Archive for November 2016

Safeguarding and Protecting Every Child – Conference Feedback   1 comment

The Preamble (Skip if you want to – but you might find it interesting!)

This conference was a landmark one because it was the FIRST national Early Years Safeguarding and Child Protection Conference. It was held on Friday 4th November and was the not only the brain child of my friend and colleague Laura Henry, it was also the result of a lot of planning, hard work, commitment and time on her part.

Laura had mentioned to me much earlier in the year (well before it was generally public knowledge) that she wanted me to be a speaker for one of the workshops. I agreed – and from then on started to panic!

By September requests for my presentation to be emailed over, were made by Juliette (Laura’s admin person) and suddenly it was all very real – I knew that the website information was available, I knew that people were booking, but I had been hiding behind the ‘it is not until November’ shield and had convinced myself that I had loads of time.

So presentation was written and sent – and I went back to having my head in the sand about my workshop but also to being very busy with general life, article writing, foster care, grandchildren and so on.

Roll onto Wednesday 2nd November – should have been graduation day for me – but it didn’t happen due to other people messing things up. I was very upset, very emotional and not at all in the mood for facing my own personal fears about going to London and speaking at a national conference – oh, or meeting with colleagues from Save the Children (which was planned for during my London Trip).

However, I am not the sort of person to let people down, so I packed my bags and put on my best smile, and on Thursday 3rd November was en route to London via various trains and a total of 4 hours travelling. On this occasion my destination was Euston – which is not my normal arrival station. However I have used it before and have a fairly good idea of where things are. First was the meeting with Save the Children colleagues (blog available if interested) and then I headed off on the underground to Canary Wharf. I have been to Canary Wharf once before but it was quite a while ago and once I got there I realised that I was not going in the same direction as last time and did not really know which direction to go in!

So I wandered about a bit and looked at several maps and my printed directions. It all looked straight forward – but I was lost! I crossed a road thinking it was in the general right direction – and lucky for me a very nice Police Officer (with a dog) stopped me and asked if I needed any help because he had noticed me walking up and down a few times. Once I had explained, he kindly walked me a little way towards where I needed to go, and then pointed and gave me very good directions. I am glad he did because I am not sure I would have found the hotel if he had not.

I checked into the hotel that had been paid for by Laura as part of my expenses for attending – and was soon in my hotel room on the 4th floor. I was on a bit of a mission because I wanted to write a blog about my meeting with Save the Children and get it published before I went out to dinner in the evening – and I did succeed. I also was busy via text – to Laura, to home and to a colleague- Rachel Buckler who was staying in the same hotel.

By 18.30, I am changed and ready to go downstairs for prearranged drinks with Laura and Rachel. We were joined by others connected to the conference and we all enjoyed a pre-dinner drink and some networking before walking the short distance to the dinner venue – but via the long route!

Once at the venue we meet up with John Carnochan whose name I had heard of but who I had never met before. Over dinner I was to have several conversation with John and I discovered I really liked what he had to say both personally and professionally, but I am jumping the gun a bit!

Others joined us for dinner – Dr Eunice Lumsden, Debbie Alcock, Ann Marie Christian and Laura’s admin Juliette – plus of course Laura, Rachel and myself. We were sat at a window table overlooking the Docklands – all those high impressive buildings, the 02 arena and the Thames; I had to pinch myself a few times – what was I, Penny Webb doing in such a place with those experts? I never think of myself as an expert or of being worthy of being involved in these sorts of things – self-doubt of course and all as a result of my own life experiences.

The life experience bit was reassuring in a way – because it links so closely to the reasons why this conference was happening – and why I was involved. Despite my lack of confidence – others do seem to think that I am knowledgeable and should be involved. I guess I will never really change – I will always be nervous, I will always have self-doubt, – but one thing is certain, I will continue to be driven by my passion to do whatever I can to make a difference.

Over dinner I did a lot of listening, and a bit of talking. I found the dinner table conversations to be fascinating – so many personal stories, so much experience, so much knowledge – and to my surprise I could contribute, I could add my own stories and my own experiences – and people were interested. John was interested in my stories connected to fostering, Eunice was interested in my journey to gaining my degree and my work within early years; Rachel, Anne Marie and Debbie were interested in what I thought about things. Maybe I should have more faith – lots of people tell me I should, some even tell me off for not ‘selling’ myself enough (or at all). I have a lot to be thankful to Laura for – because her support, and her encouragement have opened a lot of doors for me – including starting my blog, being a speaker at the conference – and for lots of introductions to the people I now engage with.

There were a few issues with the dinner as the venue was unable to meet my dietary requirements – despite having forewarning. The service in general was pretty rubbish with delays and people not having things like spoons to eat soup or forks to eat mains, or even all being served at the same time. I know Laura will have raised this as an issue and I hope the bill reflected this – as Laura paid as part of the ‘package’ for speakers. However, it has to be said the poor service did not have an impact on networking between us.

