Archive for September 2015

‘Tell me Penny, What does quality look like?’   1 comment

I was asked this question way back in 2003 at a job interview for a post as a childminding network coordinator.

As it happens I did get the job, so maybe my answer was ‘ok’, ‘good enough’ or maybe I gave the wrong answer but overall I did OK and was the best available candidate?

I (nor you, the reader) will ever know, but lately I have been reflecting on this very question and indeed ‘What does quality look like – especially in relation to a childcare setting?’

Of course there are all sorts of ‘measures’ of quality – Ofsted grades; Local Authority RAG systems (and others); Quality Assurance schemes through membership organisations; Systems you can buy such as  ECCERS (and its family); Consultants who will come and make personal or scheme based judgements; and of course settings own self evaluation of ‘how they are doing’ …… and apologies for those that I have missed, as this is just a ‘off the top of my head recall – absolutely no research at all.

So, with so many different ways of judging what quality looks like, how can parents be expected to make comparisons between the different methods and  the different judgements?

And that is before we take into consideration moving goal posts – for example an outstanding grade under EYFS 08 (and yes there are still quite a few who have not had an inspection since that judgement because of course the 2012 cycle started on 1st September 2012 so any inspection up to end August 2012 would have been under the 08 version of EYFS)

Where was I before the brackets?

Oh yes- I remember –  an outstanding grade  under EYFS 08 is not the same as an outstanding under EYFS 12 or EYFS 14 (and that is without taking into consideration the period when there were a lot of flawed inspections on settings that had had a complaint against them), and of course each other measure, measures different things in different ways.

And then we have personal individual viewpoints or opinions and indeed interpretations of what  is required to meet the quality benchmark being assessed against.

Plus a lot of these measures are a ‘snap shot’ of just one day, or even just a few hours of one day, which makes it really hard for a setting to provide evidence of the vast range of experiences they offer, and almost impossible for anyone to make a judgement based on such a short period of time of observing and assessing.

For me though the biggest problem is that a lot of these measures of quality require settings to be able to ‘tick boxes’ that say they have or do certain things – very prescriptive things – in fact the very sort of things that make it easy to tick those boxes. I have recently wrote a blog about the SEED project and the report into what a quality childminding setting ‘looks like’, I was not very complimentary because one of the two measures was FCCERS which is one of those tick box type assessments.

I have personal experience as an assessor  for NVQ’s, Quality First, Growing Together and of course childminding network assessments – and although I never did any ECCERS or even FCCERS assessments, I did buy the books and trawl through them putting post its on each page that I had an ‘issue’ with to share with my then bosses at the Local Authority, because they planned to replace the Children come First network assessment with a FCCERS audit – and I strongly disagreed (In fact I  disagreed enough to leave my job in 2010, before that and other changes were implemented)

You see, each setting is unique – even those in nursery chains of purpose built buildings will vary a bit because of the staff and children, but individual ‘one off’ settings will vary so much it will be hard to have a tick list that ‘worked’ – and this is certainly true about childminder settings,  an audit system such as FCCERS  (or any of he others), in my opinion  simply does not judge  quality – it fits people and settings into one size fits all  boxes.

Of course, some things will be the same – for example most settings provide sand play BUT what sort of sand tray?

A small one that stand to play? ,

A huge one that climb in and has sand a metre deep?



Wet sand?

Dry sand?

With things in it?

With freedom to add what ever the children want to add?

With strict rules about how many can play a once?

With requirements to wear a hat and apron to keep sand from hair and clothes?

and that is before considering  if accessed by the children or not during the assessment

And that is just one aspect!

Now I am going to be brave and suggest that despite the fact that many quality measures have one or more of these things required of sand play to enable a box to be ticked (and even Ofsted require to see the sand in use, to be able to judge the quality of the sand play) that actually none of the above matter BECAUSE from day to day, who uses the sand, and how they use it will differ – even the same setting with the same sand tray each day will have different ways it is used, due the character and stage of development of the children attending that day. SO it would depend entirely on who was using the sand and how they used it, as to if it could be judged highly or not – and what areas of the tick box charts were covered.

