I can almost hear Nick and Gill responding – saying loudly – ‘YES we agree – that is what Ofsted inspection is about’

Well … Ofsted inspection should be about that – but at the moment it is not


Here then are my ideas – for consideration – as in no way is this a ‘final version’ just something to be thought about – and if appropriate used to start the ball rolling on what Ofsted inspection / quality assurance could look like post 2015.

Education should be taken away from politics – and a board of appropriately qualified people should be  employed (and with sector specific  experts and volunteer input), to ensure that everyone’s views are taken on board and the best research and knowledge used to define the education plans.

  • The education plan should be in place for at least 10 years – with only minor adjustments each year following a proper reflection / evaluation schedule. There is too much messing about with / complete over haul at the moment . If proper consultation takes places there should not be a need for this constant changes to policy and practice.
  • Although lasting for 10 years the process before the implementation of the next 10 year plan – should be started after 6 years of implementation to allow for full consultation, data gathering, proper trails and evaluation
  • Any changes to the  10 year plan should only be for educational reasons – not political reasons.
  • Education should be not be used as a political bargaining point nor should those who do not have the expertise in education be allowed to interfere in education
  • A budget FIXED for the 10 year cycle should be agreed on – with a contingency budget available
  • The education plan should cover all stages from early years to end of formal school – and all fit together as  a continuous plan


FULL Ofsted inspection should take place ONCE in a TEN YEAR Cycle in line with the 10 year education plan and should be unannounced for all settings / schools

  • This will allow data from those inspections to be fully analysed, and for all settings to have had an inspection under that framework, and will of course follow the 10 year education plan
  • The fee paid to Ofsted would take into account the fact that it would be one full inspection every 10 years – and that settings would also be paying a annual amount to the Quality Verifying company
  • This inspection should focus more on an over view of things and should involve checking all the statutory documents are in place, and involve observation of practice and discussion with practitioners and managers, and parents, and most importantly the quality verifier (see below) and at least 10% parents – in person or via phone.
  • Ofsted would issue the grade  but not recommendations – these would come from a 3 way discussion and AGREED between setting / school, the quality verifier and Ofsted inspector  – and by phone if needed, within a week of the inspection. The report would then be written, circulated for approval and published one week after draft report circulated.
  • An Ofsted approved questionnaire should be completed by all settings / schools once every 12 months – and a separate but coordinating one sent to all parents – with a require 75 % return rate. These should be sent to the quality verifier  to be read and a result summary sent to Ofsted and the setting / school.
  • The SEF would be dropped as it relies on the honesty of the person filling it in – and the time they have available – and their IT skills and their confidence in presenting facts in writing . Some do this well, some don’t – but at the end of the day – it is the hands on practice that makes a difference to children – not if can fill in a SEF.


Role of Quality Verifier

  •  ALL settings / schools should have a annual visit from a quality verifier – who will write a report on practice seen and discussion had;  and send this to Ofsted. Where possible (unless left the company) this would be the same person
  • This quality verifier would be from an approved list agreed by Ofsted, but could include LA staff, membership organisation staff,  private company staff and others – all of whom would receive direct training by Ofsted on the report side of things, so reports were in a standard format. However training on observations and quality assurance would be provided by whoever the quality verifier works for.
  • The Quality Verifier would be selected and paid for by the setting – in the same way as any other quality assurance is paid for – but at a universal fee set by the government  and taking into consideration the number of hours each visit should take (so would vary depending on size of setting / school
  • To ensure good practice each company supplying quality verifiers would be ‘quality assured themselves annually  by a verifier from another company doing a joint visit  to a setting / school AND by one joint visit to a setting / school with an Ofsted inspector (on a % of number of visit undertaken basis)
  • The fee paid for quality verifying would  be inclusive of the fee to remain registered with Ofsted ( so no need to pay Ofsted separately)
  • The people doing the quality verifying would not give grades or make judgements – they would just record facts – and each school / setting would be required to read and sign the report before it is sent to Ofsted.
  • Having said that to ensure safeguarding of the children if a quality verifier visited a setting and saw practice that needed to be reported for safeguarding reasons – they would call Ofsted while still in the setting – and in hearing of  a  setting staff member. Ofsted would talk to both the quality verifier and a member of the setting staff. All would be recorded and Ofsted will decide if a visit to the setting / school  is needed OR if the appropriate for the setting / school to agree actions there and then – and then for the quality verifier to re visit to ensure have been implemented and that practice on day of next visit is as it should be.