We returned back to the hotel – this time via the short route (which really was VERY short), and were joined by Jennie Johnson, a colleague known to many of us via the Ofsted Big Conversation and of course her MBE awarded by the Queen in the 2016 Birthday Honours. We chatted for a while before people (including me) started heading off to bed – although I believe some stayed chatting into the early hours.


The Main Event (welcome to those who skipped the preamble)

I was up early – well before 5am, something to do with nerves and not wanting to be late. I showered, had a coffee, checked emails, and text Laura who was also up at silly O’Clock. By 6am, I am downstairs having another coffee and some mini pastries (as full breakfast not available until a bit later). By 6.50, I have checked out and I am ready as promised to travel with Laura and Juliette to the venue for the conference and to help set up. Only thing is when the taxi driver arrived, I was ready and so was Juliette – but Laura was still having her breakfast! I wish I had thought to take a photo (but guess Laura is glad I didn’t) as it was quite funny to see Laura clutching drink and food in her hand while rushing out to get in the taxi. Even the taxi driver was concerned about Laura and her hot drink on the go. Still we arrived at the venue without any drink spillage, and entered the very impressive venue. Juliette and I checked in and were handed our conference badges- but there was a problem – Laura could not check in because there is not a badge for her!!!

The badge issue was quickly sorted and we headed to the lifts and to the 32nd floor – due to my fear of heights, my dislike of closed in spaces, and my difficulties with fast moving anything – this was not something that I enjoyed. We got out of the lift and walked the short distance to the conference space – which I discovered after a quick ‘get your barring’s’ walk round – was HUGE. I also discovered that there were huge windows to one side of all of the rooms being used taking advantage of views across the docklands. I am sure everyone who attended would have not failed to notice this – in fact I know they didn’t because of the number of photo’s on social media. However for me it was a bit of a problem because of course I don’t like heights.

Anyway there was no time for looking out of windows at this point because there was work to do – and the reason why we had arrived just after 7am. I got stuck into helping sort out the Goody Bags by putting the last minute things into the bags. I should have also helped arrange them on the tables in alphabetical order – but as usual my inability to do this, without going through the alphabet song in my head for every bag meant I was far too slow – so I let others do this! Throughout this time other people were arriving to help – many of whom I knew, so hugs were exchanged. Speakers were also arriving – and so workshop rooms were found, the main conference room found – and of course the restrooms and cloakroom. Laura had arranged for breakfast to be provided for all delegates (as many will have had an early start) but she also arranged for those helping to have breakfast earlier during the set up time. I say Laura arranged – what I meant was Laura thought of it and Juliette made the arrangements.

Once the Goody Bags were finished – I went to see the room that I would be using – it looked great – but – yes you have guessed right – one whole wall was a window! I did venture towards the window and took a photo, but regretted it because I felt sick, and my legs were wobbling. I checked the equipment (with the help of Juliette and an IT man from the venue) a few issues were resolved, and I was shown how to use the Walkie Talkie should I need to call for help during my workshop.

Luckily by now delegates were arriving in their droves, so I was busy saying hello to people, giving directions to new arrivals and it has to be said spending a fair amount of time in the breakfast area because this was the one space without a window!

Time was already going quickly, and before I knew it, we were being asked to take our seats for the conference to start.

As usual, I will not be giving a word for word account of Keynotes or the workshops because that is not fair to the speakers or to those who paid to attend. However, I will be giving my personal overview – and where possible links to information about the speakers, so that readers can find out more if they want to.

We were welcomed by the Chair of the conference Dr. Julian Grenier. I have met Julian on several occasions, including on the trip to Keilhau in Germany to ‘re discover Froebel’. For those of you who do not know Julian this is the link to his Linkiedn profile which tells you a bit about him, and gives links to his posts etc.

Julian’s job for the day was to ensure everything kept to time, to give a brief recap of the events – and to introduce the speakers – the first of which was Laura. Many people call Laura ‘Lovely Laura’ because she is such a lovely person – but also because she always looks so smart – and today she was wearing a lovely orange dress and her ‘trademark’ red shoes.

Laura welcome us, and explained why she had organised this this conference – and why it had taken 4 years to get from first idea to today’s event.

KEYNOTE ONE – John Carnochan

Those paying attention to my ramblings will know John was one of my dinner companions – and that I had found I liked what he had to say. However by the end of John’s keynote, I more than liked what he had to say – I loved it – and I noted he even included a few words that I had mentioned over dinner.

John is from Scotland and was an active Police Officer for about 40 years – he is not an early year’s trained person. However, during his work with the Crime Reduction Unit, he realised that everything can be traced back to a child’s early years’ experience.

