Archive for April 2016

Count Down to my Celebration Event   Leave a comment

It is now only a few days until my celebration event – which now has the title ‘Networking, Sharing, Making Connections’ because that is what I hope the event will achieve – lots of networking, sharing and making connections.

The event is taking place in central Birmingham on Saturday 30th April and promises to be an event to talk about.

75 people are now confirmed to be attending (subject to last minute emergencies such as illness or travel difficulties) – there is representation from all sectors across the early years field – nurseries, pre schools, childminders, after school, researchers, authors, trainers, membership organisations, universities.

All the speakers have volunteered to speak for free, as not only is this event to mark my retirement from registered childminding, it is a celebration of my involvement as a volunteer within the whole early years sector. So friends and colleagues have said they want to contribute, to say thank you – and in fact have all paid to attend to cover the cost of their lunch and refreshments. Their generosity means that I have been able to keep the cost of attending to a minimum – just £35 per her to include all refreshments, a two course hot lunch and a goody bag. Of course the fact that I have personally put in a lot of time and effort for free has also  helped achieve this fantastic price for what promises to be a superb event.

So who is speaking?

Most of these people wear more than one ‘hat’ so I am just listing their names because to me the thing that is important is that they share my passion for early years and improving outcomes for children

Wendy Ellyatt                                                                                                                                                 Sue Palmer                                                                                                                                                       Richard House                                                                                                                                              Neil Leitch                                                                                                                                                         Liz Bayram                                                                                                                                                  Laura Henry                                                                                                                                                 . Sue Allingham                                                                                                                                                 Kathryn Solly                                                                                                                                                        Jennifer McQuillan                                                                                                                                            Anne Gladstone                                                                                                                                                   Sally McGeown                                                                                                                                          Tricia Wellings                                                                                                                                                     Beth Thomas                                                                                                                                                     Rebecca Martland

One of the key features of the event is going to be the ‘Thoughts from the room’ where anyone can give a viewpoint, or pass on  information – so together we will be doing a lot of sharing.

Another key feature will be the ‘Making Connections’ with lots of opportunity for chatting and exchanging contact details.

PLUS – thanks to my friend and colleague Carol – we will be sharing a wonderful celebration cake.

However, there is MORE!!!!!

Many people are staying overnight – and some for the weekend – so there is going to be a ‘Pre Event’ gathering on Friday evening AND a ‘Post Event’ gathering on Saturday evening.

I have set up a Facebook event page Link to Facebook event page and there is a Twitter hashtag, #EYconections so those attending can communicate with each other – and those not attending can follow what happens at the Pre event, the post event and the event itself

A Day in London to speak at a Westminster Briefing – 19th April 2016   Leave a comment

The pre-amble (skip this if not interested)

A couple of weeks before the 19th April, I received an email asking me if I would be interested in speaking at a Westminster Briefing on ‘Developing & Supporting Your Childminder Workforce: Strategies for Success’

Before anyone thinks ‘Wow Penny’ – I should point out that I was second choice – but still it was a real honour to be asked.

So after my usual self-doubts, and seeking opinion (to boost to my confidence) from a few close colleagues, friends and family – I decided to say YES – and then me being me – went into a complete meltdown around my ability to do it.

Still time was short and I had to write a biography and send it ASAP so it could be included in the conference handouts. I also had to think on my feet of some words to describe myself – because of course I can no longer say I am a registered childminder. I came up with ‘Penny Webb; Campaigner, Volunteer and advocate of registered childminding’. Thinking about it a bit more, I need to change that a bit because it does not mention advocating for children, so over the next few days, I will be reflecting a bit more and will come up with a strapline that covers it all. Still in the time I had, and for the event in question, I think the strapline (in bold above), said what it needed to say.

Then of course there was the presentation!!

I really did not have a choice as Westminster Briefings provide memory sticks to everyone who attends with all the presentations and other information.

Trouble was I did not know where to start and how to cover the impressive but slightly terrifying title of my bit – in just 20 minutes.

‘Examining the future of Government policy and the sustainability of childminding’

More panic, more self-doubts, more asking friends, colleagues and family.

My husband Garry said ‘Stop panicking, you can do this’ and then when I said ‘But the room will be full of experts’, he replied ‘You will be the expert in the room’ Seriously ME?

My colleague Carol said ‘Just condense some of your blogs’ –  Yes, good idea Carol but I have written so many blogs – which ones should I condense?

Close professional colleague said words of encouragement like ‘You need to have confidence in yourself – you know your stuff’

 

Time ticked on, and there was not much time in the first place to complete this task – plus I had lots of other things on my ‘very urgent to do list’ which were causing yet more panic in the Penny’s Place household. So me being me, I knew I had to finish some of those other tasks, otherwise I knew I would not be able to focus on my presentation. This meant getting up in the very early hours of the day for several days in a row to complete some of the other tasks – including sending out receipts and information to all of those who had booked to attend my celebration event at the end of April 2016

Finally by Sunday 17th April, I had done enough of the tasks on my ‘urgent list’ to clear some headspace, and so started on my presentation. I managed to set up the slide format, the title page and the last page with my contact details – and then floundered!

So I got up in the early hours of Monday 18th – deadline day to send my presentation to the organisers of the event. As I had no choice (other than letting everyone down and not going – which is just not my way of doing things) I knuckled down and in two hours had it more or less completed – by completed I mean the slides on the Powerpoint – no notes, no detail (not even in my head) BUT I was feeling a bit better about things, and thought that I could actually do this. For reassurance I sent my presentation to Carol – she came back with ’You have more or less covered it’.  Garry when shown it said ‘You seem to have plenty of points to talk about’. So while I felt ‘good’ about it – I emailed it to the organiser. A few hours later I got an email back to say it looked ‘great’

Roll on to the morning of Tuesday 19th April, after just two hours sleep, I was up at 4.28am and catching up on some of my ‘to do list’. By 6am I was ready and set of on the walk to the train station – all these trips to London (and therefore walks to the station) must be doing me good, because I have reduced the time it takes to walk to the station from 45 mins to 30 mins.

At the station I got a surprise!

