Archive for October 2016

An open letter to Government about the 30 hours   Leave a comment

Dear Government (and everyone else caught up in the funding debate for the 30 hours)

I thought I would write this open letter with my personal thoughts ahead of the results of the funding consultation about the 30 hours, and indeed the one about Maintained Nursery Schools.

I have been proven right in my own personal thinking on a number of things within the early year’s sector in recent years, and indeed I have seen a number of U turns and abandonment of ideas around the issues I have campaigned about.

So will my personal thoughts be proved right this time?

My point is not to say ‘Told you so’ but rather to say – ‘Why not carry out proper consultation without hidden agenda and closed questions?’ Why not allow time for engagement with the sector?’ ‘Why not think outside the box and be brave enough to make long term changes, not just short term policy changes that achieve nothing in the long term and in fact often have a negative impact on children and families?’

Having said that, I am pleased to note that the current Government led by Theresa May, appear to be consulting little bit more and therefore hopefully listening a bit more before policy is implemented. Time will tell.

Before I start recording my thoughts, I need to make it clear that I do not have my own setting, and that I support ALL early years’ settings because I am an advocate for children, families and early years settings. We need high quality settings but also choice for families, and children, as one type of setting will not meet the needs of all children and families.

One of my personal concerns is that we will end up with one type of setting – and most likely a school based one that will not meet the needs of all children or families. I am also concerned that the way the Government is treating different parts of the early year’s sector differently that divide will be created as early years settings will not stand as one to ensure every child flourishes but will be drawn into heated self-centred debates based on their own survival. This is not needed and will not benefit any one – and especially not the children

So the first issue I want to look at, is that of Maintained Nursery Schools (MNS) and the increased amount of funding that they have traditionally had.

First though, I must say I do think it is right that Government has agreed to protect the funding rate for MNS while full consideration is given to why MNS need an enhanced rate. It would be dreadful if funding rates were reduced and they all closed, and would be a huge loss to the early year’s sector.

However, why is the Government not responding to the needs of the rest of the early year’s sector and giving them the same opportunities to remain open and not be threaten with closure due to being unsustainable?

It does not seem fair – and as there are more children accessing funded hours through the PVI sector, this unfairness could impact on many families and limit choice for families, and places for children.

I realise that it would cost the Government more money to offer an increased rate to the PVI sector, but if this was time limited (like the offer to MNS) surely it would be worth it to ensure PVI settings do not close, while the whole funding situation is looked at.

Most PVI settings would be happy with a baseline rate paid of £5 per hour, per child plus the normal adjustments as needed and as per Government guidelines.

I know the Government want to explore why MNS have such good outcomes – but really it is not rocket science – and historic issues though important to consider, are not the only factors to take into account.

Things have changed so much over the past years, with investment by Government, higher qualifications, and quality across the early year’s sector. Therefore a complete overhaul is needed to have a system that works for everyone – parents, Government and settings.

A quick fix, or providing some with protection against cuts or increased cost (but not all settings) is not the answer.

A forward thinking Government should want to consider short and long term sustainability of all settings, ensuring high quality, and gaining best possible value for money.

Certainly expecting settings or parents to cover shortfall in Government funding for election promises is not good enough.

First, let’s look at the need for MNS to have their own Head Teacher. In principle this is wonderful because it means the person in charge has a full understanding of the needs of early year’s children, and can implement policy and practice that will ensure the best outcomes. However in my opinion the cost of this seems too high – and completely unfair to the settings and children who do not have such a qualified lead person nor the budget to implement ideas or employ the higher qualified staff required in MNS.

This aspect needs looking at and alternatives considered if better use could be made of these experienced and qualified heads

Maybe Heads of MNS could also act as Head for local school nursery classes – thus sharing the cost of that head – meaning the MNs would need less funding per child.

I know Heads of MNS do already have a role in leadership across settings, but I don’t think the cost of the Head is shared between the settings.

Maybe the Heads of MNS should be paid from other budgets and the actual MNS run on a daily basis by another lead member of staff?

If the cost of employing such a person was not directly linked to a MNS, then the funding per child would be fairer and easier to justify. Cost to the Government would be similar but how the skills of those currently employed as Heads of MNS were used to benefit more settings and therefore children would be completely different

But there is much more to be considered …….

Take colleagues in school reception classes, or in nursery classes within schools – they often have a Head Teacher with responsibility for the whole school, and who does not have any early years qualifications or experience. The staff often feel they are banging their heads on the wall as they try to get Heads to understand or release money from the budget for specific items.

Also these days some PVI settings are run by people with similar early years qualifications and experience to MNS Heads but are not paid anything like the same pay – in fact some leaders in the PVI receive no pay or very little because the setting cannot afford it. How is this fair – not just to the setting but to the children and families?

Now let’s look at staff qualifications – many PVI settings and individual childminders do now have a degree, some now have a Masters or are an EYT – but their pay does not reflect this. Many settings have more level 3 staff than is required under regulations but this is not reflected in their pay or rate of funding (some argue that MNS need more funding to pay for higher qualified staff). Please note it is not the fault of the PVI settings, as they simply cannot afford to pay more on the funding they receive – and that is the case now, when they are able to recoup some money through non funded hours, but with the roll out of the 30 hours this will not be possible.

To be fair to all – consideration for funding rates should include level of qualifications and equal pay for those with the same level of qualifications – and by equal pay I mean per hour worked – so for example if someone has a level 3 they should get say £12 per hour worked, if they have a degree they should get say £14 per hour, and of course they should also get an enhanced rate if they lead the setting – just as the Head of a MNS currently gets.

I am not naïve, and I realise the Government could not afford to cover these sorts of costs – I am just trying to raise the issues that need to be considered and to put forward the idea that a complete rethink is needed.

