New Early Years Apprenticeships & the ratio saga

Yesterday the Government issued a press release saying that they would be investing £2million in a new scheme for Early Years apprentices starting in September 2013. No further details seem to have materialised on the website of the National College for Teaching and Leadership a day later as far as I can see. I have emailed them for more details.

If the bursary is to cover training costs, this means employers would need to take on and pay the wages of the apprentice for the 20 months the course will last. This seems problematic when the government is encouraging providers to have fewer staff looking after the same number of children. These new apprenticeships will be available to providers who take funded 2 year olds. The ratios proposed for 2 year olds will be 6 per member of staff rather than 4 per member of staff. So fewer staff will be needed. Providers will need to sack people not take more on in order to relax ratios and release the money to pay staff more and charge parents less (which is the point of the ratio changes according to Elizabeth Truss). This week the government explained [sic] how these cost savings could be made with the new ratios.

If the bursary is a payment to be made to the apprentice with training costs also covered, the £1500 over 20 months works out to £75.00 per month. This is still not enough so presumably the employer will need to top this up, the problem of increased wage costs remaining.

Yet another puzzle…

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Tougher inspections for nurseries

Nurseries and childminders to face tougher inspections (BBC news)

Ofsted warns failing nurseries and childminders may be shut down (Guardian news)

Ofsted Chief Inspector Michael Wilshaw said “too many providers are not good enough, particularly in the most deprived areas. We must be tougher on weak settings.” Which sounds fair enough. But how are these settings going to improve when the Government proposes that ongoing, regular support from Local Authorities is cut? Removal of LA’s early years role raises alarm A spokesperson from Brighton and Hove had this to say about the idea: ‘From our perspective, the work of the local authority has been a major contributor to raising quality. We know that our local conditions for receiving the early years free entitlement funding, and our role in quality improvement, training and support, have led to our impressive Ofsted outcomes -second in the “top 10 table”. Many others support this view.

But Mr Wilshaw has an answer to the problem of who will support quality improvement in nurseries “Sir Michael added that Ofsted would encourage good or outstanding childcare providers to support weaker ones.” Good luck with that Michael. I am more than happy to support colleagues in other settings (and have done so) but am not replacing the job of an Early Years Adviser unless I get paid for it and I very much doubt that’s what he has in mind.

The government also proposes to relax adult to child ratios for nurseries and childminders   How will this improve quality? In fact it will enable providers to employ less staff with no obligation to pay higher wages and private nurseries will therefore be able to make more profit. There is also no proposal to force a reduction in fees to parents which was one of the reasons given for making this change. Even if a setting employs a (well-paid) graduate leader and minimal numbers of nursery practitioners, this will not improve quality in itself. I know from experience that a 1:6 ratio of adults to 2 year olds is completely unworkable and the fact that my setting is led by me (a qualified Primary School Teacher with Early Years Professional Status) does not make up for several more pairs of competent hands. The current ratios are not high enough and I always exceed them.

Nurseries in deprived areas are being specifically targeted as clearly they have a particular role to play in improving the life chances of the most vulnerable children. What is required, particularly when you work (as I do) with hard-to-reach families, is regular positive support and encouragement (as is currently available from Local Authority advisers), not a crack of the whip from Ofsted every couple of years. There is no financial incentive for new providers to fill the gap which will be left by the ‘inadequate’ settings  that have been closed down by Ofsted (breaking even is a struggle) so I suspect we will end up with even less childcare where it is most needed.

P.S. The Guardian says “Almost a quarter of a million children are being let down by inadequate nurseries and childminders” This is scaremongering and misleading; later in the article it says “Ofsted figures show that since August up to 243,400 children were being cared for by nurseries, childminders and pre-schools that were not considered good”.  ‘Not considered good’ is not the same thing as ‘inadequate’.



