Archive for October 2015

Bye, Bye Mr. and Mrs. Penny’s Place – another one bites the dust   14 comments

Nursery World have produced an article about the number of early years practitioners who are leaving the early years  profession

LINK TO ARTICLE

Although this article does not specifically mention the childminder sector, it is a known fact that childminders numbers have been decreasing for a number years, and that many have cited the increased pressure from Ofsted, increased paperwork and increased formalisation of early childhood as the reasons (not to mention low pay, sustainability, impact on family members and family homes)

So overall it seems that the governments plans for a motivated, highly qualified and/ or experienced early years workforce are falling apart. Government say that they are recruiting more teachers, and that people are still choosing to work in early years  BUT these will be less experienced people, and without that experience we will not have so many ‘good’ leaders, because no matter how qualified someone is, they need experience within the sector and a very good understanding on which to base their professional ethos, principles and practice on.

TO ADD TO THE NUMBERS LEAVING THE PROFESSION – TODAY I AM STARTING TO IMPLEMENT MY EXIT PLAN

So that will be one more childminder less ( and from what my colleagues tell me, many more are  already on their exit plan or are considering their plan).

Of course I can not speak on behalf of all my colleagues about why they are leaving but I can tell you why I am leaving.

As with most things it is not a straight forward black and white reason, but rather a number of things which have come together, and which together have made me decide that I will be resigning as a childminder at Easter 2016.

I will try to explain why I have made this decision a lot sooner than I thought I would, as to be honest when I re-registered as a childminder in April 2010, I thought I would remain a childminder until retirement. (Retirement according to the government is still around 9 years away)

So  why the end of the of March 2016, just before Easter, Penny?

That question is easy to answer. It is because I take continuity of care very seriously and want to ensure the funded 2 year old in my care, finishes his 2 year old funding with me, and has a smooth transition into pre school which is where his mum wants him to move onto at 3 years of age. His mum has already enquired about his place in the pre school and visited that setting.

The only other child in my care now, is one of my granddaughters, and together with my daughter, we are implementing a gradual transition to my colleague Carol’s  childminding setting for Annabelle.  Starting with just a few hours, we will increase these hours slowly over the next few months. Actually I will continue to care for Annabelle some days each week, but I will be doing this as Granny not as her childminder from Easter.

But didn’t you use to be very busy and at capacity with your childminding Penny, in fact didn’t you use to have a Continuity of Care (COC) exception in place?

Yes, this is true, for about 2 years I did have a COC in place to support parents with changes to work and study days. However it was hard work and not something that I would want to do again. When those children went to school in Sept 14, I  kept to normal ratios despite requests for changes to hours, until my husband Garry was made redundant in May 15, and became my full time assistant. Even so I still did not take on more children, I was just able to be more flexible if parents needed to change days or book extra days; it also enabled me to attend conferences and meetings, as I could swap days with the new parents who on the whole were  very flexible.

So in a nutshell I kept the numbers of children to within normal ratios, unless to meet mine or parents needs, in which case Garry helped as my assistant.

OK, so why do you no longer have those new children,  is it your current poor health,?

Yes and No

Some of the children left through planned transitions, due to parents wishes to move them to nursery, and as by this time I was beginning to plan my exit I did not replace them. However a couple of part time children  whose parents had less flexibility did decide to move their children when my health declined further  in August 15., and so I supported them with doing this.

So that  just left Annabelle my granddaughter, and the funded 2 year old. As already mentioned mum of the funded 2 year old wants him to stay here until he is 3.

My health has not been brilliant, but I have not been doing things on my own, Garry is here a lot of the time and apart from the 15 hours that the funded child does – I only have Annabelle the rest of time – and as you all know Ofsted do not ‘count’ grandchildren. Therefore everything has been fine, with the children’s needs fully met by Garry and myself.

Well, Is it because you now have more foster children?

No, not really – fostering and childminding work really well together, and I am not resigning from childminding because of the fostering. It is true that the fostering income will support us once the childminding income stops and to be honest I have some concerns about having all our income from one source.  However it will be nice to have our home back for family use only.

Surely then it must be linked to your campaigning around Too Much Too Soon , and  Better without Baseline.

Yes, the bottom line is I do not like the way things are moving within education and particularly within early education. I fear for the future of our children, and worry about the pressure being put on children and practitioners for more and more inappropriate academic based early education. I also can not support in any shape or form this tick box culture and one size fits all vision of success.

For almost two years  I have been practising ‘Principled Non Compliance’ and refusing to implement practice or record keeping that I consider inappropriate.  This is fine and it means that I have stuck to my principles and my ethos, BUT with the constant changes to Ofsted requirements and the demands placed on settings to tick the very boxes that I hate, I know that fairly soon, I will get to the point where my Principled Non Compliance will break the rules and regulations of the future – and I am not prepared to break the law or implement practice that I do not approve of.

I only have to witness the conflict that some of my teacher colleagues are going through at the moment, when their ethos is being challenged through the requirements to implement the baseline assessment chosen by heads, or implementation of the ‘best one available’ even though they would rather not do any.

