‘Bold Beginnings’ for 2018 – there is hope if you look hard enough   2 comments

2017 has been a very difficult year for me personally and in general for the early years sector.  So as 2017 draws to a close, I am taking the time to reflect on the past year and to think about what hope (if any) there is for me personally and for the things that I am passionate about – mainly the well-being of children and young people.

On a personal front my health has deteriorated and despite my mainly positive disposition, even I struggle to cope with the news that my physical mobility is not likely to rapidly improve – there is hope of a long slow recovery with tiny, baby progress steps but on some days especially those when just to stagger from chair to bathroom takes a huge amount of effort, I cry with frustration and despair. The constant pain gets me down and on the days when I have to increase the opioids that I am prescribed, I feel like I am going backwards not forwards despite my efforts to maintain my daily, set exercises and to try to achieve ‘mind over matter’ and thus well-being, by engaging in the sort of hobbies that you can do from an armchair and can pick up and put down as needs must.

It would be easy for me to stop trying, to give up, to accept this is the way things will be in the future. To understand that shouting, crying, protesting, demanding someone takes responsibility and does ‘something’ about this terrible situation is not going to make a difference.

I sometimes ask myself why this is happening to me when all I have ever wanted is to improve outcomes for children and young people, to support families and generally live up to my childhood nickname of ‘Goody Two Shoes’. I have never wanted to be rich, or famous, I just want to be able to help others – and to be able to give and receive love.


There is still a lot to look forward to, for example I have just been informed that because I was too ill to go to the Royal Garden Party last year in recognition of the British Empire Medal I received for my voluntary work for membership organisations, and my support for children and families, I will be getting an invite to go this year.

I have a large loving family, who all in their unique individual ways are supporting me through their love and actions, especially my husband Garry who has had his life changed due to the impact of my health on our finances, our family activities and so on. I have 10 (soon to be 11) grandchildren who bring me such joy, and give me a reason on my darkest days to look to the future – mine and theirs.

Yes, if I look hard enough I have hope that things will improve in 2018 and that it is worth continuing to make an effort.


2017 has challenging to say the least for the early years sector, the whole so called ‘free’ entitlement to 30 hours childcare or is it education? Government keep changing the terminology to try and make it fit their agenda and policies. The sector came together to object to the word ‘free’ saying it cost each setting to provide the funded hours over and above the amount paid by the Government. The term the sector prefers- ‘funded’ says that it is only partly paid for by Government. Even with more appropriate wording, there was still a shortfall and throughout the 30 hr pilots, settings were coming up with ideas about how to make the books balance. The government did finally agree that settings could charge for extra’s such as food and outings but this caused a divide within the sector with some saying this would have a negative impact on the very families and children the policy was supposed to help, because the poorest families would not be able to afford to pay for these extra’s and therefore would not be able to take up employment or education.

The sector also came together under the umbrella of Champange Nurseries on Lemonade funding, with lots of people freely giving their time to speak on behalf of the sector through their Facebook group and social media.

There were other financial pressures such pensions and minimum wage all of which put a huge strain on a lot of settings. Many just could not sustain the financial loss and others the continued worry and stress. Yet more struggled to think of ways to meet the requirements of EYFS, Ofsted and other expectations without subjecting the children to an over formal curriculum or in more simple terms ‘Too Much, Too Soon’.

Schools also faced financial pressure with budget cuts, and cuts to support services; they had pressure to take part in implementing SATS and Baseline Assessments both of which in my opinion are nothing to do with the children, but all about national data and creating a ‘stick’ with which to ‘beat’ teachers under the ‘accountability’ umbrella. Is it any wonder that so many young teachers are resigning, and older ones taking early retirement for health reasons?

The whole education system from Early Years to University is under pressure and at crisis point.


In the last couple of weeks we have had the Ofsted report ‘Bold Beginnings’ – which I will be honest and say I have not read cover to cover, if you have not yet ‘braved it’, you can do so by clicking on the link


Maybe like me you would prefer to read one of the many blogs and responses written by organisations and individuals such as this one by TACTYC


or this one by June O’Sullivan


There are many more, a quick internet search will bring them up. I did read quite a few and decided that I could not face reading the actual report to protect my own well-being (being ill and not usual my campaigning self).

