Archive for October 2018

Celia Smith’s Personal Story and memories as part of Networking, Sharing and Making Connections – 2   1 comment

Pre Amble

As promised in the initial feedback from Networking, Sharing, Making Connections – 2, this is the first of several blogs that will record the stories and memories of those who spoke at the event and those who took the time to meet with me prior to the event , or to send information via email.

Celia was one of the people who went to considerable trouble to communicate with me, so her story could be included. Celia was unable to attend as despite still be very active, travelling to Birmingham and attending was a bit too much to undertake.

So I have never met Celia, I wish I had because she is a hero of mine, having been one of the people who set up the National Childminding Association (NCMA). Celia has a remarkable memory, as you will see in her recall of those now distance days. As a registered childminder from 1984 – 2004 and then again from 2010 – 2016, I have a lot to be grateful to Celia and her colleagues because NCMA was my choice of professional organisation and I valued having support and ‘tools of my trade’ such as insurance, accounting system, a member magazine and more.

Further to that NCMA provided me with opportunities to volunteer at a local level, including being a co founder of a local support group in my first registration, and then another during my second registration. This led to opportunities to undertake tutor training, to become an assessor and to use these skills directly for NCMA but also within a local college , and as an independent trainer. These skills and experiences gained through my involvement with NCMA (and my involvement with Pre School Playgroups Association – as in those days I was involved with both – and in fact I am still involved with the renamed current organisations of PACEY and Pre-School Learning Alliance)  also led to my employment with my Local Authority (and indeed with NCMA) as a Network Coordinator.

Without my volunteering and involvement I would not be who I am – and I would not have been honoured with a British Empire Medal because it was PACEY (formally NCMA) who put my name forward for consideration.

Celia would not have known the impact she and her fellow members who founded NCMA would have had on people like me in the future, but I for one am very grateful that Celia and colleagues took the time and effort to form NCMA.

And I am sure many other childminders past and present, will be as grateful as I am that Celia was a Founder member and indeed was NCMA’s first General Secretary in those early pioneering days.



Celia Smith recalls her  memories of NCMA’s early days

The year 1977 was a busy and exciting one for the fledgling NCMA – and for me too!

In January the BBC produced a series of 19 short TV programmes for childminders – ‘Other People’s Children’. These acted as a real catalyst for bringing childminders together into ‘viewing groups’. It was a short step from there to wanting to link with childminders further afield.

Then, in March, Denise Hevey – a parent of a minded child – wrote to The Guardian, to invite contact from childminders, parents and childminding advisers to pursue the idea of trying to set up a national body to work towards improving the status and public image of childminding. Nine people responded, and we made a bold start one Saturday in April in Denise’s house in Southampton, forming what we called the ‘Holding Committee’.

In May, at the invitation of the ‘Other People’s Children’ team (including Sue Owen), Marion McNutt (a childminder from Wandsworth) and I (then working as a childminding adviser in Wandsworth) appeared on the final programme of the TV series and put across the idea of a national childminding association. There was a great response to this, so the ‘Holding Committee’ of nine felt confident in going ahead.

Then, what excitement when in July the Equal Opportunities Commission gave us a grant of £2,000 to cover essential costs – it seemed a fortune! The DHSS then weighed in with a grant of £750 to help with the costs of an inaugural meeting. A huge planning committee of about 35 keen people (mostly childminders) met several times to plan this important meeting. The big day was Saturday 12 December, and some 300 people travelled to Birmingham Town Hall from all over Britain to hear some big-name speakers, and to form a committee and adopt a draft constitution. One memory I have of this meeting is when a childminder raised a point of order, and asked that as this was to be an organisation for childminders, would all non-childminders present please be seated in the gallery. This request was immediately complied with. NCMA was definitely on its way! One of my clearest memories of that day is feeling completely exhausted after it was all over, and not being able to find a pub open in the center of Birmingham!

