Pre school Learning Alliance Early Years Agenda event with Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minster and an admittance that I was wrong!   4 comments

Some time ago I accepted an invitation to attend the above event – full title ‘Working Together to deliver the early years agenda’  in London on 19th February 2015

I need to make it very clear that the views expressed in this blog are my personal views and not those of the Pre school Learning Alliance or any colleague that attended the event.

I have to admit that I do not ‘do’ politics – I have no idea if I am left, right, middle, blue, red, yellow, green – and to be frank I don’t give a hoot, because I personally think that all political parties, are as bad as each other and make promises they don’t keep, do not look at the bigger picture and have no idea how the policies they introduce impact on the everyday life for the average man, woman and child of this country. Add to that the fact that most politician’s (most but not all) do not have any qualification or experience in the things that they advise on, make laws about, and introduce policies and procedures about; therefore it is fair to say my personal respect for those that make up Government (and opposition) is pretty low.

However, having said that – I did have a small hope that Mr. Clegg (DPM) had at least a awareness of the needs of the childcare sector – as it was his voice (not my voice as the person who started the ratio debate going with the first petition, or the voice of the Pre school Learning Alliance and all their members and all the parents who support the successful Rewind Ratio’s campaign)-  It was the lone voice of MR. Clegg –  who halted the increase in ratio proposals by saying ‘I am not going to support this’

And so I was quite looking forward to attending this event – and I had a few questions that I hoped to ask Mr. Clegg during the question and answer session.

If you are hoping for a straight forward, factual account of the event – I suggest you read the article by Nursery World by


However, if you are looking for  personal opinion, reflection and linking to personal experience and knowledge – read on!

As usual I shall be writing this blog as a story of my day – from start to finish, so here goes ….

As readers will know I was in Chester area until Wednesday 18th Feb, house sitting for one of my daughters, so I returned home late Wednesday afternoon; and went into ‘superwoman’ mode, unpacking, washing, sorting things ready for my trip to London, accidentally ripping up my printed ticket, (yes I did – then I had to find the email and reprint it) I looked up the address of the venue – thought – oh no – a posh place, tried on my smarter clothes – most too big (which is a good thing, but not when needing to find something suitable at short notice and no time to go shopping), found something to wear that would ‘do’.

Then I went to bed, and  tossed and turned all night (always do when stressed about things – and going to London stresses me)

I was up at 4am and on the internet checking out the information my husband had given me about a landslide between Banbury and Leamington Spa;  and very bad news for me – the bus put on by the train company would add at least 30 mins to the journey – which would make it very tight time wise.

I checked to see if there was any alternative – there was but it would cost me an extra £88 – just for the one way trip there – and I could not afford that. So no option – I would have to cross everything and hope I got there in time.

I was of course even more stressed – left it too late to have breakfast, and dashed out of the door with just a glass of apple juice in me – and due to the stress / lack of sleep –  looking and feeling terrible

On the train I emailed and text a few people and decided that despite the fact that would cost about £20, the best option would be to get a taxi from Marylebone to the venue (once I got there)

Train to Warwick, bus to Banbury – not too bad

Run around Banbury station to find information and then right platform – get on train – phew – thinking might make it on time

Arrive Marylebone more or less on time but slight delay in pulling into station – rush to loo, out to taxi rank – in taxi by 9:11 am, start to relax – think going to be OK – text friends to say should be there.

Traffic terrible – by 9.40 taxi driver apologising he has never seen it so bad – still not even near to venue. Taxi driver asks where I am going – and says ‘Oh no, you might be late’ then ‘ I am going to try another back route’ Which he did (and gave me the benefit of his opinion of all things early years – and in fact life. To be honest he spoke a lot of common sense) He stops by some steps – right he says not time to go round to front entrance – run up those steps, along the road – should be on your left.

So I did as I was told – and yes there it was the Foreign and Commonwealth Office

No time to pause, I go in and check in – surprised no one looked at ticket in my hand or asked for the photo ID that I had been told to bring. Was given a visitors badge and directed through the gate.

Follow the directions and into a very grand building (If interested clink on link for some images Photos of Foreign and Commonwealth Office )

Hand my coat into the clockroom, grab my name badge, say hello to Sophie who had sent various emails about the event, and go up the grand staircase as quickly as I can – as it is very nearly 10am and the doors about to shut.

