April 23rd, 2013 by Sarah Steel
Last Friday saw Sir Michael Wilshaw explaining how OFSTED were going to change the current ‘Satisfactory’ grading for nurseries to ‘Requires Improvement’, in line with schools. Sadly, unlike schools, he is not going to make it a truly level playing field by giving us a few days notice of the inspection, so that we can ensure that the Manager of the setting is available to show the inspector around and give the best possible impression on the day. On its own, this change to words doesn’t unduly bother me, but recent experiences of inspections against the revised EYFS framework have shown the system to be pretty inflexible and inspectors are tied to a very rigid marking schedule, which leaves them little room for professional judgement. For example, if an ‘action’ is given in any area of the nursery, the final grading will automatically be only ‘Satisfactory’. In a large nursery there is always the chance that one member of staff will not perform well in front of an inspector, or there may be one room which has areas for development, yet the whole nursery will get the lower grade.
What did concern me as part of Friday’s announcement was the statement that to raise quality OFSTED would inspect more often and those setting that didn’t move from ‘Satisfactory’ to ‘Good’ would be de-registered much more quickly. Inspection alone only highlights areas for development, it doesn’t help settings to get better. At the same time, Local Authorities are going to lose their advice and support role for nurseries and there is yet to be any information about how, indeed if, this will be provided by anyone.
However, yesterday’s article in The Daily Mail really took the biscuit! Ms Truss seems to have fallen in love with all things French and the latest assertion is that French children have lovely manners – determined solely by their nursery – whilst our 2 year olds are an unruly bunch. Her article makes interesting reading;
As I spend most of my time in our nurseries, watching our very hard working staff teams plan meaningful activities which stretch and challenge the children, from babies up to pre-schoolers, I find this so disappointing. The political point scoring which has invaded what we do is tiresome and unfair on the staff who deliver high quality care and work so hard to help children to develop their own interests. I do not know how many toddler rooms Ms Truss has been in, but would be happy to show her some purposeful, engaged children in our nurseries, who can all say hello to visitors and behave exactly as 2 year olds should – including wanting to play with passion and not sit quietly at a desk. Come on Ms Truss, you can do better than this for Early Years.
March 18th, 2013 by Sarah Steel
I saw a few suggestions in the weekend press that the Government were going to make some concession for working parents, to help with the cost of childcare in this week’s budget. The main suggestion seems to be an increased tax break to pay for childcare, so presumably an extension of the current employer voucher scheme, but we will have to wait and see. The bad news is that it is unlikely to start until 2015, so not really something to get too excited about just yet! The consultation on ‘More Great Childcare’, the Government’s recent report on how they propose to relax ratios and increase qualifications in the sector closes at the end of this week, so we will have to wait for them to digest those (assuming, of course, they do actually read consultation responses) and then see what changes will be made.
Times are certainly tough for all families and we continue to help with advice on tax credits and employer vouchers wherever possible. The 3 and 4 year old funding is being accessed by nearly all families, and we are getting an increased number of 2 year olds applying for the funding, but at the moment they need to be referred by their Health Visitor or Children’s Centre. If you think you might qualify and would like more information, do ask any of our managers.
In the meantime, a little superhero to lighten the mood!
February 4th, 2013 by Sarah Steel
After two years of consulting on the opening of an envelope, I find it amazing that Liz Truss has announced the biggest changes to childcare for 10 years without any consultation and against a united voice of opposition from the sector.
Under these plans the ratio of children to child carers would rise from four two-year-olds for every one member of staff to six, while the ratio for children aged up to two will go up from three to four for every one member of staff.
My real frustration is the ‘smoke and mirrors’ briefing to the media which leads parents to believe that this is about making childcare more affordable. The whole plan has not been properly thought out. Reducing ratios will not make childcare more affordable, as the Government is also saying that staff must be better trained and better paid. That means any saving on ratios will be passed on to staff salaries, or used to offset the current losses nursery care providers make as a result of too low a rate for the Government-funded spaces for three and four year olds.