It is hard I know for many early years professionals – not just teachers – as to speak out, could mean losing your job,or being down graded, or losing friends who think baseline assessment systems picked by the government are fine (and other things). It takes a brave person to stand by their principles and ethos, and stick their neck on the line to say ‘This is not what I believe in’

I have been sticking my head out a lot during the last few years, it is a coincidence but rather apt that my profile picture on some social media that is linked to ‘One Voice’ is of a giraffe. Over the last few years, I have made many friends, and increased the number of professional colleagues , but at the same time there are a few who see me as a threat to them professionally and / or personally – which is fine. I understand that not everyone will agree with me, and I value differences and actually enjoy professional debate. However I do not like the fact that some are prepared to bully me, to target me personally, to threaten me;  and usually behind a screen of ‘respectability’,  or through a third person.

I will actually be continuing with my campaigning and my volunteering – I still have an opinion, and I still think I have a role to play in speaking up for the children, and putting into words the things that many of my colleagues want to say – but  either don’t have the confidence or the means to state what they think.

However, once I have resigned as a childminder, I will be able to campaign and volunteer without the fear that someone will put in another malicious complaint to Ofsted, or that I will have to justify my practice to an inspector who does not recognise high quality practice when he / she sees it.

And this brings us the last reason

Yes, Ofsted inspections – it is true that I have never fully recovered from my flawed inspection in February 2014. Despite the fact that it was an inspection brought about by the malicious complaint,  I was looking forward to having an inspectors professional opinion about my Principled Non Compliance practice, and was prepared to accept a lower grade if I did not ‘tick all the boxes’.

BUT I was not prepared for an inspector who claimed to have seen things she did not see, to not observe my practise outside but claim she did, to claim that my safeguarding knowledge was wrong (did challenge that point but took up a lot of the inspection) , to have a report that was factually wrong – and not have the wording corrected.

And for the inspector to continue to restate these claims throughout the complaints procedure.

Yes, I am not over it, honesty to me is central to my personal and professional ethos. So to me the grade I was given (good) means nothing as it was not based on honest, professional judgement of my practice –  it was based on lies.

As people will know I have continued to work with Ofsted to try to improve the inspection and complaints procedures – and progress has been made, but I think that because the government are determined to implement regulations and therefore inspection requirements based on meeting targets and tracking development by criteria, that Ofsted will have to implement new inspection criteria based on these things, and as stated I am not prepared to tick those boxes.

Looking to the future

Penny’s Place will cease to exists after Easter 2016, the wind down has already started with resources being passed onto colleagues, given to our foster agency, to my Local Home Start and Kemp charity shop. There is a lot more that needs ‘to go’.  Most will be given away rather than sold, as it is part of my ethos to help others, and although I need to be able to pay my bills, I am not driven by money – never have been, never will be.

Mr. Penny’s Place as he is fondly known,  will follow Mrs. Penny’s Place out of childminding and revert back to being Garry and Penny Webb.

My blog – Penny’s Place Childminding  will need a revamp and maybe renaming – but I am not going to disappear and will still express my opinion through a blog.

As already mentioned I will continue my volunteering and campaigning, and may have a bit more time to attend more events, and work in partnership with more people across all sectors.

I hope to continue writing articles, and maybe one day I will write a book.

I may become a registered Nanny, or a childminding assistant, or volunteer in a pre school, or for a children’s charity

I may provide more training ( paid and for free) as I think my way of looking at things, of reflecting, of explaining based on my many years of early years experience, is still valid and will continue to be so.

One thing is sure though, I will continue to be true to my ethos and principles – especially honesty, and I will continue to express my personal  opinion.

Some will be pleased about that, some won’t be that happy;

I can’t expect everyone to agree with me, I can’t make people agree with me, so those.who do not agree with me, will have to agree to disagree. Those who don’t like what I have to say have a choice – they don’t have to read my opinion , but if they do read it, they can always comment on my blog to express their opinion, as I believe in freedom of speech in expressing opinion.

So just another 5 months of being a childminder – I have not resigned yet but I am now counting down the days

Posted October 23, 2015 by psw260259 in My thoughts on current childcare issues

New one stop shop for childcare information   6 comments

Nursery World have reported on Government funding being allocated to set up a one stop shop for childcare information

Link to article

On the face of it this seems a really good idea, as I know from my daughters that trying to find out about available childcare can be a nightmare, and with so many different places to look, so many different formats, it can be time consuming and confusing.

So in principle a good idea

BUT

Having read the article I have several, as yet unanswered questions, and I am hoping that by writing this blog I will raise awareness of my questions and get some answers or further information to help with my understanding of the awarding of this funding.

And maybe others have  some concerns or unanswered questions – If you do please add them in the comment section of this blog.

First I need to make it very clear this blog is not about how the company who has been awarded this funding currently operates or about the services it offers those who currently use the services. Some people love the services offered, some don’t. Some have had bad experiences with this company, some have had very good experiences.

This blog is about the funding that has been awarded, the impact this may have on parents and childcare settings, and on other companies that offer services providing information about childcare …… and most importantly to reflect on if this is good use of government funding.

The article tells us that ‘hundreds’ of people applied for this funding and out of those just one company was selected Childcare.co.uk.

