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3rd National Early Years Safeguarding Conference   Leave a comment

3rd National Early Years Safeguarding Conference   –  3rd November 2018

 Pre Amble                                                                                                                                            

I have been lucky to have been supported in various ways to attend all three National Early Years Safeguarding Conferences, and from the show of hands at this year’s conference, I am one of a few who have attended all of them, although many had attended 2 out of 3. I was a speaker at the first conference, and supported to attend both the second and the third by Laura Henry for which I am very grateful because my current situation as a disabled non-working person means I would not otherwise be able to attend. I know Laura considers that I support her in other ways, and that support should be a two way process, and I agree. However at the moment I think Laura supports me a lot more than I support her – but I hope that in the future the balance will tip the other way.

Laura is one of those amazing people, who despite her worldwide reputation in the Early Years field, keeps her feet securely on the ground, remembering not only her friends and colleagues, but her personal ethos, values and practices. These days conferences are very expensive to put on and time consuming, and I know (because Laura has publically said so) she does not make any money from these conferences but still thinks it is worthwhile (and the right thing to do) to put them on, and will be putting on the 4th one in 2019.

All of the conferences have in fact been a reflection of Laura’s ethos – the importance of bringing people together to network and share information; to widen participation by offering Saturday conferences, providing discounts so those with limited budgets (or large teams) can attend; widening the safeguarding debate by including diverse speakers and subjects outside the 4 main areas of safeguarding. And all designed to support personal and professional reflection.

This blog is slightly different from my usual blogs; as my journey details, my conversations with people, and what I did are just included as part of my personal and professional reflections about the day.

This blog is my personal recall and my personal reflections, others who attended the conference will have a different recall and different reflections.


This did not go to plan, despite prearranging Travel Assist. I think when arranging travel for disabled people (adults or children), the safeguarding aspect needs to be considered, because when things do not go to plan, the disabled person is very vulnerable and at risk of harm in a number of ways. At the very least the stress caused and impact on emotional wellbeing should not be under estimated, but physical wellbeing is at risk if they cannot get on or off transport (and then try to do it themselves; or seek support from fellow passengers who may be willing to assist but who have had no training in such things). Finally lack of assistance can lead to neglect if the persons toileting needs, medication needs, or diet needs are not met – which can be the case if stranded on trains, or platforms, or miss connections to where going and timelines go astray.

So as Early Years Practitioners (and in our general support for others) we really need to think things through and have back up plans, and back up plans for the back up plans!

In my case, I did the planning, and so can only hold myself responsible, although West Midlands trains have received a complaint for failing to provide the agreed Travel Assist on the part of my journey that used their trains.

The last part of my journey went to plan, my colleague Sally met me at Euston and walked me to the venue; another colleague Sue, took me back to Euston at the end of the conference. These seemingly small details in my planning are actually very important when travelling alone, and although Early Years children are unlikely to travel alone, parents may need support at stations or even just reassurance that someone will be there for a handover chat. Older children / young people may want to travel alone and their independence must be supported, but sensible safeguards must also be put in place – such as meeting at / taking to stations and ‘handing over’ to Travel assist staff, or colleagues who will assist with next part of the day.

NB I have only discussed disability in relation to my own needs, and this particular journey, but I am very aware others have differing needs for journeys and other occasions, and these must also be considered so the person is safeguarded in every aspect.


The Conference                                                                                                                                   

On arrival, I was pleased another aspect of preplanning had worked. My colleague Brita had brought refreshments to the table for Sally and myself because it was very close to conference starting time, and after a long journey refreshments are often vital.

Various people in the room came up to say ‘hello’, to ask how I was, and to ask if they could help. This not only made me feel valued, it also reflected the fact that people recognised getting my rollator around the room would be difficult, so best they came to speak to me; but also that they realised they should ask if I needed help – not assume I did, or that they knew what was best for me. Back in the 1990’s I did some excellent equality training, which highlighted the difficulties of people treating disabled people as ‘non people’ – that is they assumed the disabled person cannot look after themselves, cannot make decisions or even know what they want to do. I find it shocking that over 20 years later some people still make these assumptions, and although mean well, take over and treat disabled people with disrespect. Linking this to safeguarding, this can lead to abuse (of all types) as people can assume that ‘over help’ is good and not look deeper at potential safeguarding aspect, if a disabled (or indeed any child or young person) does not have a voice.