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childcare workers are illiterate, innit

An interim report of a Review on early years and childcare qualifications was published this week and was reported in the Guardian. This statement from the report was summarised in the Guardian and many other articles: “We demand that students need a relevant level 2 qualification before they are able to handle animals independently on our animal care courses at Solihull College. Nobody demands the same level of qualification before you can be left alone with a baby.” Actually, with the exception of childminders, a childcarer can’t be left alone with a baby (or older pre-school child) full stop. I am a qualified teacher and have Early Years Professional Status but I am not allowed to look after a pre-school child on my own. There is a requirement for a minimum of two members of staff at all times when children are present.
Parking that for the moment, I have noticed that many job applicants haven’t had adequate skills in English (maths has been far less of an issue), sometimes because they have English as an Additional Language. I had an argument with a local training provider last year who wanted to offer a place on a Level 3 childcare qualification to an ex-parent of mine with EAL. She is an intelligent person with a clear love of and desire to work with children, but her English was nowhere near good enough to even understand simple instructions never mind support children who are learning to communicate. I lost that argument and the student now has a Level 3 childcare qualification. Whether she will get a job and actually work in a nursery is another issue. Employers need to bear some responsibility if they are taking on staff without a proper screening process.
I have a one-to-one worker for a little boy with Special Educational Needs who is patient, caring and supports him very well. Her written English is poor but she can make notes and I write them up as necessary. I have other staff who read to the children with expression and passion very well and support their emerging speaking and listening admirably. Their grammar and punctuation leaves something to be desired. I get round this by having a requirement for reports to be typed and editing them myself. Ideally, I would employ staff who can write well without me spending time proof-reading but this is not possible without the funds to pay staff more. General funding in my setting has been reduced by £2500.00 for the next financial year and we have been told to expect worse next year. Parents can’t afford fee rises. This means I can’t pay staff any more than I am already. For the record, I am not making a profit and do not expect to or aim to.
Over the last few years, higher level early years qualifications such as Early Years Foundation Degrees and Early Years Professional Status have been promoted and funded. There has been significant extra money available to enable settings to pay an enhanced wage to graduate leaders (the Graduate Leader Fund). This is all coming to a rather abrupt and unwelcome end. Locally, most settings are having their GLF cut by 60% and funding for study days for those working towards graduate early years qualifications has been cut completely. The money available for bursaries, which covered all but £100.00 of course fees for childcare qualifications has been halved. I have one member of staff who has nearly completed her Foundation Degree but wants to continue to attain her degree; she told me today this will cost £850.00 with no bursary available. Another member of staff has just started her foundation degree and unless she is lucky and gets one of the remaining bursaries will have to abandon it.
If the Government is serious about the importance of early education, they need to fund it properly. The rewards will be reaped in the long run.

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A potted history of the life of my mother (1935-2009)

It’s two years today since my Mum died and so I’ve been thinking a lot about her today.

She was born in November 1935 in Jamnagar in India. Her family moved to Kenya and she spent most of her childhood there. Her father was a textile merchant and she had a comfortable childhood in the East African Asian community. She was quite ambitious and her family, like most Indians, placed a high value on education but girls weren’t normally encouraged to stay on at school. I think her father saw her potential (or backed down to her demands; she could be very forceful!) and she went to University in Mumbai to study Chemistry. She graduated and returned to Kenya and taught Maths and Sciences to high school students in Mombasa. She came to England on holiday in the summer of 1963 and met my Dad through a friend and never went back. My Dad had come to England from Uganda to do his A levels in Norwich; he came at 16 so it must have been quite an overwhelming experience to leave home and cross continents like that. Anyway, he integrated very well into the local community, helped in this by being a keen sportsman (hockey in winter and cricket in summer). He went on to Leeds University and studied Engineering, later becoming an Electrical Engineer for the Eastern Electricty Board. He was also Gujerati but not from the ‘right’ family; it was considered a ‘love marriage’ (I know, but these were different times) and both their families were unhappy about it for some time so they were quite isolated. They had a tiny wedding in London in 1964 (at the India Tea Centre, I think) and set up home in Cambridge where my Dad’s job was. They then moved to a tiny village 5 miles outside Cambridge which is where we were brought up. They were very unusual in having taken the decision not to live amongst the Indian community in London; they both felt that it was very important to integrate and that this wouldn’t be possible unless they did this. I was born the following year and my sister was born 2 years later. My Mum wanted to go back to work but she was not qualified to teach in the UK so she did a PGCE at Homerton College in Cambridge. She then got a full time teaching job in a primary school in a neighbouring village. My sister and I were 6 and 8 at the time. This was very unusual; none of the mothers in our little wimpy estate worked, they were all housewives. My Dad died suddenly in October 1977; he had been fit and healthy and played lots of sport but had an irregular heartbeat which no-one thought was a problem. It wasn’t treated and I guess that’s why his heart just stopped one morning. He was 39 years old. My Mum was left a widow 10 days before she turned 42 with my sister and I to care for. There were very few other single parents around at that time and so it was even harder then than it is now. She carried on working as a teacher and then as an adviser in multi-cultural education in Cambridge and Peterborough then took early retirement. She was very interested in politics and current affairs and was a Guardian-reading lefty who marched against the war in Iraq. She was a very proud and doting grandmother to her five grandchildren. She developed breast cancer in 1999 and had very aggressive chemotherapy which was very hard on her but seemed to work. Unfortunately, the cancer came back and spread to her bones 10 years later and that’s what killed her.