The months after that are rather a misty haze. I had recently left my job in Wandsworth and agreed to do what I could in the way of administration to help keep the fledgling organization afloat. Well, of course the speed at which the association grew was unbelievable, and the list of tasks grew longer and longer. A newsletter was seen as a priority and funding from the Bernard van Leer Foundation was secured. Denise Hevey produced the first few issues of the newsletter, ‘WHO MINDS?’. One issue was put together from her hospital bed if memory serves me right. NCMA soon became a ‘family affair’ and my husband Keith designed the first logo, which was in use for many years. And I have memories of Patsy Hutchinson doing the ‘pasting up’ of a later issue on my dining room table!

Soon it became essential to set up a proper office, and I was asked to find one. Number 13, London Road, Bromley became the Association’s first home, where absolutely everything happened in one large, rather dilapidated room. We moved no less than five times in Bromley during the next ten years. There was never enough money to do all the things we wanted to do, never enough people to do it, never enough space, we were running to catch up all the time. To start with I was ‘Jill of All Trades’ (official job title Co-ordinator) and life became more and more hectic as things developed. Eventually we had enough funds to employ a few more staff, including Jane who shared the job with me, Eddie, our Finance Officer, and Elaine, my very efficient PA. Irene and Veronica were wonderfully hard working, willing to turn their hands to anything. Both went on to be long serving members of staff. We took on a 17-year old, Sarah, with funding from one of the government subsidised schemes, and she too became very competent, eventually returning to NCMA as head of Human Resources. Sheila was a great support to us all, and was responsible for finding our ‘big’ office in Bromley, in a disused Primary School. We were a wonderful happy family in those far off days.

During the early 1980s I read a book by an American educationalist, Jerome Bruner, entitled ‘Under Five in Britain’. One section of the book was concerned with the isolation of childminders, and promoted the setting up of ‘networks’ across the country to allow childminders to support each other, and to develop training activities. These ideas seemed to be exactly in line with NCMA’s aims and so I wrote them up into a proposal with a view to obtaining funding at some point in the future. Then, NCMA had some luck: the government announced the Under Fives Initiative, offering money for new projects which would improve the quantity and quality of child care. So, I blew the dust of my proposal, refined it with the help of the National Executive Committee, and sent it off to the DHSS. They liked it, and decided to fund three schemes, and so came about the three support schemes for childminders in Stafford, Trafford and Southwark – a pattern for the future.

And then a big job fell to me – I had to choose and arrange for the organisation’s first computer system. I was quite ignorant of computers in those days, let alone having much of an idea about what they could do. So the first thing was to talk to everyone and try to come to some agreement about what we would like such a system to do. Membership records was an obvious candidate, and accounts. Could they be linked? What else? What would it cost? How would we be trained? After consultation we then looked for possible systems and people who could advise us, and ended up with quite a limited system – not too well coordinated I seem to remember. And of course, having made our decision, and plumped for a particular system, we were immediately thinking of other things we should have included, but couldn’t just be added on.

Of course the childminders involved in those early days were just amazing. They were willing to travel the country to attend committee meetings, usually in London on Saturdays. We had to find cheap, or preferably free, accommodation, and a packed agenda allowed for just a quick sandwich break at lunchtime. I do recall the first Chair, Ann Goddard, going the ‘extra mile’ as they say. She suffered from back trouble, but travelled up from Somerset just the same, and was sometimes to be seen chairing the meeting lying flat on her back on a table, as this was the only way in which to get comfortable. What a star!

The wonderful Dorothy Day was our first President, and she was so important to me. Very supportive, and always willing to talk through any difficulties I was having. And she had the most terrific sense of humour. Next came Willem van der Eyken, well known in the under-fives field for his research and publications. He too was most supportive to the organisation, and to me, and in fact gave me my next job when I decided to move on from NCMA in 1987.

I must mention IFDCO – the International Family Day Care Organisation. My memories of going to IFDCO conferences in Holland, Uppsala, Sydney and San Francisco are such happy ones. We had so much fun, and so enjoyed learning how things worked in other countries. And I made wonderful friends, such as Malene Karlsson and many others. Not long after I left NCMA I was asked by the DHSS to visit some Resource & Referral Centres in the USA, and I was actually in San Francisco on the occasion of the big 1987 earthquake. Exciting times.