If I feel this as an adult – imagine how disabled children may feel. Yes offer help, but don’t assume help is needed or wanted – and don’t just ‘take over’ no matter how good your intentions.

Laura opened the conference and told a few reflective stories – I think it is important that we all share these stories, so we can all learn from them – and in my opinion, due in part to Laura setting the scene with her reflective story, throughout the day, other stories were shared, within the boundaries of confidentiality.

Christina Gabbitas – Share some Secrets – The Voice of the Child                                  

The first speaker was Christina Gabbitas – someone I had not heard speak before. Christina spoke about her book ‘Share some Secrets’ which aims to support children to have a voice and to speak up about things bothering them, especially things that adults have told them are ‘secrets’ and that they will get in trouble / bad things will happen if they tell anyone.

We were showed an animation of the story, and I could see how useful this would be in supporting children. It was good to hear about the national organisations supporting the project.

However, I would have like a little bit less about the process of getting the book recognised and used, and a bit more about how it was being used and the positive impact it has already had on children.

Nevertheless a good resource and I saw that lots of delegates were buying copies to take back to their settings.

My reflection was, as I no longer work directly with children (other than my grandchildren) rather than buying the book, it would be more beneficial to others, if  I shared the link to the animation – which I have done, by social media and email.

Inspector Jack Rowlands – My work and Metropolitan Police Key Areas              

Inspector Rowlands is one of those people I instantly felt connected to – he spoke my language. He was honest, he was realistic about the challenges – and he had suggestions for solutions. Working in the Met in London, Jack see’s first-hand the continuing cycle of crime, brought about by drugs, drink and poverty. He spoke about young (men mainly) involved in crime but doing so to support their families, particularly their younger siblings. Jack said that he is now seeing some of those younger siblings and even the children of those he arrested 15 years ago now entering a life of crime.

Jack is keen to support these young people into education and employment, so that crime is not the only option. However Jack knows this will take many years if not generations to bring about, and a commitment from many organisations to work in partnership to support these young people and families. He spearheads an organisation called Divert.

One of my personal reflections, is, ‘Here is another professional in a completely different field to myself who has suggestions around the changes needed, and projects he is personally involved with to try and make a difference BUT like me, is banging his head against a wall, where people don’t listen or just pay lip service’. I am left wondering, how can we all effectively come together? How can we join the dots in the different services? How can we share resources and information effectively? And not just Jack and myself but all the other individuals and organisations who are trying to overcome the barriers.

Another personal reflection is – In working in partnership, we need to give everyone an equal role – no, ‘them and us’, no, ‘I am better than you because of my title’. When inviting people to meetings consider who is not there, as age, gender, role, and anything else that might be a barrier to working in partnership needs to be overcome. As a childminder, as a foster carer and as a grandparent, I have often been frustrated at my lack of involvement, and dismayed at decisions made due to decision makers not having the information I hold.

My takeaway from Jack’s presentation is – We can do better, we must do better.

Morning break                                                                                                                            

During the morning break, I was able to speak to colleagues and catch up a little. I also spoke to Jo Fitzgerald about her books and to obtain a signed copy of her book. Thank you Jo, as I now have signed copies of ‘Cold Toes at Christmas’ and ‘How to keep safe’.

I noticed that Inspector Jack Rowlands had a queue of people waiting to speak to him, a sign that he meant what he said about connecting and sharing.

Keynote by Alfie Kohn – ‘Unconditional Parenting’                                                              

As trialled successfully by Laura at the second conference, this was a recorded keynote with Alfie answering set questions. There was silence while we watched the film, and lots of note taking by many. Alfie was talking complete sense as far as I was concerned and my reflection was that this was confirmation that my childminding practice had been on the whole on the lines of what Alfie was saying – but it had not always been so, as like many I developed my understanding over a period of time, and as a result reflected and changed some of my practice. I hasten to add not the ‘big things’ around listening to the child, believing and trusting the child, and unconditional love, but some of the smaller things like less adult direction, not using reward stickers and so on. I think we are all on a journey of discovery and all should be continually reflecting and making changes as our knowledge deepens. We should not feel bad about the past because each and every one of us will have done our best at the time with the knowledge we had at that time. When I think back to my early carer and indeed my early days of parenting, I more or less went on ‘gut feeling’, as there was no internet, not much available research in an everyday readable format, or many accessible training or qualification courses.

