Monthly Archives: February 2011

Being An Expert

I would like to say that I do not regard myself as an expert in anything. I am an average sort of bloke who enjoys messing about with children and who is generally kind to my wife, my staff and (most) animals).

I therefore find it rather disconcerting to find myself being referred to as ‘an expert’. This has happened 3 times recently.

Firstly, I was introduced to an audience as part of a group off to Kenya in April to visit an orphanage. I heard the presenter say these words – ‘..and on the end is David, an expert in childcare.’ I don’t think it will take the Kenyans very long to suss out what I really am.

Next, Mrs W and myself have volunteered to run a Saturday morning taster session on parenting in a few weeks time. ‘Come along and hear from local experts,’ declares the publicity. No, it’s just us.

Lastly, I was approached by Nursery World last week for my opinion on Men in Childcare. I duly bashed out the requisite 350 words, pressed send and received an acknowledgement back. I opened the magazine this week to see a picture of yours truly beaming out at me from the page, next to the caption, ‘An experts view.’

I am not an expert, okay?!!

The Hunt for a Stapler

I spent yesterday morning driving round Portsmouth looking for anyone with a stapler man enough to handle 60 sheets.

We have applied for a grant under the EU’s Comenius project, to be a partner country along with 5 others – Turkey, Italy, Belgium, Spain, Austria. The purpose of the project is a cultural exchange between our different settings, our children and staff. Very excitingly, if our bid is successful, some of our staff will have the opportunity to visit each of these countries and we will host them in return.

So why the dash round our South Coast neighbour’s streets in the quest for a stapler?

As is typical with official departments world wide, the British Council’s application process is very specific about what to write, how to write it and when it must be received by. The signature form must be completed in blue ink, with a round company stamp half in / half out of the relevant box. Words must be handwritten, with capitals where appropriate but not in block capitals! We are required to send in 3 hardcopies of the whole application pack – all 60 pages, each of which has to be stapled together in the top left hand corner. 

Oh and I received the pack on Thursday, ready to be printed and completed for the receipt deadline on Monday.

Our printer steadfastly refused to produce 60 pages in one go. It did 32, then stopped and started the whole thing again. Then it ran out of ink and refused to acknowledge the replacement cartridge until I had run the cleaning cyle, stroked it kindly and made it a cup of tea.  So Thursday evening was spent grappling with HP’s finest – trying to convince it I was boss. I think I won this argument.

There is obviously some technology built into printers and photocopiers that picks up on the frustration level of the user and causes them to shut down or malfunction directly in proportion to the growing sense of panic they sense. Experienced users learn the techniques of deep breathing, pretending they are not in a rush and frankly couldn’t care whether the thing prints or not. I still hit machines and shout and abuse them. This is obviously where I am going wrong and why I am on tablets for my blood pressure.     

So it’s Friday morning and we are off to a course in Portsmouth. I drop off the others and head off to the local printers to ask if they have a stapler before heading to the post office.

But they don’t have a stapler to go through 60 sheets of paper, neither does the next 7 or 8 print shops / companies I happen across in my tour of the city.

Finally, I am directed to a lovely Asian couple in North End – on my way out of the city, passing the point at which I entered over an hour ago! 

Yes, they have a stapler. They staple. It costs me 50p! No one has ever asked for anything like this before apparently.

I am now desperate for a wee!  But the post office is only 10 doors down the street. I seal the envelope on my completed application pack. I join the queue behind 2 others. The first is cashing in his coin collection – obviously saved over 10 years and just waiting for me to arrive so he can take as much time as possible counting it, transferring pennies into the proper plastic bags and generally discussing the state of the world with the slowest post mistress ever.

Eventually he moves away and the lady in front of me steps towards the counter with what looks like an elephant’s foot wrapped in brown paper. She tells the lady behind the counter that it is valuable and will require insurance (oh dear). The insurance forms are hidden in the bowels of the post office. This takes some time rummaging under the counter. Then she needs a receipt etc.

I am more desperate for a wee and subtly hopping up and down in the queue. But then it is my turn. I advance to the counter. The parcel is weighed, stamps are applied, I fill out some form for registered post. The parcel is posted!!

I move my full bladder rapidly back towards the car. A lorry is parked next to it with it’s hazard lights flashing and the tailgate on the tarmac and no sign of the driver.

15 minutes later I am finally on the road, very focused on joining the training course as rapdily as possible….

….and headed for the loo! 

I do hope the application is successful

Children’s experiences of the Early Years Foundation Stage

I have been reviewing some of the findings from Sheffield Hallam University’s study on Children’s experiences of the Early Years Foundation Stage. They make interesting reading.