There on the platform is a neighbour (whose child goes to the same school as one of my foster children), so I went over and we chatted – it seemed we were both heading to Marylebone station and we both had conferences that ended at more or less the same time, and both had tickets for the same train home! So we agreed to sit together on the journey, and to meet at the station for the journey home.

I have to say it was lovely to have someone to chat to and it made the journey seem shorter (even though the train was slightly delayed)

My neighbour and I said goodbye at Marylebone station, and I headed straight to the underground, as due to train delay, I was now short of time to get to the venue. I am now so much more confident on the underground – and I prepare better (in my bag I had a note book with all the details for the day, include which tube I needed, the changes I had to make and the route from final station to the venue.

The actual event (welcome to those readers who skipped the pre-amble)

I arrived about 10 minutes after registration had opened, I was warmly welcomed, given my badge and conference pack, and then shown to the event room. I was given a brief explanation about the day and my part in it. I put my bag near the chair on the front table that had my name on it (and those of the other morning speakers). No going back now!

I grabbed a quick coffee and a pastry, before going back to room to get ready and to try to do something about my nerves. I was introduced to the other speakers and we chat about things related to the day (this did help stop the nerves overtaking me).

 

Before I knew it we were all being asked to take our seats so that we could make a start. I have to say that I was disappointed (although also relieved) that there were not that many people in the room. I have attended other Westminster Briefings where there has been well over 100 people in the room – today – including the speakers there were less than 30 in the room – and one or two people were not present that I had been told would be there – representation from Ofsted and DfE.

Rebecca Griffin who is Media and Campaign Manager for Family and Childcare Trust chaired the meeting and so did the domestics, introduced the morning speakers and said a little bit what we were here to discuss – pointing out that although there were presentations it was very much a two way discussion with opportunities to ask questions and give feedback.

If you want to read a bit about Rebecca Click on link for her Linkedin Profile https://www.linkedin.com/in/rebecca-griffin-31b88633

If you want to know a bit more about the Family and Childcare Trust – click on this link https://www.linkedin.com/in/rebecca-griffin-31b88633

 

The first speaker was Sarah Read from 4Children – it was supposed to be Sue Robb but apparently she had chosen to attend another event – so Sarah was doing this one.

If you want to read about 4Children please click here http://www.4children.org.uk/

 

Sarah’s presentation was called ‘A New Era for Childminding’. Regular readers of my blog will know that I am not a fan of the whole Childminder Agencies agenda and in fact have been activity challenging the Government about this for around 4 years. Childminder agencies became a legal reality in 2013 – so it made me smile to read the title of Sarah’s presentation.

However, I need to make it clear, my opinion and comments are not about Sarah personally, nor do I think the presentation was necessarily based on her personal opinion, as she was just doing her job. In fact I have to applaud Sarah because her presentation was factual and she did not try to make things out to be better than they actually are.

As always I am not going to give full details of any of the presentations, nor did I make any notes – so this is just my recall, from memory of Sarah’s presentation.

There are still just 8 Childminder Agencies registered – and some of those have a way to go before they are ‘up and running’. Even those that are up and running are finding it hard to recruit existing childminders to become Agency Childminders, although there are a few that have taken this decision. A few have recruited new people to take through the registration process – but even the first agency to register – the St. Bede’s one is hardly a ‘success’ so far. The numbers speak for themselves – from my in the head calculations around 100 childminders / prospective childminders from  across the whole country – in the almost three years since Childminding Agencies have been a legal option.

It was clear to me and to nearly everyone in the room that Childminder Agencies are struggling to get going – despite the funding given to 4Children to help promote the idea and to give support to those wanting to set up a Childminder agency.

It was also clear that the agency model is just not sustainable. Sarah provided a case study based on the Leap Ahead agency based in Richmond and Kingston – you do not need a Maths GCSE to work out that the fees being charged by agencies such as the Leap Ahead one do not add up. It is clear that in the long term without other income strains or clever use of other budgets such as training; or shared (or even free) use of buildings; or staff paid through doing more than one job – childminder agencies will not be sustainable. One person in the room, did have an interest in starting up an agency to support her setting with the roll out of the 30 hours and she was seeking reassurance that it would be financially viable. She did not get that reassurance from either Sarah as the presenter – or from those in the room.

The next speakers were a double act from Kent – Sandi Mortimer who works for Kent Council and is the Early Years and Childcare Partnership and Integration Manager and Gwenderlyne Southhall who is a Quality Improvement Manager for Prospects – who have provided services to childminders on behalf of Kent County Council since 2015.

Sandi spoke about what they are doing in Kent to support childminders and to stop the fall in numbers as last year Kent had a higher % decline in numbers of registered childminders than the national average. She also spoke about the support for those wanting to register and those wanting to offer the funded places. Kent has over 1200 childminders with just over 400 providing funded places.

Kent have a wide range of training and support packages available – including their ‘Threads to Success’ package (which Sandi had a copy of to show people in the room).

Gwenderlyne spoke about the things are doing – some of which I really liked the idea of – such as working with Children’s Centres – telling about childminders and even inviting staff to visit childminders so that staff are able to explain the benefits of childminders to parents, and signpost to childminders with vacancies.

She also spoke about their free briefing sessions – so people can make an informed decision before starting the Start Up Course.

They also use local information to ensure they have capacity – but also so they do not recruit more childminders in areas where there are already enough childminders (nor open new group settings).

Gwenderlyne explained that Prospects are using social media – such as their own Facebook Group to ensure information is easily accessible – and shared. In addition they also have a voluntary Peer to Peer support scheme.

Kent feel it is important to encourage different business models and new ways of working, and are removing barriers that used to stop childminders accessing support in the same way as group settings.

 

By now it was 11.50, and so Rebecca as Chair of the meeting decided we would have a comfort break – for which I was very grateful, as I was the next planned speaker.

During the break I checked with another speaker about how to use the computer provided, visited the ladies restroom – and had a coffee. During the break several people came up to me and said how pleased they were to meet me – and that not only did they read my blogs – they agreed with just about every word I said. This did my confidence the world of good.

