Archive for November 2015

Babcock Prime in Worcestershire   1 comment

Please note these are my personal views and not those of any one else that I know, work with or volunteer for

Today (19/11/15) I went to a conference put on by Babcock Prime who have recently been commissioned to run education services for Worcestershire Local Authority.

You can read about Babcock Prime  HERE

The conference was mainly for schools – and in particular school leaders. However as the early years sector is part of the education provision in Worcestershire, Cath Ellicott (Lead Early Years) had managed to get places for a number of early years settings / practitioners – and in particular those individuals who volunteer to be part of the Private, Voluntary and Independent (PVI) consultation group.

Which is why I personally received an invitation – I volunteer to be part of the PVI consultation group.

To be honest, at first I thought invites had gone to all early years settings, but I was wrong, invites had only gone to a selected few.

Despite the fact that to attend I had to close my childminding setting for the day, I thought it was worth attending the conference – mainly so I could fulfil my role as a childminder representative on the PVI group and provide feedback for my Worcestershire based  childminding colleagues (and to anyone else that wants to read it).

So on the morning of 19/11/15, I made sure my foster children got off to school, and then selected something to wear – I decided on the outfit that I had worn to my daughter’s wedding (no hat though), rather than my usual attire of jeans and casual top.  By coincidence, it turns out that several of my PVI group peers had made the same decision – and we were glad we had – this was not a typical early years based conference, and smart outfits / suits were the order of the day.

I arrived just after 8.30am and ‘bumped’ into one of my peers in the car park – so we walked into the conference centre together – and it seems my colleague had not only made the same dress code choice, but had like me, at first assumed this conference was open to all.

We entered the refreshment / networking / exhibt area and were given a presentation carrycase, spiral bound note book with programme and details of speakers – and asked to help ourselves to drinks and rather nice pasteries (local people will know that Sixways conference centre is rather ‘nice’ being the headquarters of the rugby club).

A whole hour was given to having refreshments and networking – however people tended to stand chatting to people they already knew – certainly all my peers from the PVI group stood together. Cath Ellicott joined us for some of this networking and spoke to each of us personally, thanking us for coming. A gentleman employed by Babcock Prime also chatted to our little group, but I was not close enough to hear properly. I looked around, and did not see any faces that I knew – surprising really considering how long I have lived in Worcestershire and my past employment with the County Council, early years team.

We were asked to go to the main conference hall, and so as a group of PVI representatives we walked down the long corridor, once in the room I decided to be brave and not sit with all my peers but sit at a table with teachers and heads. One of my PVI colleagues decided to join me at this table. I hoped for opportunities to network and share good practice through out the day – sadly this was not to be. I did make introductions and those at my table did respond, but then they started talking in their school group – so even though all from schools they did not talk much to each other – never mind to myself and my PVI colleague Rose. Maybe the way we chat and share information across settings at early years events, is not the way they do it at school events?

I have decided not to go into detail about the content of the conference for one very good reason – most of it did not apply to me as a childminder, and according to my PVI group peers most of it did not apply to them as nurseries and pre schools,

So instead I am going to give the headings ffrom the programme and just make a few comments.

9.30 Welcome and Formalities

As you would expect – all about exits, phones welcome

Opening – Chadsgrove School Choir

This was lovely, the children were on the stage and all very enthusiastic

9.40 The Changing national landscape for education and Local Authorities

The speaker for this was Sir Andrew Carter. My personal view was that Sir Andrew was not keen on a lot of current policy and ‘silliness’ around ministers views and demands HOWEVER he thought everyone should work with the Government. His speech was school based, early years didn’t get a mention so although Sir Andrew was a good speaker and included humour there was nothing that I could relate to or provide relevant feedback on.

10.10 Introducing Babcock Prime: Supporting Outcomes for Children & Young People

This was led by John Edwards who has / is leading on this commissioning process and JJ Bowley who is a director for Education Services.