Some schemes have a set requirement for number of sand toys, type of storage unit, mobility of sand tray, availability of water not just for hand washing, but for cleaning the resources and adding to sand to make wetter – and much more.


Different days (or even times of same day), different children, doing different things ……

One day; a 3 year old burying dinosaurs – counting them, lining them up,  describing them, putting them away after use.

Another day; Two 2 year olds discovering just how far they can throw the sand

Another day a 4 year old, not saying a word but observing how the sand makes the sand wheel go round – and doing it again and again

Another day four, three year olds all working together to build a ‘city’ with buildings and roads, fetching stones, and twigs to add to the sand.

Another day a practitioners introducing the idea of using a stick to make marks in the sand, but none of the children decide to make marks

Oh I could go on, describing many different ‘things’ that could be going on in a sand tray (and I am sure you could too) but which would be judged as good or outstanding quality, which would be judged as poor quality? Indeed how many boxes would be ticked, how much personal opinion would be used to make those judgements?

So having pulled all these schemes to pieces, what do I think quality looks like?

WELL …….

It looks like engaged children, leading their own play, demonstrating those characteristics of effective learning

It looks like interested adults who know when to support and when to stand back

HOWEVER – it NEVER looks the same in any two settings,or even in the same setting on different days  in my opinion it simply can’t.

It makes it hard to assess, it makes it hard to justify just what it was that was good or outstanding, but actually it does make it easy to assess and justify what is poor quality – and maybe, just maybe we need to turn all this judgement of quality on its head – and just say if a setting is not of high quality, and instead of giving a list of things that should be put n place, send the staff on a course to support their understanding of play and child development – and those characteristics of effective learning.

In my opinion it is not the building or grounds, it is not the resources, it is the adults knowledge, understanding of play and child development, and their PASSION and DEDICATION to provide those enabling environments.

It is common sense to me – not rocket science – but there is not actually an easy way to assess quality, because it is so varied, and needs to be, to meet individual needs.

Going back to the question I was asked at that job interview, you maybe wondering what my answer was


I said ……

‘I don’t know what quality looks like, because it can be so different – BUT I will recognise it when I see it’

And I still think that ,,, high quality early years settings can be spotted a mile away – tick boxes not required

Your thoughts??

Posted September 17, 2015 by psw260259 in My thoughts on current childcare issues

Supporting confident talkers   Leave a comment

UPDATE 17/11/15

These cards have now been updated and relaunched under a new name – please see this link for full details  but the main difference is the change of name, and there are no longer called ‘Fink Cards’

A couple of weeks ago I received a complimentary set of Laura Henry’s Fink Cards. At the time  though I was extremely busy trying to get my assignments finished and submitted to university, however even the quick glance that I gave the cards proved to me that they were well thought out and would be extremely useful in my role as an early years practitioner, and the tutor.

I sent Laura a quick message to say thank you and promised to write a blog about the cards as soon as possible however unfortunately my other commitments did not make this possible. Then last week I read a blog why Kim Benham about how she had used the cards and this not only reminded me about my promise to write a blog but also gave me a light bulb moment about how I could give a different viewpoint and suggestions for use of the cards outside my role as an early years practitioner. If you’d like to read Kim’s blog please

So here is my thoughts on the Fink cards and ways in which I think I can use them outside my role as an early years practitioner.

Some readers may be aware that as well as a childminder I am also a foster carer, and although I do not blog about the specific children I care for I do find a lot of similarities in their needs as older children and young people, to the needs of the under fives I care for as a childminder.

This week the number of our foster children has risen from one to three, and in doing so has made me think about the needs of foster children and in particular when the family group increases. All foster children have very complex needs due to their life experiences and most will have found ways of dealing with this some of which include what might be termed as negative behaviour but in fact is not negative behaviour it is surviving behaviour. One of the issues I have identified is that foster children are often very confused about their own needs and how to ensure adults understand their needs, they will express their needs in roundabout ways and often not ask direct questions or explain themselves very well. Personally I feel this is self protective behaviour in that they are not sure how adults will respond, if they will be blamed or punished for expressing their needs, and so often hide their feelings and their needs which in turn leads to more surviving type behaviour.