And so at aprox 12.05, Rebecca introduced me – and I just had to ‘do it’. I still had no notes and not much in my head in the way of a plan – but of course I did have lots and lots of personal opinion and previous ‘stuff’ in my head from things I had read, things I had discussed with others, and things I had written.

 

I spoke about the past– about Childminding Networks; and how many hoops childminders had had to jump through since EYFS 2008 came in; about the variations that are still in place in EYFS 2014 between childminder settings and group settings.

I spoke about the present – about childminding agencies; the roll out of the 30 hours; the reduction in childminder numbers but recent increase in number of places in childminder settings; the changes to Tax Credits; the rules meaning that childminders can not offer funded places to relatives including own children and grandchildren; the requirement to work in partnership – but that this was often not really partnership.

I spoke about the future – about wanting a graduate or early years teacher in every setting – and about not valuing those graduates and early years teachers who run childminding settings; I spoke about my thoughts that a lot of what the Government are doing is to try and bring in the 1:13 ratio’s – so more children in schools, more formal activities – and from a younger and younger age. I made it clear that it is not about children being in schools it is about what happens in those buildings; Finally, I spoke about childminding agencies and why I though peer to peer support including that via national organisations, local organisations and even social media were more beneficial. I concluded that childminders do want / need support but that childminders do not want to lose their independent Ofsted registration and they do not want to pay for things they do not need – and prefer to pay for things as and when they need them. I suggested that there is a future for registered childminding but that childminding was changing and to be sustainable childminders would have to be adptable.

 

As I went to sit back down there was a round of applause.

Next we had ‘Question Time’ which Rebecca facilitated. No one had a direct question for me, but I was able to add a childminders perspective in response to questions asked to the other speakers.

 

Lunch followed – I managed to find a couple of sandwiches which I liked and also had a banana and a rather nice mini Treacle tart. During lunch I talked to several people, and had in depth conversations with a couple of people. The concerns in the room about the future of the early years sector and in particular childminding were huge.

After lunch I sat at a table in the main part of the room as of course there were other speakers for the afternoon session.

One of the afternoon speakers was a childminder called Maisie Collin who is also a Early Years consultant. Maisie came over to say hello, we spoke about my blog (Maisie reads it as well) and Maisie’s success at the Nursery World Awards a couple of years ago. (Maisie – if you are reading this, I am really sorry I did not get to say goodbye to you or to congratulate you on your presentation)

 

Rebecca started off the afternoon by introducing the afternoon speakers.

First up was Gill Holden who is a Senior Quality Improvement Officer for Calderdale MBC. The main focus of Gill’s presentation was about their peer support scheme, which is working really well – in fact Gill said that the childminders currently involved have said that even if the funding for the scheme disappears they would still like to be involved as they find the training and support so useful.

Gill explained how they recruit and train the support childminders and their role. Some in the room were surprised that the support childminders do home visits, but Gill said both the support childminders and those being support found this aspect of support to be very beneficial.

An interesting point was the phone survey carried out by Gill and her team – as they all worked late one evening and managed to make contact with 93% of the childminders in the area. I know from my own experience that this sort of success rate is hard to achieve if you phone in the day time – so maybe something others could think about doing.

Some other benefits for the support childminders are ID badges, DBS, supervision and standardisation.

Gill also spoke about Calderdale’s ‘Children Come First Childminding Network (good to know there are still some running) They have 48 approved network childminders with more going through approval – and a waiting list of 18. I find it really interesting that this one network has almost as many childminders associated to it as ALL the childminder agencies put together. Says a lot I think.

Gill then spoke about the impact of the Network and the Peer support scheme on the quality of childminding in Calderdale – including the outcomes of Ofsted inspection.

 

Next up was Maisie Collins – Maisie spoke about the decline in childminder numbers from the perspective of a Hackney childminder.

Many of the points had been covered in the morning session but Maisie had a couple of very important extra points to make. One is the time it is taking to obtain a DBS, and the fact that some cannot wait the average time of 7 months and have to look for other employment. The time for DBS is not such an issue in my area – and in fact I have recently had some done for volunteering roles that came through very quickly. Therefore I am grateful to Maisie for raising this concern as I can see it will have a huge impact.

The other point Maisie made (as well as reinforcing the points made in the morning) was about the shortage of suitable rented property in London, the cost of renting – and the fact that not just childminders but also young families are often given notice in preference of young professional people without families. It is a particular issue for childminders who have larger settings and employ assistants.

Maisie also mentioned the level of funding from Government as it is a huge issue for London based settings with some already unable to offer funded places – and many more saying the roll out of the 30 hours will mean that they either can’t offer the funded places or will have to close their settings. Again I am grateful to Maisie because although I am aware of this issue from my London based colleagues, and my engagement on social media – I had not made the connection between the levels of funding – and the rental issues.

 

Next was question time – there were quite a few for both Maisie and Gill. Rebecca then asked everyone for suggestions about things she could raise with the Government departments she works directly with. There was general agreement in the room that Government need to rethink the roll out of the 30 hours, that they need to actively promote childminding as an option to parents, pointing out the unique benefits but also the fact that childminders follow the EYFS and can provide funded places. It was suggested that a little funding could go a long way in the right hands – and that if childminding agencies agenda was dropped that the time, effort and money put into this could be better used.

 

Rebecca then brought the event to close, everyone said their goodbyes, but a few lingered in the room, including me. I spoke to Rebecca and offered to stay in touch and to do whatever I could, to advocate for registered childminding – including attending meetings.

 

I also spoke to Kay, who told me my presentation was the most refreshing, enlightening, measured cm perspective she had ever heard. Thank you Kay – I hope others thought so too. Your comments certainly made me feel good about myself as I headed off to catch my train.

 

Post Westminster Briefing Comments

I did meet my neighbour at Marylebone, we enjoyed a coffee together before catching the train home. We were both tired but it was good to talk about our totally different days – and as a bonus I was able to signpost my neighbour to my blog (which she was not aware of).

I have to say that back home it was really good to read through the documents given out, and to view the presentations on the memory stick given out to everyone as they left.

So would I do it again – put myself through the stress of speaking at such an event?