As I have said – in NO WAY is this a ‘final version’ of my ideas – I just want to start discussion around inspections and therefore making changes that will work.

I think the above ideas would work as there would be more consistency – less personal opinion – remember the quality verifier is not going to give grades or recommendations, and the Ofsted inspector would have to have their recommendations agreed by the setting and the quality verifier

As the quality verifier (or at least someone from that company) will have visited NINE times between Ofsted inspection and produced a report – and reported any safeguarding concerns – everyone should be confident that the Ofsted grade will be truly reflective of everyday practice – and not the personal ‘snapshot’  opinion of one person, once every 3, 4, 5 or even 6 years.

As a result there should be less complaints, – and indeed any complaints made direct to Ofsted should involve a discussion with the quality verifier as they will know the setting well – and be able to give details about the setting.

By insisting that Ofsted talk to at least 10% of parents – even if  by phone the will gather a the views of those using the school / setting first hand.

The completion of the Ofsted approved questionnaire by parents and settings should be used to gain an understanding of daily practice and to aid reflection.

Ofsted would be able to concentrate on their inspections – while parents and settings / schools can be reassured that through the unannounced visits of the  quality verifier that quality is maintained all the time.

Those that I have spoken to would welcome regular quality inspections and would be prepared to pay for it.

However the biggest selling point about this idea – is that everyone – Ofsted, quality verifier (and the companies they work for) and the setting / school would be working together ALL THE TIME – to improve outcomes for children – not to tick boxes.


Your thoughts please!

You can disagree and add your own ideas through the comments box, or you can take my idea and add your own reflection views on it.

Let’s get talking about this – and let’s work with Ofsted to improve things for all of us.

I have to wonder …….. Do the Government think I am a failure?   3 comments

It is a Saturday afternoon – 5th July 2014, and as I sit sorting out paperwork in connection with my childminding business, my mind starts to wonder through my memories and the passage of time – and as it does so a question pops into my head – the one above – ‘Do the Government consider me a failure?’


Which led to another question ‘ Do I contribute to society?’

and another ‘Do I contribute more to society than I take out?’


In other words – Do I , Penny Webb, fit the Government agenda, and have enough Government boxes been ticked to make my life ‘of value’ in Government terms?’


I have to ask myself these questions because at the moment;

As a person, the stuff I read about needing to be part of a graduate led early years workforce – I feel I have failed the Government! You see I did not achieve my GCSE level (O level in my case) in Maths (I did manage to get my English ‘O’ level), I do not have a degree, I even failed the 11+.

So I am not academically successful

As a mother, the stuff I read about mothers and work -I  feel that I have failed the Government! You see apart from attending a playgroup / nursery  for a few hours a week between the ages of 3 and 5, none of my FOUR daughters were put into a childcare setting (other than staying at home with me when I ran my childminding setting) and therefore I did not ‘go out to work’ and pay tax. For many years as a childminder – after allowable expenses I did not have enough profit to pay tax

So I have not contributed as a tax payer for much of my working life


Reading government documents, and articles in the media – it seems to me that the government are pushing, and pushing for everyone to be successful and to achieve all of the above. Most of their policies are based on the above things – as if the world would stop turning if every single person in this country and therefore every single child growing up in this country does not achieve academic success, does not go on to be a tax payer.


But am I a ‘failure’ – let me take you the reader on a whistle stop tour of my life.

I was born in 1959 to what might be said to be  a ‘middle class’ family, I was the eldest child of three

For a short time I attended a private nursery/ school – and being a shy ‘good little girl’ – I did well – until my brother started and his needs were not met and so mum removed us both from the nursery/ school – and I went through the state school system (you see even in those days you were expected to conform and fit in – and my brother did not do either of those things as a 3 yr old)

As already mentioned I did not pass my 11+ and went to the local Secondary Modern school. I did OK and was in the ‘A grade classes – but I did not do well in my exams – partly because I was not well, partly because I find exams stressful, partly because I had discovered boys.