Oh and by the way what about the childminders? Childminders tend to lead their settings and have responsibility for doing everything – many have a level 3 qualification or higher (or have years of experience and knowledge without a formal qualification) and yet the Government can (and will) restrict their earnings whatever their qualification or Ofsted grade is. Each childminder can have 3 children under 5 – and although they can also have school age children before and after school, some are not able to due to space in the car, or routines of the younger children. This means with funded hours a childminder has a restricted income for some or all of the day. Even at £4 per hour, per child (and many will get less) after genuine expenses many childminders will earn less than the minimum wage, and have no sick pay or pension.

Let’s now consider the hours different settings are open for. MNS and some community based pre – schools operate within school hours and school terms – so the children will usually have a 3 hour session each day (meaning 15 hours a week), and they get school holidays of around 13 weeks a year. School based early years settings may provide up to 6 hours per day, but again only in term time. Ofsted just judge the setting on those opening hours. Children and staff get plenty of time to do other things, to rest and relax and go on family holidays. However most childminders and day nurseries are open for 9 or more hours a day (with some childminders opening for 12 or more hours a day) and 50 – 52 weeks of the year. Ofsted judge those settings on all the hours they are open. Staff and children are tired at the end of each day and week, holidays are less frequent and for some children maybe only a few days a year. In my opinion it is not fair that some settings are judge on 10 hour days and some on 3 hour sessions against the EYFS (all early years settings are judged against this). Would it not be fairer if all settings were required to implement 3 hours a day, term time only of EYFS based ‘curriculum’ and judged against this – and maybe a different judgement for any other hours provided. I am saying this because of the requirement to record and document the ‘learning’ for however many hours the setting is open – which means more work for staff and more pressure to ensure every hour is utilised to tick progress boxes.

Of course we all know that children are constantly gaining new knowledge and understanding – but it seems unfair to me that the requirements from Ofsted need meeting for such different periods of time. I am not sure my personal thoughts are valid, but I certainly feel this needs looking at. As an ex childminder I would have been much more relaxed if my EYFS recording did not have to be over so many hours and with an Ofsted expectation that I would have planned various activities throughout the day. By relaxing Ofsted expectations for inspections – many settings would then be able to implement other opportunities for more child led play without any targets. I would suggest that this would actually improve outcomes for children. Certainly research says that it is the first 3 hours of high quality education that makes the difference and that any additional hours do not significantly improve outcomes. Then there is the research that says holidays or days away from school or setting do not have a negative impact on outcomes, and the research that suggests children need to be ‘bored’ and not rushed from one activity to the next, as well as the research that children these days have high levels of mental health issues, and are unable to think for themselves, self-regulate or even motivate themselves.

I would suggest all these issues need considering when looking at early years care and education (the two cannot be separated but for inspection and funding purposes a difference could be made around focussed educational activities / experiences).

Please note I am not suggesting there should be a difference in funding rates for ‘education’ funding and non-education funding – just in Ofsted requirements. If every setting had to provide 3 hours per child, per day attending of Ofsted required EYFS recording then it would all be a lot fairer and flexible.

I think the Government do recognise something needs to change because they have been referring to 15 hours of education and an additional 15 hours of childcare (and the additional 15 hours only for working parents)

Of course there other issues that need considering;

Parents of under two’s, who get very little  support

Working parents of two year olds

Parents who work shifts (including weekends) or who have zero hour’s contracts

Parents who work long hours and have long commutes

As I have said, there is so much to consider, that the whole funding issue needs to go back to the drawing board – and while the Government are doing this they need to ensure settings – all types of settings – do not close by providing short term financial support.

So to finish, I am not suggesting I have the answers (although I do think a subsidy for every child would be fairer, rather than an offer of ‘free childcare’ that the Government cannot afford and settings cannot subsidise), what I am saying is the early years sector is at a crisis point and if we are not careful good and outstanding settings will close, parents will end up with less choice and limited options for hours that meet their needs, and settings that are not local but need transport to access.

In recent years the early years sector has risen to all the targets and changes despite the huge challenges this has created, but I seriously think the whole 30 hour election promise is a step too far and that ‘enough is enough’

Government have demonstrated a huge commitment to the early years – but the Government need to listen, to everyone involved, and they need to ‘get it right’ because once settings close, once highly qualified and experience staff leave the sector, it will be impossible to reverse these things. It will be too late.

So please Government, and everyone involved – lets discuss this and all pull together to ensure every child has access to a high quality setting that is right for them so they flourish, and that also meets their parents needs – so they can work if they want to, or study, or fulfil other commitments such as caring for elderly relatives or doing community work.


Penny Webb BEM

Advocate for children, families and early years settings.


Posted October 30, 2016 by psw260259 in My thoughts on current childcare issues

Using food in play is it good, bad, mixed messages?   2 comments

This morning, I picked up on a Facebook discussion about using food for play and the suggestion was that it was not ethical. There was a list of non food items that could be used instead for sensory play experiences – these things included pom poms, baby oil, and many other things that would indeed provide sensory play experiences.

Discussion on this subject was wide ranging with different viewpoints being expressed. Some though using small amounts of say cornflakes was ok – but not large amounts; Some thought things like cornflour was ok; some thought out of date food was ok; some thought food should never be used because so many in the world are going hungry; some thought telling the children that give to food banks and so on, but also playing with food gave mixed messages.

So as you can see a wide range of opinions!

So here is my view – I have to admit this is one of those subjects that I have reflected on a lot – and changed my opinion over the years!

At first I did not really think about it in ethical terms and if I could afford to provide food for sensory experiences – I did.

Then I thought it was wasteful – so I used out of date food stuff

But then I thought actually that is not safeguarding the children in my care if they ate small (or even large) amounts of out of date food stuff.

So I went back to providing in date stuff, but tried to limit the amount used

But then I realised that if providing – say rice play – you need quite a lot certainly a large bag rather than a small bag – so I provide a lot of some items to create the play opportunities that I knew were needed.

Then I did a whole load of reflecting and have now reached this conclusion that I would like to share with you. Of course I may reflect again, but I don’t think so because my current thoughts are based on years of reflection and change and also on my own version of common sense.

