From Outstanding to Good is Good!

We were due Ofsted as we locked down in the pandemic and seem to have been ready for years! I know you shouldn’t do things “for Ofsted” but I don’t want any members of staff to get caught in the headlights on the day, and be prepared for any questions that might come their way. So as we hit July the call came. Sparkles had been Outstanding twice, however I wasn’t expecting a hat trick. I wanted a strong Good and a jolly good read when I read the report. Both boxes have been ticked! The Ofsted inspector was very human, took into account nerves and the children chatted to her as she moved around the setting.

 After a rocky couple of years where we had many staff changes we were concentrating on staff well being, happy children and my own well being. Over half my team at the setting are new from last summer, and they’re the best! They’re a chatty bunch, bundles of fun and very caring towards the children and each other. So our excellent Good report is good and we are proud of it. ( But I’d still prefer no inspections! Haha!)

Reviewing the year….in short!

Well, it’s had plenty of ups and downs!

The reason I am loving my Christmas break is I didn’t have a proper summer one. Why? Because of an unprecedented number of staff leaving one of my settings. So the recruiting and worry of the future of the setting slightly broke me. It’s the first time I’ve felt defeat and despair at such an unbearable level. However, as always the tide turned and I’ve employed what I hope is a more stable team who have shown great motivation and deep understanding of the children’s individual needs. They are all working so hard together and I feel blessed that they not only look out for each other but they ask me how I am too! So my two teams are complete and work hard to give the children the best Early Years experience and support each other through thick and thin.

As the pandemic continues as all Pre-Schools we continued with extra measures to avoid covid cases. However October brought in and outbrake in one of my settings with children and staff alike. However policy is to keep going, public health offering little advice and only interested if any one was hospitalised or died! Fortunately neither of those happened, however we closed for a week as a lack of staff meant we couldn’t cover legal ratios. 

Financially covid has hit us but we are surviving! It’s difficult to maintain child numbers in the yo-yo pattern of the pandemic, but things are improving and we must stay optimistic. 

CPD highlight was “Give them Time” which involved listening to a host of speakers organised by Juls Davies from Early Years Matters. My take away which leaves this blog on a high note was keep it joyful. With all the pressures on us from whichever organisation or from life circumstances, keep the learning child centred, meaningful and joyful. So from the depths of despair in the summer I’m looking forward to 2022 developing skills of new staff and supporting development of my established members, plus of course some time with the children which is what it’s all about!

Happy New Year!

The Amazing Early Years

Today I see a campaign to give thumbs up to Early Years in appreciation to all they do.

I find myself torn between supporting and protesting. For some this feels like a thumbs up, but for others a sharp push to carry on when we feel the sector has been ignored during the covid crisis and it’s safety not considered. We have been described by the government as “crucial” and at the same time been offered nothing to protect ourselves and no extra funding to keep our doors open to all. We work in an environment where staff ratios mean there are more adults in a room in close proximity without PPE or lateral flow tests readily available. The vaccine fiasco has led to wagging fingers to those who try to protect their teams. Trying to get a vaccine doesn’t sit right with me personally, but I totally understand those who have pursued this.

Yes we are amazing, thank you for the thumbs up. For some it will be the lift they need, for others it will feel like a distraction for support. But let’s try not to make this another divisive campaign that splits the sector and support individual choice to join in or not.

What’s REALLY Important

When we went back to pre-school in June we had lots to think about. Covid protection took over the preparation for returning but rumbling underneath was what’s REALLY important in our daily practice. The children as always have to be the top of the tree, the staff equally important and you can’t do this job without partnership with the parents.  We must put Covid policy’s and procedures in place but we mustn’t forget the driving force of the job, the children’s welfare, wellbeing and education. With extra cleaning and all covid brings to the job we need to save time (reduce some spending to buy cleaning gear and some PPE)  and give our usual outstanding service to children and families.

When we went back I said for this half term we will drop all written observations and ditch tracking and spend our time with the children. We ensured the parents were sent a photo via online journal each week of what their child was doing, but just the one(ish.) while we spent time with extra cleaning we maximised as much time as feasibly possible interacting with the children. After all observations are exactly that, observing. The team as always initiated and produced fantastic activities with bundles of learning. We reacted even more to what children enjoyed, and importantly what they weren’t in the mood for, after all, if your going to clean more you want time to be used well!

So going back I’m rethinking. The thing We are missing is tracking. I know the children in summer developed and I know whether there on track or not, staff instinctively knew what to provide for the children to progress. Do we need to write observations? Maybe with SEND children (we have to to get funding!) So I’m trialing a Track and Talk approach. Key people will talk to each other about their children and what they’re planning for their learning. If they’re tracking there are thinking what makes them know that they’re at that stage. What has their key children played with and achieved to make them track them at that stage? Key people will write brief notes to feed into the planning to provide opportunity to progress. We use planning around Laura Henry’s “Keep it Simple Planning” which started us on less paperwork track. Written observations (like next steps-we ditched those) cause stress, often have to be checked (more time lost) when we can talk copiously and with great enthusiasm about our keychilds development. So let’s talk, to each other, to parents and track progress, we will observe more, because we aren’t being “written observation” led we will be even more engrossed in interactions with the children. This will inform and improve our practice.