I left school at 16 and did not go into further education – in fact I married at 17 and had my first child at 19 and my second at 21. However I did not live on state benefits or have a council house, instead together with my husband – and a lot of ‘going without’ we had a mortgage and paid our own way for everything.

I worked in the family business and because it was a family business the children came with me to work / I took work home to complete once they were in bed.

The family business went bankrupt in the early 80’s (when a lot of other  small business did). So I worked in a bar / steakhouse in the evenings to ensure our bills could be paid.

Daughters 3 and 4 arrived, and I set up as a registered childminder, mainly so I could continue to care for my children myself and earn an income at the same time. This is because I believe (and  I believed back then) that a home environment either with your parents or with a childminder was / is very beneficial for young children.

Over the 23 years that I have been a registered childminder (I worked for a local authority for 7 years, although still childminding based) I have cared for well almost  300 children – some for a few weeks, some for over 10 years, some by direct arrangement with parents and some via social services. I know that I had a positive impact on those children, many of whom went onto university and successful carers – or to be successful without going to university. Some of these children who are now adults are now parents who have a secure knowledge of what family life is about due in part to my influence.

So in terms of being successful in my carer and in helping children to achieve their personal potential – I feel that I have been very successful.

In terms of being a parent, I feel I have been successful – and now as grandmother to 8 (soon to be 10) I feel I have been successful in passing on my knowledge and family ethos to my daughters who are all bringing up their own families.

However, there is more to my life story – as I have been a volunteer for many years – on playgroup and school committee, within Girl Guiding, as part of NCMA (now Pacey), the Preschool learning Alliance, Save Childhood Movement – and all the campaigning I do to speak up for the child and my colleagues in the early years sector.

And now I am a foster carer – providing a family home and love to a child – with the aim of giving that child the opportunity to reach his full personal potential. Personally I think it says a lot about the benefits of a secure, loving family home life – as foster children are usually placed in foster families not in group care,


I know many don’t consider me a failure – as only yesterday(4th July 2014)  I was informed that I have been short listed in the Nursery World Awards for my Outstanding Contribution to the Early Years Sector and to Children and Families. So clearly I am successful just not in terms of the government agenda.



And if you answer – No, of course not Penny – you have contributed to society in many ways


It was not the right way for me, or for many others  (including my brother who did worse than me academically but who became a multi millionaire through his own hard work and a bit luck)

And it will not be the right way for many children today and in the future

The difference is though – YOU THE GOVERNMENT are making children feel failures, families feel failures and with your budget cuts to essential services leaving those who need a helping hand without support and without hope.

And you know what Government?

I may not have a Maths O level or GCSE – but I can add up that your policies are going to cost this country a fortune – and that the cost to society may well be higher than society can afford  or be able to  ‘put right’ in the future when you are long gone and others have to deal with the  mess you have left behind you.

Yes, we do need those who are academically successful, but more than that we need caring people – people who volunteer, who give without expecting to get anything in return – and people who provide those firm foundations for the children through family life and high quality early years PLAY experiences that are not assessed or tested.


Indeed – people just like me – so please stop implementing these damaging policies so that in the future we have people like me and not selfish, target focussed  people who don’t know how to care for others, along with people whose mental health and emotional well being has been destroyed through being made to feel they have  fail,  and through not being supported in ways that are right for them .


Those who are not academic are not failures – they are successful – just not through the tick box assessments and exams that Government deem to be the only way to measure success.

And in answer to my questions

No – I am not a failure

Yes – I do contribute to society

Yes – I do give more than I take out

So what does the Pre school Learning Alliance have to offer? (and some feedback from Worcestershire)   4 comments

This blog contains feedback from the second Worcestershire Pre school Learning Alliance Sub Committee ‘Meet and Greet’ but actually is not just about Worcestershire – it is about the Pre school Learning Alliance in general – and what is have to offer all members- including childminder members


Last night – Wednesday 2nd July 2014 – the Preschool Learning Alliance sub committee held their second  ‘Meet and Greet’ event.