NCMA was an undoubted massive success – by 1987 there were 23,000 members, numerous publications, training materials produced in co-operation with the Open University, subcommittees working on various aspects of childminding, research reports coming out and, perhaps most important of all, childminding was getting the recognition it deserved and a much improved public image.

But my chief memory of those early days in NCMA is the tremendous enthusiasm, dedication and hard work of a very large number of people – mainly childminders. It is to those early pioneers like Ann Goddard and Toni Rawson, that the present hugely successful NCMA (now PACEY) owes a great debt of thanks.

Celia Smith

March 2018


















Posted October 14, 2018 by psw260259 in My thoughts on current childcare issues

Feedback on Networking, Sharing, Making Connections – 2   Leave a comment

Pre Amble

First an apology at the delay in providing this feedback, as this event took place on 12th May 2018. Those who attended will know that due to my health, I struggled on the day, and in fact forgot to do things like show the lunchtime presentation that I had spent hours preparing! This was a shame as it contained lots of comments from people I had spoken to about their involvement, but who could not attend on the day – including Celia Smith one of the Founder Members of NCMA.

Most however, did not witness the state I was in at the end of event – only my husband, Garry and Sue Allingham who happened to be using the lift at the same time. I was exhausted and in tears, hardly able to put one foot in front of the other. With hindsight it had been too much for me, and if I had been able to think straight at the beginning of 2018, I should have cancelled the event – but I didn’t. As time moved closer and closer to the 12th May, I realise that I was struggling to prepare everything that needed preparing.

As a result I think it is fair to say Networking, Sharing, Making Connections – 2  was not as successful as my first event – but from feedback I recieved it was still successful and many people made new connections and friendships were renewed. We heard some fantastic presentations which had a common statement made by most speakers.

‘I would not be who I am today if I’ was not for my volunteering, and / or the early years membership organisations’

This statement is certainly true for myself, as volunteering has given me so much back. Anyone who volunteers does it because they want to help others – individuals / organisations / communities / and society as a whole. It is not until after a period of time, and opportunity to reflect, that you realise that by volunteering you have gained so much;- Confidence, friendships, transferable skills for the work place, a reputation for helping others. You also get to meet new people and often to go to new places both for meetings and social events.

My volunteering started by being centred around supporting the things my children were involved in;- Playgroup committee’s, school PTA’s and Girl Guiding but also extended to areas connected to my chosen  profession;- Childminding committee’s local, regional and national, Early years organisations first at local, then regional and finally at national level. My volunteering  then extending to things like being involved with the Ofsted Big Conversation and NEyTCO being the lead person for both in the West Midlands.

Readers may know that my volunteering also resulted in me having enough confidence to start the first ratio petition and enabled  travelling to London to speak directly to MP’S; and after 30 + years of volunteering to receiving a British Empire Medal in the Queen’s 2016 Birthday Honours.

So it not really a surprise that I chose the subject of my second event to be volunteering and Early Years Membership Organisations.

An apology has already been given at the beginning of this blog, but I want to explain a little bit more about what hat happened  since May 2018.

I became quite ill and it was clear that my diabetic medications were having a negative effect. This was worrying because I am already diagnosed with Diabetic Radiculopathy which basically is caused by a negative reaction to diabetic meds. I had made slow but steady progress from Feb 2017 – May 2018 in that I was able to do more than I had been able to in 2017 – early 2018, but I was still far from well. Another issue was that I was suffering from ‘Brain Fog’ both from the prescribed morphine and the effect of the insulin which made planning and then doing things very difficult – and had a huge impact on my memory. Regular readers will know that I rarely take notes but up to the point of my illness had been able to recall events attended in detail, enabling me to share via this blog.

Basically my ill health meant that between May and August 2018 although I wanted to, and even tried a couple of times to put finger to keyboard – I was asking too much of myself to provide feedback from my event. And so it did not happen.

In August 18 with my Doctor’s knowledge – as in ‘You need to consider your quality of life, Penny’ – I took myself off my diabetic meds and for a couple of months life was good – the brain fog partially lifted, I could do a bit more physically and mentally, and I was hopeful things were on track to improve to a point whereby I could pick up the pieces of my life – including providing feedback to my event, my volunteering and my campaigning.