I am not expecting everyone to agree with my thoughts on using food for play, as we all have our own ethos and personal values, we all have had different life experiences and been on our own personal professional journey.

Anyway – here we go …..

It is ok to use food for play!

It does not give mixed messages anymore than other things we do!

It is not wasting food that could be eaten by others!

Using food is a great sensory experience that is often safer to use than other non food sensory items!

Here are my thoughts around the issue and why I think as I do (re statements above)

  • Non food sensory items have a cost attached – and some use the earth’s resources to produce. How can it be right to use such items but not food which is a renewable resource – and often relatively cheap to buy. Would it not be better to use food and to give any savings made to charities or to providing items for foodbanks?


  • What about the clothes the children and adults wear – including logo wear? In this country we usually have far more clothes than we need – are people suggesting that it is wasteful or unethical because people in other countries do not have enough clothes, or wear clothes and shoes that do not fit, or not fit for purpose for the weather in their country?


  • What about the nice purpose made trays and containers that we put non food (and food) items in? Is this not wasteful? Is it not demonstrating to children that in this country we can have the latest all singing, all dancing ‘thing’ just because it is available? But those in other countries don’t even have a container to hold water or cook food in?
  • And water play? Is that not giving mixed messages? I know some limit the amount of water that can be used during a day – but surely this is still a mixed message when some people do not have clean water to drink? What about paddling pools, and sprinklers or hose pipes – all could be deemed unethical or giving mixed messages.


  • What about trips out using mini buses or cars – surely some would say that is wasteful of the earth’s resources? Why should we be able to just nip out in our cars or mini buses, when some people have to walk miles to get water or go to the market?


  • Then let’s think about food waste all around us – food not eaten at nursery, too many food choices, food seen on the floor in markets or in supermarket bins, or in the bins around fast food places ? What message is this giving?


  • What about our fundraising to buy the latest item for our settings – lets say a nice set of wooden blocks – is that not unethical when some people do not have wood to build homes or use on fires to keep warm?


  • What about all those craft materials (especially in the run up to festive period)? We could just provide recycled items, or we could do far less creative sessions – after all – How many different Diva’s or Santa’s or Witches does each child need to make? (and that is without considering  why the children are doing these activities to produce something to take home)

I could give loads more examples – such as the paper wasted in printing things we really do not need (including ‘learning Journeys’), what about social visits, or trips to cities to take part in training?

In fact just about EVERYTHING  we do in the western world could be described as unethical because we are using resources that others could make better use of, or spending money that could be used to support others through charities and so on.

So what should we do?

In my opinion we should not have a wasteful attitude, we should consider carefully everything we do, use and buy. However, we should not stop doing these things because it will not make any difference to those who lack sufficient food, or shelter, or clothes, or play items. Us using things in our settings will however support the development of the children in our care – who will flourish and go on to be citizens of the world.

However, we also need to support the children to understand how lucky they are (even those who are classed as living in poverty, have a lot more than many children in the world), we need to support giving things to charities. So items for foodbanks; clothes collections; going to charity shops to buy things, thinking do we need to use that much, recycling; fundraising for others, not just for our settings; being kind; being helpful and all those other characteristics that will enable the children to think about the needs of others.

In a nutshell, using food for play is not the issue – it is our whole lifestyles, and everything we do in our settings.

The bigger picture needs to be looked at – not just focussing on one aspect.

Of course if we decide to use food for play, we need to ensure we can justify why we have used food – and think about all the issues around it.

Each of us will have a different viewpoint – and that is fine. I am just not comfortable with the message that it is unethical.


Posted October 22, 2016 by psw260259 in My thoughts on current childcare issues

Improving Life Chances – My Reflections   Leave a comment

The title of this blog has been ‘borrowed’ from the Early Education conference that I attended on Friday 14th October 2016.

I have included a link to the conference page and hope it continues to work despite the conference now having taken place

I must make it very clear that these are my personal reflections from the conference and therefore my opinion – it is possible – in fact likely  – that other people attending will have had different reflections and opinion.

I also need to explain that I was a tad tired after a busy few days – and a very early start to the day, and so I may have missed bits or not recalled fully. So it would be lovely to hear or read the views of others who attended.

The preamble                                                                                                                                              

 I have been a member of Early Education for a number of years now, and indeed within this blog site are a number of posts about events organised by Early Education that I have attended in the past.

I have always been made to feel very welcome despite the fact that as a childminder and now a retired childminder, I do not fit the usual criteria of members.

For those of you who do not know, historically Early Education has been the membership organisation for  Maintained Nursery Schools (and it is important to remember that when reading this blog) however these days they welcome all members including PVI settings, trainers, consultants and all those who are interested in supporting high quality early years education.

Just to be sure those reading this blog have a basic knowledge about maintained nursery schools – these are not the nursery classes within Primary schools. They are independent nursery schools with their own Headteacher, and historically have been funded differently to other early years settings and indeed nursery classes within schools.

My Reflections                                                                                                                                            

 I arrived a bit late due to the time of my train and getting a bit lost on the walk from station to venue, so I missed the arrival refreshments and the first bit of Beatrice Merrick’s welcome and introduction. For those of you who don’t know, Beatrice is Early Educations CEO.

The first speaker was Helen Stephenson, Director, Early Years, Child Poverty and Children’s Services Strategy, Department for Education. I was really interested to hear what Helen had to say about the subject of her talk ‘The Government’s commitment to early education: an update on 30 hours delivery, maintaining quality, and improving access for the most disadvantaged children’  because as regular readers will know, I do not agree with a lot of the Governments current education policy.

First, I have to say that I found Helen to be an excellent speaker who came across as genuinely wanting to improve children’s outcomes. She also was honest about the restrictions of budget cuts, delays in implementing policy and in setting up  consultations. She also explained the delays and changes in the direction of Government policy due to the changes in Government and Government ministers. She said that we are now entering a new era –  Ministers are listening  and really do want to get it right.