Alfie said a few things which stuck in my mind (I was not taking notes), so my understanding, rather than Alfie’s actual words.

Short term it is easier to control children through empty praise, rewards and punishments, but this does not support children to understand why it is in their own interest to do certain things, or to question things. Controlling children is not the answer

 Carrots and sticks not only don’t work – they are an easy option

Talk less, ask more

Rewards and punishments makes children think what is in this for me – and may choose punishment as a negative, easier to get reward

The problem is not the children, it is the environment they are placed in

 Round Table Discussions                                                                                                          

Laura asked us all to discuss on our tables the impact of Alfie’s Keynote on ourselves.

I was the ‘Table Lead’ and so had the role of taking notes and feeding back the tables thoughts to the room. Two people on my table had strong views and a lot to say – nothing wrong in that, but I did have to speak up to ensure everyone on my table had opportunity to speak – although we actually ran out of time before everyone had spoken. I was pleased when at the end of the day, one of those with strong views took the time to thank me for the professional way I had tried to ensure everyone could express their opinion.

The overwhelming thought was ‘Wish I had known all this years ago’, this is not to say that those on the table had no knowledge about the things Alfie discussed because they did but they were all at different stages on their personal journeys. In my opinion that is why it is important to attend national conferences were your personal thoughts are challenged and extended, and so after the conference reflection can take place.

One setting represented at our table spoke about how in September they had completely changed the focus in their setting from Adult led to Child led. They were honest and said at first it was not easy but now after only half a term the children are self-motivated and far more engaged than they were before. One of the key changes was making resources accessible to the children all the time. Childminders on the table spoke about how they had always been mainly child led, and said allowing time and listening to the children was key.


By lunch time I was tiring from my early start and long journey, my painkillers were less effective, and my ability to focus was reducing. However, I enjoyed a nice lunch that met my dietary needs, had a bit of a move about, and spoke to several colleagues, some of whom I had not seen for several months, and some who I knew from social media but was meeting for the first time.

Panel Session                                                                                                                                  

Laura had invited 3 people to sit on the panel, to give short presentations and answer questions from the room.

The people on the panel were

Andrew Ellery who spoke about ‘The Role of Social Workers in Early Years’

Joss Cambridge- Simmons who spoke about ‘My experience as a child and domestic violence’

Dr. Eunice Lumsden who spoke about ‘CPD for staff regarding safeguarding and child protection’.

As you can see 3 totally different but connected subjects.

Some Personal Reflection before continuing with conference feedback                         

I have to admit that I was not really ‘on the ball’ during this session, and if I had been at home, I would have had an afternoon nap! This is not a reflection on the speakers, more of a reflection on my current health. It can be hard for others to understand the impact of long term health issues, and long term pain – but the impact is huge and although ‘mind over matter’ does help, as does keeping busy, actually there is only so much you can do to overcome the difficulties you face day in and day out.

I know from situations faced by family, friends, and colleagues the same can be said for any long term difficulty you face from poverty to domestic violence; from abuse to mental health difficulties and everything else in between. Anything that is long term takes a toll on your well-being and at times you cannot cope as well as you can at other times – no matter how hard you try, no matter how much you want to do something. That applies to walking away from situations, asking for help, making plans, attending school or work and staying on task – and although not the same at all – attending and staying awake at conferences.