  • Pretend play was the most prevalent play theme linked to creative development. Other favourite activities included music and singing, painting and drawing.    
  • Children demonstrated strong interests in animals and also talked about interests in trees, plants and flowers, making things and using ICT.
  • The ongoing availability of familiar play resources provided opportunities for the children’s interest in particular games and activities to be sustained over time.
  • ‘Real world’ activities helped support children’s sense of competence and provided sustained interaction with adults
  • Children appreciated opportunities to make decisions about activities with others.
  • Children enjoyed the opportunities to be with younger children, partly because the comparisons with these children made them feel grown up.  Older children were particularly valued as play partners.
  • Children’s play and talk was often dominated by references to parents, carers, families and homes.
  • Children were often keen to understand why rules and routines were needed.
  • In some settings, adults supported physically active play and took on roles as play partners or supporters.
  • Children described feeling unhappy about waiting for particular times of day for outdoor activity.
  • Children often saw themselves as capable of being involved in planning their own activities.
  • Children seemed to find it easier to choose and lead their own activities when the space was less clearly organised into areas designated for specific play themes.
  • In many cases, children cited the practitioners as the person who made decisions about the planning of activities and the availability of the areas.
  • Many children did not recognise their setting record as their own and some children were unhappy that they could not understand the written information
  • Because these records were usually designed for an adult audience, almost all included a selection of written documents. This reinforced children’s sense of exclusion.
  • Two childminders had developed photo record books that were taken home to be shared with parents. In these examples, where records were clearly targeted at parents and children, with plenty of photographs and drawings, children appeared much more interested in their records.

EYFS – Tickell Review

This morning, we had an update on some of the thinking coming out of Dame Claire Tickell’s review of the Early Years Foundation Stage Curriculum.

Drawing on the outcomes from the recent reports from Frank Field and Graham Allen, there appears to be some considered reflection on the views expressed in the consultation. What remains to be seen is whether the Minister will accept any or all of the recommendations. I do hope he does.

Findings and possible recommendations include –

Over 72% of people asked, like the EYFS.

32% of people think it could be improved.

It stresses the importance of engagement with parents

Education needs to be linked closely with Health

Recommendations

The EYFS principals and commitments should remain the same

There should be no radical changes

Welfare

Some more strategic questions need to be considered around creating cultures of safeguarding

Further work to explore staff supervisions and what the EYFS should say about it

Reduce paperwork, particularly around risk assessments

Areas of Learning

Dividing areas of learning into 2 groups –

Core

            PSED

            Communication and Language

            Physical  

Other

            Literacy

            Mathematics

            Understanding the World

            Expressive Arts and Design

 These are to be informed by 3 enduring characteristics of effective learning

 (The “areas” say what children should be learning, the characteristics are about the “how”)

 eg play, creativity, critical thinking, active learning.

 The Core areas are most suitable for children aged 0 – 3 and the Others, for 3 – 5 year olds but there will be elements of both in all ages.

In other words, we are going back to Birth to 3 Matters with our youngest, concentrating on Social skills, language and physical development.  This has to be a good thing. 

Assessment

Reduce the Early Learning Goals from 69 => 20

Redefine the ELGs

Reduce assessment scale points

Move to ‘best fit’ professional judgements

Promote greater involvement of parents in assessment

 2 stage assessment –

Piggy back on health visitor 30 month check up to identify children needing special support at the earliest stage

Extensively reduce the EYFS profile (used at end of Reception in schools)

Scope

The EYFS should remain a single framework, covering Welfare and Development

Retain the principles and objectives

No radical changes

Retain the mandatory nature of the curriculum  

How should we ensure children are kept safe?

Safeguarding is the most important responsibility we have as child carers. It is a difficult and emotive subject to address. In the light of the recent Plymouth Serious Case Review, there has been a new round of guidance issued on safe practices. Many of these are focused on a “tick box” approach, including safer recruitment practices – values interviews, reference checking, CRBs; and policies prohibiting the carrying of mobile phones, restricting usage of the internet and facebook etc. 

Whilst we obviously need appropriate checks to ensure we do not recruit anyone with a police record for violence or abuse or suspected of these; and we also have relevant policies in place, my concern is that by following all these guidelines, completing the relevant forms and one-off checks, it might then be supposed that we have achieved an impenetrable zone of safety.

I believe that these are just the starting points. What we need is a culture of  openness, transparency, collective responsibility and empowerment. As a society and as individual organisations, we need to set clear expectations of appropriate conduct and boundaries and to ensure anything else is challenged. This is not a point-in-time task, rather it is a state of mind.

It is often said it takes a village to raise a child. I believe it also takes a village to keep that child safe – each and every day.

Visit from the Police

Well done to J’s dad, a policeman, who answered the call for ‘People who help us’ and agreed to brave the hoardes of preschoolers at Waterloo Rd.

Before the policeman arrived, everyone sat down for a setting of expectations –

‘Yes he will have a policeman’s jacket, he will have a badge so we can check he’s a real policmen and he might have a helmet.’

‘No, he won’t have a light sabre and no, he won’t be chopping anybody’s head off.’

When our brave policeman arrived, he showed his handcuffs etc and then opened the floor to any comments and questions. The first of many hands shot up. The policeman smiled and pointed. ‘Yes?’

‘I like carrots’

He tried again, hand number 2 –

‘How do you catch a flower?’

Finally, a sweet looking boy at the back was sitting very patiently. The policeman looked at him, prompting him to speak –

‘I’ve got a loaded gun,’ he said very seriously.

The policeman half smiled, turned to the preschool leader and whispered, ‘What am I supposed to say to that?’

What indeed!