However, my glucose levels started to rise as I was not taking any meds, and although I felt fairly well in myself, my doctor was concerned and referred me to a new consultant. The new consultant – like my GP – listened to me and more importantly believed me. A new tablet was prescribed which worked but it also created side effects as my body reacted. Every other day tablet taking was tried and although slowed side effects down, the side effects were building, and I was once again losing control of my body functions – and becoming a bit depressed. Bringing readers up to date I am now trying a new non insulin injection – time will tell if this is the right med for me.

So in general things are not brilliant, I am trying to remain positive and trying to remain busy which is not easy when everything is a challenge. I have attended a few events to help motivate me and stop me from getting too depressed (last thing I need is another pill!).

And it is through attending these events that I have some good news!

First, so many people have taken opportunity to meet up with me, at these events, including some of the speakers and attendees from my event.  All have reassured me that it does not matter that I have not provided feedback yet – there is plenty of time, and when I am better will be soon enough.

Second, I have started making contacts with universities about the possibility of working in partnership to create a record of all the information I have gathered, to preserve the personal recollections of the founder members of the early years membership organisations, and to record the personal stories of those who volunteered for early years membership organisations. This is something that I mentioned as an aspiration at my event, and so I am very pleased to report that a meeting with one of the universities is now in the pipeline to explore the possibilities.

So watch this space as I will keep everyone updated with the progress – and if this university decides is not the right project for them, I will approach other universities, organisations and even individuals until I find a way to create a permanent record for future generations.

The Event Overview

Well this part of the blog is going to be shorter than usual as due to the prescribed morphine my memory has let me down, and I can not recall sufficient information. I will be noted the highlights (as in what I can recall) a bit further on in this blog, but really my recall will not do justice to all the speakers.

However, I do have the presentations of some of those who spoke at my event, and I will chase those who did not leave copies of their presentations to send them to me.

My aim is that I will produce a series of short blogs with each blog containing the presentation of one person. I will also produced further blogs containing personal memories of those who were unable to attend but who sent me information. I hope that as the information becomes public knowledge that others will send in their memories because really I have only scratched the surface of the mountain of personal stories and knowledge that is out there.

As an insight as to what is to come here are the speakers from Networking, Sharing, Making Connections – 2, who either attended in person or who sent a recorded presentation

ME! – Penny Webb

Laura Henry (Consultant / trainer / Author)

Sue Griffin (Former National Chair of Pre school Playgroups Association)

Tricia Wellings (Nursery owner / trainer / consultant)

Neil Leitch  (CEO Pre school Learning Alliance)

Ann Goddard (Founder member of NCMA)

Rob Fox  (Founder of Active Childhood / student / Practitioner)

Helen Cazaly (Pacey Trustee)

Sue Allingham ( Trainer / Consultant / Early Education Trustee / moderator  of Keeping Early Years Unique)

Mick McGeowen  (Former Pacey National Policy Forum Member )

Esther Gray (Former Early Years Regulatory Inspector)

Sally McGeowen (Former Pacey volunteer)

Elaine Pitteway ( Childminding UK)

Beth Thomas (Author / researcher)

NB We should have had a presentation by NEyTCO but sadly they were unable to be with us on the day.

All speakers spoke about their personal story, and most spoke with passion for the early years and the early years membership their were or had been involved with. As already mentioned the most quoted phrase was ‘ I would not be who I am today if it was not for my volunteering and involvement with the early years membership organisations’. Even those who had had negative experiences recalled how this had also helped shaped who they are today.

The other people who helped by meeting with me, or by sending their stories via email, will, as already mentioned have a short blog with their story as I think it is vital that these everyday, but vitally important stories are saved for future generations.

These people include

Val Johns

Sue Owen

Sarah Edwards

Celia Smith

Becky Watanabe

Marjie Seaman

Linda O’Rourke


My Personal Recall of the Highlights

Despite several people being unable to attend on the day, we still had over 50 people in the room, which was fantastic.