I wish I’d appreciated her more when she was still here.

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Teather thinks more men are needed to raise the status of Early Years


 Today, this  appeared in Nursery World Magazine:

“Ms Teather told delegates that more needed to be done to raise the status of early years professionals, and revealed the Government’s plans to publish a workforce review in the summer, which will consult with practitioners on the future of the qualification in the long-term and whether it is ‘fit for purpose’.”  Really? This study from Wolverhampton’s Centre for Development and Applied Research in Education found that Early Years Professionals are ‘a force for good’  EYPS is certainly not perfect but is it ‘unfit for purpose’?

“She said, ‘The EYP intended to try and raise the status, but it hasn’t done that and we know that. This is precisely the reason why we need to have a long-term think about our strategy.’” ‘Long Term think’; what does that mean exactly? Stick it on the back burner? Waste more time and money coming to the conclusion that Early Years is very important especially for deprived children; that graduate led settings lead to better outcomes for childrenI thought money was scarce.

“‘There is not an easy fix. Sadly some of it is down to the majority of women in the sector. The status could be raised if a few more men were involved.

‘Men are willing to go into the youth sector, but not this one (early years). I think it’s to do with the status.’”  Well, I’m no expert but I think it’s mostly to do with the money. Look here for the pay on offer to early years staff. More playworkers and youth workers are men. The pay is better. There seem to be far more male secondary school teachers than primary school ones. Although payscales are the same in primary & secondary, because of their relative size there are far more opportunities for promotion in secondary schools and hence higher wages. In primary schools the proportion of male heads compared to male teachers is higher; Heads are paid more than teachers.

“Her comments were in response to delegates’ questions about the future of the EYP and why it still isn’t considered equal to the QTS.” I assume she didn’t answer this question.

“Claire Richmond, manager of a Coventry nursery, said, ‘We only have 20 EYPs in Coventry and there are 220 nurseries, by 2015 there won’t be enough to qualify for local authority funding.’” From what I understand, the Government’s answer to this is to cut the requirement to have an EYP in every setting by 2015!

“Her concerns were echoed by Patricia Hatherley, nursery manager at St Matthew’s Nursery and Daycare in Northumberland, who claimed that practitioners with EYP status working in the PVI sector are ‘stuck’, and still only earning £13,000 to £14,000 in a manager’s position.” Exactly. Where is the incentive to stay working in Early Years which everyone, including Ms Teather says is a vitally important phase in children’s lives with this level of wages?

“In response, Ms Teather said that the Government has committed to funding the EYP next year but it wanted to have a proper strategic look at the qualification and welcomed practitioners’ feedback.” We don’t need to keep inventing new graduate level qualifications every few years. We need to ensure the graduates we have are rewarded appropriately for what they do. Nursery funding needs to be at a high enough level to enable nurseries to pay staff appropriately. National payscales and funding to enable these to be paid would be worth exploring. It’s not just about private nurseries exploiting staff and creaming off profits either. I own and manage a private nursery and pay all my staff at least £1.40 above the minimum wage. This isn’t very much and yet I don’t make any profit. I earn less than I did 5 years ago as a teacher in a state school, even without taking into account sick pay and the ‘gold plated’ pension and despite the fact I have far more responsibility and work with more vulnerable children.

This practitioner’s feedback is that Ms Teather isn’t ‘fit for purpose’.

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On Cameron and immigration (yes, another one)

Today, David Cameron has received lots of (mostly bad) publicity for making this speech  in which one of the things he talks about is the importance of immigrants integrating with indigenous communities and learning to speak English.

“That’s why, when there have been significant numbers of new people arriving in neighbourhoods … perhaps not able to speak the same language as those living there … on occasions not really wanting or even willing to integrate … that has created a kind of discomfort and disjointedness in some neighbourhoods.”