YES, I would, it was beneficial to me to hear others speak, there were excellent networking opportunities – and I hope my presentation gave people things to think about.

 

Maybe, just maybe – new opportunities to advocate for childminders, and for the well being of children will now come my way – as one door closes maybe others will open?

 

 

 

 

 

It pays to work does it Mr. Cameron?   10 comments

Dear Mr. Cameron,

I have written to you many times before, and at best all I get is a letter thanking me for taking the time to write.

This time I am hopeful for a response because your policies are really causing many people real hardship and difficulties – people who are hard working and trying to do their best – but banging their heads against the brick wall put in their way by you.

So, you say it pays to work, you say you will ensure you will support hard working families – in fact that is one of your most commonly used phrases.

IT PAYS TO WORK – REALLY? 

Well, welcome to my world where your cuts to tax credits mean it does not to pay to work as of this tax year (2016 – 2017).

It does not  pay my daughter and son in law to work and this is impacting on myself as Granny to their child and on their childcare provider.

 

I AM SO VERY, VERY CROSS AT ALL THE PROMISES YOU MAKE, THEN BREAK

Maybe in your world on the sort of salaries that you earn; and your colleagues, friends and family earn, cutting a few hundred a month from a families income is neither here or there (maybe just one dinner out for four a month?) – and therefore you really do not understand the huge difference a couple of hundred pounds a month can make to a family – and to the well being of the child or children in that family.

I can not speak for everyone, I can not describe other people’s circumstances but I can tell everyone about the impact your policy is making on my family and those who do their best to support the child at the centre of it this.

Who in case you don’t realise – is a real child – not just a number.

She is little girl, age 20 months, who according to myself and her childminder is making exceptional progress in all area and is ticking ALL the boxes for her development.

The question is – How long for?

Your policies are impacting on her

My son in law, works full time and is more or less on the living wage, which is a typical wage in the area we live. My daughter works four days a week for a children’s charity, supporting children who have experienced Domestic Violence – I am sure you will agree a very important job supporting all those children and families. However I am  sure you won’t agree that  some of these families and children will have been directly impacted on through your cuts to children’s services and support services, and access to decent housing, mental health support and many other things I could mention. As of course I must not forget you are making all these cuts to services and benefits for the good of everyone in this country.

Until end of March my daughter work full time, but has reduced to four days to give herself a day to spend with her child but more importantly to remove the need for me and her father to look after her child free of charge one day a week, which we have done in the past to help our daughter survive financially. The other four days my daughter pays for her child to attend at a registered  childminder setting.

All was going well- for the two weeks since end of March, until my daughter got her renewal letter for her tax credits – without going into personal details too much – she will get nothing until July  (small overpayment last year – taking months to pay back because of low figure this year), then just £26 a month.

In the previous tax year my daughter got around £200 a month – which was not enough to pay all the childcare bill – in fact less than  50% – but it certainly was a big help, and with careful budgeting they just about kept their head above water.

When my daughter told me (and her childminder) about the renewal letter  we both said – it must be a mistake – maybe it is because you need to update the hours you work. So my daughter phoned and updated the figures – one day less pay (no change to childcare because I used to have her child for free on the 5th day).

Good news was received – there was a change to amounts – it went from £26 to £46 a month – but she is still paying for childcare 4 days a week and the extra £20 a month in tax credits does not come near to covering the decrease for working four days instead of five. AND is still around £150 a month less than last year.

Bottom line is my daughter can not afford to work five days or four days

In fact she can not afford to work three days, or two days or even one day – it just does not add up – she would not have enough to pay for childcare FULL STOP

So she reluctantly looked into giving up work – it did not really make sense but they could make ends meet, if she gave up owning and running car, and all other ‘nice things’. At the moment she needs a car for work so at the moment she has to keep the car – no matter how many days she works.

HOWEVER MY DAUGHTER WANTS TO WORK  – SHE WANTS TO PROVIDE FOR HER FAMILY

After hours of scribbling on bits of paper, using the online tax credit calculator my daughter came round to visit myself and her father as she had a very big favour to ask

Could we look after her daughter for not one day (as we used to) but two days a week – every week, for free.

We have said yes, because we want to help our daughter BUT why should we HAVE to because of your policy changes Mr. Cameron?

We are actually still working and due to your changes to retirement ages Mr. Cameron we will be having to work for the next 8 and 10 years respectfully.

If we went out to work , there is no way we could help our daughter and most likely she would have to sell the car and give up work – which she does not want to do.

As it happens we are both full time foster carers with 3 children in our care, we have to be available all the time not just for normal parenting type duties but to attend the never ending round of meetings connecting to our foster children. So yes, we can look after our granddaughter two days a week but at times this will be difficult because of fostering commitment.

And the irony of it all – at the end of March, I de registered from being a registered childminder because the care of the childminding children was sometimes compromised due to fostering commitments.

However, Mr. Cameron – really we have no choice – we still have to work ourselves and we have to support our daughter to enable her to work.

I wonder how many families are now (as a result of the changes to tax credits) now having to ask grandparents to provide free childcare, or rely on unregistered childcare?

I wonder how many families are realising that they won’t be able to pay their childcare bill?

Which brings me to my next point

Childcare providers – my daughter has already advised her childminder that she is going to have to cut the days her daughter attends the childminding setting from four days to two.

This of course will have an impact on the childminders sustainability and cause problems as she tries to fill the two days available.

I wonder how many childminders, nurseries, pre- schools and before and after school clubs will be getting notice from parents over the next few weeks that they are going to have to cut days or leave?

The cuts to tax credits and other benefits are already impacting on children, families, child care providers and grandparents.

I hope when you next go out to dinner Mr. Cameron (and you actually pay rather claiming it as an expense) that you consider that the cost of that ONE dinner for 4,  is likely to be the same  as the amount of tax credit cuts that families are having to cope with each month – and the amount that grandparents are subsidising for free, and the amount that childcare providers are losing each month per child.

Of course it is just one dinner to you – and is not significant – you could manage with out having that dinner – but for the families for whom these tax credit cuts are impacting on, it is very significant.

PAYS TO WORK?