Everyone had a goody bag with a notebook, a copy of Practical Preschool Magazine (containing Child Care Magazine and therefore one of my articles – thanks To Neil Henty for his support. Plus a large number of other small items thanks to the efforts of Ruth Measure in collecting them from those donating in her area. The final item in the bag was a bespoke card created by my friends Dick and Barbara Skilton, and hand coloured by myself. The colouring in had been a labour of love as had taken hours and hours (especially as due to the morphine I kept falling asleep mid task!


Dick and Barbara has also brought a display of their products and chatted to attendees. There was also a display of all the articles I had written; information from Pacey; Copies of historic issues of Who Minds; a display of historic items from the Pre school Playgroups Association; and a folder of printed copies of information sent to me, some attendees added photos to this folder for all top look at.

As I say I can’t recall all the presentations in detail, so my next recall is of lunch time and the amazing raffle organised by Gemma Tasker. Gemma had brought an enormous quantity of raffle prizes with her by train in suitcases! And some people added extra prizes on the day. The raffle was very well supported and Gemma raised £280 which was split between two charities of my choose –  BloodWise and The Countess of Chester BabyGrow appeal.

Huge thanks to Gemma for organising this, to Neil Leitch who drew out all the winning tickets , and to everyone who brought tickets.

Lunch was served and although enjoyed by most, a few people including myself could not enjoy it as all the choices were based on chilli. Feedback has been given to the venue, because other than this issue all the refreshments were fantastic.

The rest of day was a struggle for me, I was getting tired and struggling to stay on task, but even so I enjoyed all the afternoon speakers and was inspired by their passion.

The day came to a close and people started to make their way home, some though stayed to help tidy up which I was grateful for, as the day had taken a huge toll on me.

My personal reflection is I am glad I organised Networking, Sharing and Making Connections – 2  but wish my health had enabled me to be better prepared and more focussed on the day.

This blog is the starting point of the reflections from the day, the others that follow will contain the personal stories that I have collected so far – starting with Celia Smith Founder Member of NCMA.

If anyone who attended would like to write a guest blog with their memories of the day, please get in touch.

Finally I hope my talks with the university go well, and before long we have a permanent record of the personal stories and memories of the early years membership organisations and their volunteering



Posted October 13, 2018 by psw260259 in My thoughts on current childcare issues

Just what is a ‘Good Level of Development’   Leave a comment

So today 11th October 2018, we have an announcement from Ofsted about the new inspection framework – and on the face of it I am personally pleased there is to be less focus on data and teaching to the test in our schools.

However, I am not yet convinced about Ofsted’s intentions because I attended the West Midlands Ofsted Big Conversation on 5th October 2018 (so less than a week ago) and I listened to presentations about what Ofsted considers to be ‘important data’. Data about ‘Good Level of Development’ (GLD) and this was broken down into various compassion tables. It was stressed that good work was being done and more children were reaching this GLD, but more needed doing to in Ofsted’s words ‘Ensure every child reach a GLD’. Of course they were referring to early years but this new framework , like the Common Inspection Framework currently in use, is across all education settings – so from early years, through schools and onto further education. Therefore all comments made by Ofsted about the new framework will apply to all.

Link to blog about West Midlands OBC

So really I am not convinced about their intentions because it seems to me that in the future data is still going to be important to Ofsted and the DfE. My natural conclusion is – if GLD is still important, and data still to be collected, then some ‘teaching to the test’ will happen.

I am not yet sure of the knock on aspects of teachers performance and pay, if their class, their school does not get a higher enough % of children to a GLD. And of course what about inspections judgements – surely their will still be some sort of a link – otherwise why gather the data?  Why record it? Why create comparison tables?

I hope I am wrong, I hope it is just my misunderstanding or lack of information – but at this current moment in time, I am not convinced.

Readers may be wondering if I don’t care about the education of our children, if I don’t want all children to reach their full potential.

It is because I do care, because I do want children to reach their full potential that I am bothering to express my opinion in this blog.

I am well known for my objections to gathering of national data within early years, and my campaigning around Baseline and phonics tests (and more). However, my view about national data covers a lot more areas – the main reason is gathering of data reduces individuals to a piece of averaged data; it is used to create sticks with which to beat people into submission and to try to get them to overcome the impossible and create a standard unit of a human (child or adult) who is the same as every other standard unit of a human. This leads to tick box criteria, and pass and fail levels, with the pass score getting higher and higher year on year.