It is true that our personal experiences can help us have empathy with those in totally different but equally traumatic circumstances. I think we all need to try and put ourselves in other people’s shoes, to try to understand just how hard it is, that they are not weak or useless, they are actually doing their best. If we all then listen, all support in whatever way we can (knowing we do not have a magic wand) we can make a difference, we can start to turn things round and start the process of stopping the cycle of damage. As someone who has had over 16 years of medical people not believing me because what I was telling them was not the norm, not what was expected, I can tell you how much difference it makes when someone listens, someone understands and believes you, and says ‘I can’t make any promises but I am here for you. I will do my best to help’

Back to the Conference Feedback                                                                                       

Andrew spoke about the often difficult role of social workers, and the boundaries around what they can and can’t do, due to rules and regulations, time restraints and budget cuts. (There was more but as already stated I was not taking it all in)

Joss told an amazing personal story about how he had used his life experiences positively and also taken up unexpected opportunities that had led to him becoming a Manny (a male Nanny). Joss displayed a wide range of emotions during his talk, and I was personally quite emotional just listening to his story. He is simply inspirational. And an excellent male role model within Early Years – we need more like him.

Eunice spoke about the importance of ongoing staff CPD and qualifications, and the impact on safeguarding and child protection. However, the thing that struck home with me was about personal baggage. We all have personal baggage but it is how we deal with it that is important, because if we carry it around with us, it impacts on our work with the children, and on our colleagues and therefore the setting as a whole.

Eunice made the point that your baggage should be contained within a virtual suitcase and you should be able to shut it without things sticking out, and to be able to leave it in a safe place while you are working or studying and same applies to work baggage as should not be taken home). If you can’t shut your suitcase or can’t leave it in a safe place, then you need to take a break from things, to go on holiday if you can, to deal with the overflowing suitcase, so that on your return, you can shut it and leave it in a safe place. If that does not happen – really you need to find other employment.

Strong words but on reflection so very true. I realised that I actually have a lot of baggage that I need to find ways to deal with. A flawed Ofsted inspection – now 4 years since it happened; my inability to safeguard foster children 2 years ago from a flawed system, that did not give myself or the children a voice; my ill health just when all my years of work were about to come together and lead to a new career – oh yes a lot of baggage and that is without family ‘stuff’ that will not be mentioned here, but still has an impact.

Just imagine if everyone working in a setting or a professional specialist team has as much baggage as I do (and I am sure many do – different baggage but still baggage) and are unable to leave it in a safe place? I like to think that I do leave my baggage behind most of the time, but sometimes, subject matters within my campaigning or voluntary work are a bit too close to my heart, and it is hard to stay objective.

NB Since the conference I have reflected a lot about my baggage, and realised in each situation there was nothing I could have done differently, and nothing I could have done since  each situation, over and above what I have already done in raising awareness of the flawed systems. Therefore, as I was not, (and are still not responsible ) for flawed systems and individual / organisational actions the baggage is not mine and can be not only put down but securely stored. Yes, I still wish these things had not happened, yes I wish systems were not flawed but hanging onto that baggage serves no purpose at all.

In the future I will be using the suitcase scenario, described so well by Eunice, to help others (especially children and those who work with children) to deal with their baggage

Round table discussions                                                                                                              

After the panel session we had another round table discussion, with some set questions. My table thought the baggage issue was the one thing they would ‘takeaway’ and do something about it. One manager said that on the following Monday she would be talking to her staff about this issue, and may even have a place (maybe a basket) by the door to the setting where staff could visualise leaving their baggage.

Dr. Prospera Tedam – Identifying children at risk of witchcraft labelling in schools: Research and Practice                                                                                                                      

All I can say is I have led a very sheltered life! Yes, I knew a little bit about witchcraft. Yes, I knew there were elements of witchcraft in the Victoria Climbie case, but actually I had not taken on board the full impact of witchcraft in Victoria’s case or in several other cases in England. I was shocked at what was (and is) going on in the country I live in – and not just in the big cities.

During the round table discussions after Prospera’s presentation, we discussed other practices that we had heard of such as ‘cupping’ or ‘breast ironing, and the things we needed to be aware of so we could spot the signs, and then do something to safeguard the children.

Priscilla Joseph – Poet                                                                                                                       

To conclude the conference Laura had asked Priscilla to read two of her very powerful poems, which following the lines of the whole conference were a personal reflection.

End Conference  Personal Notes                                                                                             

There were refreshments available for those who could stay a little longer, a last opportunity to network and buy books. I purchased Eunice Lumsden’s book ‘Child Protection in the Early Years. A Practical Guide’. I have yet to read it, but when I do, I will write a blog about it.