However, the thought that Ofsted think the children need a more formal curriculum, that EYFS needs changing (especially when settings are already struggling to comply with some of the aims / goals in EYFS for numeracy and literacy) fills me with dread – and it seems from the blogs and articles that I have read, many others are despairing – such as the members of the Facebook Group ‘Keeping Early Years Unique’.

According to Nursery World, Ofsted Chief Inspector was surprised at the sectors response to ‘Bold Beginnings’ – REALLY? Has she not been listen AT ALL to all the campaigners such as myself who are not only just against ‘Too Much, Too Soon’ but have research paper after research paper, and a lot of observations by experienced early years practitioners and teachers proving that a play based approach works best and sets the foundations for all future learning.


And then we had the statement from Justine Greening about plans to increase social mobility mainly but not entirely through increasing the number of school nursery places, with the focus being on early numeracy and literacy


At a risk of repeating myself (which in effect I am)

It would be easy for the early years sector to stop trying, to give up, to accept this is the way things will be in the future. To understand that shouting, crying, protesting, demanding someone takes responsibility and does ‘something’ about this terrible situation is not going to make a difference.

How can we as a sector give up, how can we implement policy which we know impacts on children’s well-being, especially their mental well-being; that we know actually hinders the foundations of learning from being put in place; that we know in the long term will have a huge financial cost to society as we have to pick up the pieces of damaged lives. I mean how can we ‘hand on heart’ do this to the children?


However, as my blog title suggests if we look hard enough we can find hope, and so to complete this blog I will gives just a few of examples of where I think these glimmers of hope are coming from.

ONE                                                                                                        The mere fact that so many organisations and individuals have publically spoken out against Bold Beginnings gives me some hope that the sector will, to some extent at least, practice Principled Non Compliance’ that is they will refused to implement anything which they believe will harm the children’s well-being (a bit like the doctors oath ‘Do no harm’).

In addition more and more people are joining together under the umbrella of organisations such as Save Childhood Movement


We need more settings, individuals including parents to actively support Save Childhood Movement because if we come together, we have a stronger voice and the Government are more likely to take notice, especially if ten’s of thousands settings do practice Principle Non Compliance with the support of the parents using their setting.

If we want inspiration we only need to look to Scotland and the work done by UPSTART SCOTLAND


TWO                                                                                                      Connected to number one but slightly different, in this country we have a strong history of involvement in membership organisations such as Early Education, Tactyc, Pre-school Learning Alliance, Pacey, Day Nurseries Association. I strongly believe that the associations need to not only continue their very valuable work, but they need to work together a lot more, sharing resources, skills and expertise and most importantly by being able to enter discussions with Government with the support of their combined membership on the matters that concern us all. There has been some encouraging signs of this partnership working in the form of letters signed by the CEO’s of all or most of them – but there is room for more.

In addition membership organisations have a track record of supporting the professional development of their members through training, and also through their volunteer structures whereby everyday people (such as myself) gain confidence, knowledge, people skills and so much more by volunteering. Sadly in recent years less and less people are volunteering and as a result people are no longer ‘coming up the ranks’ so to speak. In my opinion this collapse of the volunteer structure needs to be halted and organisations need to look at different ways to encourage the involvement of their members – maybe something like an apprenticeship, unpaid but fully support. This could be an area where more partnership working could take place to save resources and share expertise.

For my part in this as someone who has benefitted greatly from being a volunteer for not one but many organisations, I am organising a networking event on 12th May 2018 with the aim of looking at the impact of membership organisations in the past and considering their future role. Everyone is welcome, you do not need to be a member of any organisation (and there certainly will not be a ‘them and us’ feeling to the day, we will all be coming together to network, share and make connections). Plans are still being finalised, more speakers being added and the programme developed – but so far it is looking good. Details can be found by following this link to the NEYTCO website


THREE                                                                                                    My final example is from a visit to one of my granddaughter’s nursery. I know from what I read on social media and articles that there are many settings that do offer a play based curriculum, those who know that if we get it right in the Early Years that children will flourish and do well academically.