This next bit is taken from the information on the conference website – so not my words

A child who is the victim of any adverse childhood experience will be significantly disadvantaged throughout their life. Knowing and understanding the circumstances that impact negatively on children’s well-being provides an opportunity to increase protective factors and reduce risk factors.

Primary prevention through the development of safe, stable and nurturing relationships between children and their caregivers must become a key component of national strategy and be placed at the heart of all our collaborative efforts.

 I totally agree with John – and I also believe although early years education, and the quality of early years settings is important – it is not the only factor that needs to be considered.

For those of you who like me have heard of the name John Carnochan – but don’t know much about him – the following link gives some information

John spoke with passion and conviction that all though he may not always be ‘spot on’ he is going in the right direction – and making a difference.

One of the things that I have remembered from John’s speech is a recall from him about a conference that he attended – where a group of young people who are in the looked after system or are care leavers all stood up holding their paper hearts. Their message was simple – we want to be loved – we want to live as normal family life as possible with our foster families – we do not want ‘services’ provided, we want to be loved.

So very powerful – and I personally think this message of wanting to be loved applies to all children and young people. It is the most important aspect – even those who live in poverty can (and do) achieve good well-being and achieve their personal outcomes (which please note are not the same as Government imposed outcomes)

I could say a lot more about John’s keynote – but I will say no more – other than if you have opportunity to hear him speak – I recommend that you do so.

Next on the programme of events were the morning workshops – which included mine – and also Debbie Alcock of Influential Childcare Training on the subject Disqualification; and Susan Taylor of Tailormade Training Solutions on the subject of Working with Children Subject to Child Protection Plans. Of course I could not attend either Debbie’s or Susan’s workshops as I was busy doing mine.

For those who want to find out more here is a link to Debbie’s Linkedin Profile

and one for Susan


My workshop was – even if I say so myself was a success. It was about

Looked After Children/Transitions and Safeguarding.

This is the description (that I wrote) from the conference website

Safeguarding children is vital and all adults have a duty to safeguard all children. However, as shown through serious case reviews (SCR), not only do adults sometimes fail to work together and to share information to safeguard children; many also do not look at the bigger picture or consider safeguarding in the widest sense. Lack of knowledge, understanding and in some cases even common sense, can lead to children being expected to undertake academic tasks, daily routines, and even play experiences that they are not yet ready for due to gaps in their development, their emotional well-being and resilience levels – and most importantly their ability to trust adults who have, in generic terms, let them down in the past. This workshop will explore how we can support all children, but in particular those who are in the Looked After system, and those who experience difficult home lives.


I am not going to say any more about it – other than to say if people would like me to do a similar presentation for them (it would be similar but not the same) then please do get in touch.

The reason I know it was a success is because people asked questions and I could see most were paying full attention (rather than looking out of the window), and several came up and spoke to me about how the workshop had already made them reflect and start to think about various things that I had spoken about.

OH and that ‘window wall’ – I did not cope well! I felt sick, my legs were wobbly, I did my best not to look out of it or stand near it – but it still had an impact. I ended up stood as far from the window as possible – and leaning against a table – in fact two tables that were in a ‘L’ shape. However, the point is I did cope – and although I did not move about as much as usual I don’t think it affected my presentation too much (well I hope it didn’t)

After morning workshops there was a refreshment break, I grabbed a coffee and had a quick look at the stalls, but time was short due to the number of people who spoke to me at the end of my workshop (and I am not complaining, as I love feedback)


We took our seats in the main room, and Julian did a quick recap before introducing up to Eunice Lumsden – who of course was another of my dinner companions the night before – and as it happened Eunice was also sat next to me in the front row of the main room in our reserved seats, so I had spoken to her briefly several times while waiting for the conference to start.

I loved the title of Eunice’s keynote –

What has the Early Years got to do with it? EVERYTHING!

I totally agree – and so of course did John in his keynote earlier.

This is the blurb from the conference website about Eunice’s keynote

Children are more likely to experience a range of traumatic experiences in the Early Years, including child abuse and the consequences of living in environments where domestic violence and drug and alcohol abuse are prevalent, also when they suffer accidents, that’s why it’s important to always take them on a good and safe stroller from baby stroller center. These experiences can impact across the life course and the cost to the individual and society can be immense.

This presentation challenges us to think about the rights of our youngest children to a professionalised Early Years workforce that understands their role in all areas of early childhood trauma. A workforce that proactively creates safe, nurturing environments and that promotes aspiration and life chances for all children.

As always just a few words from me about Eunice’s keynote – the thing that stuck out to me was that Eunice although supporting professional development and degree level workforce, she was also saying that we need practitioners at all levels and that all should be valued. She said that level 2’s should be the best they can, same for level 3’s and so on. I thought back to my conversation with Eunice over dinner about the route I had taken and my late (in terms of career development) gaining of my degree.