So my first question is  – Why this company?

They already have a successful business which is web based offering free and subscription services to childcare settings and parents. According to their website over a million people are already  members.

So why do they need government money to create something they already have?

Actually the answer to this one  is in the article;  it is to improve the site not to create another site

If these improvements are needed to improve services for parents, why have they not already been made as part of the companies own improvement plans?

I do not personally understand why government funding is needed to improve services for a successful business with so many members.

Will all those existing members be able to gain access to the improvements? And will these current members will be able to access these improved services for free, or if they will be part of the enhanced subscription service .

Will new users of these services be able to access just  the improvements paid for by government funding, or will they be able to access other services for free?

Which brings me nicely to my next section of questions’

I understand that both parents and childcare settings can have a free listing, but it is basic and things like being able to list extended details and to be able to make direct contact depends on one or both parties having paid for the enhanced subscription services.

I do not have an issue with this – this is a business that needs to make a profit, and one of the ways they do this is offer extra services to those who want to pay for them. Fair enough.

BUT

How will this work with the government funding side of things? Surely if money is  provided by government to enable parents to have a one stop shop for finding out details of childcare providers, then all parents should be able to access the information for free and all childcare providers should be able to list their information for free?  I think all should be able to contact each other without paying a subscription fee, and childcare providers should be able to list their website if they have one, again for free.

Maybe there will be some changes made to the contracts with existing members? Maybe those paying a subscription rate will get different services not related to providing information to parents – for example I know that the free training and guides are very popular, so maybe these sort of ‘extras’ will be provided to those who have a subscription package.

As I have said I do not have enough information yet, but I am concern that there will be a conflict of interests between providing services that are to enable parents to have a one stop shop for information about childcare, and current business interests of providing ‘extra’ paid for services.

Hopefully someone will be able to explain how it will all work

I am also questioning if this funding will lead to a one stop shop for parents, because there are quite a lot of other companies that provide information about childcare, some for free, some for a charge and some as part of membership services to various organisations.

Do the government intend that these companies will be put out of business by this one stop shop that has the benefit of government funding? Do they really want just one company having a monopoly on providing this service? Certainly if parents are to know where to look then it would seem that just one company would be better, but that is hardly just or market driven.

Then there is the issue of so many childcare providers having their own websites, and advertising in local publications – in my opinion parents are still going to have to do their own market research.

Add to that people who like me prefer to use word of mouth and  reputation, and don’t want a listing (even if free) on a commercial website, and so not all childcare providers will be in one place – which in turn will prevent any commercial company from becoming a one stop shop which lists everyone.

Then there are parents without access to the internet – how will they find this information?

I have to question why the government has provided this funding – and even though I have noted that the funding awarded is only half the total amount available, it is still a lot of money to give to what is an established business.

I hope that it is just a lack of detail that has led to my concerns and that someone will be able to reassure me that all the things mentioned in this blog have been thought about (and any conflict resolved).

Posted October 22, 2015 by psw260259 in My thoughts on current childcare issues

Dear Early Excellence   Leave a comment

Dear Early Excellence,

This letter is in response to the tweets and facebook comments you have directed at me, it seems that despite responding to these remarks and writing three blogs to explain why I object to baseline testing, you still don’t ‘get it’.

So to try and help you understand , I have decided to resort to a simple ‘YES / NO’ system.

  • Do I like gathering information at the start of the reception year   NO
  • DO I like basing predictions for future achievement based on assessment at 4 years of age   NO
  • Do I want to scrap baseline testing      YES
  • Do I want EYFSP to stay in place instead of replacing with baseline     YES
  • Do I want want EYFSP to stay in place forever       NO
  • DO I like gathering of information at the end of the early years foundation stage against ‘goals’    NO
  • Do I want EYFSP replaced with assessment without levels, that will ONLY be used by those working directly with the children    YES

THIS IS WHY I AM SUPPORTING THE BETTER WITHOUT BASELINE CAMPAIGN

I hope that is clear

It is often difficult to judge things on a YES / NO response, which from comments I have read from those doing the pilot baseline assessment, is proving to sometimes be an issue.

Humans are complex INDIVIDUALS who do not need benchmarking during childhood, there are various other ways to assess  if teachers are providing enabling environments, without having to base those judgements on if the children meet targets, or make sufficient progress against pre set criteria or predictions.

Of course sometimes it is necessary to have entry requirements met for various ADULT employment and even higher education – but even then the requirement to meet set criteria via tests is often not the most efficient method to recruit those who will succeed in those things.

The whole test culture needs changing in my opinion, but that is another campaign. However, I will continue to campaign against implementing NEW assessments and NEW target setting for children, and I will continue to campaign to change the existing assessments and targets.

I am an individual, who campaigns at my own cost and in my own time, because it is a matter of principle and ethos to me not because I will gain anything personally from doing so.

Early Excellence are a company whose business is based on selling things – (including baseline assessment) to those who care for and educate children, and this includes tendering for Government projects. So it is not a surprise that Early Excellence has a different view on things, and not a surprise that Early Excellence choose to target individuals who express a different view to theirs.

