Posts Tagged ‘pre-school’

Why does my child never do anything at nursery?

September 23rd, 2015 by Sarah Steel

Today I was involved in a really interesting discussion around how children become effective learners and the need for them to direct their own learning and become independent thinkers. After all, isn’t this what is supposed to make us stand out from the Chinese, as our little free-thinkers can become really successful in adult life, despite a very different approach to learning?  The discussion focused on ‘process vs product’ and how many of us,  as parents, are guilty of wanting a nice picture or hand-made Mother’s Day card to take home and put on our fridge, rather than appreciating some of the experiences our children have had at nursery.

Many of the practitioners I was with were concerned that some times parents want tangible evidence of perceived learning, like pictures and models, which they could take home. Whilst it is fantastic to value work that children have produced and it can really enhance their self-esteem to see it recognised and displayed, not all children choose to learn in this way. At our nurseries we try and capture moments as well as ‘products’ by using photos and videos and sharing them via the child’s e-learning journey. However, perhaps we should all be asking children, ‘what have you had a go at today?’ rather than ‘what did you do/make today?’. This High Scope poem sums it up beautifully:








At quarter to three by the Nursery door
Having rushed round to finish the final chore,
How many times have you heard yourself say?
“Oh I do hope my child has done something today.
He just runs around and messes about
And never seems to notice the painting is out.
I wish I had a child who would make things too,
But the staff don’t make him sit down and glue.
My niece brings home cardboard box models each day,
While mine comes home messy, covered in clay.
Last week he’d played pirates, and hid in a den;
The model that day was a beautiful hen!”
But how does a child bring home in his hand
The pleasure he felt today in the sand?
Has he asked you to share the wonder he felt
As he watched some ice cubes gradually melt?
The excitement of sailing the climbing-frame boat?
The achievement of fastening the buttons on his coat?
Did he tell you he washed up after his tea –?
Expertly prepared by his friend, who is three?
He gave me a cuddle around story-time,
And was keen to join in when we learned a new rhyme.
He pummelled and prodded and pounded the dough,
Then he showed he could walk round the room on tip –toe.
He persevered to finish a puzzle, quite hard,
So he hasn’t had time to make you a card.
He came over and watched some children sew,
And thought perhaps next time he’d have a go.
His experiences gained were richer by far
Than tissue paper flowers in a yoghurt-pot jar.
A child can learn from cutting and sticking
(But not if all he does is the licking)
And if adults resist the temptation to say
“No! Not like that. Do it this way.”
When your child is cutting and gluing
It’s not the result that matters, but DOING.
So next time, don’t ask your child to explain
Why he’s not done a model or painting again;
And when you pick him up, please try not to say
“Haven’t you DONE anything in Nursery today?”

From “High Scope” Winter Issue 33

A busy day in the news for childcare….

February 20th, 2015 by Sarah Steel

Yesterday saw many TV and radio stations holding discussions about the cost of childcare and the plans for the Liberal Democrats to extend the number of hours of free funding available to parents.  As the election campaign moves into the final straight, we are likely to hear a lot more of this. Working parents, in particular, seem to be a key target for all the parties and offering more funded hours seems to be a guaranteed vote winner. However, whilst parents might be happy at this proposal, providers are seriously concerned, due to the chronic underfunding of the current system of ‘free entitlement; sessions. I have blogged about this many times and we are currently looking at how we can cope with the minimal increases or even freezing of funding levels on 1st April this year, whilst the national minimum wage continues to climb.

National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) released an excellent response yesterday, which I include here, to save me repeating myself!

“NDNA is calling for Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg’s proposed extension to free childcare to be fairly funded so that nurseries can deliver it sustainably.

At present, parents of three and four-year-olds, and some two-year-olds, are offered 15 free hours’ childcare per week in termtime.

Nick Clegg pledged today to extend this to all children of working parents aged between nine months and two years and universally for all two year olds. He also said Liberal Democrats aimed to increase free provision to 20 hours in the longer term.

Purnima Tanuku OBE, Chief Executive of NDNA, said: “We welcome this commitment to provide more free childcare to families but there is a chronic underfunding issue with this provision so any extension must be thoroughly costed so that it can be delivered without making provision unsustainable.