I was also interested in Eunice’s experiences as a social worker and how this helped inform her about the importance of early years.

For those of you who would like to read more about Eunice – this is the link to some information from the University of Northampton


Julian then did another quick recap before we all headed off for lunch, networking and opportunity to look at the stalls.

There was a huge array of lunch available but unfortunately none of the mains were suitable. Laura made sure that I did get something to eat – and I was directed to the chef who rose to the occasion and provided a plain pan fried chicken breast and some vegetables. Desserts were also plentiful, and met my dietary needs. I ate my lunch with Wendy Baker and Carmen Powell – both of whom I had engaged with on Social Media but never met before – thank you ladies it was really good to chat in person and share our thoughts about the conference and early years in general.

Straight after lunch we were treated to Keynote THREE – this one was by Professor Dame Donna Kinnair – Head of Nursing, RCN and on the subject of ‘Lessons learnt from Serious Case Reviews’

I loved the way Donna started her keynote – it was with – Well Laura has asked me to speak about this – and the quick answer is ‘not a lot’ !

Donna’s point was we have learnt what happened, and have some thoughts about why these things happen, but we really have not learnt that much because of our culture to blame people. This she says is not helpful as none of those blamed – family members or professional woke up with the intention for those things to happen, and each person is different and would do things differently – so how can lessons be learned?

Of course – things are learned – what works (and how come no one talks about the things that work) and these include all those things we know are good practice and support well being and improved outcomes. Donna drew on her work as a health visitor and working in the communities. I shall say no more about Donna’s keynote – other than it was fascinating and made me reflect in a different way about the Serious Case Reviews.

If you would like to find out more about Donna and her work, here is a link to her Linkedin profile – actually it does not say a lot but it is a starting point

It was then time for afternoon workshops – I was going to sit in on one, but admit that by now I was starting to flag – and so I sat in the refreshment area (which if you remember did not have a window) and had some more coffee and some cake.

The afternoon workshop presenters were

Rachel Buckler of Safeguarding Training Ltd on the subject of Leading and Managing Safe Practice in Early Years. Here is a link to information about Rachel

Ann Marie Christian who is a Specialist Education Safeguarding Consultant on the subject of Safer Recruitment in the Early Years. Click on link for information about Ann Marie


Andrew Ellery of AE Social Care & Education Limited on the subject of Effective referrals – Maximising response. A bit more information about Andrew via link


The final Keynote (number FOUR) was by Jane Evans. I have met Jane before and engaged via social media, so I knew we were going to have a great keynote – and we did!

This is what it says on the conference website about Jane

Jane Evans is widely known for her TEDxBristol talk on childhood anxiety, ‘Taming and Tending Your Meerkat Brain’. She began her career with children and families over two decades ago working in pre-schools and as a childminder, family support and parenting worker, and as a foster carer. Jane is now a renowned TV, radio and social media parenting and childhood trauma expert.

Jane combines her vast experience of working with families with complex needs with her knowledge of the latest neuroscience and attachment research. She regularly speaks to, and trains, others to understand and use this in their direct work with children and families. Jane is a sought-after parenting and anxiety coach and an acclaimed author of four books for children, which support complex needs.

And about her keynote

A child’s brain and body is created and constructed by daily experiences of nurturing and self-soothing. When this is absent, erratic, aggressive or detached it causes stress and fear in the developing child, which increases their vulnerability in daily life. It is important to understand this when we look at protecting children and increasing their physical and emotional safety.


I am going to add very little about Jane’s keynote – it was filled with facts, passion and a good deal of moving about and being expressive. Jane is a big one for advocating ‘grounding’ for adults and children – by physically moving your feet and connecting with the ground – it is excellent advice as are all the other things she says. I recommend you watch her TedXtalk

For some more information about Jane click on the link

There was a short panel session – which was good but time was against us. Julian brought the conference to a close, and Laura had a few words to say as well, and received a well-deserved round of heartfelt applause.

There was just time for me to write my reflection words on one of the pre cut butterflies and hang it on the tree, before saying my goodbyes, collecting my things from the cloakroom and heading off in the rush hour with Rachel as my travelling companion – well at least as far as Euston. I always think I am a bit of a novice at the whole tube thing, but when with someone like Rachel who uses the tube less than I do – I realise that actually I know quite a lot now about tubes!

I had time for a drink with Rachel at Euston, before she had to catch her train. I had another hour to wait and a slow journey home – but arrived home before midnight tired but motivated by all the inspirational speakers – and quite pleased with my own small part in it.

Huge thanks to Laura for organizing it all, to Juliette for all the support she gave, to all the speakers and those with stalls – and to everyone who attended.

Already looking forward to the next one – maybe see you there?















