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

http://www.savethechildren.org.uk/2016-11/new-report-highlights-acute-shortage-nursery-teachers-across-england?hootPostID=52d3ee5b34ea5367061cc210c4d5394e (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

https://pennysplacechildminding.com/2016/07/18/the-lost-boys-no-not-peter-pans-lost-boys-boys-that-you-and-i-know/

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

One response to “Save the Children report – ‘Untapped Potential’

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  1. Pingback: Meeting with Claire and Keyan from Save the Children | Penny's Place Childminding

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