Finally, in case you still don’t understand my ethos and my objection to baseline assessment, and my support for EYFSP to stay in place UNTIL we can replace it with something better not worse, here is another of those situations where I support something that I don’t agree with or want to continue.

I am a foster carer, I (together with my husband) provide a loving family home for children whose life experiences so far have not been positive.

BUT

That does not mean I want children to be in foster care, and I am actively campaigning for children and families to have the support they need to prevent this from happening, and for children to have the childhood they need.

So in the case of my fostering, I am supporting something that I want to end, but for the time being foster care is best option, as much better than staying in homes where they are at constant risk of harm.

Much the same as EYFSP, it needs to end, but for the time being is a better option than baseline assessment

Yours

Penny Webb

Posted October 19, 2015 by psw260259 in My thoughts on current childcare issues

The Lords and the 30 hour funding debate …….   5 comments

……. my personal thoughts

On 14th October 2015 The Lords debated the Childcare Bill, and have made some amendments.

I am grateful to the Pre- school Learning Alliance for producing a summary of this debate, and what was passed and what was not, and it is this document that I am going to base my comments on.

If you have not read the Alliance’s summary yet you can by clicking on the link

https://www.pre-school.org.uk/pdf/childcare_bill_report_stage_summary.pdf

First successful amendment

Government must complete an independent review into early years funding and find a sustainable funding solution.

Government were criticised for not publishing the results of its funding review.

My comment

What surprised me was how close the vote on this was – 222 for and 209 against. It just goes to show how much more needs to be done to get the message out to those who are making these decisions. Just 13 votes difference is not enough, and could of so easily swung the other way. One way we can do this is to make sure we write letters to our MP’s and the Lords, fill in consultations, urge our membership organisation to speak up for us, enter into debate in person and on social media, write letters to the media, and support those who are trying to ensure the message is getting to those who need to understand the complexity of the issues and what it is like ‘on the coal face’

At the moment a lady called Mel  France is trying to gather information, as she has opportunity to pass it on to the Lords. She has posted her questions in a number of social media groups including one of the ones I run. Please take the time to respond

Link to my Facebook group – Childcarers Professional Advice and Support group

On the issue of not publishing the response to the review of the funding – I find this very disappointing, and do not believe that those in the DfE can not work out for themselves how much it really costs to provide early education places. After all if they can’t do this, how do the government work out other things such as how much it costs to run schools. (Oh but they do don’t they – and have come to the conclusion that it is more than they want to pay to early years – just look at the difference in pay for staff, hours worked and so on. And before anyone thinks I am saying teachers get paid too much – I am not – they deserve more pay and a lot more professional respect. However compared to early years staff – early years staff are the Cinderella’s).

Second successful amendment

Government must ensure there is enough flexibility for parents in each local authority area, who work atypical hours, and for school holidays

My comment

As a childminder who has offered these atypical hours over many years and provided school holiday cover with the same atypical hours, I wonder if the government have done any real research into if parents actually want or need this? Certainly in my area there is not a lot of demand – over and above the extended hours that most childminders provide of 7am – 6pm

I offered a 5.30am start, and a 7pm finish (with opportunity to provide babysitting in child’s home after that) – but in 5 years only one parent has used these atypical hours. I am wondering what do the government mean by atypical? And maybe they need to look at what is on offer in areas before encouraging settings to increase hours offered – when there may not be the demand.

Again the vote on this was quite close 195 for and 169 against – just 26 votes difference. We need to ensure that people like the Lords (and also the MP’s and officials working for the DfE) understand all the facts and the views of those doing the day job.

Third successful amendment

This is a new requirement – that the 30 hours should not be implemented or amended UNTIL it has been debated in Parliament

My comment

Thank goodness – we need to stop these things being rushed through without proper discussion and consultation.

However once again the vote was very close 159 for and 137 against – why do so many Lords think that nothing needed changing?

And that is it for the successful amendments!

However there were a number of unsuccessful amendments – which I would also like to comment on

First unsuccessful amendment

Requirement that each local authority should be held responsible rather than the Secretary of State.

My comment

I do understand that the Secretary of State is ultimately responsible but many parents would approach their Local Authority first with any concerns, and so I think it needs to be much clearer what the procedures are at each stage and what parents can do themselves to raise concerns at all levels. I think parents are often too worried or even intimidated to ‘hold the Secretary of State to account’

Second unsuccessful amendment

This was about removal of the clause about ‘criminal offence’ for sharing certain information.

My comment

Whilst I fully respect that people should not be sharing information inappropriately, it is sometimes very difficult to know what can share professionally and what can’t – and there is often conflicting information. So as this amendment was not successful, I think there needs to be very clear (black and white) consistent information from all agencies.

Third unsuccessful amendment

This was about ‘high quality’ and around qualifications and ratios

The Lords thought that high quality was paramount and that there was already things in place dealing with qualifications, and that the government had no plans to change ratios

My comment

Without wanting to appear rude, I think the Lords need to do a bit more research. Yes qualifications are the subject of discussion and changes – but it is a mess – even the government keep changing their position on qualifications. We have a complete unnavigable system of old and new, some things  applying in such situations but not in others, different dates for different things being implemented, and different focusses with different qualifications.