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

Meeting with Claire and Keyan from Save the Children   Leave a comment

Today – Thursday 3rd November 2016, I met with Claire and Keyan from Save the Children to discuss their latest report ‘Untapped Potential’ and the blog I wrote about that report,

If you have not read my blog yet – you can do so by clicking on the link.

The meeting was only for about an hour but to be honest it was surprising that a meeting was arranged at all , because I gave very little notice of my availability.  However – Claire and Keyan fitted in with me and we met at Euston Station  due to my other commitments for the day.

Readers of my blog will know that I have met with Claire before, and that she has sent me copies of Save the Children’s last two reports, via email, so I could write a blog about my opinion. Both with no strings attached and no hidden agenda – Claire genuinely wanted my opinion and gave me freedom to write whatever I wanted to.

On both occasions she thanked me for my honesty in my blogs (well to be fair that is what you get in my blogs – my honest opinion – I would not have it any other way).

However, ahead of the meeting Claire had told me she was moving on – still within Save the Children but within the school section. Hence the reason for Keyan coming to meet me – Keyan is to be my new contact and will be working with me in the future – him in his paid role with Save the Children, and me in my volunteer role. Being a volunteer is essential to me – I have no intention of charging to attend meetings like these, or being sponsored by anyone. I just want to express my opinion and also act as a bridge between organisations like Save the Children and my colleagues.

So to get to the content of the meeting

First I was introduced to Keyan and given hard copies of the last two reports (Claire tells me I can get extra copies if needed for colleagues). Then while Claire was getting drinks for all of us, Keyan and I got on with introductions, finding out a little bit about each other. Keyan is a policy sort of man but is new to early years and only been with Save the Children for about 4 months. He admits he has a lot to learn and that it is all a bit confusing at the moment. However he mentioned the support of colleagues including Claire whose new office is just across the corridor, and Jerome who wrote ‘Untapped Potential’ and who is a research sort of person.

I expressed my opinion about the limits of research especially small scale, and large  scale that is now outdated. Claire came back with the drinks and we got down to the serious side of our meeting

Claire wanted to know what I thought about the media coverage of the report – I told her that I was not impressed with the media coverage and disappointed that other more positive aspects of the report had not been mentioned,

I also told her of the negative impact on my colleagues and the despair of  yet more negative press, and feeling of depression that early years (and in particular the PVI sector) is yet again the bottom of the pile and ‘not good enough’. I mentioned that moral in the sector was at an all time low (although plenty of passion still there) due to the funding issues, the qualifications confusion and constantly changing goal posts, and the academic push for children to be rushed through their childhood and required to achieve things earlier and earlier. I told Claire and Keyan that the sector feels no one is listening or taking their concerns seriously. I mentioned that some people had been in touch with me and that I had some questions to ask on their behalf. Claire said she was happy to hear those questions and would either answer herself today or get back to me with the answers.

To me Claire and Keyon seemed genuine in their desire to work not only with me but with the early years sector as a whole. But then Claire said something that made take a deep breath – and I will be honest I have thought about this and not sure it sits well with myself and my ethos.


So what did Claire say that made me pause and reflect?

She said ‘ To get media attention we needed to be negative and question the government’s policy’ We said a lot more about lack of government funding and lots of other things  BUT we had to use something that would get attention’

I explained that the whole early years teacher bit had got the report attention, but at what cost to the early years sector? Colleagues are not happy, so would it not be better to work with the early years sector? Claire said just asking for more money would never get us anywhere – we needed to target government policy and shortfalls.

Those who know me well, will now know why this does not sit comfortably with me because I always say it as it is – I never have a hidden agenda. However, maybe I am rather naïve and too honest?  Maybe that is why I am not rich or famous? (not that I want to be either)

I do tend to believe that Claire and Keyan do think this is a good way to draw attention to the plight of the Early Years sector – but I would not do it this way.

I then asked some of the questions I had been asked to raised

Q. Why the sudden interest in early years children in England?

A. Actually Save the Children started out working with children in poverty in England almost a 100 years ago, and this remains part of their manifesto. They do a lot of work ‘behind the scenes’ such as parenting programmes and things like helping parents buy things they need such a fridge, or a bed for their child. Claire said a lot of this is not in the public eye.

I suggested that it should be.

Claire said she would send me some stuff about their work. I will share this when I get it.

Q. Where does their funding for their early years work come from. Are they funded by Government or others, and do they use money donated for other projects such as Syrian refugees?

A (Claire smiled a little) Most definitely NO to all those questions. They do get some corporate funding such as from Fisher Price but this goes into a general pot not just the early years work. They also get funding from some others – but this is all stated clearly in their annual reports which are available to anyone.

I admitted that annual reports bore me – however Claire said she would send me the link for the annual report for those that are interested.