I asked Eunice to sign my book, which she did with the following inscription ‘We are all part of jigsaw’, which I think sums up the conference, all the speakers, all the delegates, Laura and her admin team Juliette and Kinga, – and indeed safeguarding as a whole.

In my opinion safeguarding in the widest sense of the word is about anything and everything to do with the child – and anyone who has any connection, no matter how small with a child. We are indeed all part of the jigsaw


 If you are interested in attending the  4th National Early Years Safeguarding Conference on 2nd November 2019, you can find out more or reserve your place by emailing



Posted November 16, 2018 by psw260259 in My thoughts on current childcare issues

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

A couple of parcels for the children at Granny’s Daycare   Leave a comment

Setting the Scene

I used to be a registered childminder until April 2016, and occasionally would review products for the early years. In particular those from Early Years Resources (if interested use the search box to locate those blogs). Then on my retirement I was asked if I could still review products but at a colleagues setting – this worked well and I had 2 colleagues who were willing to help – and for their help they could  keep the products to use in their setting. THEN – one resigned and one retired!

So as Early years Resources would still like me to occasionally review products for them, I have come up with another idea – Granny DayCare!

I have always looked after my grandchildren, both as a Granny who was a childminder, then just as a Granny. To be honest apart from the lack of an Ofsted certificate and any payment, there are not many differences because once a childminder – always a childminder with the same focus on the individual child, the same setting up of an enabling environment, the same attention to safety and so on.

So one the day in question when I reviewed these latest resources, I had 3 of my grandchildren in my care Annabelle who had just had her 4th birthday, Anya who is 3, and because it was the school holidays, Selena who is 6. The girls are all used to spending time at Granny’s and used to each other.

The Products Being Reviewed                                                                                                      The first product is the Dinosaur Weaving Frames

Chosen because both of the younger girls have had a long term interest in dinosaurs – although to be honest in recent months they have shown more interest in unicorns, ponies and fairies.

The second product is the Rustic Play Blocks

Chosen because I love wooden blocks and I wanted to see what this set was like, and if a fairly small set could engage the children as much as the rather large set that I used to own as a childminder.

The Review                                                                                                                                             Before the children arrived I had set up the lounge and dining room much as I used to when a childminder. In the lounge the coffee table was pushed to the wall to create a large open play space, Some duplo was put on the coffee table, and a basket of heuristic play things on the floor. The new resources were sill in their packaging so the children and I could open together – just as I did when childminding. There was also a basket of assorted ribbons, and  laces ready to use. In the dinning room there was some painting resources on the table and a pop up tent complete with cushions, books and some soft toys.

The 3 girls were very excited to see the new resources and wanted to open them before playing with the other older resources.

First the weaving frames, despite not being their most current interest, the girls were delighted with the frames and were able to recognised and name each of the 3 dinosaur shapes. Descriptions of size, shape, if flew or walked, if had 2 or 4 legs – and which was their favourite littered the conversations. They had to wait while Granny selected some laces to tie the weaving frames to door handles, so the girls could stand to do their weaving – and so there was plenty space between the frames. Selena got stuck right in, knowing how to weave and having a plan in her head of creating straight lines. She used appropriate wording describing her ribbons and laces in terms of colours, width, and length. She also wanted Granny to constantly look at her weaving and to comment, which of course Granny did. Selena continued with her weaving until just about every hole in the frame had been used. She was very pleased with her work, and when her mummy collected her later, she wanted to tell mummy all about her weaving – and of course show her, which was possible because Granny had left the weaving frame on the door for everyone to admire.

Weaving 2[1]     weaving-eyr-71.jpg

Weaving EYR 15[1].jpg  WEaving EYR 17[1].jpg

6 year old Selena’s weaving

Annabelle, had not done any weaving for a while and had forgotten how to weave. Her first attempts just fell out and she needed some support from Granny to get started. She was very interested in the colour of the ribbons and the length. She liked the longs ones but could not quite manage to perfect her weaving and although did succeed with some in and out weaving, she also  had lots of loose bits that she started to weave  but then left ‘hanging’. However she was very pleased with her efforts, and like Selena sought lots of praise from Granny.

