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

One response to “Babcock Prime in Worcestershire

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  1. Penny,
    Like you, I also received a personal invitation. I stayed for the whole conference thinking that maybe the next speaker had something relevant to say that included Early years. I wasted the whole day and when a Babcock employee approached the table and asked what myself and two other EY colleagues thought of the conference, we told him how disappointed we were because it was all aimed at schools. He shot off to find Sam so we could be introduced to her, but quickly returned to say she had left (on so called business!). He left us with Sam’s email address, so on my return to work the following day I emailed her to express my disappointment with the conference. She tried to reassure me that EY have not been forgotten and Babcock will be putting on conferences for us. I am still waiting!

    Discruntled EY practitioner.

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