I see my colleagues Jen, Michelle and Simona – say a quick hello. Speak briefly to Neil Leitch – he said  something on the lines – ‘glad you made it’. Speak briefly to Estella and Kathleen both Alliance staff, and then I quickly got a coffee and sit down a few moments before the event officially started.

Sophie Ross (Chair of the Trustees), Neil Leitch (CE Pre school Learning Alliance) and Nick Clegg (Deputy Prime Minster) enter the room and take up their places at the table at the from of the room.

Sophie welcomes us all and does the ‘house keeping’ bit about fires and exits, she introduces the two speakers.

Neil Leitch is first to speak – he speaks about the ratio campaign and Mr. Clegg’s role in that and about Mr. Clegg being ‘a friend’ of the sector; but he also speaks about the difference of opinion, and challenges that face the early years sector and the government.

Neil says he wants to talk about 2 key issues – Funding and baseline testing – so he does – and he makes his points very well, with facts, figures and research – and quotes from government past and present.

With the baseline testing Neil showed a picture of one of the assessments – children needed to point to the hexagon shaped leaf – that was hanging on a tree with lots of different shaped leaves. Neil said his own grandchild had not been able to do this – and questioned if he or the child’s parents should be concerned – and said why should they when the child was developing as expected – it was the test that was the concern not  his grandchild – and further why should a child of 4 need to know that?

(In my head I was thinking of all the children I have had in my care – some might have been able to do that – it they had an interest in shapes and shape names, but many would not have been able to).

What shocked me, was that Mr. Clegg appeared surprised that this was one of the assessment questions – and said he needed to ‘check it out’. As these assessment systems are now available – has Mr. Clegg looked at any of them? Surely knowing that baseline testing is a major concern of the early years sector – and that he was going to be addressing a room full of early years people – he should have done some ‘homework’ about these assessment systems – or been advised by one of his team about them. I would have thought he would have wanted to reassure everyone by showing examples of how these assessments were appropriate.

It concerns me that once the questions in these assessments are known, that children will be taught by rote the ‘answer’ – so that all children in the future will be able to identify a hexagon shaped leaf – but that they won’t know what a hexagon shaped block looks likes, feels like, or can be used with other shapes in block play or construction play, and so on. In other words they will just be taught to ‘pass the assessment’

Mr. Leitch said some other very important things – and I may well mention some of these later on, in relation to Mr. Clegg’s comments and my own thoughts, however, for now that is all I want to say about Neil’s speech, but if you want to read an overview,  you can do so  HERE

Neil Leitch received a very well deserved round of heartfelt applause

Nick Clegg then spoke about his vision as leader of the Liberal Democrats – he was clear in why both Labour and Conservatives were ‘wrong’  in their approach, he spoke about the funding for the so called free entitlement funded by the government, and what had been put in place to support parents with childcare, – and future plans, and he spoke about baseline testing, and he referred to research and facts and figures. All delivered as if a party political broadcast, designed to try and win the vote of those in the room.

If you want to read Nick Clegg’s full speech – you can

And if he had walked away then –  in my opinion –  as he sounded as if he really did believe in every word he had said, it would have been a case of – OK he just needs more information, we just need to ensure he understands the impact on early years settings and the children in their care.

For example I personally want to challenge him on these issues

Research based evidence – Mr. Clegg thinks there is research that demonstrates that ALL children (no matter what their age or circumstances) benefit from high quality education. I do not question that for many children this is the case – BUT the research is not as comprehensive as it needs to be. Actually there is very little research about two year olds in group settings, or homebased settings such as registered childminding, or children who experience different combinations of childcare. There is also (as far as I know), no large scale research based on children staying at home with parents across all economic, and geographical areas) . In short there is still a lot we do not have any evidence about, and so it is dangerous to make wide ranging remarks

A QTS teacher in every setting – First where is the evidence that a QTS teacher is the factor that makes the difference? I wonder how many settings have a outstanding grade that do not employ a QTS teacher or even a graduate? Has anyone any evidence that relates children’s progress at 7, 11 or 16 or 18 to where they spent their early years? Speaking as a registered childminder, I know nearly every child who attended my setting, went into school with all the skills they needed (teachers comment on this), all did well in school, and those who are now adults – many went to university. So as I am not a QTS teacher or a graduate – why did these children do so well?