My personal overview is this was a sales pitch for Babcock Prime and that the children and young people were of secondary importance – data was more important along with box ticking. There was talk about doing things differently, about being school led, but about being financially sustainable – and schools buying services.

10.40 Supporting Leaders in a School Led System

I wanted to put this in a different colour because to me this was the focus of the whole conference – being school led, working in partnership – without really meaning that (my idea of working in partnership is a little  – sorry – a lot different to theirs). There was talk about schools with less than 250 pupils having to work differently, to share more, to become part of an academy group. As I listened, I could not help thinking – well what about all of Worcestershire’s early years settings  – most of them have less than 250 children – will we have to work differently in the future?

We had a little group ranking exercise to do on our table, it was difficult for Rose and myself to take part as it was mainly school based, but we did our best with the help of a teacher who was sat next to me. However there was no real discussion round the table, just three small groups of three working alone.

Just before the refreshment break there was time for a few questions – 3 in fact – and two of those questions were about early years. The response was that it has not yet been decided what will happen with early years but no changes until April.

11.10 Refreshments and Networking

I met a Babcock employee called Mary in the refreshment room, she chatted to me and was very friendly and polite. On hearing that I had some questions, she offered to introduce me to some people. First introduction was to Maria Dawes who had spoken in the session before coffee. I asked Maria what Babcock thought about early years and the push for more academic learning; I also explained who I was, my views on too much too soon, and that I thought in the long term there would be cost savings to Babcock if got it right in the early years. She wrote one thing down on her piece of paper – and that was about the PVI consultation group – which I thought really odd, as had been included in one of the slides as a means of communicating and consulting – oh well maybe her piece of paper will help remind her of this early years group. Maria also mentioned working differently, and buying services from Babcock, as a childminder this horrifies me as who know what services we will have to buy, and how much we will have to pay. I am sure that other early years setting across the sector will be equally concerned. My only hope is that we will have a choice not to buy the Babcock services if we can secure the services for less elsewhere.

Maria did suggest that I talk to Sam, so Mary who had been standing close by, led me to the other end of the room to talk to Sam.

It turns out that Sam is the Babcock person who engages with Cath Ellicott. I had quite a long talk with Sam, and she appears to agree with my personal views – however I have been around long enough to know that people will say what they think you want to hear, and so I will wait to see what happens when the announcement for early years is made next year. One thing Sam did say though was that Cath would be continuing much as she is at the moment, and nothing much would change. I wish I could believe that.

I do have to say that all the Babcock staff that I spoke to, listened and were friendly – but as I say, I will wait to see what unfolds with regard to what Babcock implements.

11.40 Systems and people: behaviour lessons from the best of UK schools

This was again, very school based, and someone with years of early years’ experience, and now experience as a foster carer – I feel that I could have done better and given more guidance / ideas.

Looking around the room I could see that school colleagues were not engaged, a large number were on phones / tablets, and others were talking between themselves. I thought it rather ironic as this was a talk about behaviour and they were not being good role models. I did not personally find the talk inspiring or even informative, but I listened with respect to the speaker.

12:30 Lunch and Networking

The lunch was good, and plenty of it – although coffee ran out by the time I got to it. I spend most of the time talking to my PVI peers – it seems many of them were also disappointed with the content of the conference; and many of them were talking about closing settings, about diversifying to try and bring in more money or changing direction. It would seem that in early years things are really difficult. I think that as my peers are all well respected, all been in early years for a long time, all the sort who not only volunteer to be on the PVI consultation group, but also give up a day to attend this conference – that things are reaching a crisis point and that unless more support is given to early years there will be a huge decline in the number of early years places. The cynic in me says, this is just what the government want – early years settings closing and more early years children in schools or in school led settings (remember the comment about ‘different ways of working’?

13:30 Closing (or narrowing?) the Gap

This was supposed to be a consulting exercise – however many had not returned after lunch – including two from my table – maybe this was because of prior commitments, or maybe because people felt there were more important things they could be doing during the afternoon and so decided to leave early?