I have said many times that different settings meet different children’s needs, children are all unique, parents needs to support family life and work commitments are all different – and these needs change over the years. One size most defiantly does not fit all. It is not a case of one type of setting being better than another, it does not matter what a building is called – it is what happens in that building and more importantly outside that building that matters, along with the relationships between the adults and the children.

My granddaughter Annabelle goes to school nursery to access her 30 hours, she attends every day Monday – Friday, 9am – 3pm, and sometimes also accesses the before and after school provision. Annabelle is the second youngest in nursery having an August birthday, and has been attending since September. So the invitation to join staff and children for a hot chocolate and to look at the children’s WOW moments marked the end of her first term.

I had some idea of what I would see because 2 afternoons a week, I collect Annabelle, and had seen written on the whiteboard outside the classroom the things she had been doing – mainly things outside with lots of cooking and singing, and stories. However, I admit I thought it might be a bit more formal than it was – not that I am complaining because the event was perfect in my eyes.

Annabelle’s mummy and I arrived at the start time of the open session (meaning not all the parents arrived at the same time, or left at the same time). We were welcomed in and Annabelle was called from where she was played in the ‘Winter Wonderland’ (one of those cube dens with associated accessories – soft toys, dressing up and things the children had taken in) to show us the things in her bag (things she had made) and around the nursery. Annabelle was pleased to see us and showed us the full blown stable set up, complete with straw which by this time of the day was all over the floor, a manager which Annabelle said did not contain Jesus, but ‘just a baby’, there were more dressing up things, a pretend fire and related books. It was clearly well used.

We had hot chocolate and could have sampled biscuits if we wanted to. We looked at the frozen small world scene set up in a tuff tray – various vehicles with pretend snow and ice; at the small world nativity scene and more.

What caught my eye were all the photo’s recording the children’s play and development. Photos of children who were 3 and the two who are already 4; A birthday chart, again with photo’s showing each child smiling and holding up a card with their birthday date, displayed in monthly sections (which is how I know Annabelle is the second youngest). There were lots of photo displays of the children in Forest School, In the mud pit area, and picking apples and pumpkins in the local community; A hair dressers area with photos of the children sporting lovely hair styles – and a revolving display on the whiteboard showing the children engaged in play.

YES there were a few aims such as ‘know our forest school rules’ and YES there were some word card with outcomes such as ‘taking turns’ ‘pulling / pushing’ ‘carrying’ and so on; YES there were strings of letters and numbers hanging across the ceilings/walls; Yes there were labels on boxes – but all low key not the main focus at all.

By now Annabelle wanted to play with her friends, and so I leant against a wall (as I was struggling by this stage) and observed.

I saw staff tuning into the children, listening, and when invited getting on the floor to join in; I saw children playing together, talking, laughing and a few minor disagreements / getting over excited, which the children mainly resolved themselves and when they didn’t there was a gentle reminder from staff; I saw staff chatting to parents; children sat watching themselves on the whiteboard – calling out the name of the child currently shown; I saw staff taking children by the hand to go to do something, especially those children whose parents were not currently in the classroom; I saw Annabelle and several other children and a staff member in the home area (almost a separate room to one side with plenty of space for role play) and if you have been counting that makes 4 completely different role play areas; I saw a staff member in the large adjoining kitchen sorting things out from the refreshments.

I saw happy, well adjusted, thriving children – and the proof? Parents could take children home after they had seen all they wanted to see, and several did BUT Annabelle wanted to stay at nursery and that was fine with staff – so stay she did, to play some more until it was normal home time and Mummy collected her.

I am sure some readers will be thinking but this is nursery, Penny – yes a good one with the focus on play but what will it be like in reception and all those things that Ofsted spoke about in Bold Beginnings wrote about should be implemented?