“The money that childcare providers currently receive to deliver free hours falls short by an average of £800 per child per year for each funded three to four-year-old place and £700 for each two-year-old place.

“This is the biggest single reason that nursery fees are rising for some paying parents who end up subsidising the free places.”

NDNA’s recent Annual Nursery Survey called for a long-term review of the complex early education and childcare funding system. At present, funding for free places varies between local authority areas but averages at £3.80 per child per hour.
Miss Tanuku said: “Nurseries are being forced to increase their fees to parents who pay for additional hours, or for younger children not eligible for funded places, to make up the funding shortfall.

Purnima on BBC Breakfast
“For most nurseries, the average sum received of £3.80 per hour does not cover the cost of high-quality childcare, let alone make a surplus.”
Miss Tanuku also welcomed Mr Clegg’s commitment to increase the Early Years Pupil Premium to £1,000 per child and to work towards having a member of staff with Qualified Teacher Status in every childcare setting by 2020.
She said: “NDNA fully supports moves to increase the skills and qualifications of people who work in early years settings but for this to be achievable there needs to be more government investment into training and development for early years workforces, particularly in the nursery sector.”
NDNA is calling on the next government to raise the bar through its Childcare Challenge to address the affordability, quality and choice of childcare and really make a difference for the sector, children and families. Among the solutions that NDNA is recommending are to:

• Protect early education funding so it can only be spent on under-fives
• Work with the early years sector to ensure any commitments to expand free hours are thoroughly costed so they can be delivered without making provision unsustainable and reducing choice for parents
• Commit to a long-term review of the overly complex early education and childcare funding system.”

If you are interested in finding out more, do read NDNA’s Annual Nursery Surveys for England, Scotland and Wales here:

I will be continuing to comment as the election campaign gets underway and will keep trying to ensure you are aware of the issues from all sides.

An OFSTED success!

January 13th, 2014 by Sarah Steel

Some of you may have followed our battle with OFSTED over the last 7 months, to get our grading at The Old Station Nursery, Innsworth  over-turned. To summarise a very long explanation, we had an inspection in May 13 when the inspector told us we were ‘good’ but then a week later she phoned us back to say that she had to downgrade this to a ‘satisfactory’ judgement as part of the quality assurance process, as we had reported a compliance issue to OFSTED in September 2012. We all felt this was really unfair, as the compliance issue had involved a member of staff recording the administration of medicine incorrectly, which was fully dealt with at the time, and the inspector checked all aspects of this and was happy with how we had acted.   We felt that settings shouldn’t be punished for having acted correctly when mistakes occurred and that the judgement the inspector makes on the day should be more valid than that of someone in quality assurance who has never set foot in the nursery.

The first appeal was not upheld and we were told by Tribal (the agency who inspect on behalf of  OFSTED) that they had acted properly. I then raised a second stage appeal with OFSTED and they investigated the whole process again. After 7 months, I held out very little hope of ever getting an answer, so was surprised and delighted to hear a few weeks ago that they had re-examined the inspector’s notes and agreed that the judgements she made reflected a ‘good’ nursery. Our report has been amended and our grading of ‘good’ has been reinstated.

Whilst this is clearly good new for us, it has taken more than 7 months to get to this outcome, during which time our public grading has been only ‘satisfactory’, which undoubtedly has not helped our occupancy levels, particularly through the key summer months. Staff were extremely upset by the whole process and it has taken a while to pick ourselves up again and move forward. The Ofsted Big Conversation is continuing to bring providers together and has secured several meetings with OFSTED regional heads. However, there is still a long way to go and we must all continue to share experiences and to lobby for a more transparent system. We know that our children deserve the best and want to work with OFSTED to achieve this, but there must be a better system to sort out complaints than the current one – is justice after 7 months really good enough?

Hooray!  An article in the Independent today reports the finding of Professor Joshi at the University of London’s Centre for Longitudinal Studies, who says that  Studies of previous decades showed children’s literacy and numeracy levels were around 2 per cent lower when mothers worked. Read the rest of this entry »

More Great Childcare…..really?

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.


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