You can read about the first ‘Meet and Greet’ event HERE


At the request of the attendees of the first ‘Meet and Greet’ event – this one was planned as a networking and information sharing event – and was very informal with no set agenda and just a ‘free flow’ discussion.

In Attendance were;

Myself  Penny Webb –  Chair of the sub committee

Linda O’Rourke – Treasurer of the sub committee

Raj Babber – Development Manager for Pre school Learning Alliance

One Group setting member

2 childminders who are not currently members of the Alliance

3 childminders – who are members of the Alliance through their Childminding Group membership – but not members in their own right.

So a small group – but a very significant move forward for the sub committee as the childminders in the room were attending to find out more about what the Alliance has to offer – and in particular what the Alliance has to offer childminders.

As Chair, I did the introductions – Linda and Raj then said a little bit about themselves and what their roles are. It is important to note that Raj is a paid member of  Alliance staff who support the sub committee, and Linda and myself are volunteers.

After an explanation / reminder about the purpose of the event – and a welcome cup of tea / coffee, we got down to the serious business of ………….. ……..CHATTING.

Comment was made about where were the member settings – it was explained that because the Worcester sub committee and been dormant for so long (was only re established in Sept 13) contact details for member groups are a little out of date as no one has been keeping on top of maintaining these records – this is particularly a problem with committee run group setting as the committee is constantly changing and so is the name of the person who receives the emails / post.

So a plea to any Worcestershire setting read this – If you are a member of the Alliance – please do get in touch so we can check our records.

And please can you pass on the message to those you network with.

In fact if any Alliance member in any part of the country  is reading this and are not getting their copy of ‘Under 5’ the member magazine – there is a good chance that your contact details are out of date – so please do get in touch.


The childminders in the room that are not members through a childminding group said that they did not even realise that the Alliance offers childminder membership and insurance, and they thought that many of their colleagues did not realise either.

Raj made some notes about this as clearly the information – which is available is not being  accessed as well as it could.

There were a lot of discussion around what the Alliance does offer all members – and  as such is available to childminder members.

The group member (and myself as a childminder member) said that the FREE training provided by Educare was brilliant – and on its own well worth the membership fee. A key point was that all staff / assistants in the same setting can access the training again for FREE

If you are interested in finding out more about the training provided by the Alliance through Educare CLICK HERE Childminder colleagues will note that there is a free one on setting up your childminding business – worth prospective childminders joining – just for that and the other essential training – especially as Local Authority support / training is  being reduced / removed.

It should be noted that there is other training available at a specially negotiated price.

So what else do members get?

WELL …..

A member magazine

The support of a regional office and staff such as Raj

A voice  nationally- can attend and vote at the National AGM

A voice locally – as can ask for training that you need to be put on, and you pass on your opinion through the sub committee

Through the Alliance Chief Executive Neil Leitch – a  nationally respected voice in early years sector. Just check out how often he is quoted in Early Years Magazines – and in those that extend beyond the Early Years sector representing the views, concerns and wishes of members.

Insurance if you require it – and at a good price to members

The opportunity to make your training needs known – and for that training to be put on at a time that suits you (with in reason of course)

Which leads us back nicely to the discussions going on at the Worcestershire sub committee ‘Meet and Greet’

In Worcestershire we are in a very fortunate position as we have what might be called ‘a healthy budget’,  due to the fact that Worcestershire funds have not only be held safely over the dormant years but have also been added to via the allocation each year of part of members membership money. To explain – each member pay a membership fee annually – and a portion of that is used to support  services provided in the members own area – mainly through the sub committees.

So as mentioned Worcester sub committee has access to a healthy budget ………..however the sub committee can not just spend it as they think fit – they have to spend it on services that members want. Therefore a bit of a chicken and egg situation – Worcestershire has the funds available, we can provide training / workshops, social events, networking events and so  but we need to know what members want first.