Well of course I cannot sure, but indications are good. Being an August baby Annabelle will start school in September 2018 , and so her Mummy and Daddy have looked round several local schools including the one her nursery is part of. One of the schools only spoke to parents about academic learning; one had a mixture of academics and play, and the one her nursery is attached to spoke about emotional well-being, about continuing to learn through play and hands on learning. I know from reading the outside whiteboard that nursery do a lot of things with reception children including, singing, circle games, picnics, and outside play, so II fully expect this play focus to remain.

In addition when I attended a fundraising coffee morning I saw Year 6 children serving cakes, chatting to parents, and the Head Girl asked me (without adult prompting) if I would like her to carry the cakes I had purchased to my table – very thoughtful as I was walking with a crutch. I have also seen nursery, reception and Year One children at the Harvest Festival in the church – lots of singing with actions and laughter.

I have very few doubts that Annabelle will thrive at the school – assuming she gets a place there.

So there is hope that our children can be protected from the interfering of Government though the work of Early Years practitioners and teachers; there is hope that we can all come together to campaign as one – all the individuals, all the membership organisations and all those who carry out research and who have knowledge built through experience.

BUT ……..

To get Government to listen and take notice there needs to be many, many more who will practice Principled Non Compliance, and refused to implement policies they know will impact negatively on our children. A few thousand vocal voices can be ignored, a few thousand principled practitioners can be replaced with those who will comply.

We need parents on board; parents who will choose schools who understand how children learn; parents who will support campaign efforts by signing petitions, by writing to the heads of the schools their children attend, and to their MP.

There is hope, I just hope we gather enough support before it is too late and the academics of the early years from Government policy are implement and we have Too Much, Too Soon and damage our children’s well –being and ability to flourish. There is plenty of time after the age of 7 for academics and formal learning.


And in my opinion, as well as all the objection to Government policy, we should have one main campaigning aim – TO TAKE EDUCATION OUT OF POLITICS. Other countries have done so with great success. Again in my opinion we need some sort of Board of experts – those who have education degrees AND hands on experience. We need early years policy to be the backbone of all we do educationally because if we get it right in the early years, children will flourish and thrive academically once they encounter formal education (ideally after the age of 7)

So who is with me on this?

Who is prepared to join together with others to practice Principled Non Compliance?

Who is prepared to campaign to take education out of politics?





Posted December 17, 2017 by psw260259 in My thoughts on current childcare issues

2 responses to “‘Bold Beginnings’ for 2018 – there is hope if you look hard enough

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  1. Very happy to campaign to take education out of politics.

    As for Principled Non Compliance, I’m afraid that sounds very vague. Which bits exactly do we not comply with? I understand what you mean in general terms, but it would need to be much more specific before I can personally decide if I am willing to engage in Non Compliance.

    • Hello Helen, Glad to have you on board to campaign to take education out of politics. Yet to decide the best way to do this but will work on that with the support of people like you who commit to campaign on this issue.

      I got the term principle non compliance from Dr.Richard House one of my Save Childhood colleagues.
      I practiced it myself in my ladt year of child minding. It is not about breaking the law because in the Early Years Foundation Stage much of it is guidance with some boundaries as you often have to explain / describe why you do what you do and demonstrate how the children are making progress.

      So a few examples; I refused to word labels on resource boxes because I did not think it helped children learn to read. Instead I used see through boxes or open access boxes. I argued the children had an environmental print rich experience in my home and in our community. We used shopping lists, reciept books and so ( I know I don’t need to go into detail) I also did not tescj phonics but a child has an interest in the latter sounds of their name or the names of their friends I supported their interest. I stopped doing paper based learning journeys and kept a setting based photographic record instead which the children loved looking at and showing to their parents. Parents could ask for copies of photos to be email but very few did. As you know learning Journeys are not a requirement of EYFSand we just have to demonstrate progress made and to be able to talk about next stages and how we could / night support the children.

      So I’m answer to your question – you decide which bits you want to apply Principle non compliance to from the guidance / advise rather than statutory requirements. And for each person the decision will be different based on personal ethos and opinion.

      Apologies that my response is a bit gambling, hope you can make sense of it. Penny

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