Sunday, 18 September 2016

Campaigning for nursery education - back to the future?

As I write, we're getting close to the deadline (22nd September) for responses to the government's consultation on early years funding for 3- and 4-year-olds.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on nursery schools and classes has been greatly effective in showing the huge risk that changes to funding will lead to a dilution of quality and have a negative effect on outcomes for children:

Although the government is committed to extending free childcare to support working families far less attention is being paid to the quality of that care and the consequent impact on educational and developmental outcomes for young children. Nursery Education appears to have been subsumed into Childcare. [read their full statement]

There is ample evidence from Ofsted that better-qualified staff provide better-quality early education. The argument that high-quality early education pays off in every imaginable way, especially by improving the life-chances of disadvantaged children, is now so often repeated that it hardly needs re-stating. Just in case you've landed here but still need convincing, here is one of many excellent reviews of the research from the Centre for Research in Early Childhood.

Back in the 1970s, the campaign to increase government support for early education was an extraordinary success. The education minister of the time, Margaret Thatcher, was responsible for the biggest expansion of early education ever seen.

I'm indebted to Anne Kibuuka, headteacher of Kay Rowe Nursery School, for the photos below which show how, in the pre-social-media era, those wily campaigners knew how to craft a great image and a soundbite.

Liz Murphy from the National Campaign for Nursery Education says that she "remembers these photos from the 1970 lobby we had to mark the 100th anniversary of the 1870 Education Act. We had as our motif a forget-me-not and parents and children dressed up in vaguely Victorian dress. A petition was handed in to Margaret Thatcher who had just been appointed Secretary of State for Education."

So, enjoy the photos and if you know any more about the lobby, or if you were in it, please drop me a line add a comment below. But let's not go back to the future: now's the time to keep arguing for the critical important of high quality early education.

Friday, 20 May 2016

Early Years Assessment: how can we think less about levels and more about #LearningFirst?

Sharing my presentation for the Beyond Levels Conference in Sheffield on 21st May 2016.

You can also see and download our working document [PDF]

Thoughts, challenges, feedback or ideas? You can see some of the feedback on the day underneath the SlideShare; if you can help our team to develop this thinking further then please post a comment below. Thanks.

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Unleashing greatness

My presentation to the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Nursery Schools and Nursery Classes argues that maintained nursery schools are essential to the development of a self-improving early years system. We need to be given the freedoms to innovate and expand.

"You can mandate adequacy but you cannot mandate greatness; it has to be unleashed"
(Michael Barber and Joel Klein)

Monday, 16 May 2016

Experiencing Froebel's legacy

To arrive in Keilhau, Germany,  is to begin at the beginning:  the origins of the Kindergarten and of Froebelian education are there. Froebel famously surveyed the beautiful, lush green German landscape with its small and dilapidated village and said, 'Here is a valley for education.'

Much of what we now take for granted about early education dates back to Froebel’s revolutionary work there. It was Froebel who believed that young children should learn through play and through first-hand experiences with natural materials like sand and water, and that physical education was important in school.

Froebel put the relationship between educator and child at the heart of learning, and saw each child as in individual whose wishes and choices should be respected. These were revolutionary ideas – so revolutionary that both his school and his kindergarten were banned at different times by the Prussian authorities.

I am not Froebel trained, but I do hold a deep respect for his life and work, and I also believe in the importance of engaging with the past in order to understand the present. So, the opportunity to visit Keilhau with a study group, arranged by Community Playthings, was not to be missed. And the spirit of unity and fellowship that runs through Froebel’s theories was tangibly lived out in the little community of the Keilhau school, where we stayed for three nights thanks to the exceptional generosity of the school staff and the Community team.

A classroom with a view: the Froebel school in Keilhau


Keilhau lies at the end of the longest cul-de-sac in Germany, and some might feel that Froebelian education itself is a dead-end: historically interesting, but on a road to nowhere. After all, child-centred education is out of fashion in the English system now. Every day we hear people shouting about standards, skills and tests: the voices supporting the education of the whole child and emphasising each child’s unique spirit are quieter, and they are on the margins of the debate.

Whereas the Montessori and Steiner approaches to education have remained distinct and known about in England, Froebel’s ideas have largely been absorbed into mainstream thinking – meaning that, depending on your viewpoint, the tradition is largely forgotten, or the tradition lives on but without its name, especially in early years education and childcare.

Read on

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Inspiring young children to love books

Everyone's warmly invited to drop into this event on Wednesday March 9th from 4-6pm at UEL's Stratford Campus, Water Lane, E15 4LZ. See flyer below or download the PDF.

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Early Years provision in schools – policy and practice

Sharing my PowerPoint from the Saturday morning masterclass at the Nursery World Show with Professor Tina Bruce CBE, Jane Whinnett, Lynn McNair and Jan Dubiel.

How can we build a system to support and challenge each other across sectors in the early years?