It would have been nice if the Lords could have reinforced the message that this all needs sorting so that ‘high quality’ in qualification level, content, marking is at least standard. And furthermore those already holding qualifications are not constantly worried about if their qualification counts or not, not just now but in the future.

There is also an urgent need to find a way to quantify the vast experience and knowledge with those without paper qualifications, and to find a way to ensure those that find gaining paper qualifications difficult a way to be accredited for what they know (and do).

As to ratio’s – first it was not this government, it was the coalition government that made the ratio commitment. Also are the Lords not aware of all the ‘signs’ that the government are bringing in increased ratios through the back door?  At the recent Childcare Expo VIP breakfast summit that I attend, along with many other leading people in the early years sector, one of the biggest concerns was that the government would solve the funding issue by allowing increased ratios in some circumstances. Furthermore people thought that government might suggest the way to increase income was to increase ratios and would say settings had that choice but there was no further money available to increase the funding rate.

Of course I am now a bit more hopeful (but not that much) that with a proper review and debate in Parliament that increase ratios will not be the way the government solve the issue of funding the 30 hours.

Fourth unsuccessful amendment

This one was about the actual funding rates and capital funding. It appears The Lords think that the government are committed to increasing funding rates and that there is already sufficient capital funding via two year provision.

I am afraid I do not share their optimism on this. Two year old capital funding is of no use if you do not offer two year old funding / your building needs extending or changing to meet the needs of 3 and 4 year olds – not two year olds.

And as to the government being committed to increasing funding – I am sure they are BUT will the increase cover the true costs or just be a ‘token increase’?

To conclude I am grateful to The Lords for the amendments and therefore the extra time that this will create for the matter to be discussed. However I am concerned at the very narrow difference in votes in favour and against, and also in The Lords confidence that the government will a) resolve the funding issues b) not increase ratios c) even begin to understand the root causes behind the problems now surfacing not only within early years but within the whole education system.

And on that note I would urge everyone who has any concerns about any issues within current education policy to express those concerns.

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

Why Nicky Morgan might be celebrating as Baseline results are uploaded   5 comments

This week reception teachers whose schools have signed up to baseline assessment will be submitting their data – about the children who started school in September.

They will have used a variety of systems, that use a variety of methods to gather the data. However we can be sure that the reception teachers will have done their very best using their professional judgement to ensure each child’s development is recorded accurately.

There are a huge number of things to report on, and as a campaigner against baseline testing and indeed any data gathering that is not for use by the teachers in supporting the individual children, I could say a lot (and in fact I already have – as a scroll through previous blogs will show)

Some people agree with me, some don’t – and as this blog is going to be very short, and about one specific area, I am not going to recap on previous points made.

This blog is about my concerns that the data sent to Government from the baseline assessments will be used to push forward Government ideas for more formal education at earlier and earlier ages. I think that  many of those completing the baseline assessments may not of considered this.

So for this blog I am going to mention just one area – literacy, and in particular reading.

I have been following comments made by reception teachers on social media about completing the the assessments and inputting the data. There have been a number of comments about the statements about reading, phonic knowledge and so on. Not surprisingly the teachers are reporting low scores in these areas, as some children  do not yet know their letter sounds or recognise letters. Quite rightly the teachers are saying the children have yet to experience much (if any) phonic input, and that progress will be made over the reception year.

As many of these children are still 4, I am not surprised at what the teachers are reporting, although I do question why there are such statements for 4 year olds.

However, although I question why there are such statements, I am not surprised. In my opinion the statements are there because the government want the data to show just how poor the children’s abilities are compared to the governments aim of getting children to read BEFORE the start school.

If you have not heard of this aim before, this is what Nicky Morgan has said

The Department for Education has created new resources with the charity 4Children to equip parents and early years providers with high-quality activities and resources to help develop pre-school children’s language skills with the aim of getting more children reading before they start school. (My bold)

This is where I got this information (but it is stated/ recorded in other places)

Post from Literacy Trust

Let’s think about this

If children are to learn to read BEFORE they start school, who is going to ‘teach’ them to do this?

Well not the trained reception teachers, but early years practitioners, parents, grandparents and other well meaning adults.

So what methods will they use?

Of course some will have undertaken some training but when and will it be in line with methods used in schools?

Some will just used whatever method they were taught

Some will just ‘do it’

So children will start school with all sorts of previous experiences, some will have gaps in their knowledge, some will have no idea about phonics, some will have made progress, some won’t.

And what will the role of the reception teacher be?

At a guess to move the children forward at a rapid rate based on the fact that the children should be able to read before starting school – but also at a guess it will take reception teachers a lot of time to unpick what each child knows, fill any gaps, repair any damage done by well meaning but uninformed adults.

And what will be the requirement in early years settings?

Again a guess – but maybe less play, more phonics, more box ticking to say children have been provided with opportunities to read

And parents?

Maybe more pressure to ensure their child can read, and therefore more opportunities for label both parents and children as ‘not good enough’

What makes me very, very sad is I know many reception teachers will be horrified if this does happen, and yet many are unwittingly providing the data to help provide the ‘evidence’ the government need to push forward formal learning to an early age – and in doing so pushing the responsibility away from reception teachers and on to parents and early years settings.