I THINK NOT,  FOR THE THOUSANDS OF GENUINE HARD WORKING FAMILIES WHO JUST NEED A LITTLE HELP TO KEEP THEIR HEADS ABOVE WATER

SHAME ON YOU MR. CAMERON – But then you think nothing of bailing out bankers, or paying millions for a scheme like baseline that you were told would not work, or cutting funding for Children’s Centre’s, or any of the other things cut  that impact on every day families and children – but has no impact on those who think nothing of paying out £200+ for one meal for 4 people, or huge amounts for someone to advise their wife on what to wear.

I live in the real world, my principles, ethos and practice are based on helping others, on volunteering, on doing what I can to support the disadvantaged.

I would like to invite you to come and live with me for a week, so that I can support you to understand just what it is like in the real world.

We can all change;  we can all learn to understand why we have the opinions that we have, and why change is needed; we can all do our bit to make things better for others.

Thing is Mr. Cameron – do you want to make changes to your thinking  that would lead to you understanding the impact your policies are having on people like me, people like my daughter, son in law and granddaughter, and people like my granddaughters childminder.

Please do phone me for a common sense, practical ideas   discussion around your policies. You could do so much more, for less – if only you bothered to listen to people like me – people who live in the real world.

Yours,

Penny Webb

 

Diversity in Early Years   1 comment

Those who know me well –  those who have worked with me, and certainly those who had me as their Children Come First Network Coordinator, or their quality assurance assessor or indeed as their NVQ tutor or assessor will know that I have a bit of a thing about diversity and equality.

I have written before about my first graded inspection when I returned to childminding in 2010 and the comments made by my inspector about equality in my setting – and my response. And I shall return to that later in this blog.

Over the last couple of years I have been so caught up in my volunteering and my campaigning against what I consider to be inappropriate Government policy, that I have not really had much time to focus on writing  blogs  about everyday practice and important issues such as diversity and equality. However, in the fostering side of my life I have indeed been reflecting on this and writing about it through the completion of the Fostering Standards; and I have also been reflecting on  and including equality and diversity within the assignments for my degree. So although not in the public domain, I have not pushed the matter of  diversity and equality to the back of my mind, it still very at the front of my mind and very much part of my reflective practice.

Therefore I was very interested to read an article in Nursery World written by my friend and colleague Laura Henry. In the article Laura suggests that we could all do more to embrace diversity in all areas of Early Years from employment of staff, to resources and pedagogical approaches, to Trustees and Board Members – in fact to everything.

If you have not read the article, you can do so by CLICKING HERE

So do I agree with Laura?

Yes I do.

I think that there is a lot of tokenism and sometimes people are scared of saying or doing anything for fear of getting it wrong or being criticised.

Take employment sometimes being Black or being a man or Gay or disabled (or anything else under the ‘equality’ banner ) can get you extra Brownie points in an interview  because people want to ‘tick the equality box’, they want to show that they actively support diversity. However if  the person most suited to the job does not get the job, is that right?  No, of course it is not, BUT if you do not get a cross range of people applying for the job in the first place, how can you pick the best person for the job and ensure a diverse staff team?

It all goes back much further than the stage of applying for a job.

It goes all the way back to Early Years,  to how people feel about themselves and others.

I believe that until people stop thinking that they need to provide evidence that they value diversity and that they see people as people first not as as part of a list of equality descriptors then we will not have a fair society where every person is treated with equal concern – which is of course not the same as equally.

In all areas of Early Years many people think they value diversity, think they are proactive in ensuring they do not discriminate – but unintentionally they do.

Take policies – how many still have a long list of people they claim they do not discriminate against?

In my opinion, just having a list is discrimination to both those described in the list and those that are not described. Why do people feel they need this every growing long list? Just by having a list means you label some and exclude others, really if you say you don’t discriminate , you should by default ensure everyone has equal opportunities to succeed and to be included – no matter what the difference is to yourself.

And by ‘yourself’ I mean each and every person – after all we all have our own unique individual needs and are own unique way of doing things. It should be as simple as that – everyone’s needs should be met, everyone should be valued for who they are, everyone should be supported to meet their own potential – and this applies to both children and adults.

We should adapt things, we should have the resources needed, we should have a ‘can do attitude’, we should not make excuses, we should not hide behind policies that mask what we really think and do.

As an example let’s look at me!

I am an above average sized person, I need sturdy furniture to sit on; I cannot sit still for very long, so I need to move around / have regular short breaks, I am of average height so I need help to access things on high shelves.

And that is just me as I am. Before we add in the fact that I am diabetic and I am dyslexic.

The two last points would most likely make it to a list, the first three most likely would not. The one that impacts on me most, is the need to have short breaks followed by being dyslexic. If my need for short breaks is not met, there is no point meeting my need as a dyslexic – as without the short breaks I will be unable to sit still or to concentrate.

The best thing to do, to meet my needs, is to ask me – not to have a list that will include some aspects but not others.

I don’t get what all the fuss is about – in Early Years we say ‘Start with the child’, actually we should say ‘Start with the person’ as we would then be truly inclusive and enable every person to have their individual needs met.

Part of the problem is a lot of people focus on the big things and don’t really get what diversity is about.

In my opinion diversity (and therefore equality) is about the everyday things – it actually is about similarities and differences – in everything. Noticing, talking about, accepting, not being fearful of saying the wrong thing or doing the wrong thing.

So a doll is a doll – some maybe black, some brown, some a funny colour that is accepted as white, some will be boys, some girls, some open to imagination and a boy one day, a girl the next. Some will have hair, some won’t, some will be life size, some will be small world sized- but all are dolls.

Same with the fruit at snack time – some will be orange, some red, some green, some yellow, some have skin you can eat, some you can’t, some grow in this country, some don’t.

Then there are  animals in the playsets – and the crayons, and the cars – you are getting the picture?

In life there are so many things that are similar in some ways, but different in other ways. As Early Years ‘people’ we need to ensure that children can spot the similarities and the differences, to acknowledge those differences but not to be afraid to ask questions, to gain knowledge – and most importantly to not be afraid of things which are different including themselves and their peers.