Weaving EYR 18[1].jpg   Weaving EYR 18[2].jpg

4 year old Annabelle’s  weaving

Anya quietly concentrated on her task, like Annabelle she struggled with her technique but kept trying. Anya commented out loud to herself ‘in and out of the holes’ and ‘up and down’. Even so, Anya still had lots of ribbon hanging loose. This did not bother Anya as she thought it was ‘beautiful’ and particularly liked the stripy shoe laces to weave with. Like her sister and cousin,  Anya wanted Granny to admire her work.

Weaving EYR 16[1].jpg

3 year old Anya’s weaving

All 3 girls really enjoyed the weaving and remained on task for about 40 minutes. All were very pleased with their finished dinosaur  frames – as was Granny.

Granny had supplied a range of ribbons and threading laces but this could have been extended with pipe cleaners, string and wool. Children could be challenged to try only using certain colours, or to weave other materials into their weaving. In addition patterns could be made both with colours and with ‘holes’ used.

However, based on my knowledge of child development and how children learn through hands on experimentation, I would much rather just provide children with opportunities to use the frames regularly and observe what they do. I see my role as one of support offering encouragement, praise and vocabulary. Of course if the children suggest ideas, I would be very happy to discuss their ideas.

One of the features I like about these frames is they can be used inside and outside, and are very easy to tie to objects or just put on a flat surface. However, I don’t think the frames could be left outside for long periods of time in inclement weather.

Using the Rustic Blocks

As a childminder I always had blocks of some sort as I believe they are a very versatile resource with many uses. At first I just had some cube blocks as used to be in push a long walker; then I had small blocks in various shapes and colours; and finally a huge collection of natural blocks in many shapes and sizes.

Since retiring, I have just kept a small collection of smaller size wooden blocks for grandchildren’s use, and to be honest these blocks had not been played with for a while due to having kitchen make over, which meant I could not access the blocks easily.

Once the girls had finished their weaving they were keen to play with the blocks, and started to sort the blocks, and build with them straight from the box. They named the shapes they recognised, Selena had clearly been learning about 3 D shapes, while both Anya and Annabelle were more confident with the 2 D shape names. On a couple of occasions Granny was asked to name unrecognisable shapes.

Annabelle was really into careful design and building, while Anya preferred lines and towers.

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Some of the structures made with the blocks

After a while, Selena decided that the blocks were books in a library and invented a whole game around library books; borrowing, taking home to the play tent – there was even mention of fines for being late in returning the block books.

Both Anya and Annabelle enjoy the library books game and pretended to borrow books, and then to read them to the toy dogs and teddies. Granny recognised several of their current favourite stories. When Selena said the library was closed the girls all read bedtime stories from their block library books before pretending to go to sleep.

As you can see from the photos although a fairly small set of blocks, there were plenty of different shapes and more than enough for the girls to play both alongside each other and together. As an adult I appreciated the rounded edges and smooth surfaces.

On this occasion the children did not add things to their block play, other than their imagination. However, I know from past block play adding natural resources such as pebbles and pine cones; or small world people; or heuristic objects or loose parts can transform and extend block play.

If I was setting up as a childminder again, would I buy these items?

Yes I would because they would be used over and over again in a huge variety of different ways, and by children across the early years age range – and so well worth the investment.

Passing on the resources in this review

As I am not setting up again as a childminder, and as I don’t personally want myself or a family member to benefit from keeping the resources, I asked Early Years Resources if it would be acceptable to pass them on to a local children’s charity. This was agreed to and so I have passed them on to Wyre Forest Home Start for their volunteers to use with local families and in their drop in groups.






Posted September 18, 2018 by psw260259 in My thoughts on current childcare issues

A bit of an explanation …   Leave a comment

Pre Amble                                                                                                                                              I think it is fair to say that the only noticeable thing about my blogs since late 2016 is the reduced quantity and quality!

In April / May 2016, I was on a bit of a high,  personally and professionally. I had held a very successful celebration event to mark my retirement from registered childminding; had been on an inspirational trip to Germany on a trip to Keilhau to re-discover Froebel (or in my case to discover for the first time); was involved with my volunteering for early years membership organisations at national level, and working in partnership with some of the key people in the early years field; and although unable to publically say so had just been informed that The Queen was awarding me a British Empire Medal in her 90th Birthday Honours in June 16, for my volunteering and contribution to Early Years.