I speak to so many who say the Early Years Foundation stage is unique and is where children learn through play all the essential foundations of learning, that it can’t be rushed, and that really academic based learning should not start until 6 or 7.

This is why I would to ask everyone to consider just what is behind the data gathering by government through the baseline assessments, and if concerned to consider signing the ‘Better without baseline petition’ started by Early Education who have a long history of supporting high quality early years education, and supported by many other organisations including NUT, Pre-school Learning Alliance and Pacey.

And even if you have already filled in baseline assessments, already signed up to one of the schemes, there is nothing wrong with reflective practice and nothing wrong in reconsidering you personal position on this

Better without baseline petition

BUT hurry, this is going to be handed in on Thursday 22nd October

Posted October 15, 2015 by psw260259 in My thoughts on current childcare issues

Please can someone tell me why gathering information about cohorts of children is good – for children or schools?   10 comments

This is a follow on blog to my previous blog which explained why I don ‘t personally like baseline assessment. If you have not read that blog yet, you can do so by Clicking HERE

Although my blog about baseline was my personal view, lots of people have shared it, and lots of people have commented both publicly and privately. What did surprise me were these three things;

a) The number of people who contacted me privately to say they agreed with me, but where unable to comment publicly due to their current employment / contract. Some also said that they could not wait until contracts ended so they could have freedom of speech and be able to say what they really thought about baseline assessment

b) The number of people who have commented publicly in person and online to say they would prefer NOT to have to do baseline assessment, but felt they had no choice due to pressure from heads, fear that Ofsted would grade them lower, fear that if waited until compulsory that they would not have a choice, fear that if waited they would not have enough knowledge and experience to be able to implement next year.

c) The huge number who said – if they have  to do baseline it would be better to use one that best matched their previous systems, and their ethos and practice.

Pretty much the reasons that I suggested in my previous blog.

As baseline assessment is not yet compulsory, I find this a very ‘odd’ professional reaction, especially as so far I have not found anyone stating a good reason why or how baseline benefits individual children, or even schools. The whole thing seems to be based on fear of having to justify to Ofsted in future inspections, or provide evidence of progress through other means.

It would appear to me to have NOTHING to do with supporting individual children, or improving outcomes. Just data with which to beat schools with and to provide so called ‘evidence’ about why children are ‘failing’ the increasingly academic targets – and in my opinion with which to push through changes to national curriculum and frameworks, where ‘play’ becomes something you do at break time and involves letting of steam, not learning through play in appropriate enabling environments.

TO BE CLEAR IT IS NOT THE ASSESSMENT THAT IS THE ISSUE, IT IS THE GOVERNMENTS GATHERING OF DATA OF COHORTS OF CHILDREN.

Those who know me, will know that I am not one for quoting things or referencing other people’s work, to me that is of secondary importance to common sense based on my own observations and discussions in person with colleagues from across all early years sectors. Mainly because research and quotes are often taken out of context and used to support things that the research was never intended to be used for. However,  I have spent some time trying to find any quotes or references that can say WHY and HOW sending data to government  will benefit the children either individually or collectively.

I did find a quote from someone connected to one of the most popular baseline systems, saying in 2014 that ‘will not get meaningful data from very young children’ – but it would be wrong of me to quote this out of context. However I do wonder, why people say one thing and then do another.

I can almost hear those who have already carried out baseline assessments shouting out BUT we have always assessed the children on entry, and through out their time in our setting. OF COURSE YOU HAVE, and so have I, as it is essential to know where the children are when they start, and  their  progress so that you can support their development. This is not about assessing individual children to support their development on an ongoing basis.

IT is about sending data to government, about ticking boxes (yes, even yes / no boxes) against set criteria / targets/ goals.

I have never sent data (or information) to government. I have shared with parents / carers, and  I have shared with other professionals such as health visitors, speech and language specialist, and other early years settings that the child has attended, so that we can all support that child.

Have the children had poorer experiences because data has not be sent to government? Have they failed to reach their full potential? Have they failed to learn to read or write? In fact have any of the children that I have cared for over the last 37 years not gone on to pass exams, gain employment, be socially acceptable, make and maintain personal relationships?

Well, you don’t know these children – but the answer is No, none of them have failed in any shape or form. Many have gone on to university – but not all of them as personal choice, but all of them are ‘successful’.

I have friends and family members who went to private schools or who were home educated, and they had even less assessment in their early years, but again, all are ‘successful’ none of them are ‘failures’. Some family and friends children have additional needs, but with the right individual support all have (or are) achieving their personal best.

In terms of the country as a whole, I am not talking about huge numbers of children – around 300 over the 37 years, but if you add in all the children my friends and colleagues have cared for, we are talking huge numbers and not one of them needed data sending to the government in their early / primary years.

Well that is until Key Stage tests (SATS) and End Foundation Stage Profiles. Some of my grandchildren and friends children have gone through these assessments – but I can not personally see any difference in the attainment of these children – what I have seen though is very stressed children, children labelled as ‘failing’ or ‘not achieving’. I have not seen a huge change in statistics  about numbers of children leaving school without the basics of reading and writing under their belt.