Of course Helen’s job is to implement Government policy and to be positive about it – so I can’t say if Helen is putting a positive ‘spin’ on things or if it is a real change. Time will tell, but certainly from my personal conclusions about what Helen said – I would not be surprised if there were going to be some changes – of course things could get worse as well as improve – but I am optimistic about some things.

Helen spoke about all the points in the title of her talk – and at some length, but I am only going to pick up on the points that struck a cord with me.

First around the difference in funding rates for Maintained Nursery Schools – there is a pot of money available to continue funding Maintained Nursery schools at the current rate – for at LEAST two years. It was the word LEAST that jumped up and hit me – does this mean that a substantial difference in funding rates will continue for more than two years?

Helen did however say that the historical system was unfair and it needed to be fair to all settings. So does this mean that the Government are looking at all funding rates and will be increasing PVI settings rates so they are inline or at least nearer to the rate paid to Maintained Nursery Schools?

Maybe I am being a little to optimistic – but other aspects of Helen’s talk have made me think.

I must make it clear  that I  do not think Maintained Nursery Schools should have a huge cut in the funding rates – but I do think PVI settings including childminders need an increase and that the system needs to be fair and sustainable  so that EVERY CHILD can access high quality early education. Maybe giving everyone around £5 – £6 per hour would be fairer? (In a previous blog my own mini research showed that PVI settings would be happier – not delighted but happier- with a rate of £5 per hour, per child)

I do have an issue with government calculations because the amount being reduced from Maintained Nursery Schools does not seem to being used to increase the rate for others – this also applies to  the cuts some PVI settings are seeing in the funding rate calculators. It appears to me that the Government are using these savings to help cover the cost of an ill thought out election promise.

Helen spoke a lot about the 30 hours  – and I don’t know if it was an intended message, a subconscious message  – or just me reading into things and hearing a message that I wanted to hear!

So what did I hear?

Well, I heard Helen mention:

  • That she did not want the roll out of the 30 hours to impact on the 15 hours or the two year funding
  • That if could not offer the 30 hours – stick to offering the 15 hours
  • It is the 15 hours that makes a difference (reference to research given)
  • That 30 hours will not increase outcomes – at least not by much

And the 15 hours being crucial was mentioned several times

So is the Government reflecting?

Will we see a change to policy around the 30 hours?

Another part of the ‘puzzle’ was Helen talking about Maintained Nursery School looking into wrap around care, so they provided the 15 hours and a PVI setting provided any additional hours required by the parents. What I did not hear her say was ‘ additional 15 hours funding’ – but maybe my attention had wandered at this point or I just did not hear it (there were a few issues around the sound system). I had my hand up to ask questions but I was not picked and so my question remained unanswered. However I was thinking – are the Government going to follow through with 30 hours or are they thinking that the additional 15 hours which they have always labelled as ‘childcare’ do not need to be delivered by the Maintained Nursery Schools, but could be offered by ‘anyone’?

Are they in fact having a rethink?

Are they thinking that if we pay Maintained Nursery Schools a higher amount we don’t want to reduce the number of children able to access these settings by ‘allowing’ Maintained Nursery Schools to offer ‘childcare’ as well, and which could be provided by the PVI sector at a lower funded rate?

I don’t know -these are just questions that were going through my mind – Who does actually know what the Government is thinking?

Of course lots of other thoughts rushed through my mind – and I have to say some of those thoughts were rather depressing.

However, rather than express those thoughts, I will wait until I have more information before I say anything, and before  I lose the will to keep trying to engage with the Government, to try and get them to listen, to discuss, to spend Government money wisely.

Not that they are engaging with me directly at the moment.

Just one other point about the 30 hours – another speaker (who arrived mid way through the day) asked what Helen had said about the 30 hours and if she had said if going ahead. Of course the reply was Yes – going ahead.

The person then said ‘Oh I had heard the Secretary of State was still not decided. Of course I have no idea if this was based on fact, was first hand or third hand information, just an opinion or idea, or just wishful thinking. However, it goes to show that people are still thinking and wondering if the 30 hour roll out will go ahead, if details have or will change, if will be postponed or even scrapped.

Before anyone gets too hopeful, I do have to point out that Helen also spoke very positively about the pilots and the things they were learning from them (although of course that could also be taken to mean that learning  things need to change).

Helen asked people to get in touch if they had any ideas how to support families with two years olds with home learning – I am afraid I despair – How about Health Visitors, Children’s Centre’s – and Childminders?

The next speaker was Naomi Eisenstadt, University of Oxford and Independent Adviser on Poverty  and Inequality to the Scottish Government and she was speaking about ‘The challenges of an anti-poverty agenda’

I was really interested in Naomi’s speech – I did not agree with everything she said BUT her main message about the impact of poverty of children and families and therefore on the outcomes for children, I totally agreed with. So a few points from my memory

  • People need enough money to live on – money does not buy happiness but not having enough can lead to mental health issues in adults and impact on children
  • The gap between the have and have nots is getting bigger
  • Living in poverty does not mean children will have poor outcomes, many living in poverty do really well.
  • There are many other issues that impact on children – such as parenting skills, housing, general health from poor diet and so on.
  • High quality early years education is important but so is the standard of Primary school and secondary school education, and parents level of education and life experiences (how can you inspire your child to do well at school if you have never been to university or did not do well at school yourself?).

There was more but those are the things that stuck in my mind (as usual hardly any notes). Naomi had charts and graphs and referred to research but those who know me well,  know my opinion about the limits to research – so I did not take much notice. However the personal  ‘stories’ based on real life and observations that Naomi told did have an impact on  me – and I thought she is right. Parents living in poverty do worry, do want the best for their children but often have to make difficult choices – and some may appear selfish to those of us who do not live in extreme poverty  (so we might need more money but we can manage on what we have) as an example why do those in poverty often still smoke despite the high cost of cigarettes? (My thoughts are, it is the way they cope, they way they hold themselves together because they have very little else in their lives. They know it is bad for them – but then again, so is hitting your children due to stress, or drinking to extreme and not waking to feed the baby, or taking drugs and ending up in prison. Yes extremes and I know some do all these things – but not all. Some are desperately trying to do their best)

I am going to sidetrack here – just briefly to give you an example of the difference just a bit more money can have.

