Archive for March 2016

Will an Early Years Teacher in every nursery really make a difference?   5 comments

Yesterday (30/3/16) there was a lot of media coverage about the Save The  Children report ‘Lighting up young brains ‘. If you have not personally read it yet, I suggest you do by clicking on the link HERE

Lots of people have already commented via blogs and social media, several have spoken on TV and radio – all with their own view – and most are in agreement that the research and data  in this report has been taken out of context, and that the headline recommendation of ‘Calling on the government to ensure that there is an early years teacher in every nursery in England by 2020’ has been grabbed as being essential by all of those who would like to see more formal academic based learning before school.

Yesterday there was lots of media based misleading suggestions about the difference an early years teacher in every setting would make, and the methods they would use.

For example;

Images of children been read a story in circle time might appear to be a ‘good thing’ that would encourage communication skills but looking closely you can see half the children are not engaged.  Some appear to be paying attention, in that they are sat still, but only a very few are actively engaging with and therefore benefitting from the story.

 

I need to make it clear I am not against early years teachers – they can and do make a difference using their knowledge of child development and how children learn.

However many other early years practitioners and indeed parents also make a difference, because they talk to the children, read to the children and follow the children’s interests.

Reading the report, I can see that actually the report agrees with my view as it says;

‘Parents and carers have the biggest influence on their child’s early learning: A strong relationship with a parent or carer gives a young child the confidence to explore the world, while everyday activities like talking and sharing books help stimulate young children’s language skills right from birth’.

To me this suggests that ANY adult that spends time with a child talking to them, reading to them and exploring the world with them – can and do make a difference.

This then has to mean that every child has the opportunity within their family to develop those essential building blocks of language well before they enter a nursery or a pre school – which in my experience is now often around the child’s first birthday due to parents taking extended maternity / paternity leave.

However research tells us that many children do not have these positive experiences within the home due to a huge variety of reasons including; workload with some parents having more than one job just to make ends meet, stress within the family due to financial reasons; reliance on prescription and non-prescription drugs and other substances; domestic violence; having poor parenting themselves; mental health issues – and so much more. For some the pressures of life are just too much for them to have the headspace to even think about the need to talk to or read to their child; for others they have no personal experience to draw on about the pleasure and benefit of reading to and talking with their child.

In additional the ‘norm’ of society with dependence on ‘gadgets’ and TV, means families do not talk as much; even family meals times have been replaced with TV dinners.

A colleague described to me how she was having coffee at a coffee shop, and observed a family of four come in, sit down and all get out their gadgets – and did not speak a word to each other for the whole hour that there were there! I think about visits to the coffee shop with my young granddaughter not only do we talk to her, and play with her – she manages to engage strangers into her conversations by saying ‘Hello’ and smiling at them (and usually the strangers say ‘Hello’ back, and when we leave say ‘Goodbye’ when she waves at them).

So is the answer an early years teacher in every nursery? I would suggest that this is not the best use of money – that is if enough early years teachers can be recruited and can be afforded by the nurseries that are already struggling to make ends meets – and that is before the roll out of 30 hours, the living wage and staff pensions.

I also have concerns that this agenda of having an early years teacher in every nursery will be another indicator to parents that childminder settings are in some way inferior because they won’t have an early years teacher.  The cynic in me says this is another push for Childminder agencies and leadership by schools – in other words childminders will have to sign up to a agency in order to say ‘we have early years teacher input’.

I am actually not against the idea that childminders (or even other settings that cannot afford to employ their own early years teachers) having input from an early years teacher – after all in the early days of Childminding Networks this was a requirement for an early years teacher input. In the case of childminding agencies the sticking point remains the need for childminders to give up their independent Ofsted registration.

 

However maybe some of those agencies that are diversifying and offering support services could consider adding the input of an early years teacher to their services?

My main objection to the idea of an early years teacher in every setting is that (as shown by media yesterday) that this get linked to formal academic learning by parents and government, with a reduction in learning through child led play.

Most early years teachers know that formal learning is not needed for young children, but may have to implement it due to pressure from schools and government. They may also have to insist the smaller settings that they may have lead responsibility for also implement practice they do not agree with.

Nearly all research and evidence from other countries shows that a later start to academic learning produces better outcomes in the long run – and ensures those ‘late developers’ have opportunity to build the building blocks of all future learning before they start formal education at 6 or 7.

And yes, early years staff in other countries are highly qualified, but so are many in this country with many of them having a relevant qualification and / or years of experience.