Today we have had the latest results of the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile (EYFSP) with an increase in the number of 5 year olds who have reached a good level of attainment – 66.3% of them in fact.

I have commented via social media as follows;

So the government think this is GOOD news? The fact that 5 year old can meet the required standard? Some of those who do meet the ‘grade’will not be confident enough in their understanding to use it as the foundations of learning because they do not have time to consolidate, to follow interests, they have to get through the whole check list. About a third of 5 year olds are not making the ‘grade’ that is shocking – will these be the children who were still four when the EYFSP was completed? Or the ones who have already been excluded? Or the ones whose personal lives are falling to pieces for reasons beyond their control? 

What about the fact that so many 5 year olds have mental health issues, live in poverty, live with violence and drink / drug issues in their family and community? And just how many of these 5 year olds are happy?
I am not celebrating these results, I am depressed. When will government make the links to the big picture and stop pushing for these very narrow indicators of success?

You see, I do not think the current EYFSP is  worth the paper it is written on – and the ‘goals’ are not appropriate and that measuring in this way does not look at the bigger picture about individual children.

The baseline assessment results that are sent to government are even more ‘worthless’ as individual children will be merged into cohort facts, so the school can prove it is improving outcomes and children are progressing, but how can it provide this proof?  when children will leave, new children start, some won’t have started at 4 and would have started at CSA. Some will join the school in later years having spent time in another school which used a different system. Those entering the data will have some times been generous will the responses, others will have be conservative and mark down ‘ to be on the safe side’, others may score lower on purpose to make their figures look good next year and to show more progress than actually is made.

There is bound to be some adjustments made to areas that need tweaking, or changing, or dropping, and by the same token, new areas added. So where will the benchmark be made – these first assessment data? future assessment data? Or will it be a constantly moving goal post – in which case no one will be able to prove they are improving outcomes.

So what is the point? What is the benefit to individual children? What is the benefit to schools?

Please can someone tell me, what the benefit is – apart from evidence for Ofsted?

Another thing that is bothering me more and more, is there are two main points of view – one in favour of baseline and one against.

AGAIN I MUST STRESS THIS IS NOT ABOUT ASSESSING INDIVIDUAL CHILDREN FOR USE BY THEIR TEACHER TO SUPPORT THEIR DEVELOPMENT

Those against baseline assessment, do not stand to make any personal gain by objecting – so teachers / schools who have not ‘signed up’ to any baseline system; people like me who are campaigners and not paid by anyone for their campaigning work; membership organisations who are expressing the views of their members. All without any financial reason for doing so, they are just speaking up because they think that measuring children against targets is wrong, and sending data to government of no value to individual children

Those in favour often (but not always) stand to gain personally or organisationally from baseline assessment. This includes all the companies that have been approved by the government. And the most popular one – which we all know to be EEXBA  who stands to have an income of over £2.5 million,  plus any income from associated training or products – will of course  defend their product. Then there are those who are connected to the baseline system companies in one way or another, who of course also want to protect their business interests. And a few who having signed up, do not want to risk rocking the boat in case it impacts on their relationship with the company providing the system they use.

I think people should read about both sides of views about baseline, be aware of who is making comments and what that persons interest is in it all (in other words do they stand to gain anything personally)

My final point is,  I would like someone to explain to me why so many schools are so sure that sending cohort data to the government is not going to impact on them in the future, and won’t lead to new targets for children and teachers.

In my opinion the government have managed to use fear (so bullying) to make schools sign up to baseline, and will then manipulate the data to make changes to curriculum’s, to add more targets, and remove play in favour of adult led, academic tasks.

For the sake of the children of this country, I hope I am wrong. 

Posted October 13, 2015 by psw260259 in My thoughts on current childcare issues

SO – WHAT IS THE PROBLEM WITH BASELINE ASSESSMENT, PENNY?   7 comments

In recent weeks, I have engaged with others on social media about Baseline Assessment, and many really do not understand why I am against it, and there is a lot of confusion about just what it is that I am against

Some say ‘Is it the assessment of the children?

NO – It is not, I am not against assessment, all early years practitioners assess the children in one form or another. I personally do not like tick box assessment, or the type of assessment that involves filling in charts and tracking documents, or marking off against criteria, but I do of course assess the children. Assessment is not the thing that I am against, as it is vital that early years practitioners know each child really well……..

…….. and most do, ask them to tell you about a child in their care, and they can, in detail, and without reference to any document – they ‘know’ the children.

Some say ‘Is it the systems that have been approved by the government for baseline assessment?’

NO – not really, they are just systems – like the hundreds of methods before them, disc based systems, paper based systems, computer based systems – some terrible, some OK, and some quite good. In my opinion some of the baseline systems that have been approved, should never have been approved as unrealistic, too formal, too screen based, not developmental appropriate; other approved systems are better because based on observations and practitioner knowledge; but at the end of the day they are all systems that are being sold to make money for those that invented them / put them together.  No one is giving them away because they think everyone should have free access because in the best interests of the children.