Having read Kim’s blog, and totally agreeing with how the Fink Cards can be used with preschool children and indeed in training workshops and staff development, I wanted to look at them through the eyes of a foster carer because I think they have huge potential in supporting foster children to express their thoughts and in making the needs known, as well as generally supporting conversations and language development.

The cards themselves are colour-coded into sections which means you could work through a colour-coded section at a time, or mix and match to meet an individual or group of children’s needs, or if working with children who are able to read could play a game by putting the cards facedown at the table and taking turns to draw a card and depending on the question on the card using it to start a group or individually based discussion. For use with primary or secondary age foster children I think looking at the cards and selecting the ones that will support the children currently working with would produce the best outcomes, and then drawing a card with everyone playing having opportunity to answer the question but also just as importantly to say pass because it must be recognised that some children will not be ready to answer the questions but may have been listened to others answering the question including the foster carers may give them either confidence to answer on anothe occasion, or to reflect within their heads about their own situation and feelings. Pressure should not be put on the children to answer the questions and they certainly should not be winners and losers based on who takes part and who doesn’t, but I feel the opportunity to raise these issues within an informal and game-based way would be very beneficial to both foster children and foster carers.

These are some of the questions I particularly think would be suitable;
From the pink section
Tell me about your family? (Could break this down to say siblings or parents or grandparents and so on)
What does it feel like? (Ideal opportunity to item of clothing bracket to this question such as to live here?, to change school?, to not live with your parents? And so on)                                                                                                                                  Why is this special to you? (Could add item of clothing, toy or book, and so on)
What makes your day special?

What can you tell me about these objects? (So things brought from home, previous foster home, or things in photographs)
From the green section

What does this make you think of?

How do you know this? (Good for discussing and challenging assumptions)

What would happen if you …..? (excellent open-ended question for helping foster children to explore differences between their family home expectations and the foster home expectations, and of course consequences at home and indeed at school)

I’m going to stop adding questions from the cards at this point as I only wanted to raise awareness of the types of questions and ways in which they could be used with foster children rather than giving all the information from the Fink cards as a course it will be much more beneficial to purchase the cards, to evaluate how you will use them, reflect on using them and adapt to use with the children in your care.

If you’d like more information about the Fink cards or to buy some please follow the link (please note there are more than one set of Fink cards in this review is about the set by Laura Henry)

finally please note that 10% of all sales from confident talkers will be donated to set up by the Sunderland FC striker Jarmain Defoeto support homeless, vulnerable and abused young people in both his and Laura’s families’ home country of St Lucia.

Posted September 16, 2015 by psw260259 in My thoughts on current childcare issues

Study of Early Education and Development (SEED): Study of the quality of childminder provision in England   4 comments

Produced in September 2015, we now have the report about the SEED research. I will be the  first to admit that I have not been very positive about this research since it was first announced in 2013, and indeed was not over impressed when the interim report came out in 2014.

If you have not read my previous blog you can do so here

And if you want to read the full report you can access it HERE

Despite my lack of enthusiasm for the SEED project, I was looking forward to reading the final report because there was the possibility that it would provide some worthwhile data and information to support high quality childminding and to help change the low professional status that childminders are often still held in.

So I clicked on the link, and started reading. First thing I noticed was that far more childminders had taken part in the full research – 99 to be precise (an improvement on the 20 in the interim report), however as acknowledged in the report this is a very low % of the total number of childminders registered with Ofsted and therefore any conclusions would have to be questioned if represent  typical childminding practice.

Even so, despite the low % number taking part, I remained optimistic – but not for long. I read that the main quality measure was FCCERS R and SSTEW. My optimism dropped through the floor as I have experience of ECCERS (in all its versions) and find it to be very narrow and prescriptive. I know people who have put in place things just to push up their average score – so for example number and type of books or even soft toys, or made their sand tray movable even if these things ae not ‘best’ for  their setting or based on the needs or interests of the children.