Q. Are they linked to some sort of product – say for early years literacy and language – that they will generate an income from

A. NO – but we do work in partnership with others

Q Would it not be better to work with early years settings?

A This is what you have asked Penny – and yes we do want to work with more people like you. We already work with organisations but want to work with those on the ground floor.

Claire then asked me if I knew anyone that might be interested in meeting with them or in having email communication. I mentioned a couple of names but did warn Claire and Keyan that people were quite likely to be angry and / or upset with them at the moment – but Claire said that was fine, she welcomed all comment.

So colleagues this is your opportunity – Do you want to meet with Save the Children in person or via email? Do you want to communicate through me? If you do let me know – I will pass on your details – or if you prefer comment on this blog.


Further discussion then took place about what Save the Children need to do (in my opinion)

  • Sell themselves to the EY sector (ie give information about what they do)
  • Promote the things the PVI sector do well (value the experience and knowledge)
  • Push forward the play agenda not the academic agenda
  • Promote the home learning with parents and grandparents
  • Include childminders and other home based settings in their reports
  • Work directly with the EY sector
  • Work more with me – after all my opinion is free
  • Try to ensure people find out about the things from their reports that do not make the headlines – maybe produce their own media release


To finish we talked about how to help people out of poverty, and that benefits, or places in grammar schools, or even EY funding was not the answer. We talked about changing the language used that there was no such thing as free childcare, and that in any case did not reach those that really needed it due to barriers including government criteria. Actually Claire agreed with me that a subsidy for all would be better – so say £2 per hour from Government and the rest from parents. We discussed the failing of the tax credit systems (old and new) and those slipping through the systems.

By then it was time to part.

We parted on good terms with promises from me and them to continue to work together.

As I have said I am not sure about their methods – they do not sit well with me, nor am I happy about the distress caused to colleagues BUT I do think they do want to improve outcomes for children, so really it is up to all of us to work more closely with Save the Children, not just in expressing our disappointment but also in providing information and opinion.


Over to you colleagues ….. Read the rest of this entry »

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

Save the Children report – ‘Untapped Potential’   1 comment

Save The Children have released their latest report today (1st November 2016) called ‘Untapped Potential – How England’s nursery lottery is failing too many children’ and is written by Jerome Finnegan

If you have not read it yet, you can request a copy  via this  link (under notes to editors)

 This follows on from the Save the Children previous report ‘The Lost Boys’ which was written by Claire Read. If you have not read my blog about The Lost Boys’ report you can do so by clicking on this link

It is worth mentioning that whilst I have met Claire Read (and she did have some input to this latest report) I have never met Jerome Finnegan, and so I have no idea what his personal or professional thought processes are, and therefore I am going to be unpicking this report from my personal understanding of what is written rather than with the benefit of having had any personal discussion with Jerome.

As always my blog will be full of personal opinion which some may agree with and some may disagree with. My opinion is based on my personal experiences and my personal values and principles about what young children need to flouish, as well as my view about research which I always take with a pinch of salt, because I know research can support any view if you cherry pick it enough, or read in a way that you want it to read. Not saying I am right – just saying this is my opinion.


So to start at the beginning

This report looks at what high quality childcare looks like in terms of qualified staff, and outcomes for children at various stages of life. It is examines partnership with parents and the use of songs and games to build the foundations of learning. As well as looking at the challenges and putting forward some ideas for investing in the childcare workforce so every child has the best start.


The Executive Summary gives lots of facts and figures about ‘good level of development’ achieved by children both before starting an early years setting and on starting school. To be honest it is all rather confusing to try and make sense of from the executive summary – but a quick scan of the rest of the document shows all will become clearer once you read the full report as there are some charts that show this information.

The executive summary also talks about the role of high quality staff and the difference this makes – some of it really is not very convincing to me but maybe that is because of my personal view on such things – as I have already said, we will all read research and reports differently and in line with what we want to read!

As an example the report states, children who attend a high quality early years setting are 3 months ahead in literacy and language skills than those who attend a low quality early years setting – and 8 months ahead of those who do not attend any early years

In my opinion this could be worded differently and say

‘attending any early years setting results in children being between 5 and 8 months ahead in language and literacy, than those who do not attend any early years setting’.

I think though this is a more realistic view and shows it is not the quality of the early years setting that makes the biggest difference, it is if a child attends an early years setting or not. The difference between low and high quality settings is of the less significance – just 3 months in development of language and literacy levels.


However, I also think there is not enough in depth research that shows all angles – for example children who are cared for by grandparents, or are only children, or have siblings, if English is their first language / when they started to learn English, if they were premature or suffered ill health / had operations in their early years – and so much more. To be fair, Save the Children have tried to consider some of these aspects but I still feel the research is not sufficient to draw any conclusive evidence.