Life was pretty good – especially as at the time I was not taking any medications for my diabetes and had lost a lot of weight.

Then things started to go downhill and life was far from good.

My Story                                                                                                                                                  There are two parts to my story, one part is about something that happened which had a huge impact on me, and the other about my health and the impact this has had on my career, on my volunteering and on my future.

The first part of my story is fact and anyone who understands the impact of stress will understand the  huge impact this had on me.

I was reported to the Disclosure and Barring Service and it was stated I should be barred. I am sure everyone can relate to the stress this caused me, as it suggested I was not fit or safe to work with children, despite a 30+ year unblemished  track record of looking after children and being a volunteer within Children’s Services.

Don’t get me wrong ALL allegations should be investigated and in my case I am glad they were because no charges were made, I was not Barred and in fact I was reissued with clear DBS record  almost immeadiatly (although it took a year to receive the ‘nothing to answer to’ letter).  However, the thought that anyone would even think I could harm a child in anyway. still haunts me, as do the consequences of the allegations at the time.

One impact was on my volunteering, as being who I am and with my personal ethos, I contacted all the organisations and individuals that I worked in partnership with at that time, and told them to cancel my membership and to distance themselves from me because I had no idea what was being said about me, if the truth would be established or not, and therefore did not want to risk any ‘by association’ negative impact on those organisations. who had always valued me as a volunteer.

NB Now my name has been cleared, I have re joined all my membership organisations, and continue to work in partnership with them, even though my ill health prevents me from being as active in my volunteering as I would like to be.

The second part of my story is about my health as throughout the traumatic experience of the allegations,  I was becoming seriously ill.  In fact when trying to defend my position through various appeals,  I struggled to physically move, was in extreme pain and as a result on high doses of prescribed morphine. It is fair to say that I was unable to adequately put my case as I struggled to remember small detail, struggled to think enough to string a sentence together and as a result did not put my case forward robustly enough. Although I did manage to clear my name and prove I was not a threat to children. In fact children remained in my care during that time, which was evidence that even before DBS had finished their investigation, I was not considered a serious threat to children’s well being.

It is hard to explain how  terrible the situation was, being so ill and worrying what was wrong with me (as the doctors did not know) and trying to defend  my reputation and livelihood.

By late 2017, I still did not know what was wrong with me,  I could not work  as by this point I was unable to think or move or control my body functions. To make matters worse because no one knew what was wrong with me I could not claim benefits (not enough ticks in the right boxes).

Then in early 2018 I saw a new consultant who diagnosed that I had Diabetic Radiculopathy which is very rare and not much is known about it – only that have to manage the pain so don’t become permanently disabled  through lack of movement, and that eventually most people do recover from it.

This meant I was finally able to apply for benefits and was awarded max PIP and the extended EESA – although not enough to live on, it is enough to make a difference (with Garry’s wage) between surviving and not surviving.

I have to push myself everyday to do just about anything and everything, the pain is at times unbearable, but I was (and still am) determined to a) come off the morphine, b) improve my mobility. The good news is I am reducing the morphine – very slowly and  with help from my GP who has been very supportive, phoning regularly for updates and to advise me. I have gone from a high of 240mg of morphine a day,  to now just 50mg a day, although it is a struggle and I often need additional pain relief to get through the day – but at least now on a much more acceptable long term dose of morphine.

With mobility things are improved but I still struggle to walk and still use mobility aids most of time. Balance is not good, flexibility is not good, strength is still weak and I tire very easily. However, I am confident that ‘ baby steps’ forward will get me there in the end. The frustrating aspect is when I have set backs, which happen quite often and always happen whenever morphine has been reduced, at these times I can get a bit depressed and worry that having taken a step or two backwards, that I will keep going backwards not forwards. As I write this blog, I am in a lot of pain and really struggling as last week reduced morphine – but I must try to be positive as I really don’t need to take any tablets for depression (my doctor actually recommends ‘pick me ups’ of chocolate, cake and socialising) but of course this impacts on weight and glucose levels.