Well I don’t want to be a standard unit of a human – I want to ‘me’, with my own personal strengths and weakness (not that I like the word weakness because I don’t think the area I don’t excel at are a weakness). I just don’t excel at them – and I have numerous reasons for this, including a lack of personal passion and therefore drive or motivation to excel at some things.

And this is fine!  We do not all have to be the same. we do not all need to excel at everything.  because society needs a wide range of people with different skills. If we were all the same, society would just not work, and people would all want the highest paid jobs, the most perks and so on. What is wrong with being different, being yourself?

I most certainly do not want children to be defined as a standard unit of a human, I do not want their interests (and so passion and motivation) to be stamped on, preventing them from excelling at something, just so they can meet a standard definition of a GLD

So coming back to this GLD, what is it? I would argue that actually it is different for every single person, and also that we currently record development in the wrong way. Each and every child will develop in their own way and in their own time (even the government recognises this). Some children will excel at Maths, or science, or dance, or caring for others, or making others laugh and relax – but none of them will excel at all of those things. Please note that I have included skills not currently valued by tests or GLD records.

Another issue is not all children are going to ‘peak’ and achieve at the same moment in time, and it is soul destroying for children to be assess as failing, or being behind, just because they are the youngest in the year group, or have missed a lot of education due to ill health, or their lives have fallen to pieces due to death in the family, poverty, constant changes of homes and any of  the ACE’s a child may encounter.

Children need to be considered as unique individuals and their strengths, their interests , their personal situation noted. They do not need to be assessed against national criteria lists, or marked against a standard GLD chart and then turned into a piece of national data.

One child may read at 3 and become a life long reader, one may not read until 9 and yet still go to university. one may struggle and not gain a degree until 57, one may not engage in mainstream education at all, but be an expert with computers , one may go to university but fail to gain employment in that field and have to retrain, one may drop out of education and yet become a millionaire – all of these examples are taken from members of my own family – what actually happened to these unique individuals who did not become a standard unit of a human.

So do I think children do not need to be assessed? Far from it – but they do not need to become a piece of data. Teachers have all the skills needed to assess their students, to encourage them to develop in general terms but to their own ability and with consideration to their personal situation. Children will flourish and reach their own potential if they are able to follow their interests, good teachers will support this and forget about teaching to the  test, but will skilfully fit in other skills into areas of interest. This is possible if not teaching to the test, for example being able to read is not just achieved through graded readers and phonics sessions, it can be taught by linking to interests; history does not just have to be via a national curriculum it can be about any aspect of history and any point in time.

I hate comparison charts, I hate lists of who can do what displayed for all to see , such as who is on what reading level, who can count to 20, who can hold a pencil in a triangle grip – none of this is important for the world to know, this should just be for the teachers records and to share with parents.

And don’t get me started on ability tables – what a silly idea. All of us have things we are good at, all of us learn in different ways and all have things we find harder – so what is the point of ability tables? Why not just have tables that anyone can sit at, and use the benefits of children supporting each other.

A GLD – is unique to each child, for some children this will be ‘typical’ and they will make good progress through the ‘norms’ but for other children it will be more gradual, more varied and could be in very small steps BUT for that child it will still a GLD!

In conclusion then, I don’t actually have much confidence that Ofsted will stop collecting data, will stop recording GLD, and therefore that teachers will stop teaching to the test.

It is a step in the right direction but there is a very long way to go.

To ensure every child reaches their own personal potential we all must focus much more on child well- being, on happiness, on feeling positive about themselves, of feeling good about their own achievements and value.

And for that to happen there needs to be a complete rethink about just what is the purpose of education and why GLD needs to standard to all – because logic says that is an impossible task.

Posted October 11, 2018 by psw260259 in My thoughts on current childcare issues

Feedback from West Midlands Ofsted Big Conversation on 5th October 2018   1 comment

Pre Amble

Once upon a time there was a childminder who was passionate about all things early years; and who became involved in many committees doing her best to represent her fellow childminders, the early years sector – and to speak up for children and families.