There is the usual reference to the difference highly qualified staff – that is those with degrees and in particular Early Years Teacher (EYT) status, being the biggest indicator of quality in a childcare setting. There are facts and figures that suggest that it is the EYT’s that make the biggest difference. The report suggests that because there are less EYT’s within the Private, Voluntary, and independent (PVI) sector, it is why they have poorer outcomes than other settings. There is also a suggestion that lower requirements from Ofsted for staff qualifications in the PVI sector also leads to poorer outcomes.

I am not so sure about this because data about children is really difficult to unpick, as there are so many variants. Indeed I heard about some of these things when I attended the Early Education conference in October – yes attending an early years setting does improve outcomes, and yes a high quality setting does in general support better outcomes BUT there are other factors involved that have just as much impact on children’s outcomes – and can have a longer lasting effect. From my personal experience and the data I have from children who attended my childminding setting over a 30 year period, all those children achieved an excellent level of development, and I am not a EYT, and indeed I did not gain my degree until in the last months of my childminding career. So I have to question the conclusions reached about the impact of EYT’s – of course they will make a difference in many cases, but I do not think it is the only reason. As I keep saying we will read into research what we want to read – and will question it from our own perspective. I guess one of the advantages I have now I don’t run a setting, and I am also not employed by any one (so no boxes to tick) that I do not have a personal (or hidden) agenda. I just express my personal opinion – and I am not really bothered if people agree or not with my opinion, as we are all entitled to our own opinion.

Getting back to the executive summary there is one point I totally agree with in the executive summary. It is the suggestion that the Government need to invest in the childcare workforce and to ensure sustainability; to provide incentives to settings to invest in staff development; and to provide funding to ensure children in the most disadvantaged areas can access a good early years setting.

Actually this is not quite how it is described in the report – as it talks about EYT’s and nursery places (which always annoys me as this does not indicate the inclusion of childminders ) – why say nursery? Why not say early year’s provision or setting? By talking about the need for a EYT in every setting this does not value the very knowledgeable and experienced staff already working in the early years sector, who are often doing an outstanding job with very little recognition via pay or funding.

However before I get too ‘het up under the collar’ with my personal view – maybe I should move on from the executive summary to the main content of the report, as I may read things that I agree with, and things that demonstrate it is not all about EYT’s.

The introduction starts with saying that almost a quarter of a million children started school in 2014 / 15 without having reached ‘a good level of early development’, which means many children struggle with their early language skills, which then have an impact on all other areas of development.

Actually I do believe this is true and I have personally met children who do struggle with their early language skills. However, I disagree with the suggestion that it is low quality early years settings or lack employment of an ETY that is the reason behind this. I speak from personal experience based on my own childhood, that of my own children and all the other children I have looked after. How on earth did I, or my parents or my children develop our language skills? For my parents there was no early years provision before they started school, for myself there was some but it was not available to all, just to those who could afford a private nursery school, and for my children the most accessible early years provision was playgroups run mainly by mothers who did not have formal qualifications.

And yet most children started school not only with a good level of language development – but also ‘ready for school’ in that they had the skills required for reception classes of the time.

So I have to question what is really behind all this poor language development, what in fact has changed. And more importantly what can be done to ensure all children develop not just good language skills but ‘ a good level of development’

I would suggest that maybe it is to do with modern lifestyles, declining parenting skills due to lack of time to parent and constant worry of many just to survive. I would further suggest that constantly changing (higher) expectations of what ‘a good level of development’ is, means changing goalposts – even though children cannot be rushed through childhood and their development.

But that is just a personal opinion based on my experience, I am sure others will think differently.

My apologies for my side tracking from the content of the report – but I find it easier to comment as I come across things, rather than leaving my opinion for a conclusion at the end.

Reading on, I notice the rather depressing facts about disadvantaged children struggling more than other children. It states that half of disadvantaged children will fail to reach the government set level of development. I can’t help feeling this is more to do with higher targets set – and lack of valuing non-academic skills. From my understanding it is only academic levels of achievement that the Government is worried about, where as in my opinion academic skills are only part of the bigger picture. I agree more needs to done to support those who are classed as disadvantage – but we need to start with children’s very early development – pre-birth in fact and also their home lives.


By the way the report also says that children who are not classed as disadvantaged – also do not all reach the government set ‘good level of development’. In fact 1/3 of these children fail to reach the targets set. Surely this is a more worrying figure? Why are these children who have more advantages in life, and who are more likely to attend an early years setting (according to data in the report) not all flourishing? I would suggest that this also has to do with higher expectations – but also with the Government agenda of ‘one size fits all’ and ‘Too much, Too soon’. However, people will say that I would personally think that because of my personal views and my campaigning. It would be interesting to know what others think.

The introduction mentions the role of parents, and I am sure this will be picked up later on in the report – and therefore in this blog.