Anyway this exercise was about universal, targeted and specialised services, Rose and I did our best but felt that really it was not designed for early years despite the ‘early years’ box to tick. We tried to express our concerns about sustainability and the fact that without better funding even universal services under threat, we tried to explain the difficulties faced by small settings as the amounts given for EYPP or SEND really are no use if only one or two children in the setting attracting these premiums. And we tried to explain how getting specialist support is so difficult due to costs of supporting one child in a small setting.

We did also make some low cost suggestions but we felt that Babcock were not interested in this sort of thing but that they were interested in how to improve data and ‘scores’.

 

At 14.00, I had to leave to enable me to be at home for when one of foster children’s taxi dropped him off – and for a planned visit by his social worker. Therefore although the conference continued until 16.00 I was not there so can’t provide feedback

 

In conclusion, was it worth closing my setting for a day? Did I find out anything useful or interesting? Am I convinced that Babcock have the same aims and objectives to me?

The answer to all the questions is NO. I am grateful to Cath Ellicott for ensuring the early years sector was invited, but I wish early years had been included more in the conference, not just a token gesture.

I remain worried, I remain concerned, I remain in the dark about Babcock’s plans for early years.

Maybe, once decisions have been made about early years Babcock will provide some information sharing sessions for those who work in early years – and for those who work in partnership. You see school led is not partnership working – it is a dictatorship. And that is a great shame because those working in early years, including my childminding colleagues have a lot of experience, years of hands on practice and a sound knowledge of child development and the needs of early years children.

It was also  clear that Babcock were not at all interested in Working with other organisations, I mention to several people that I am a volunteer and in particular for the Pre-school Learning Alliance – I may as well have talked to the wall.

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

Why do we need to measure quality and progress in early years? – Reflections after attending the TACTYC conference 2015   3 comments

I have of course written before  about my views on assessment both in this blog and in articles for Childcare magazine, so no one will be surprised at my personal view point.

However on 31/10/2015 I attended my first ever TACTYC conference (details about TACTYC can be found HERE ). I knew that TACTYC as an organisation share many of my views about assessment and in particular about baseline assessment as they are part of an alliance of organisations challenging why we need baseline assessment. All the speakers and the discussions at the conference were excellent and all seemed to come back to the same thing – ‘What are we doing to our children, though all this assessment and measuring?’ There was also a lot of debate about just what is important in early years, and consideration of how we can make changes. On that point everyone was clear – we need to all come together, and to speak up.

One speaker though stood out as having a slightly different view on things, and over the last day I have been trying to get my head round  what she said. This speaker was Jayne Osgood, I had not heard Jayne speak before – nor had I read any of her many books apart from Unhurried Pathways which she contributed to (maybe not surprising considering  the huge number of unread books on my personal bookshelves). If you want to find out more about Jayne and her work, this is a good starting point Information about Jayne Osgood

Jayne’s presentation was entitled ‘Reconfiguring Quality: Beyond discourses and subjectivities to matter, bodies and becomings’ – for a start the title puzzled me, as I could work out what part of it might mean, but other bits of the wording challenged my thinking.

And to be honest, as I sat listening to Jayne, I really struggled to make sense of it as a whole. There were words that I really did not understand, words I did understand but that were being used in a different context to how I would usually use them – and ideas that to be honest were – well were a little ‘strange’.

I think I need to apologise in advance to Jayne (in case she reads this, or gets to hear about it).