I have to ask why so many early years settings have the highest level Ofsted grades (including childminders settings) and yet do not all have an early years teacher? Are these grades of ‘no value’ to the government?

I hope someone will do some research to show not only how many of those children who are unable to read when leaving primary school actually went to a setting before school – and  also what type of setting.

I hope that someone will do some research into the development levels of pupils on entering school and that on leaving – I have no data, but I suspect that because schools expect children to be ready for school rather than school being ready for children and all their individual needs – that some children ‘switch off’ once they are at school and therefore do not continue their individual learning journeys.

The important thing about any learning journey is that it moves forward – no matter how slowly, and that children enjoy their journey. So many children are now not enjoying the school years and are developing mental health issues

Please don’t let this be pushed ‘downwards’ into early years settings – children need to be free to lead their own learning, at their own rate, They do not need the stress of inappropriate adult led activities, and assessment.

 

 

 

 

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The Childcare Business Advisers Conference 2016   Leave a comment

This conference was aimed at business people in the childcare sector – but more specifically at Local Authorities who are now facing a new world where they have to justify what they spend, and what they spend it on. With some Local Authorities having already completed the commissioning of services process, and others currently going through the process – and more considering their options – the services that used to be provided by Local Authorities for free or at subsidised prices, now have to not only be charged for in some cases, but overall there is a requirement to cover the costs and profits of those companies that provide those commissioned services.

Therefore the title of this conference  DOING MORE FOR LESS seems very appropriate.

I was invited by Jacqui Burke (who is the Director of Flourishing People and organiser of the conference) to be on the ‘Expert Panel’. Before the event I had never actually met Jacqui but we had communicated over a number of years on social media. I admit that I was rather nervous about accepting the invite – but me being me, I did accept as it was an opportunity to put forward the perspective of the childminder.

Information about Flourishing People  HERE

The event was held in London – and this meant another trip to London for me – and navigating the underground to a ‘new to me’ bit of London. Actually it was fairly easy, just two changes of trains and the venue on the same road as the last station.

I had planned to arrive at coffee time as my bit was not until the afternoon, however as my train was delayed, I arrived after coffee time. I was welcomed by Jeremy Webster (Director of Studies, Silver Pebble Education and Training) and after a coffee, I was shown into the room. Jeremy told me that most of the audience were Local Authority based, and that many came from  London based authorities. In my opinion this sort of event needs to be offered in other areas due to cost and time commitment for people to travel to London.

Silver Pebble link HERE

I entered the room part way through Ross Midgley’s (Managing Director PBD Early Years Training)  talk which focussed on the financial side of delivering the 30 hours. Childminders were mentioned but  the financial aspect of offering the 30 hours as a childminders was not included, nor was the perspective of a community  pre school. Ross’s talk concentrated on nurseries – and he said that nurseries were not making a loss (nor would they) on the 30 hours, they were just not making as much as they would like to, and that a place filled with a funded child was better than an empty place. This of course is true in many cases but actually the information I am receiving from my extensive network across the childcare sector, is that some childcare providers even though over 85% full are not even breaking even when offering the 15 hrs, and there is a fear that if they offer the 30 hours it will be worse.

Ross did countered his point with a question everyone should ask themselves – ‘Will taking on this funded child increase my income or reduce it?’ (Not the words Ross used, but my words from my understanding)

Another point Ross made towards the end of his presentation was everyone should ask the Freeston Question. I wondered if this was anything to do with Michael Freeston who is a senior member of staff for the Pre-school Learning Alliance – and indeed it was.

Ross said that Michael suggests that everyone asks themselves if what they are being asked to implement is anything to do with the Government trying to get more children into school, and to get younger children into school. In my opinion just about everything is connected to this – but that the Government is on a phased in approach during which time they need everyone to ‘play ball’ and do as they are told as the Government plans need the sectors support at the moment. However anyone with any sense will see that the journey we are on is leading to the demise of the early years sector as we know it – so childminders, community pre schools, small nurseries and even bigger nurseries will close due to becoming unstainable, or bogged down with unattainable targets.

I am not going to recall all of Ross’s presentation as it was mainly directed toward nurseries and financial issues.

More about PBD Early Years Training HERE

(By the way I had missed the first presentation which was by Neil Blumson who is CPD lead for ‘Achieving for Children’.  Neil had covered his Local Authorities journey  to being a successful independent company. In a way I wish I had heard Neil’s presentation as there was an opportunity to ask questions – and I had a few about their childminding agency)

Information about Achieving for Children HERE

The next presentation by Paul Seath (Bates, Wells Braithwaite – Education Team) this really was not of any personal interest as it focussed on Employment Law – however for those in the room it was of interest and some people had related questions that they asked.