In fact the only event that we can /have to put on without members expressing an interest is the AGM (and as a ‘heads up’ this is going to be Saturday 4th Oct 2014 – more details later)

All we need is an expression of interest from TWO members (that is members with a personal membership number – so the 3 childminders present who belong to an Alliance member Childminding Group – count as one member because one membership number)

And last night we had an expressed interest in some training – the group member present asked for some training on the changes to SEN as from September 2014 when becomes SEND.

The childminders from the childminding group also would like this training – so there we are – we have an interest from two members (and as an aside – I would also like this training and have my own membership number – so technically 3 members – although for obvious reasons I don’t get counted – and neither does Linda – otherwise between us we could say – we have two membership numbers between us …. and we want ……)

Raj is therefore going to arrange the training for Worcestershire members – for Free (please note non members will be very welcome to attend – but we will have to make a small charge – simply because with this training every participant will be given the associated Alliance book resource FREE – so we do need to cover at least part of the book cost  for non members, by charging a small fee. However if people become members they will get this training and the training over the coming year for free – in my opinion – well worth considering joining.

After discussion with those present last night – we aim to put on the training in  2 – 4 different areas of Worcestershire – and we will provide at least cake with the drinks – if not something a little more substantial, as many – including the trainer and the sub committee volunteers will have to dash straight from their ‘day jobs’ and so not have time to eat. These things are very important – and so will be covered and nourishment of some sort provided.

I hope that readers can see that by attending the Meet and Greet those present have been able to have direct input and have ensured their own training needs are met. The SEND training  will be put on as soon as possible so the members can benefit and hopefully  have the information in time for the start of the new term


As a subcommittee we aim to put on 4 events with training in the next academic year – starting with the AGM – and then 3 other training events – to meet members needs – so why not come along to the AGM on Saturday 4th October to have your say and to share the training programme for Worcestershire Alliance sub committee?

The AGM will be at Perdiswell, in Worcester – all booked – including lunch and refreshments. The event will run from 9am – 1pm  and will be FREE to members Details will be coming out to members soon – and will be posted on this blog in due course.

Non Members will be welcome and will be able to attend for FREE  as well – subject to availability of places as of course members will have priority.


Getting back to the feedback from the Meet and Greet …… there was more!!!

It is surprising what you can fit into about 1.5 hours  – so we also discussed changes to the EYFS 14 and after the meeting all attendees were emailed information on this. We discussed Childminder Agencies – and all the concerns that those present have. We discussed the telephone discussion that I had had with Gill Jones who is Deputy Director for  Ofsted Early Years – and the work that Gill is doing with Nick Hudson in reviewing the whole Early Years inspection process. And we chatted in general about things connected to early years.

And there was MORE – all attendees took home a FREE goody bag and all had a prize from the FREE raffle – something which will be a feature of all Worcestershire events – for as long as we can.


Speaking from a personal perspective – I found the Meet and Greet event to be very useful, and certainly I have some ideas about how to get the information ‘out there’ about the Alliance and indeed the Worcestershire sub committee – for example;  leaflets giving facts and contact details;  trying to get myself / Raj invited to local childminding groups to talk about the Alliance and the Worcestershire sub committee, and to offer the same to group settings and so chat face to face.



I am going to leave the  almost final comment to the long standing Alliance group member who attended. I will call her ‘A’ as I have not asked permission to mention her by name – but everyone who was there will know who she was.

‘A’ said some thing on the lines of  – ‘really we have come full circle , and we are all going to have to be do what we can to support ourselves and each other, the Alliance locally used to do such wonderful things  that I was personally part of;  and we can do the same again –  if we all do what we can’

I agree we can and here in Worcestershire  – as an  Alliance sub committee, myself and Linda – supported by Raj – are waiting for members to come forward and say how we can support them – and for new members to come forward, pay their membership fee – and to let us know how we can support them as well.

If you are interested in finding out more about the Alliance take a look at their website – and  good pages to start with  are the pages that give details of membership

Group settings CLICK HERE



You can contact me on

Raj can be contacted via the West Division regional office Tel:  0121 643 0063




Posted July 3, 2014 by psw260259 in Pre School Learning Alliance