We must ensure the children understand that different people may look different (but we are all people), may dress different (but we all wear clothes of some sort), may eat different thing (but we all eat), may live in different houses (but we all live somewhere), may need different things to help them live their lives (but we all need things to help us) and so on.

Of course many in Early Years do all of this already BUT what the children observe adults do and say,  is sometimes not the same message – it is in fact the opposite. They see discrimination, they notice that others are not always valued.

Children learn from everything, the intended learning and the unintended.

Until we get it right in Early Years with the children, diversity will not just ‘happen’.

Stop thinking that these things can happen because we have a policy or because we appoint people who actually were not the best person, just to tick a box. Stop thinking that we can’t do anything because of where we live, or because of a limited budget, or any of the other easy to say excuse.

We can change things but we need to value everyone as a unique person, we need to value differences, we need to have a ‘can do’ attitude.

We need to pay heed to everything we say and do.

To finish I will return to my experience of my first graded inspection.

It was near the end of the inspection, and the inspector said something on the lines of ‘Penny, I can see you have lots of lovely equality resources, but I have not seen you use them or include diversity in anyway’.

I replied on the lines of ‘ Oh really? Did you not hear the story I read?’

‘Well, yes of course said the inspector, it was lovely, the children self selected props to use – but the story was about a farm’

‘Yes, I replied it was about a farm – but all the animals ate different food, they all spoke in different languages, the all lived in different places’

‘Ah’ said the inspector ‘I see’

I was graded outstanding.

You see start with the little things, build in the ability to observe difference and similarities, reduce fear and increase acceptance of those differences – and children will develop into adults who not only have high self esteem but also value others – even if they are different in some way.

Then, and only then will we be able to see true diversity not only in Early Years, but in society as a whole.

Finally, my husband said to me, ‘Who is this Laura Henry you keep talking about?’ I went to great lengths to explain who Laura is, and what she does’. However, I clearly did not explain well enough and my husband said looking at my computer on social media (with its profile pictures) well which one is Laura ?

This one – I said pointing to Laura’s picture.

‘Oh said my husband – why did you not say she is Black?

Well to be honest, I don’t think of that – it is a difference between myself and Laura but I tend to think of things that we have in common and it was these things we have in common that I had told my husband about because it is those things that connect me and Laura.

Of course I know Laura is Black but to me that is a difference that I do not need to think about or describe; but the fact we both are passionate about children and their well being, the fact that we both blog and write about children, the fact that we are both dyslexic, the fact that we both have members of close family on the autism spectrum – are the important things that we have in common and therefore are the similarities that are important to both of us – and the things we support each other with.

 

 

 

Ten hours in childcare? Actually it is not new but the circumstances are   1 comment

This is my first blog in what (time permitting) will be a series  of blogs about the ideas being put forward in the Governments proposals and consultation on the roll out of the 30 hours.

I apologise for the lack of the usual links in this blog (time is in short supply) but the information is easy to find

Government are inviting comments in their consultation  about the idea that parents could use the 30 hours more flexibly, and from 6am up to 8pm, and that each child could use the 30 hours in up to 10 hour slots.

I have read a number of articles and blogs where people have expressed their concern about such long hours in childcare and so few hours available for family time. People have expressed concerns about the impact on children’s emotional development and well being – and quite rightly as there is a lot of research around this – including research that long hours in childcare do not improve educational outcomes for children.

 

It is at this point that I want people to stop and think a little.

The Government have made it clear that the additional 15 hours are childcare based, not education based – and yes I know you can not draw a line between childcare and education as children are learning all the time, however you can draw a line between the different types of funding  provided and therefore the expectations about what a child does in those hours.

So this is what we need to focus on when responding to the consultations – we need to make sure that the children will not be provided with 10 hours of constant adult led activities with a planned educational aim. We need to ensure children will have time to relax, to stand and stare, to daydream, to  flop on a sofa, to watch TV / DVD, to dip in and out of free  play choices, to be outside, to nap, to eat, to spend time with older or younger siblings, to go on outings – even things like  going  to the shops,  and all those other things that make up childhood.

Within childminding, 10 hour days, even 12 hour days are not that unusual and it is historically where Registered Childminders have been able to meet the needs of parents who have a long commute, who work shift patterns, who do not have family  who can help nearby.

The big difference between group childcare and home based childcare is that is is usually (but not always these days) based in a family home and all the things mentioned above are usually provided and so children are not expected to just have more hours of the same type of activities and experiences.

I am not suggesting that group care does not (or could not) provide these things – of course they can – and some already do – but it needs more thinking about and more planning – and not just the environment but also the availability of key workers.

It is in my opinion the most important factor to consider – not just our personal views about if children should be in childcare for up to 10 hours but what happens in those 10 hours within the childcare setting. Parents and indeed providers often can not have the ideal world and so have to make the best of the situation – and do the best they can for the children.

There are so many things to consider – how many ‘long days’ does the child do? Is it a parent who collects the child or a babysitter / older sibling / other family member? Can we involve parents more / ensure information shared more? Could we change our practice to ensure each child has a positive experience? What can we do in the very early and late hours of each day to ensure it is more like family time and less like group time?

We should not judge the often difficult decisions that parents have to make, we should not just complain about Government plans (and yes I acknowledge I do a lot of that!), we should not just throw our hands in the air or stick our necks in the sand because we do know that whatever we say or do the chances of changing Government policy is small. We should be proactive in thinking what we can do in the best interests of the children and families.

One of the things we may be able to do is to work in partnership more, especially if we do not personally have the staff or availability of premises (community groups / groups with caretaker issues) to provide all of the 30 hours. And to be clear, I don’t just mean childminders doing the early or late hours – that might not be in the child’s best interest. It maybe that days are shared, it defiantly will mean more personal sharing of information between settings on a daily basis to ensure the child  experiences a balanced day with things neither repeated (two sports days on the same day in different settings; or two full cooked meals or four snack times in a day due to different times provided in different settings; or three hours TV just because accessed at different times in different settings) or not included at all (for example no ‘down time’ to daydream).

It will all take a lot more working together – really working together.