People like Cameron overstating the case of immigrants who don’t want to be a part of British society doesn’t help community cohesion. I run a children’s nursery and around 25% of our families have parents who speak English as an Additional Language. In my experience, such people do want to integrate; they sometimes find it difficult. I have lived here all my life; my parents were immigrants in the 60s. They made a conscious decision not to live near any extended family or other Asian community as they were desperate to integrate and look as if they were integrating. They both worked and paid taxes and my sister and I went to the local schools with all the English kids. Once I started school, they stopped speaking their home language at home, concerned that we would not learn English if they did. This resulted in me not being able to communicate with my grandparents. It still wasn’t easy to integrate; we looked different (we are Indian), were vegetarian and my Mum sometimes wore saris rather than Western clothes. I don’t think people should have to dump all vestiges of their culture to be integrated and welcomed as part of British society but I wonder if that’s what people like Cameron mean when they talk of integration.

One of the many unfortunate side effects of inflammatory speeches like today’s is on the success in learning English of very young children from immigrant families. Counter-intuitive though it may be, children whose parents speak to them in their home language go on to become much more proficient speakers of English. Focusing on the problem of immigrants not speaking English sends a message to EAL speakers that English is the most important language. I have many parents at my setting who do not want to carry on speaking their home language because they are desperate to be seen to be integrating and because they are desperate for their children to learn English so they can participate fully in British society. It is hard to persuade them to carry on speaking their home language at home and this can have a detrimental effect on their children’s education.

As well as maintaining their home language, immigrants do need access to English classes, ideally with crèches or vouchers to pay for childcare while they learn. But English classes are being cut .

Locally we have ‘one-o’clock clubs’ where parents with English as an Additional Language can meet and access support services in a welcoming environment and neutral venue. From what I can gather, these are funded out of the Early Intervention Grant which has been cut by 11% so whether they will continue is anyone’s guess.

Many immigrants already feel marginalised and the kind of talk we’ve hear from Cameron today makes this worse.

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All children should be able to get free nursery education

There was an announcement  yesterday that the government has decided to bow to pressure and review the Early Years Free Entitlement Code of Practice. This sets out the rules and guidance for the 15 hours free nursery education which children are entitled to from the start of the term after they turn three.

There has been a national campaign for the Conservative Party to stick to its pre-election promise and allow private settings to charge ‘top-up’ fees. It seems likely that the review will result in this being allowed. This is good news for nurseries who are struggling to make ends meet because they currently have to give parents 15 hours free per week with no compulsory extra charges. It would mean they could insist that parents pay the difference between what the Local Authority gives the setting to provide the free entitlement (e.g. £3.50 per hour) and what they normal charge to cover costs (and/or make a profit) (e.g. £5.00 per hour). Personally, I do not think the money paid by the LEA should have to cover profits made by private businesses; others will disagree. What is certainly the case is that without the Graduate Leader Fund or some similar funding mechanism, the amount paid by Local Authorities is not enough to cover costs when staff are well qualified. You can’t expect and would have difficulty finding, a suitable Early Years graduate who will work for £8.50 per hour, which is the absolute most I could afford to pay someone (and I do not make a profit).

If the Code of Practice changes and I am allowed to charge ‘top-ups’ I could in theory charge parents an extra £1.00 per hour for each of the 15 hours and this would generate an extra £5000 income over a typical 13 week term. This would resolve any worries I have about income for my business; in fact it would allow me to employ another graduate on 0.5 FTE which would be fantastic. The problem with this is that my parents can’t afford £15.00 per week. My nursery is in a deprived area, doing exactly the sort of thing the Government says is important: providing high quality (OFSTED ‘outstanding’ June 2010) pre-school education with signposting to other services, advice, support and training for teenage Mums, support for families with EAL and children with SEN. Most parents are single or live in households where no-one has paid employment and £15.00 a week is too much. This would prevent their children from coming to my setting. I don’t think this is right; these children have, if anything, an extra need to attend a good quality nursery.

Another concern I have is that allowing top-up fees will enable the hourly funding which Local Authorities give settings to be reduced further (locally, ours is likely at best to be frozen which is a real terms cut especially with VAT rises etc). For example, LAs could give settings £2.50 an hour and claim it is adequate because the setting is allowed to charge parents the difference. This wouldn’t work in my setting and I would have to close the nursery meaning that local children would not have access to a good quality nursery place. I would have to make four people redundant who would then be claiming benefits, costing the taxpayer money.

Hopefully, all this will be thought through before any changes are made…

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