Today when we returned from doing some food shopping, we could not get into our own house because when we locked the door – unknown to us the lock had broke. In our case we had a back door we could open, my husband went and brought a new lock (under £30) and had the skills and tools to fit the new lock himself.

Now imagine the same thing happening to a family living in poverty, but doing the best they can. First it is unlikely they have a back door (if a flat) – or  they can’t get to it (if a terraced house). So how do they get in? What if it is raining or the children need lunch? It is unlikely that they can buy a new lock, or that they have the skills or permission from a landlord to do this sort of repair.

So they have to wait until the landlord gets round to fixing it. Meanwhile the parents stress about keeping the children safe, worry about drunks entering the house and hurting them, about people taking their stuff. So they all stay in, the children don’t go to school or nursery, they push a chair against the door …. and on and on (leave it to your imagination what might happen) – all because they do not £30 to spare / in rented accommodation and can not afford to call out a tradesman to do the job to the landlords specification (which would cost a lot more than £30)

I can relate to this and the stress that not having enough money can cause – as a young mum, a health visitor told me I needed to buy some one way liners for my first born’s  terry nappies – they were only a £1 or so – but I did not have the money – the guilt was unbearable and I cried bucket loads. I had to wait until next pay day because I had spent that weeks money. I also know about not having enough money to pay an unexpectedly high electric bill and the stress that causes (this was another example Naomi used)

I am not sure those in Government (even those like Caroline Dinenage who had a fairly ‘average’ childhood ) can relate to this. How can the Government say the living wage needs to rise to £7 and then to £9 per hour, when some are having to manage on a lot less than this.

And getting back to the subject matter – how can the Government say one child can benefit from a setting that receives two or three times more funding than another setting in the same area. Yes, I know Maintained Nursery Schools are often in areas of disadvantage – but not all the children get a place – so how is that fair? How can those other settings, including childminders in areas of disadvantage provide the high quality early education needed, when they get less funding, have huge issues to overcome with buildings, attracting staff and so on.

As I have said this is not a anti Maintained Nursery School point of view – all settings need the higher rates of funding – at least  some mid point level between that which PVI settings and Maintained Nursery School get. If EVERY CHILD MATTERS then funding needs to be fair and sustainable for ALL settings.

Naomi raised the importance of the impact of Home Learning – and I thought back to the question from Helen and my ‘in my head’ answer.

So getting back to the Early Education conference, the next speaker was Professor Ted Melhuish, University of Oxford speaking on ‘Policy for the future welfare of nations: lessons from research’ .

Ted had lots of information and graphs based on research – most of it went over my head I’m afraid – and I will be honest it is because it is based on data from several years ago – and these days there are a lot more Outstanding and Good PVI settings, so although I am sure high quality early education does make a difference, we need more research and practise based observation to demonstrate the difference PVI settings are making – and not just at school entry point but throughout the education system.

We also need information about children who stay at home with parents, children who are home educated, children who attend a childminding setting, or spend a lot of time with grandparents. We also need to consider those children who access a range of settings in a week. I think the information would be very interesting. Personally I can’t help feeling that disadvantaged children will do well in most good or outstanding settings (including Maintained Nursery Schools) but that funded two year olds will do best in a childminding setting due to the lower number of children, increased social opportunities including language opportunities. (But I have said this many times before).

The next  speaker  (after a welcome refreshment break) was Professor Kathy Sylva, University of Oxford who was speaking about ‘Children’s Centres: lessons from the Evaluation of Children’s Centres in England’. Kathy also had graphs and facts which I don’t remember, however I found Kathy’s talk interesting and two points in particular

  • Evaluations show Children’s Centres had not had as much impact as expected – but had had a small positive impact
  • Much of the reason for lower than expected outcomes was due to budget cuts, and the parents who needed services often choosing not to access them or if they did not accessing them regularly.

As someone who had been involved with Children’s Centres in their early days – I can confirm that the potential was never fully used and indeed budget cuts have a lot to answer for. The potential was there.

Kathy also mention the importance of home learning and the impact and how it could be supported through Children’s Centre’s. (Provided not been closed)

The final session before lunch was by Bernadette Duffy, Head of the Thomas Coram Centre on the subject of ‘Delivering integrated services – how to make it work’. It was a shock to me that the Thomas Coram Centre is no longer a Children’s Centre – but it was also amazing how they had managed to retain many of the services by clever budgeting, using volunteers and asking for favours!

Of course more was said but by now I was really hungry and so not paying full attention, as breakfast had been at 4.20am, I had missed the arrival refreshments, and coffee break was just a drink – not even a biscuit.

Lunch was OK but I could not go back for seconds (as usual did not fill my plate so everyone had a choice) due to the fact that as members I (we) had to eat lunch while attending the AGM. Personally this did not work for me, as I needed to move around not sit still again, and I missed the important networking which is one of the reasons I attend this sort of events.

After the AGM we had to go straight back to the conference room for a panel discussion with Dr Eva Lloyd, University of East London, Alex Magloire, Ofsted, Dr Kirsten Asmussen, Early Intervention Foundation. This was quite interesting and we had opportunity to discuss briefly with those sat near to us. It was during the question and answer bit, that I raised the subject of childminders – in particular working in partnership – and all learning from each other rather than school leading (or should I say – telling PVI what to do and how to it). I also raised the issue of sufficient funding, childminders professionalism and more.

My comments went down well and Tony Bertram who was facilitating this session said I had made my point well. He also commented to me personally before I left about the importance of childminders. Two other people also came up to me and said how pleased they were that I raised the issue of childminders.

It was then time to go, I chatted with a few colleagues as we left, and with one colleague on the way to the station. I then had a long wait until my train, finally getting home at 21.30.