She gathered a bit of a reputation for her detailed feedback about the meetings and conferences that she attended. By 2016 when she announced her retirement from registered childminding she thought she would build on her advocating and campaigning in order to make a bigger difference to children, families, childminders, early years setting – and indeed to  society.

Readers will recognise that I am talking about myself above, and regular readers will know that in early 2017 I became very ill.

Blogs stopped, conference and meetings almost stopped and were few and far between, and those I did attend did not result in a feedback blog.

Although far from well, I am trying to pick up the pieces, and when possible financially and travel wise, I am starting to attend events, starting to rebuild professional relationships – and starting today trying to resume my blogging.

Now this blog does come with a health warning, because although I did attend the West Midlands Ofsted Big Conversation, I did not take notes (nothing unusual in that) but my memory is not as good as it used to be – could be partly an age thing, and partly a lack of use thing over the last 20 months, but the biggest impact is the long term use of excessive amounts of prescribed morphine. And yes I am still taking quite a lot every day just to get through each day.

So please remember this is an opinion blog and contains my opinion and my personal recall of the event. Readers need to refer to other records of this event and check facts for themselves – even though I am clear in my own mind that this is a fairly accurate recall of what happened and what was said.


I need to comment on the fact that it was for two reasons that I was able to attend this West Midlands Ofsted Big Conversation. First was the reasonable cost at £15 and with careful management of my disability benefits I was able to afford to attend. Second reason was the offer from my colleague Esther Gray to drive me to the venue (if I could get as far as her house). Luckily Esther’s house is within the range I am comfortable to drive to, and so I gratefully accepted her offer as the Venue was a) too far for me to drive to, and b) as in Birmingham out of my comfort zone.

The Actual Meeting

On the journey Esther and I had a bit of a personal and professional catch up as we had not seen each other for around 6 months. I always enjoy the professional discussions with Esther as we think alike on so many things despite me being a former childminder and her being former Ofsted compliance person.

We arrived in good time, and were able to park very near the door thanks to my new Blue Badge. We were very impressed with the efficiency of booking in, both by the venue downstairs and the OBC team upstairs. I am pleased to report no issues with lifts, disabled toilet or access in general.

We grabbed a welcome cup of coffee and separated to mingle. I spotted a few practitioners I knew, and was very pleased that despite my absence from the sector, senior current and ex Ofsted people recognised me, and made a point of speaking to me. It gave me hope that if health allows, I will be able to pick up the pieces. I also spoke to members of the OBC team and those there with stands / due to do presentations – and Mel- who I know – from the Pre School Learning Alliance.

We were provided with an overview of the day and an  update about what had happened since the last meeting.

I should make it clear that I am not going to attempt to remember who said what, when, or even to remember names – hopefully in the future my brain will regain some of its ability.

So the following will be a rather jumbled up record of the bits that I thought important and the bits I actually remember.

Risky Play

Ofsted did a presentation about risky play, stating that they want children to take part in risky play, they actually do want them to climb trees and so on. It was recommended that we took at look at the Health and Safety website because there are so many myths. Ofsted said this also applied to things that were claimed to have come from them as simply not true and that people needing to apply common sense and realise that  when they make judgements or write actions it will be related to the setting being inspected and not about general practice. More about this a bit later.

We were asked to look at a set of photo’s in small groups and rank them according to the risk. My group very quickly came to the conclusion that really there was no risk BUT it did depend on knowing the children well and adult supervision. This was Ofsted’s view as well.

Among the questions posed to Ofsted was one about a setting where they had been told in a recent inspection to remove their stoned area. Ofsted of course would not comment on this particular inspection, but did say the inspector would have considered the risk to the children.

Suggestions for possible reasons  for saying the stones should be removed

The age of the children attending and staff supervision

The risks in the whole area

The staff’s knowledge when questioned about why this sort of play was beneficial to the children, how to manage the risk and so on. Ofsted said staff  who just said things like ‘ The manager decided’ or ‘We was just told to do this’ is not good enough and due to staff’s lack of knowledge Ofsted could consider the risk to be too high.