The reason I do not want to take any more pills is it has finally been agreed by doctors that I react negatively to most drugs ( I always have but it has been difficult to prove this). In fact the Diabetic Radiculopathy was caused in Feb 2017  by going back on insulin, and my body’s reaction to it – proof in itself  that insulin does not work for me.  A couple of weeks ago I took myself off insulin, because it was slowly making me ill. This is the third time I have done this in recent years. So I know the scenario now – Glucose goes up, doctors insist go back on insulin, it works for a month or two but then glucose goes up, insulin ineffective, I become ill with brain fog, general fatigue and more – and I put lots of weight on in a very short period of time.

My GP and consultant are fully aware that I have come off insulin and are supporting me but the bottom line is if I can’t control my glucose levels through diet (trying  a low carb diet) and increased exercise (difficult at the moment as can’t do much), then sooner or later damage will occur to my major organs and I will have to consider going back on insulin knowing full well what might happen.

My GP says I need to consider my quality of life, and at the moment being off insulin does give me better quality of life, but in the future I will need to make difficult decisions. Being stuck between a rock and a hard place comes to mind.

Recently I have started swimming (well more of a desperate doggy paddle, as can’t extend legs or arms to do front or back crawl), and even standing in the water knocks me off balance, so I have to stay in the lane by the wall! Not even had the induction for the Gym yet because although part of my membership, the trainer took one look at me and said ‘we will leave this for another day’! However, it is a start and does help me be more physically active on the days I am well enough.


All of this lack of physical mobility, pain and low income means I can’t attend many conferences or meetings either locally or nationally.  My volunteering and advocacy has almost completely stopped, and that depresses me because volunteering and more recently campaigning have been a huge and important part of my life.

On the positive, I am becoming involved with my local Home Start and I am applying to become a Trustee, so if successful, this will help replace my national volunteering, and my sense of well being.

Over the last 18 months I have been supported by many friends and colleagues with some going out of their way to stay in touch via emails / social media and phone calls, and some travelling various distances to pick me up from home and take me out for a few hours. I have loved being able to keep in touch and in a small way to feel still part of the early years world. Thank you to those friends and colleagues – you know who you are. If you are not in touch with me, and would like to renew connections, or make new ones, please do get in touch via email, phone or social media as a chatty email or phone call, or a few hours out of the house really does make a difference.

However, some have stopped engaging with me, stopped sharing with me. I no longer get hundreds of emails;  many no longer re tweet my tweets or share my Facebook posts. Although this greatly disappoints me – I do understand this – I am not up to speed; I no longer have new information to share;  and as I said at the beginning, my blogs are noticeable for their absences. All of this saddens me as I still think the same, I still have an opinion but due to circumstances beyond my control it is very difficult to remain involved, or to continue sharing because of the ‘morphine fog’ in my brain that I have to live with.  As a result I am no longer a leading voice for childminders or within the early years sector. I am not sure I will ever regain ground lost……

…….. BUT I am not giving up, I have a number of blogs on my list that I want to write, it doesn’t really matter if no one reads them, writing them will be enough.

This blog is the starting point of my attempt to rediscover myself;

I want to write about my last networking event (which was good but lacked various things because I was too ill really to do it justice) In particular I have lots of information about the early days of the membership organisations that people have shared with me and I want to make this public. Not sure how long it will take me to publish all the information I have, as much of it needs collating and actually typing into a blog, and many days are still really difficult.  It may take to the end of my days if the morphine fog does not lift, and my hope is that over time people will help me with my self appointed task – and if I don’t finish it, take it on when I am no longer able to. Not that I am planning on disappearing from this world anytime soon, but I have to be realistic about my health.

I want to blog about the Pre School Learning Alliance AGM and conference in June 18, – and in particular about the question I asked Amanda Spielman – and she avoided answering by saying was a comment not a question. It most certainly was a question.

I have a couple of blogs on reviewing products – one has recently been published  and hopefully the other will be written this week.

And of course I still feel very strongly that past and current Government policy is failing our children – in fact failing to safeguard them in the widest sense, and I want to comment via my blog.

So that is my explanation of the last 18 months;  what the future holds I don’t know but I really hope to find a way to  re engage fully with the early years sector, and to find a way to resume my volunteering and campaigning at national level as well as local level, so I can make a difference to children and families.







Posted September 4, 2018 by psw260259 in My thoughts on current childcare issues