However my biggest concern is Mr. Clegg’s wish to have a QTS in every early years setting  – what is the hidden message here for childminders? Are we not considered ‘settings’? Is Mr.Clegg thinking that childminders won’t need to be QTS, because in the future there won’t be any registered childminders? At the moment although many childminders are qualified to level 3 and above – there is NO requirement for childminders to have even a level 3,  so  is he thinking that childminders will somehow make this jump from no requirement to a QTS requirement? Or is he thinking that in the future all childminders will belong to a childminding agency and that one of their staff will be a QTS teacher? (Although of course at the moment, there is also no requirement for childminding agency staff to be qualified either – it is up to each agency to decide what level of qualification their staff need).

Very mixed messages if you ask me, and a very concerning picture of the value that Government actually hold registered childminders in.

And of course there is the funding issue  and the time issue – for all early years settings. Neil Leitch spoke about the hidden costs – and this is one of them.

I am not sure that Mr. Clegg has any idea that MOST early years practitioners have to self fund their qualifications – and study part time – in their own time, not paid study leave. And as an example to try to gain my degree (top up year) I am studying in my own time and have paid out well over £7,000 in fees, books and so on , My early years colleagues will not be surprised but may be Mr. Clegg will be (not that I am expecting him to read this) but that is almost A WHOLE YEARS INCOME for me, once I have covered the running costs of my setting.

2 yr olds in school Mr. Clegg made it very clear that it is not about 2 yr olds sitting at desks learning by rote – but he clearly has no idea about the social and emotional needs of 2 year olds. And I couldn’t help thinking about images I have seen of films promoted by government of so called ‘good practice’ – where the needs of 2 yr olds have not been met at all. And this links back to Neil’s comments about the removal of the need for school settings to register or be inspected by Ofsted as a early years settings – but just as part of the school inspection. If government think schools are as good, if not better than PVI early years settings – why not arrange for everyone to be inspected by Ofsted as an early years settings?  The data would be available to show very clearly via the inspection based evidence if schools do meet the needs of two year olds or three year olds or four year olds. You can not compare one inspection framework with another reliably. Of course the government are making changes to the inspection frameworks – but these comparisons will still be impossible. I can’t help questioning – why bother making it legal for schools not to register as early years settings if the plan is eventually to have a common framework? Just bad planing or another hidden agenda?

Mr. Clegg did say a lot more but as I say it was like a party political broadcast and frankly listened to by me with a great deal of disbelief (as I do with all such ‘let me tell you how good we are’ speeches)

What happened next though – blew everything else out of window – I was shocked and saddened by what I saw and heard – and it was at this point that Mr. Clegg stopped being a ‘friend to the sector’ in my eyes; at this point when I stopped thinking that he had some understanding of the needs of early years settings and children and families. It was at this point that I admitted to myself that I was wrong about Mr. Clegg

For in the question and answer session – I think the real Mr. Clegg showed himself

I have no intention of publicly speaking in great detail about Mr. Clegg’s behaviour – but in my opinion he showed no respect at all for the early years sector, and a blinkered ‘not listening to you, because I know best’ attitude.

A few examples are;

First Mr. Clegg made it clear that he wanted to lead the Question and Answer session – and not enable the Pre school Learning Alliance to lead it. So, as I am sure Mr. Clegg is aware of who the reporters were – why did he select them to ask questions – when the whole purpose of the meeting was for those invited to ask the questions

Why did he answer questions about subjects that were not related to the Early Years Agenda from the press – especially as the time slot for questions was so short?

Why when people asked the press not to ask non related questions – did Mr. Clegg chose to say that it was Ok – and then allow the press to ask another question that was not connected in anyway – and answer it?

There were lots of people in the room with their hands up who wanted to ask questions – including me – and Mr.Clegg did not even look in our direction.

Whenever anyone challenged him, Mr. Clegg became defensive, for example he said he had visited lots of childcare settings to ask for opinions. I would like to see the evidence of this – were they settings that supported the Lim Dem views? Were they given opportunity to ask the questions they wanted to or were they given closed questions to respond to? How were their responses recorded – all of them or just the ones that did support the Lim Dems views? How many settings? What type of settings? and so on.