And here I am going to stick my neck out – and risk a barrage of negative feedback comments.

Colleagues in reception classes, you often tell me that you consider your observations linked to your knowledge of child development are key to assessing the children, especially things like schema’s, characteristics of effective learning and so on – SO WHY do you need to sign up to someone else’s ‘system’? Where is your faith in yourselves and the systems you had in place –  in your heads, in your notes books , in your recording documentation before the ‘selling’ of these baseline systems. WHY did you think your systems were suddenly not ‘good enough?’

Some say ‘ Well is it because you prefer the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile?’

NO- I have commented  frequently that I do not like the Early Learning Goals, and furthermore I see no point in referencing everything to Development Matters or indeed any other document – yes use them as reference documents for guidance or even reassurance, but don’t treat them as check lists, or the one and only way to evidence a child’s development, because children do not develop in nice straight lines. They dip in and out of things, linger over some things, skip some things but go back to them at a later point. In my own practice I refuse to track development  to this extent and just state if a child is working within the broad stage descriptors.

So NO I don’t prefer the EYFSP – far from it – I hate the goals –  I would like it scrapped – BECAUSE  I would prefer to see assessment without any levels or targets or Yes / No statements. SO rather than scrap EYFSP in favour of Baseline assessment which will have to run for several years before anyone will consider or be able to afford to replace it; I would prefer to keep ‘the devil we know’ rather than take on a ‘devil we don’t know’ and spend my time and energy campaigning for practitioner led assessment that are only used to support the individual child.

Those of you following what I am trying to explain, will be ahead of me now

Some say ‘Is it the sending data or information to government that is the issue?’

YES, YES and YES again,  The EYFSP provides  data towards the end of reception, and this is bad enough, as the data has NOTHING to do with supporting individual children. It is all about setting ‘one size fits all targets’, all about making teachers take responsibility for MAKING SURE every child has been made to tick all the boxes, all in the same way and all by the same date – no matter what their age is, their life experiences, their interests, their anything – they just have to meet the criteria – otherwise they FAIL, and they will NEVER catch up, NEVER succeed and so on.

LOAD OF RUBBISH OF COURSE – WE ALL KNOW LATE DEVELOPERS / PEOPLE WHO DID NOT PASS EXAMS BUT ARE NOW FAMOUS OR RICH OR BOTH.

But I digress, Baseline Assessment is worse, far worse because it has taken the idea of formal measurable assessment to the beginning of reception – where will it go next – to three year olds? And what will the government do with that data – we all know deep inside – they will set new targets for both teachers and children, and if either fail to meet those targets, they may as well give up,  because they will have failed.

STICKING MY NECK OUT AGAIN – but WHY have people signed up to these baseline assessment systems when it is not compulsory? WHY are reception colleagues saying I signed up to this system because I liked it, because it matches my previous system best?

Am I really that stupid? Because I don’t understand, colleagues tell me that children must learn through play, not be forced to do things that they are not interested in, must be free to select, make choices, learn at their own pace, that goals are not needed, that targets should not be set …….

…… and yet thousands have signed up to a baseline system …. WHY? and WHY NOW before a legal requirement?

I am now going to be annoying, having asked the question – I am going to state why I think this is so

Teachers have been  pressurised to sign up through fear that if they don’t, they will lose the right to select the system they prefer

Heads have put pressure on staff to choose, so that don’t have to provide ‘evidence’ through other methods

AND teachers have decided to select certain systems because the best of the available systems – not what they really want to do BUT because they feel if they HAVE to choose one system, it is better to be the one they prefer. SO MANY HAVE SAID ……. IF WE HAVE TO HAVE A BASELINE SYSTEM, this is the best option.

Common sense says to me – NO, DON’T SIGN UP – that is what the government want, thousands of you saying by your actions ‘We approve of baseline, look, see we have signed up’.

In my opinion, you will now be putty in their hands, do not be surprised that by signing up to baseline assessment – even if a system you like – you will be subjected in the future to more pressure to formalise your teaching, to set targets, to push children forward to these targets, to lose the ability to use your professional judgement.

Maybe I am wrong, maybe the government will leave you alone to do what you do best and teach within your principles and ethos – I hope so. I really hope I am wrong but many, many years of life experiences tells me I am right to be concerned

So in a nutshell it is the signing up to the whole baseline assessment thing  that I have an issue with, because I fear  the thin line of compliance has been crossed and the government have you (us) just where they want us.

To end, some what if questions for consideration

What if no one had signed up to baseline?

What if the companies concerned had said NO – and not provided these systems?

What if all schools had stood by their principles, and said assessment at this age is not needed, in fact is wrong?

What if the government say – actually you will all now use this system, and it is not the one you prefer?

What if as a result of these assessments,  government say we now have proof play is not working, the children need to be able to do set tasks, answer set questions?

So many ‘What if’s’.

Do I trust the Government? – No, I don’t because they do not understand child development and child well being, they only understand the need to look after number one – themselves. (well most of them, there are a few that have morals and better understanding)

Posted October 5, 2015 by psw260259 in My thoughts on current childcare issues