It had been a very long day, and worth it for the speakers at the conference. Lack of biscuits at break, lack of opportunities to network over lunch – and the cost of attending (even with the early bird discount and member discount) had been disappointing.

Being honest – if the cost remains the same, or increases, this sadly will have been my last Early Education conference, as the total cost of the day had been almost £180 and without any funding and very little personal income, this sort of expense will not possible in the future.

For those with funding, or who are able to attend in their work hours, and claim travel expenses, it is good value – but for those who have to take a day off without pay and /or pay for their own attendance and travel – it is a lot of money to find.




Posted October 15, 2016 by psw260259 in My thoughts on current childcare issues

Cost of childcare in the UK, in the news – again   Leave a comment

We seem to be going round in circles – the circle of childcare in the UK is the most expensive and the circle of government statements that they have sufficiently funded the so called ‘free childcare’ offer.

Well I disagree with both sides of this and wonder why we keep seeing the same statements over and over again – because after each news story like this, the early years sector will respond and explain

  • that the UK is not the most expensive and that it is a complicated issue to unpick and understand
  • that the government funding is not sufficient

Maybe you have seen the latest news stories on this?

I read this one from the Daily Mail online – but there are others

Lets start with some easy facts

The article suggests that a full time place for an under 2 now costs £222 and it costs the average parents around £11,300 a year – more in London.

As an aside – it actually it says ‘mothers’ but in my opinion it can also be ‘fathers’ or 2 parents who both work. In my opinion the media use the word ‘mothers’ on purpose to pull at heart strings, as do the government but for different reasons as they are trying to get more mothers into work.

In recent weeks I have been doing my own mini research into the cost of childcare as my granddaughter was moving from a childminding setting to a nursery setting.

Of course I realise that my research is only based on one town but it indicates that the average figure of £220 is indeed an average (ish) rate.

Let’s take the yearly figure of £11,300 – lets assume it is for 51 weeks a year and 50 hours a week – so as full time as you can get really. However, I know that often when full time is quoted it is not actually full time but lets go with it being full time as indicated above. And those of you who want to check it with a calculator – it does indeed come out at £221.56 (so near enough £222 per week) and if a 50 hour week, 5 days of 10 hours we get a figure of £4.44 per hour. So far so good – but is it?

No, not really you see most childcare places are for 8 or 9 hours – with an extra charge if need longer hours – so if 8 hour days that equates to £5.55 per hour, and if 9 hour days it works out at £4.93.

However in my area childcare settings are not all charging that much – I saw fees from £32 per day – £55 per day which shows the huge variation in fees, with the weekly rate between £160 – £275 per week

So point one from my mini research, the average cost of a full time place is indeed £222 but most parents do not pay that all themselves – and I will pick that up in a minute.

However for a moment I want to focus on the amount Government pay per hour, per child for funded hours (or as I prefer to say ‘subsidised’ hours)

Based  on the average figure of £222 per week stated in the article – the government are clearly underfunding the so called free childcare / education places as in most areas a figure of between £3.50 – £4.20 is quoted as being the amount settings will receive – and this figure is set to remain at that rate for 4 years.

Most settings that I have spoken to say that they need an figure of about £5 per hour, per child – and using the figures from the article that would seem to a reasonable amount – and to be a average amount, with some needing slightly less and some needing slightly more – as is always the case with average figures.

With a rate of £5, settings could pay their staff a bit more, invest in training – and not rely on the goodwill of managers and staff.

So I have to ask why the Government are not using the figures that are available from facts about what settings charge and indeed need to charge to remain sustainable in the long term. Why are they basing them on figures from 2012? (not sure this is the actual year – this is the year in my head – but I may be out by a year or so). Why is there not any provision for increasing rates as the Living Wage comes in, and other increased costs such as pensions?

It seems to me the Government are not being fair to settings and they know it!

They are expecting settings to continue to subsidise the government, and also parents of those children who are not eligible for funding – as to be sustainable many settings have to charge more for non funded hours than they actually need to cover the cost of that place. This will be even more true when the 30 hours roll out as it will be difficult for settings to maintain occupancy rates due to the difference between the 30 hours and a ‘full time place’ as some parents will manage with just the 30 hours by covering the other hours between themselves or with grandparents help and this will leave odd hours here and there that will be difficult to fill.

Which brings us back to parents – and the amount they pay and the claim in the article  that parents in this country pay more than parents in other countries in terms of % of their pay.

It is very difficult to make comparisons with other countries – some do indeed pay less direct to childcare settings – but they pay more in taxes, and their governments pay settings directly. They also may receive payments through a benefit system, that they then pay to the childcare setting – as does happen in this country. So the headline figure of £222 does not always come direct from parents pay packets. Also in this country and in other countries there are various schemes such a free hours at certain ages; funding direct from Government to childcare settings. So it is all very complicated. Not all parents therefore pay the average £222 per week up front or without any support through tax or benefit systems.

However there is a group of parents who do tend to pay more than others up front and from their pay – that is working parents of the under twos – and as correctly identified by the article. If both parents are working they get less than average in universal credits, they do not get any funded hours until their child is three – and they sometimes have to pay an increased rate to help subsidise Government under funding.

So if Government funded places at £5 per hour per child – actually parents of under threes would not have to pay so much – oh and then that would bring down the average weekly rate and so the average hourly rate would be less when quoted in articles.

However, there is another side – also reported in the media today – pots of money for short term funding – like this one

and there are others – such as the one to support the role out of the 30 hours funding (not yet announced as far as I know) that will be on the same sort of basis as the project to roll out the two year old funding.

And then there are various other pots of money that crop up now and then – and some of these pots are huge – such as the one for the now aborted baseline assessments.

The point I am trying to make is nothing much has changed, there is still a very complex system of funding with those on the ground floor not getting enough, parents having complex systems to navigate, and that often get things ‘wrong’, and funding for things which may support a few – but do little to ensure equality or fairness.