Finally to end the bit about the introduction – I agree we need to act now, and I agree the Government needs to invest in the early years sector, but I don’t agree with how this can be achieved.

However, I totally agree with Save the Children, about the bit highlighted in a box at the end of the introduction, which is about the 3 key drivers of low educational outcomes for the poorest children.

  • The quality of services that support children and their families, with children being the most crucial
  • The home learning environment(acknowledging the crucial role of parents in early childhood development)
  • Poverty and material deprivation


After the introduction there is a bit about childcare and education in England, which I don’t feel I need to comment on, as most of my readers are knowledgeable about this. However, if you are personally not aware, you can read about it on page 3 of the main report.

The next couple of pages contain some of those charts I mentioned, which I am not going to talk about as I have already expressed my views about some of these.

The EPPE research gets a mention, as you would expect – this research is now rather outdated as so much has changed since it was first carried out in terms of provision available through early years settings and the increase in the number of early years practitioners with qualifications – not to mention Government funding which enables more children to access an early years setting, and modern lifestyles. So although the research is still valid, it is only up to a certain point and should not be used to justify current education policy.


There is one point I want to pick up on though from this section – and that is a highlighted box at the bottom of page 6,. Where Diane who is an ETY talks about her work with parents. I am not knocking this work at all – it is very important BUT it is not just YET’s who do this – many other early years practitioners do this as well – in fact it is a requirement of Ofsted to work in partnership with parents and to support home learning. In addition the majority of childminders have always excelled at this, it is one of their strengths. Certainly going back in the mists of time, I used to be commissioned by Social Services to care for children who were struggling at home and to work to support the parent as well. This scheme was extremely successful – it is a shame that this is now generally not available because support could be given to parents, and to support home learning from when a child is born. Maybe this needs looking at and re-establishing as many children and families could be supported and therefore the ‘gap’ narrowed.


You see in my opinion ‘one size’ does not fit all – for some children 2 year old funding is too late, for some children a childminder could provide the most effective support, and for some a group setting would be right.

There is an interesting comment about research shows in England degree level qualifications were an important indicator of quality – but in other countries other factors were more important. I question if this because of the focus in this country of academic qualifications and therefore no real research into the other factors. Why should qualifications be the most important aspect in this country but not in others? Again ‘one size’ does not fit all, and in my opinion in this country we do not look at the bigger picture and do not value all the aspects that go into early years care and education.

Next I want to pick up the section about ‘Songs, Games and Partnership with parents’ In my opinion this is the one of the most important aspects of this report – all the things which support early language development. It might surprise you to know that recent conversations with colleagues have led me to believe that not only do children not know a wide range of song, rhymes and tradition ‘ring games’ or even know how to play games like snap or lotto – these are also becoming squeezed out of the early years settings in some cases. This is an area that could be supported both in settings and at home, and it is a shame that there are very few Children’s Centres left that offer a full range of services because the parent sessions could have been extended and included a lot more of these type of early language activities.

The report does mention the importance of interactions between adults and children, I totally agree, and personally think you do not need to be a EYT or have a degree to interact with children, to talk to them, to sing with them, to read to them, to listen to them, to show an interest to them – and more. This is a low cost way that more children could be supported, and so I am grateful it is included in this report from Save the Children.

Much of the rest of the report is about too many children missing out, and the need for more EYT’s – especially in deprived areas. I will not comment on this because I think the focus is wrong – we should be looking at everything and not just recommending one key aspect. It is not that I don’t value EYT’s because I do – it is just that there is so much more to consider.


To be fair to Save the Children they do also mention the need for continuous professional development of all early years practitioners, and this is something I fully support. A degree is ‘nice’ to have but it does not necessarily improve knowledge or understanding. I know as I have only just completed my degree – it taught me how to argue a point, how to include other people’s views (but I never did get the hang of referencing), it made me reflect a bit more on wider issues – but in my case due to the many years of experience I have in the early years sector – it did not improve my knowledge or my understanding. Of course for other people, especially those who gain a degree before working in the sector, it would be a different story. That is my point really, we need to value all skills – those gained by studying and those gained through experience – again ‘one size does not fit all’. So for me CPD is essential for everyone, you never know everything, you are always learning, but with CPD you can focus on what you want to learn and what you need to learn for your own pathway. Much the same as it should be for the children.

This blog is now rather long, and so I am not going to write any more – other than to say, I am not so frustrated now by this report, because having read it all (but not written about it all) I can see the report contains many things I do agree with.

I hope that a ‘common Sense’ approach is taken by those who read this report and that the bigger picture is looked at.

Hopefully this blog will have whetted your appetite and you will be motivated to read the whole report.



Posted November 1, 2016 by psw260259 in My thoughts on current childcare issues