Without actually being involved in the inspection, Ofsted said it was difficult to give the reasons why this decision had been made – but there would have been reasons.

Presentation on Progress with the new Inspection Framework

We were shown graphs and it was explained that although progress was being made around number of children with a good level of development there was still more work to be done. The differences in different areas of the West Midlands were highlighted and what the concerns were in Ofsted’s eyes.

The new inspection framework is due to come into force in September 2019, and Ofsted are gathering views from meetings such as this one, as well as through a more formal consultation later on. I have to admit I zoned out a bit because I get annoyed about national data because it does not focus on individual children and what is a Good Level of Development for that child. In my opinion expecting all children to reach the same level at any given point in terms of age, or school year is unrealistic and again in my opinion sets some up to feel failures when actually they are just not ready  – and for a huge number of reasons.

However, I did pay attention when I heard it mentioned that the new inspection framework would have less focus on data gathering and would reduce workload for practitioners, settings and inspectors. I hope this is the case and will follow Ofsted’s journey towards implementation of this framework and of course take part in consultations.

One worrying fact was the lack of mention of mental health and child / parent / practitioner well being – and this was raised during question time. There was also a request to bring back the focus on Birth to Three for our youngest children’s well being.

Some in the room also felt the online SEF should be reintroduced to allow whole setting reflection.

Question Time with Ofsted

I have already mentioned a couple of the questions asked, so may as well cover the other ones that I can remember

Q. What is the maximum time between inspections?

A We try to carry out all inspections in a timely manner and we are on target to complete all within the inspection cycle (and this was shown in one of the presentations). However if you are inspected at the beginning of one inspection cycle and at the end of the next inspection cycle, it could be up to 8 years.

So the answer is the maximum length of time between inspections is 8 years.

Q Is there a time limit of doing Baseline?

Penny comment – I took this to mean gather each child’s starting points

A. No Ofsted do not set a time frame. We would expect you to gather information as soon as possible but if there is a reason why this has not happened then you need to explain to the inspector why you have not done this. A child not settling could be a reason BUT Ofsted would expect you to tell us what you do know about that child.

Q (Follow on from in the room) So a setting policy to delay recording starting points for all children would not be acceptable?

A. In general no,

Q If a setting is registered for say 24 children, could they invite all children on roll (say 40) for a party?

A Yes, you do not even need to inform us, you just have to risk access and keep all the children safe. Of course if something did go wrong Ofsted would want to see your risk assessments and reasons for your judgements.

Q Do we have to wear plastic aprons and gloves for nappy changing and serving meals?

A (There was a bit of discussion around this) Ofsted do not dictate if you should wear aprons or gloves, it is up to you to risk assess and make your own informed decision. If you want to, you can – but it is not an Ofsted requirement.


There were other questions asked, and I believe the OBC team will send out all responses from Ofsted to attendees – including the questions there was not time to ask.

Other Presentations

There was a presentation from Early Years Nutrition Partnership  on early years nutrition and the help that is available to settings. I found this quite interesting even though I no longer have a setting, because I do have early years aged grandchildren. You can google them – and one of their supporters is Pre School Learning Alliance (Hence why Mel attending)

The other presentation was from Imogen Edmonds from Redwing Solutions on recruitment and although I don’t need to recruit anyone, it was an insight into ways people can recruit the right staff without spending a great deal of money.

Exhibitors included the two companies above as well as Kate Moxley  Consultant and Foundation Focus, so plenty to look at and people to chat to.


I know I have missed quite a lot, so apologies for that, but as my first attempt at recalling an event in a long time I am pretty pleased with myself (and who knows maybe I can now think about doing some catch up blogs – especially the one about my own networking event in May 18).

As the person who was responsible for the very first West Midlands Ofsted Big Conversation in September 2013 (link to blog I wrote at time for those interested ) I am delighted that the conversation is still going on, and that the current OBC team are doing such a fantastic job of developing the meetings and engaging with Ofsted. I feel proud that the acorn I planted 5 years ago is doing so well.

And looking at the concerns raised in 2013 we have come along way – but further improvements could – in my opinion –  be made

Posted October 6, 2018 by psw260259 in My thoughts on current childcare issues