I think back to the children I have cared for over my childminding career – and many of them – in fact most of them, did 10 hours a day with me, some even did 5 x 10 days in a typical week.

Do I think it caused any long term harm – No – in fact if I thought it had, I would not have continued doing so over such a long period of time. I am lucky in that I am still in touch with some of those who I have cared for over the years and some of these are now  in their 20’s or 30’s, so I have the benefit of actually knowing that the long hours in childcare have not impacted negatively on them.

So I urge you all to fill in the consultation, I urge you all to express very clearly your concerns about how your setting could deliver this and the impact on the children. I urge you all to explain the financial impact on your setting – for example being open longer hours but only for a few children. I urge you all to explain the impact on your own and staff’s family time – and indeed the impact on well being of staff, yourself and your own  families.

And yes – do mention the lack of sufficient funding – the Lemonade funding for Champaign Nurseries

But at the same time time I urge you all to think outside the box a little bit and if there is anything you can do to support the children and families using your setting,  who might want the 30 hours more flexibily – and to start having those discussions with other settings in your local area about how you could work in partnership more.

 

 

Education in England – various things coming together   2 comments

Over the last few days there has been an overload of information to read about education in England – and in relation to the rest of the world.

All this reading takes time – and if you are dyslexic like me, a considerable amount of effort to try and get the key facts in your head so that you can access them, and relate them to each other.

So I have decided to do some of that skim reading that I do quite well and try to pull out the main points and come up with a blog (this blog) that covers the main points together with my opinion.

No idea if it will work – and as usual – I am just going to write, no draft, no stopping to make notes – just from my head.  (I am sure others will produce documents based on more detailed reading, notes and referencing)

Let’s start with the CentreForum report in to Education in England. This is their first annual report about education in England and is rather long at 81 pages. Far too long it has to be said for me to read and absorb, but if you would like to read the whole report you can do so HERE.

For those of you who prefer something shorter than this news article from the BBC might be helpful. CLICK HERE TO READ

The first bit of the CentreForum  report is all about the different accountability and test results – to be honest this goes over my head – and I have to ask why do they keep tinkering with these things? It makes it very confusing for everyone, and makes it difficult to compare exams or tests taken at different times.

And why do people think that children need to know all the things they are tested on? Does it give them any more life skills, or common sense, or adaptability, or creativity? I would suggest not. Many of my generation do not have the academic qualifications that young people are expected to have today – and yet my generation have plenty of common sense, adaptability, ability to think on their feet,  and creativity. The argument about what skills  makes you employable continues, and I think this debate will run and run but to throw my two pennyworth in – I am sure that academic qualifications alone do not provide the skills needed.

There are lots of graphs and facts within the report – which are more or less useless to me – as I cannot read this information on the screen, and the colours used are not the best for me (although that is a personal issue and not a criticism of the report). However to print all 81 pages would cost me a lot, and so it would be beneficial to have a short ‘key points’ version. Maybe there is one?

I note there is reference to the CentreForum’s own benchmark, which from my understanding is ‘higher’ than other benchmarking.

On page 36 we have the conclusion to the section on facts, figures and graphs – and one sentence jumps off the page to me – this one

However, it is only in the Early Years that the country is on course to meet CentreForum’s ambitious benchmark.

Followed by this one

The rate of improvement must be increased at both Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 4 if the benchmarks at these levels are to be achieved.

On page 37 the section on disadvantage children starts – now this does interest me

Again one sentence jumped off the page

During secondary, the gap is much wider with the result that, in 2015, disadvantaged pupils were just over 19 months, on average, behind their peers by the end of Key Stage 4.

There is of course lots more information, including more graphs facts and figures, and information about pupils who attend school having arrived from other countries but for me,  I have enough information for my purposes – but maybe if you read more, you might like to add comment to this blog to aid further discussion.

The next documents I want to refer to is the Governments  consultation on ‘Cutting the Red Tape’  CLICK TO VIEW and the 30 hour roll out LINK HERE

It is clear the Government do want to try and improve outcomes for children, and are doing some consultation. However, I personally think the Government will not take much notice of the consultation results as has been shown by their response to other recent consultations. They seem to celebrate anything that the sector agrees with them on, but ignore anything the sector disagrees with them on.

Personally I think the Government have NO understanding of how young children learn and develop, of the importance of allowing children to develop at their own rate, through child led play. Yes, of course children need experienced and knowledgeable adults to support them, to keep them safe, to provide enabling environments, and positive relationship BUT experience and knowledge cannot be gained through academic qualifications alone, and good educators (we are all educators in one form or another) have a passion for supporting young children, and a very good understanding of child development (which can not be gained from text books alone).

I now have the piece of paper (well not literally but I have the credits needed) that says I am degree level, but that is not the reason I know my ‘stuff’ about children, it is just one aspect – and to be honest my ethos and practice has not changed since I did my degree, I just know a few more words to describe what I know.

In England (and Scotland and Wales) those in the early years are historically  not  well paid, not professionally valued, and not listened too. We were told that this was because as a sector very few of us had higher level qualifications, or entry qualifications – but this is no longer true – but still our historic position has not really changed.

Early years teachers are better paid, but are not listened too or professionally valued – that is why so many are leaving the profession, and those who remain early years teachers are shouting (very loudly now) that the Government plans for early years are not just wrong, they are damaging our youngest children and limiting their opportunities.

In Scotland there is a new organisation called ‘UPSTART’ calling for a Kindergarten stage for 3 – 7 year olds  More Info HERE , and in England there is a campaign and petition calling for the Early Years Foundation Stage to be extended from 5 to 7 CLICK FOR LINK

It is time those who understand early years children are listened too, and Government stopped messing with children’s future and well being (there is more than enough evidence).

Why do I think this? The evidence is in the CentreForum report – remember that quote

However, it is only in the Early Years that the country is on course to meet CentreForum’s ambitious benchmark.

So why don’t the Government leave the early years sector to do what they do best, before it is too late?

Pushing for more formal / academic learning in the early years is not the way to go – it is all Too Much, Too Soon.

 

What the Government need to consider is why pupils do not make progress in Primary school, and why the disadvantage gaps gets bigger in Secondary school – despite years of Government trying to ‘improve’ things.