Mr Clegg claimed that the level of Government funding was based on the latest figures of fees charged by childcare settings – but as we all know a average figure is not accurate enough as it depends on who you ask. Also the fee charged by settings is the fee they feel they can charge – not the fee they need to charge to remain sustainable. Take my setting – I need to charge £4 an hour to remain sustainable., but parents in my area can’t afford that, so I charge a fee of £30 for a 10 hour day – just £3 an hour. So I am not even sustainable because I can not charge more, and the funding rate for 3 and 4 year olds in my area is also under the £4 mark, so again I am not sustainable. In short after my business expenses I do not even earn the minimum wage – and I can not continue to subsidise my setting in the long term  from my family budget – in other words my own pocket.

The figure Mr. Clegg needs to have in mind is the figure for settings to cover ALL their costs, and to invest in things like staff training, not the figure based on what able to charge and not including all those ‘hidden costs’ for things done in staff own time and at own cost.

Drive to get mum’s into work  – this question saw Mr. Clegg ‘kick off’ (no other term for it really) he was rude, he was condensing to the person who asked the question. He said it was not his place to interfere in parents decisions – it was his place to support those who want to work (and reeled of all the things he was doing). Which in my opinion just goes to show his lack of understanding. It may be a surprise to Mr. Clegg but it is the Government lack of funding / tax breaks or anything else that means that many parents who would prefer to look after their child themselves do not have a choice. It is the reason why many parents have to work long shifts or have more than one job that then means  they have very little family time, and are constantly stressed. It is the reason why so many grandparents provide childcare – it is cheaper and families want their children care for by family members at home.

I could say a lot more about Mr. Cleggs reaction and responses – but I won’t – he was not listening, he did not want to work in partnership (although he said he did). If he did he would not of jumped down the throats of those asking sensible questions,or providing information;  he would not have got defensive – he would have said – let me get back to you, or let’s set up a working group, or I will discuss this further with the Pre school Learning Alliance

And by then it was time for him to leave – so he did – and so did all his followers including a lot of the press.

Sort of put it all into perspective really – They were not interested in us – none of them. Clegg used it as an opportunity to try to gain a few more votes and the press used it as an opportunity to ask Clegg questions.

Meanwhile those like me who were there to work in partnership to deliver the early years agenda felt used, not valued, not listened to – and I am sure I was not the only one thinking WHY……Why have I given up a day of my time, paid for my own travel, to be treated like that?

I am not say that it would be ‘easy peasy’ to sort all the issues out and reduce Government deficits – but a good starting point would be to ask those who understand the early years sector for their opinion and knowledge about what is needed and how to achieve it. After all the early years sector have a long track record of achieving amazing results with very little money. All I have ever asked for from a personal perspective is that the Government listen – sadly Mr. Clegg was not listening.

There was time for some important networking with Alliance staff and trustees and of course colleagues (how nice it would have been to talk to the press or members of the Lim Dem party (if not Mr. Clegg himself) Surely another half hour of their time was not too much to ask?

However, for me the networking time, and the very welcome second coffee – was very useful time, and I spoke to a number of colleagues, staff and trustees. So the day was not wasted in that aspect.

It was also not wasted in the aspect of seeing and hearing Mr. Clegg myself – because if I had not gone, I would have just read the nice politely worded press releases and articles – and would not of realise that Mr. Clegg is not the person I thought he was or that the Lib Dems are not the party for me. Disappointing really – but at least I have been able to make up my own mind based on the evidence presented on the day.

All to soon we were being asked to clear the room, so farewells were made.

My colleague Jen, and her staff member Michelle asked me to join them for lunch – which I did. We spent an enjoyable few hours chatting about professional matters and sharing information over our lunch. Many thanks to Jen for paying for lunch – as my costs for the day had exceeded my budget with having to pay for the taxi as an extra.

I am sure Clegg has no idea how much attending such events costs individuals who can not claim back expenses (yes I know it is tax deductible as a business expense, but if you don’t earn enough to pay tax, it does not make any difference) – my costs for the day were £113. 65 – or over half a weeks pay. (And that was without losing a days pay as I was on AL). And I know I was not the only person at the event who would have self funded to attend.

Anyway my time in London was nearly over, I said a fond farewell to Jen and Michelle, and headed off on the underground back to Marylebone. There was over an hour wait for my train, then I had to repeat the train, bus, train journey home – finally arriving home at about 9pm (14 and a half hours after I had left that morning). I know some of my colleagues had equally long days due to their journey times / distances covered.

For me it was worth the effort and expense – I hope my colleagues think so as well.