Find out about Bates, Wells Braithwaite HERE

Lunch was next, and Jacqui introduced me to other three people who were on the ‘Expert Panel’, all of whom were from Warrington and all of whom knew each other and worked in partnership with each other. Adam  who is the Early Years Performance Manager for Warrington Borough Council, Kay who is an assistant headteacher and Nursery lead at a Warrington school, and Lisa who is the owner of a private nursery that operates her setting on the school site where Kay’s school is.

Over lunch we had lots of discussions, and they are all lovely people, very friendly, good listeners – but as usual, the fact that I am a childminder meant I was pretty much on my own and that my perspective was different to the rest of the Expert Panel’. Adam, Kay and Lisa admitted that they struggle to fully engage with childminders in their area – yes childminders pick up from school, nursery and pre school,  and they have good day to day interactions but it was the extended engagement within the local authority that was not as good as it could be. I did make several suggestions – and as I have said they are all good listeners and so I know they will be considering my suggestions and making changes so childminders can engage more with them.

After lunch the presentation was about Neytco – some thing close to my heart as I been involved almost since the beginning. Catriona Nason spoke about what Neytco does and how they can work with LA’s in several different ways.

You can find out more about Neytco  HERE

After that it was my turn! Well to be more precise – time for the Expert Panel!

Adam, Kay and Lisa spoke first and it was clear that they have an excellent partnership, with each person referring to other two, as well as their own perspective on things and their role.

As is the way with me I had not made any notes and just spoke from my head and heart. I gave some suggestion as to why it may be hard to engage with childminders. And as I did not make notes here from memory are the key points that I made

  • Childminders do not feel equal partners and they feel their voice is not really listened to and that often decision are made that not only exclude their opinion, but make it nearly impossible to engage in things
  • Childminders feel that there is very little respect for their profession, and that the idea Of Childminder Agencies gives the impression that they are not capable of running a childcare setting on their own, and need ‘help’.
  • One of the biggest problems for childminders is there is a general impression that childminders need telling what to do, they need to be led by schools or agencies and so on – partnership working is not working!
  • Some childminders would like to engage more but they need consulting with so that they can say how they can be involved – including times, places, and frequency. If childminders were asked how they can be involved and not told how to be involved it would be a good starting point. (One person in the room asked me how I thought she could include childminders in her area. I did of course give some suggestions but said ask the childminders in your area – I don’t live in your area)
  • Consider asking for input to agenda items for meetings  from those who can’t attend, and for opinions about all the agenda items and include those views as if that person was at the meeting.
  • Adjust timings so those who were not actually at the meeting have time to read the notes from the meetings and to comment if they want to, before anything is implemented.
  • Think outside the box – just because you have always done things ‘this way’ and it suits those who engage – think about those who are not engaging.
  • Each childminder setting is different, and childminders availability will change as parents requirements change and new children start. This means one term a childminder might be able to attend things on say a Tuesday at 6pm, but the next term may be able to attend things on a Thursday at 7pm or maybe at 10 am as no children currently attending on that morning. So be flexible and ask, don’t assume.
  • Working in partnership with childminders has huge potential, but it has to a partnership not a dictatorship. Childminders often have the highest Ofsted grades, many have a degree, most have extensive CPD – their knowledge of all areas of running a childcare setting is impressive because they have to do everything and know everything. So discuss things, consider the childminders perspective, negotiate and compromise – make sure everyone benefits.
  • Consider the childminders policies and procedures, their paperwork, their planning, their ethos – and remember each childminder will differ, each will be able to explain what they can and can’t do
  • Consider setting up a childminder ‘virtual’ cluster, as in every area there will one or more childminders who will gather the views of their colleagues and share information from you to their peers. This does not have to include face to face meetings but maybe you could go to their locality every so often rather than expecting them to come to you.

I did say more, I did of course mention  Truss, I did mention that childminders want CPD, support and advice but do not want to give up their Ofsted registration in favour of an agency registration. My time was limited speaking from the table of the Expert Panel,  and I could have said a lot more  – however I DID SAY A LOT MORE in private conversations during the day.

So was it worth attending – YES, and the feedback I receive via Twitter and an email from Jacqui Burke confirms that I made people in the room think about the childminder perspective. Hopefully this blog will also make people think