This is not to mention the sheer practicalities of having one member of staff looking after six children aged two – everyone in the sector has been inviting Liz Truss to come and spend a day in their two-year-old rooms to see for herself how what she is suggesting will work.
I’ll be interested to see what comes out of the promised budget announcements. In an ideal world, Ministers would be looking at a significant increase in Employer Childcare Vouchers rather than this, which really would make a difference to many working families.
There are some welcome points in the announcement: a new qualification for senior practitioners is going to come in, which is the Early Years Teacher. This should go some way to address the historical inequality between Early Years Professionals and Qualified Teacher Status; EYPs were not on a par with QTS, causing bad feeling and a significant pay gap. However, the Government does not make it clear how EYTs will be paid the higher salaries they will naturally demand; this could push fees up, unless there is some subsidy available to support the higher salaries.
As a company we introduced a requirement that our staff have the basic qualifications being set out in the report, as we felt that the rigours of delivering the Early Years Foundation Stage required a minimum level of academic qualification. Whatever your academic background, it does not give anyone more laps to sit on, more arms for hugs, or the ability to change six nappies at once!
Most of all, I am concerned that the reduction in ratios will lead to a two-tier system: discerning parents who can afford to pay higher fees or feel it is vital, will use nurseries and childminders who pin their colours to the mast by maintaining or exceeding current ratios. Those in most deprived areas, where nurseries are already struggling to survive, will have to embrace lower ratios, but this may be at the cost of quality.
I would certainly call on the Government to hold off on these changes until they have taken the time to get the full views of the sector it is proposing to change. Altogether, the current situation is not a satisfactory state of affairs. To use the alarmingly accurate parody provided by ‘Yes, Minister’ I don’t know where Liz Truss’s own Sir Humphrey was when she made these plans, but he was definitely snoozing.
January 13th, 2013 by Sarah Steel
We have now been waiting for the outcome of the Government’s Childcare Commission for longer than expected, as it has been due to be published in December, but keeps being delayed. The Commission is supposed to be looking at how the cost of childcare to parents can be reduced, which I am sure we all support. However, there have been some worrying rumblings coming out in the media in advance of the formal report, with a blog post last week from Elizabeth Truss, the MP responsible for Early Years in DfE, who was singing the praises of the French system of childcare (I’m sure Denmark was fashionable before Christmas….obviously so last year). She appears to be suggesting that the best way to reduce the cost of childcare is to reduce the ratio of staff to children required by regulation. In one breath she explains that French nursery staff care for more children, but that they are able to do so because they are better qualified and better paid. For anyone who has dealt with a particularly toxic nappy, requiring a top to toe change of clothes, you will know that it really doesn’t matter how well qualified you are, or how well you are paid, it is difficult to do anything else at the same time.
There is also the detail that if staff are paid more, then surely any saving in costs from having lower ratios will be absorbed by training and rewarding staff better. I’m not sure how this will promote lower costs to parents? My real concern is that none of this appears to be based on evidence. No study has been commissioned to look at where the ratios we currently operate from actually came from, or any university research into option staff ratios, instead the cart is being put before the horse and ratio changes are being proposed for purely financial reasons.
The last Government had a 10 year childcare plan which changed the face of Early Years. They did not get everything right – hence the current debacle over under funding for 3 and 4 year old places – but at least they had quality at the heart of policy. This latest drip feed of stories suggests that the current Government are more concerned about sound bites and voter support than the quality of Early Years provision for our children. I hope a lot more thought will go into any changes before they are finally announced.
December 18th, 2012 by Sarah Steel
It has been a pretty busy year all round for The Old Station Nursery, but December has seen an even more hectic time than usual. In between the nativity plays, carol concerts and Christmas parties, we have been busy growing our own family! A couple of weeks ago we exchanged contracts to acquire a nursery in Henley on Thames in the New Year, so that has kept at least the Head Office team pretty well occupied. The nursery is currently trading as Orchard Farm Day Nursery, on a lovely rural site just outside Henley town centre. It’s a really great site and we are all really pleased that the staff, children and parents will be joining our group in January. Read the rest of this entry »