It would – in my opinion be so much easier if childcare settings were funded directly as it would save on the running costs of these schemes, and they would be transparency – and everyone would benefit. Maybe the government can not afford to pay for the childcare of every child – but other countries have systems that seem fair and work. Such as a capped hourly or weekly fee, higher taxes for all but free /  low cost childcare.

There are so many options and although I agree it would not be easy to scrap the current system, in would be better in the long run.

My next point – and apologies for quoting the same thing in many different blogs – we really need to take education out of politics because so much money (not to mention time) is wasted every time a new minister comes in and / or a new government.

Early years should be up to 7 and play based, there should be no testing, and no ‘school ready agenda’. Children, if given time and the right environments will flourish and thrive.

Early year educators for the under 7’s should be trusted to carry out the job they have been trained to do, and are passionate about

Think how much money could be saved if there were no tests, no league tables, no Ofsted visits – but instead  professionals working together across the sector to support each other, share good practice, and ensure every child does matter. Of course safeguarding in the widest sense would remain vital, as would the need for unannounced visits from a regulatory body  if concerns are raised, but do we really need all this box ticking, all this one size fits all and all these targets?

I think not – and the bottom line if we had one pot of money, transparency, payment direct to settings, one system for all …..

……Well I can’t say for sure, but in my opinion – the money would go a lot further, settings would be more financially sustainable and parents would have to pay less – especially parents of under three’s.

And the Government would stop wasting millions on pounds on admin, on changing policies, on schemes and pilots ……

……. so maybe, just maybe it would all add up and the country either spend less on education  or spend the same to achieve more.

At first glance articles such as the ones I read today make me groan in despair – but actually when you unpick them – there are a lot of facts and information which back up what people like me have been saying for years.

My hope is that the new government ministers and the new opposition education MP ‘s take the time to listen to ideas and then be brave enough to stop, reflect and actually make a difference to children and families.

I mentioned in one of my previous blogs that I await a phone call, or an email inviting me to explore my ideas – and those of others – as I am not saying I am right, I am just saying education in this country is not working from Early Years through to university and we are at crisis point.

I am still waiting for the phone call or the email – maybe I will never get invited to take part in discussions – and that is fine – my views are here for all to read.

But please government – talk to the experts, explore ideas, be brave – and those in opposition – what have you to lose by listening and taking your time to think through your ideas – and to challenge government policy that you don’t agree with?





Posted October 11, 2016 by psw260259 in My thoughts on current childcare issues

Personal Feedback from Midlands Childcare Expo 2016   Leave a comment

This year I was asked again to attend the Childcare Expo VIP Breakfast Summit – I was particularly pleased to have been asked because I had some concerns that now I have retired as a registered childminder, that I would not be considered to be one of the leading voices in the early years sector.

Even more pleasing was the fact that I was asked to do an interview about me which was used (along with other interviews) to promote the event.

I wrote a blog about my pre event thoughts and included a link to my interview. If you have not read it you can do so by clicking on the link below

Now that I have attended both the VIP Breakfast summit and Midlands Expo for 2016, I want to share my personal feedback and thoughts.

Attending a breakfast summit does mean getting up early and having a discussion with oneself about if should have breakfast at home because of the early start and the long day ahead OR to skip breakfast at home because past experience has shown that a very good breakfast will be provided later. In the end I opted for a coffee at home before setting off in the direction of the MBK training office, where I was to meet my colleague Tricia Wellings. Tricia was also attending the Breakfast summit and for the first time was exhibiting at Expo.

I was very grateful to Tricia for offering me a lift from her office, because although I had to drive to the office it cut my travel expenses in half. Since retiring from childminding, I no longer have a tax deductible method of keeping my volunteering and campaigning costs down, nor do I have an independent income and have to fund my campaigning and volunteer activities from our family budget and the very small income I get from writing articles. So grateful thanks to Tricia.

We arrived at Expo in good time, and were able to network and enjoy breakfast before the summit opened. I chatted to people I knew and introduced myself to people that I did not know.

James Hempsall was facilitating the meeting (as he did last year) and he started off by telling us a little about himself and his company and his role for today.

The main discussion was to be what early years would look like in the future. James had his own views that he shared with us – I was quite pleased that most of the points he raised, I had raised in my pre summit blog about Early Years education – or is it childcare. However my thoughts / conclusion were not all the same as those James expressed.

If you have not read my thoughts in that blog yet you can do so by clicking on the link

James then asked those in the room to come up with things that concerned them or that they wanted to discuss. It will most likely not surprise readers to know that the Funding Rate; and Ofsted were the two top things that people wanted to discuss. My suggestion was slightly different as I wanted to ensure the individual child was put at the heart of everything – something I feel is still not happening.

As a result of the discussion several interesting points were raised and discussed and it is one of those points that I want to focus on, because I fear that the needs of the individual child are going to get pushed aside because of lack of sufficient Government funding and indeed understanding of the issues involved.

In the room we had some who have been taking part in the pilots and so had valuable information to share about how the pilots  were going and the ideas they were trying to make the funding stretch and for their settings to be sustainable.

One idea was to be completely honest with parents and explain how much funding they got from the Government – and more importantly what it covered and what it didn’t.

We were told that parents had warmly welcomed this information and had been shocked at how little the funding was – and that it did not cover things like meals.

With the 15 hours some settings had been able to avoid providing meals because their funded sessions were for 3 hours a day and so parents paid for meals as an extra as part of the hours they paid for. Other settings absorbed the cost of meals with the 15 hours – but in reality this meant they charged a little bit more to parents that paid for childcare – including those too young for funded hours. And this sort of worked with the 15 hours because there were enough hours available within a nursery week that were paid for by parents, that the books balanced. However with 30 hours all of this would change because some children would be able to access 30 hours and so there would be far fewer hours in a nursery week that could be charged for – leaving the issue of becoming unsustainable.