I have also known others (and in particular childminders) ‘marked down’ because they do not have everything out and ready to use, every day and all day long. (In fact it is mentioned in the report that some childminders scored lower because although they had resources they were not out all day) Another area where childminders generally score lower is in the provision of child sized furniture and displays – it is hardly surprising is it? These are family homes not classrooms or purpose built buildings, or even community buildings with storage rooms and a big floor space (even though have to set up every day).

So I was very disappointed with the fact that FCCERS R (Family Child Care Environment Rating Scale-Revised)  was being used.

With SSTEW (Sustained Shared Thinking and Emotional Wellbeing Scale ) I have no personal experience, so I can’t really comment, other than the fact that the things being judged do seem more appropriate – as follows

Domain A – Social and emotional wellbeing, with two sub-scales:

  1. Building trust, confidence and independence
  2. Social and emotional well-being;

Domain B – Cognitive development, with three subscales:

  1. Supporting and extending language and communication,
  2. Supporting learning and critical thinking and 5. Assessing learning and language

I scrolled through the data about years of experience, if worked with an assistant, or co minder, and was struck by the number of childminders and assistants with 10 or more years’ experience in childcare, if not in childminding. I wondered if this is representative of childminders and assistants in general. Certainly the report thinks ithe number of years experience is an important aspect in the quality of provision provided.

I then looked at level of qualifications and amount of training undertaken. I found this interesting because there is not a statutory requirement for childminders to have a formal qualification, that they are the ‘Cinderella’s’ of the childcare profession. Clearly from this small percentage sampling that is not the case – and maybe as a profession, we and our membership organisation should do something about highlighting the the level of qualifications?

Next I looked at the data from the scores of the assessment levels – but I did not linger long, one because of my personal lack of professional respect for ECCER R but also because a glance at the figures quickly demonstrated that the results were as I expected – varied and difficult to draw conclusions from.

I would argue that as childminders who have their own ethos and work from family homes, with varying ratios and age ranges that there are just too many variables to consider. Childminder settings (even if work with assistants or co minders) are unique and no two will be the same, and indeed even the same childminder setting will be different at different times due to number of children attending and the needs and interests of those children – which in my opinion is how it should be.

At about this point I realise that there was no point in trying to grasp all the points being made mainly because the points being made were ‘wishy washy’ to say the least. Therefore I just scan the text and tables until I got to the summary and key messages.

If I was hoping that those doing the research and compiling the report had managed to ‘pull a rabbit out of the hat’ – I was too be disappointed.

Rarely have I seen such a weak conclusion with neither  positive or negative points being made – in other words there was not really a real conclusion made – just a summary of data.

So I moved on to the key messages – surely the whole point of this research would be justified here?

I was wrong – see for yourself . (pg 49 of the report)

Some key messages to be drawn from these findings are that:

  1. Keeping child: adult ratio low can help to reduce the likelihood of poor quality care amongst childminders
  2. Professional development can improve the quality of care provided by childminders
  3. Efforts should be made to encourage childminders to stay in the profession where they provide reasonably good quality as high quality is associated with more years of experience.

It say just before these key messages;

Nonetheless, this study has provided strong evidence identifying a number of aspects of childminding that are associated with higher quality early education that can be influenced by policy


In my opinion words such as ‘can’ and ‘associated with’ are very convincing.

As it happens I do agree with points 1 and 2 above, but I would be using more convincing words, and suggesting that more  data was needed (so a bigger sample of childminders so as to be more representative of the sector)

However point three left me speechless – surely things like training, CPD, peer support and so on are more effective in improving quality rather than just the passage of time? I am sure that they do mean improved quality is associated with training and so on, but that is not how it reads.

Maybe it is just me, and others will find more positive data and information, and therefore feel this research and report were worth the time, effort and cost.

Posted September 11, 2015 by psw260259 in My thoughts on current childcare issues