And should Mr. Clegg or any other politician REALLY want to work in partnership – I will be very happy to attend meetings, join working parties, respond to consultations – just ask

Posted February 20, 2015 by psw260259 in My thoughts on current childcare issues

4 responses to “Pre school Learning Alliance Early Years Agenda event with Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minster and an admittance that I was wrong!

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  1. Thanks for a well written account of the meeting Penny, Michelle and I enjoyed our time with you very much – isn’t London a vibrant and wonderful city?

    Overall, my thoughts and views re the Pre School Learning Alliance as an association, Neil Leitch as a leader and their firm and sound stand irt Early Years (our children being top priority) were enhanced and solidified. Jenniflowers Childcare is proud to be a part of such an association!

    Sadly, having come to the meeting in Whitehall with an open and optimistic mind, my views of the Lib Dems came crashing down in the manner in which the meeting was held – as you mentioned, with Mr Clegg not allowing Mr Leitch to lead the Q&A as was arranged (which would have been a positive step), how he gave (rude!) press a platform twice, even though one of our EY colleagues politely asked for it not to happen again.. How defensive he got … How very ‘political’ it all sounded. It was not a political rally, it was a consultation with the Early Years sector.

    Yes he is a father and yes he was good irt the ratio fiasco, however, he does not appear to try and see things through OUR eyes. We are the people on the ground, dealing with unsustainable funding amounts (being in SW London the funding we receive is less than half our actual fee)… Dealing with vulnerable 2 year olds (and families that need more support on average) etc. Providing the best care possible for our little ones who see us as their second home. Because we are.

    Thankfully we are people driven and not profit driven.. Otherwise we would not offer any funding at all. The govt really need to wake up, be transparent re it not being GOVT FREE FUNDING, but it being PROVIDER SUBSIDISED FUNDING. Increasing the budget and ensuring the Local Authorities pass on all the funds allocated.

    My heart’s desire is that our children start school at age 6/7… That our little ones can have a stress free childhood.. that they don’t have to sit down to fruitless and unfair baseline tests at age 4. Let them climb trees, have a fun and carefree childhood, learning through exploration and play.

    Like you I am happy to work in partnership with this country’s leadership… But partnership means it goes both ways.

  2. I love reading the blogs as it makes me feel I was there!
    I am pasting/copying a part of your blog here below Penny because, as well as being so misguided on early years education and care, Nick Clegg has consistently misunderstood that women want both time to work AND also time to care for their children – so although most mothers will return to paid work at various points of the family life cycle, there will also be times when mothers are caring for family at home.
    Caring for family is part of the human condition and deserves fair treatment in policy – but at the moment mothers are undervalued/downgraded/treated badly in taxation and allowances and also find it hard to return to school-hours work due to ageism and other factors. In a country that purports to be guided by considerations of ‘gender equality’ it’s very damning that mothers are still treated to badly, risking poverty just because they spend time out of the paid workforce due to family care responsibilities and commitments (which vary from family to family). Time spent ‘caring’ is an important ‘contribution’ to the economy and needs to be recognised and valued by policymakers, but it is not.

    Anyway Penny I thought it was very telling that you concluded this (see below) in relation to the issue of the ‘drive to get mums into work’:

    ”Drive to get mum’s into work – this question saw Mr. Clegg ‘kick off’ (no other term for it really) he was rude, he was condensing to the person who asked the question. He said it was not his place to interfere in parents decisions – it was his place to support those who want to work (and reeled of all the things he was doing). Which in my opinion just goes to show his lack of understanding. It may be a surprise to Mr. Clegg but it is the Government lack of funding / tax breaks or anything else that means that many parents who would prefer to look after their child themselves do not have a choice. It is the reason why many parents have to work long shifts or have more than one job that then means they have very little family time, and are constantly stressed. It is the reason why so many grandparents provide childcare – it is cheaper and families want their children care for by family members at home.”

    I was not at the meeting – my membership had also lapsed, but I’ve renewed it now.
    Like you I won’t be voting Lib Dems. In fact who on earth can I vote for ? Important to vote, but no-one seems to stand up for children’s developmental needs, the importance of relationships, having time to ‘care’ – and the need for family time. Women are treated very badly – we seem to have gone backwards.

    • You are not the only person who does not know who to vote for. Myself and many colleagues have this concern – we wnt to vote – it is a very important principle – and I do not expect any political party to fully match my personal thoughts – but I am struggling to find a party the matches my thoughts, principles and ethos in relation to children

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