Maybe the Government could learn something from the early years sector about how children learn, about children’s well being and mental health in particular.

Maybe the Government should stop trying to make all pupils tick the same boxes, at the same time – and allow them to flourish and achieve their OWN potential.

 

Decline in the number of Registered Childminders   8 comments

It has taken me a week to get round to writing a blog about this.

This is because the day the report was released was a very difficult day for me – as it was the day that I resigned as a Registered Childminder after a total of 32 years involved with childminding, most of which I was a hands on full time childminder.

I first registered in 1983 / 4 – I am not sure which but I know I took on my first child in 1984  and remained a childminder until 2004. So 20 years in total for my first registration (although my records state I registered in 1985 due to a house move and all records from my previous address getting ‘lost’).

From 2003 – 2007 I worked part time for NCMA (now PACEY) under a Service Level Agreement (SLA) with Worcestershire Local Authority. From 2004 – 2007 I worked part time directly for Worcestershire Early Years team , and from 2007 – 2010 I worked full time for Worcestershire early years as the SLA with NCMA was not renewed.

Then in 2010 I re registered as a childminder and continued to be a registered childminder until end March 2016 when I de-registered.

Which brings us back to the beginning of this blog and the release of the latest figures by Ofsted.

I do of course have my own reasons for de-registering which are outlined in this blog

Blog about why resigning

However I am just one person and others will have different reasons for leaving – but it has to be asked why so many are leaving.

I admit that what follows is just my thoughts and I have no research or data – just evidence from discussion in person and on social media with many different people – but nowhere even near the the number of people who have resigned in the past few years – which according to Ofsted is around 10,000 since 2012.

De registration because inspection is due                                                                                        In my opinion there are two separate parts to this

a) Some childminders have actually not been active for a couple of years, but did not de-register because they wanted to keep their options open while they ‘tested out’ if other employment would work for them. However as expected inspection date grew nearer they decided that should make the decision to de-registered.

b) Some childminders have openly stated that they were just ‘seeing the last child to school’ and had no intention of staying registered and having another inspection. So as soon as the ‘last child’ went to school they de-registered.

Retirement                                                                                                                                                       There are a lot of long standing childminders who have made a successful career as registered childminders – many of whom have also provided places for their grandchildren. However many are now near or past ‘retirement age’ and so have actually resigned so they can retire – often this has coincided with their youngest grandchild going to school.

Personally I think there are still a lot of ‘mature’ childminders who are now considering their retirement date.

Of course this is part of a natural cycle – the only question is if enough new childminders register to balance the numbers of childminders.

Paperwork Fears                                                                                                                                         I have used the word ‘fear’ on purpose because there is a lot of misleading and indeed sometime incorrect information about the paperwork that childminders need to do. This leads to fear based on assumptions rather than fact. It just takes one person to say ‘Ofsted asked for this’ or ‘Ofsted liked that’ and people think it is required.

Actually although Ofsted do require certain facts recorded, they do not insist on certain methods – in fact for childminders there is very little that has to be recorded in writing.

It must be remembered that some people thrive on having detailed systems and would not be able to cope without their systems – but this does not mean everyone has to have detailed systems.

Short term Childminders                                                                                                                There always have been childminders who register to provide an income while their own child / children are under five because they do not want to place their child in childcare. This continues to be the case and when birth rates are high there will be high numbers of parents taking this option and then de-registering once their child goes to nursery at 3 or school as a rising five.

De-motivated Childminders                                                                                                                    It can be hard to continue to motivate yourself if you do not get the grade you feel you deserve, or parents put in malicious complaints, or you can’t fill all your places. Sometimes no matter how hard you try, things just do not go well. Sometimes the direction of travel through government polices are a step too far and people are not prepared to ‘tick the boxes’ any more, and therefore become demotivated because of that.

Career Progression                                                                                                                                    Many childminders have achieved high levels of qualifications such as degrees, masters, and EYP status. It is only natural that some childminders will then use these qualifications to continue their career development, maybe going on to be nursery managers, to be early years teachers, or to move into training and consultation.

Ill Health                                                                                                                                              Childminding is a physically demanding career with knee, hip and back damage being quite common. When this is added to other life changing or limiting conditions, it is not really surprising that as many childminders still work alone, that they have to resign as being a registered childminder means doing everything yourself.

Needs Of Own Family                                                                                                                                Sometimes birth children find it hard to live in a house where there are always young children – and all the resources that are needed for childminding – in the family home. Having  space and peace for studying can mean that some childminders have to consider the needs of their birth children first.

Changes to Rules and Tax credits For some childminders the changes to tax credits, the rules about not being able to claim funded hours for own children or grandchildren, will have an impact on if their business is sustainable or not – however the impact on numbers of registered childminders for these reasons will not yet be showing in the Ofsted statistics.

I am sure I have not mentioned all the reasons, but just looking at the list above it is easy to see why we have high numbers of childminders de registering – personally I think that retirement and / or ill health are major factors.

However, it is important to also consider the positive aspects – in the last few months the reduction in number of childminders has been less, and the number of places provided – although still down on previous years has increased. This maybe due to some childminders being able to offer extra places as own children at school, or due to taking on assistants. Without a doubt registered childminding is changing with changes in law such as being able to work from other non domestic premises, being able to work in partnership with other settings.

Childminding has been a way of life for me over many years, and it has been a very good career for me that has fitted around my family commitments, provided a good income when averaged out over the years, and led to me gaining a number of qualifications including adult teaching, assessor and finally my degree. It has also led to my passion that has led to my volunteering and campaigning.

And I have made a lot of friends, and connected with a lot of colleagues.

Which brings me right back (again) to the beginning of this blog and why it has taken me a week to get round to writing it.

Yes – I had cold feet; I was wondering if I was doing the right thing by resigning: I was finding it hard to get rid of my resources; I was not sure if things would work out in the future; I felt I was losing my identity …..

In a nutshell, the report about the decline in childminder numbers brought all my fears to the surface, and I struggled with them.

But now a week on, my resignation official – I am able to not only write this blog but to move on.