Within the pilot areas parents who were benefitting from the funded 30 hours  were very happy to pay for an ‘extra’s’ package – mainly because they were saving a lot of money on their nursery bill. Most parents taking part in the pilots were already using the nursery for 30 or more hours a week, and so this was a genuine saving for them. As it would be for parents in the future once the 30 hours is rolled out – if they needed to use nursery (or pre school, or childminder) for 30 hours or more there would be a saving in fees for them – and so even if paying for an extra’s package, they would be better off.

However, this would not be the case for all parents – and I fear the children may then have a lesser service with out the extra’s package or that parents may find that the so called ‘FREE’ childcare offer from the Government was not free and maybe nursery  was not affordable for them.

Let’s give a couple of examples (based on children and families I know)

Child A – Currently 2 yrs old and goes to nursery two days a week and grandparents two days a week. Parents don’t like relying on grandparents but they just cannot afford to send their child to nursery 4 days. They are looking forward to when their child is three and they will be able to access the 30 funded hours. The plan is the child will then go to nursery for 4 days because the funded hours will mean their nursery bill will not go up.

However, if there is an ‘extras’ they may find that they have to pay for meals not just on the two extra days but on all 4 days because the nursery changes how it charges for things and has to be seen as being fair to all parent. So child A’s parents may find their nursery bill goes up and they do not benefit as much as they thought they would – and indeed they may find that they actually cannot afford to send their child for 4 days to nursery – despite the Government promise of 30 hours free childcare.

Child B – Currently 2 yrs old and has benefitted from 2 yr old funding. Father has been using the 15 hours to attend college and really hopes to be able to become employed once his child is 3 yrs old and can access the 30 hours, because he will not have a childcare bill to pay. However despite finding a job that meets the funding criteria, Dad can not take the job because he cannot afford the ‘extras’ package on his min wage once he has paid for travel to work.

Child C – is 4 in October and due to go to school next September. Parents are delighted that their child can access 30 hours of childcare as this is nearly the same number of hours as their friends child who was 4 in June gets at school. However they are very cross that while their friend’s child get free meals at school, free fruit at snack time – they have to pay an ‘extras’ package at their child’s nursery. They do not understand why this is and do not think it fair – after all both children are 4.

Personally I do not like the options that those who can not afford an extras package should be told they need to send a packed lunch, or that their child will have a meal but not the same quality as those who can afford to pay for the extras package. Nor do I think it fair that other parents have to pay more than they need to, just to subsidise the lack of Government funding.

Meanwhile some families who earn up to £100,000 each (so up to £200,000 per family) can access the funding when they could easily pay for their child’s nursery place.

It seems to me that the gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ will just get bigger – and that those that most need support and most need a balance meal mid day will not get it.

In my opinion the Government need to look at the issue of meals for pre school children. It is generally accepted that children of in first years of primary  school should all have a free school meal, it is even accepted that in school holidays some children go hungry unless a meal is provided by other means. And yet pre school children have to rely on the good will of the nursery or pre school or childminder – or on other parents paying more. This can not be right – especially when the poorest families also have to rely on food banks to stretch their family budget and to provide food for their children.

If Government want to improve outcomes for children they need to look at children’s well being – and a healthy diet is a big part of this. Maybe they should re think offering funded hours to all children and focus on those that need it most . This could mean still providing 15 hours to all children (and from say 12 months of age when many parents return to work or study) so that all children benefit from a nurturing, language rich environment; and limit the 30 hours to those who earn less than £60,000 as a family.

As you can see the issue of insufficient funding is bigger than many of us thought and if early years settings are forced to make difficult decisions to remain sustainable, then it will be the children who have to go without as a two tier system seems a real possibility.

I am not blaming early years settings at all , they are just trying to make ends meet because if they don’t, they will close and eventually there will not be many settings left.

Actually James said that in the long term early years may look very different – with an increase in school based settings, and large nursery chains – which of course would mean that small pre schools, stand alone nurseries and childminders will find it harder and harder to remain sustainable – and that would mean less choice for parents and children not being able to access the type of setting that meets their needs. I really hope that James is wrong about this, because we need choice and we need individual needs to be met.

Which brings me to another point – if we lose local community based childminders, pre schools and stand alone nurseries – will we see under fives being picked up by buses and transported into towns and cities so they can attend those bigger schools and nurseries? Will we move even closer to a ‘one size’ fits all early years system. I really hope not.

Reading back through this blog – it has come across quite negatively so I want to end with some positive comments.

First – unlike last year those at the Breakfast Summit were less angry than last year, they could see improvements in Ofsted and thought that although there is still room for improvement, Ofsted were listening. There was less anger at the Government – there was still despair but there was also an attitude of ‘let’s try to find solutions’ – which is where the ‘Will charging for extras idea work’ came from. Maybe that is not the solution but I know these creative, passionate people will come up with other ideas.

Finally looking around Expo I could see that companies were trying to offer individual services, that there was a lot of information and advise – and a feeling of we are in this together. There were many natural based resources and ideas rather than tons of plastic (not that plastic is bad  – it is good for some things)- and certainly the seminars focussed on what could be done to support the children and families – as well as each other.

And there is the hope – the hope that settings will develop their own ethos and parents will continue to have a wide range of options; that settings will work in real partnership with each valuing the others and not assuming that one type of setting is better than the other; that settings will share resources, and training and ideas, so that available money is used to benefit all; that Ofsted will be able to judge settings on children’s holistic well being and not on data of ‘good progress’; that eventually we will be able to  say hand on heart ‘Every Child Does Matter and Every Child is Flourishing’.

People are beginning to come together more, people are beginning to speak out more, people are writing articles and blogs more ………

………. BUT  we need to do more to ensure the Government listens because if we don’t – all our efforts to date, all the ideas we have, all the passion we have , all our dreams of creating a system that works for us all (settings / parents / children) will be trampled on by the current Government and future Government.

I hope that I get invited to next years Breakfast Summit , and I hope that we will have made progress in achieving our shared aims.




Posted October 3, 2016 by psw260259 in My thoughts on current childcare issues