Jayne, I struggle with what I call ‘big words’ – to read, say and spell, so I tend to avoid them. I am not an academic (still trying to finish my degree), and most of my knowledge is based on a common sense approach based on my observations of children over many years. I find the words used by academics to be difficult to translate so I can make sense – for example  – ‘post humanistic’  what on earth does that mean? – and what relevance does it have to my everyday work with the children and families? My difficulties are of course not just in relation to your work – just ask my colleague Dr. Richard House how many times I have expressed my frustrations at my lack of understanding of the words he uses; and my difficulty  is one of the reasons I have so many unread books

The readers of my blog have told me they like the fact that I use everyday words, and that I try to explain my understanding of documents and presentations I have heard at conferences. So with an advance apology to Jayne, and one to my readers (in case my understanding is not right) I am going to try and express in words what I thought Jayne’s presentation was about and how I think it links to my thoughts about assessment and measuring of young children.

Deep breath – and here I go

My understanding is that Jayne was suggesting we need to look at quality in a totally different way – and look beyond what we currently think of as ‘quality’ and how we ‘measure it’. She was also suggesting that our current view is too limited, looks at the wrong things, and tries to measure to a scale when in fact the scale of things is so huge we simply can not measure it.

There was some disagreement in the room with some thinking that scales for measuring such as, (but not restricted to) ECCERS, were a good thing and should still be used. Jayne said that she was not saying such things should not be used, but that there was far more to it. On this point, I disagree with both those in the room and with Jayne’s response – in my view, things like ECCERS lead to box ticking, to people buying things or changing things with no understanding about what they are doing or how it impacts on the children in their care – what is right for one child or group of children, is not right for other children. I know  that those who wrote such schemes did not think that they would be used so narrowly, but they are. In my opinion ANYTHING that gives a score or a benchmark to work towards is dangerous and restricts reflective practice, and therefore quality practice based on the needs of the children. It should not be about getting the highest score or copying the practise of others, or only doing the things that are on the ‘approved list’.

And actually I think that is what Jayne was trying to say – quality can not be defined, it will be different every time – even in the same building on different days or even in moments of the same day. Quality can not be X, Y or Z , quality needs to be undefined and very flexible – and other speakers at the conference had expressed it really well when relating things to real children and practitioners (or as seemed the preferred word at the conference ‘educators’)

So in a nut shell Jayne’s to ‘look beyond’ (and all those other words that I did not understand or relate to) means quality is not having the right number of soft toys, or having junk modelling, it is about meeting the needs of each child – in whatever shape or format is right for that child. That a egg box can be more than an egg box and different to each child, not just in how it is used with limitless possibilities within a child’s imagination, but what it represents in terms of where it came from, how it was made – and a million other possibilities.

When all of this is put together and extended to include EVERYTHING then it is easy to see that the current view of how we define quality is well – useless, not fit for purpose.

So we need to think again.

If I have understood correctly, this is music to my ears and in line with this blog I wrote fairly recently Blog about quality

Extending this to assessment it then makes perfect sense why trying to measure progress and even attainment is a complete waste of time using current methods.

Does it matter what a child learns or when they learn it, or how fast they learn, or what they do with that piece of learning, what steps they take or in what direction? (I am not saying that there is not a role for supportive adults, of course there is, but not in the way we support now trying to get children to all be the same in terms of outcomes)

The important thing is that the children are learning and enjoying that learning. Maybe if we stopped trying to measure learning and to record attainment – we would actually facilitate more free thinking, and end up with more scientists, inventors, creative people, caring people ……

And most importantly happy, self fulfilled people who  are not labelled failures at 4, or at any age, who go on to achieve their ‘best’ without anyone telling them their best is ‘not good enough’.

And maybe we will stop having to pay out millions on schemes that do not improve anything, do not help individual children. Or on MPs who decide on important matters that they have no expertise in.  Or on supporting those who have been failed by our education system and whose sense of self is so damaged they can not self regulate, self motivate, develop relationships, or in fact have what tongue in cheek could be called ‘quality of life’.

So to conclude – provided I have grasped the main points of Jayne’s presentation, I agree with her.

And if I haven’t grasped the main points – maybe Jayne or someone else at the conference (or who has read Jayne’s work,) would be so kind as to explain to me in the comments box – just please use every day words!

Posted November 1, 2015 by psw260259 in My thoughts on current childcare issues