Post script:

Staff meeting this morning, questions put to the team:

Who agrees we observe children all the time?/All hands up

Who thinks we should have to write what we observe down?/All hands down

Who thinks it’s useful to track progress?/All hands up

Discussion revolved around the impact, more time with the children, better planning which would show we know key children, less thinking/writing more doing! Happier staff and children, that’s what’s really important.

LGBTQ+, a short history…in my settings

I have LGBTQ+ staff, LGBTQ+ parents and I will certainly have LGBTQ+ children in my setting. So it’s important to represent the whole community in our ethos and provision.  Was I good at this as my first LGBTQ+ parents came through the door? Definitely not. When somebody enquires about a space I always ask for the parent’s name. So after asking the Mum’s name I said (cringing now) “and Dad’s name”? “No”came the reply, “two Mums”. Even then it took a while for the penny to drop! However I was so pleased they came to me. From my website they said they felt “they would be welcome”. And they were. However, I didn’t have LGBTQ+ resources or think too much about gender and stereotypes so not as diverse or as inclusive as I thought I was. I wasn’t rubbish, but I wasn’t great. I should have been aware much earlier than this and far more prepared. 

I think that’s how a lot of Early Years improvements take place and evolve, by getting it wrong. I’m still learning. It’s very easy to ignore our short comings and feel we’re ok with what we know, but we need to to keep learning and changing for all our staff families and children how to be truly inclusive of LGBTQ+ identities. My parents (mentioned earlier) must have felt very comfortable because we haven’t been without same sex parents for as long as I can remember. We have had great conversations with children who easily talk about relationships thanks largely to our books that they are familiar with and less familiar with, thanks largely to our books that include LGBTQ+ and all our pre-school community.

I’m proud to be in a working group for LGBTQ+ in Early Years who are going to produce helpful resources for Early Years Practitioners. I have learned to improve my practice in diversity. My eyes are open much wider to what this means in my life and in my working role. I want to help others change practices. I am humbled by their awesomeness of this group, and looking forward to working with them.

Happy New Year and Decade!

I don’t believe in New Years Resolutions or that on one day in the year defines a change from good to bad or vice versa. However I find myself reviewing what’s gone and think ahead to what might be. Life is a continuum from which we are constantly learning bot personally and professionally.

So personally last year bought an illness to one of my family members which was serious and ongoing. I don’t want to go into details, as they say, “if you know you know”. The importance of family has become extremely dear to me. I have increased my time travelling to and communicating with family members, and because we have all been supporting each other there’s a new closeness to blood relatives I am now grateful to see more often. 

My own personal health has seen a few problems. I’m not getting any younger! But a few lifestyle changes has eased the problem. I’ve had to change my mindset also to be more positive about my own abilities and needs and ditch insecurities and guilt. Result is I’m far more positive, less anxious and healthier. So the continuum is to keep going. 

Professionally the last decade saw me buying my second Pre-School and later dabbling in consultancy work. Both have been a welcome change to my career. Sometimes this means I’m much busier but also gives me some flexibility with how I manage my time. I recently had a change of manager in one of my settings and I’m really enjoying coaching her and seeing her develop so well into her new role. At my settings we have bought some changes to our practice such as not doing next steps and targets for children. This brings me back to my first point, that life is a continuum. Children are progressing every day, so let’s not focus on one thing, but the bigger picture, spending more time with the children so we can be spontaneous teachers with the resources we have. We need more faith in our abilities and spend less time writing!

So my theme of the blog is make positive choices for yourself. Surround yourself with good people and friends who will support you, family that you love. Support your own health. Be kind to yourself and put your own needs first occasionally. Be grateful for everyone around you who helps your life run a little more smoothly. To the good people that surround me (you know who you are) thank you for being there!

No Next Steps

As a team we have decided not to do next steps. I’ve honestly never liked them. I’ve always said if I could ditch them I would, but Ofsted always ask about them so they’ve  stuck…for years!!

 I recently read Sue Allingham blog ( on what next steps really are and are they useful. At a staff meeting my staff were saying pretty much the same thing. We make some that are finished before we’ve completed writing the sentence, others we are so ambitious children don’t reach them in the allotted time limit. Staff spend time procrastinating over wording, making the SMART choosing a learning area, and in our opinion, wasting time.

As Sue Allingham states, children progress in front of our eyes. We offer challenges, engage in co-learning conversations and tune into our children’s way of learning. If we concentrate on one or two specific targets we miss so much more of children’s development. This is perfectly demonstrated by this research video that Laura Henry recently showed me, watch to the end and you’ll get the analogy. I also remember one term going through next steps and 75% were on writing, maths coming second. There are seven areas of learning, the setting were homing in mainly on two. I mentioned it but I wasn’t worried, as I knew the variety of the activities on offer was broad and balanced.

With change comes a health warning. The trick is to know your key children well. Know their starting points, know what they’re learning journey has been, and know where you’re heading with them. Basically if you know your children and have good knowledge of child development you know the journey you want to take them on. Ofsted want these stories when they come to us, be ready to tell them.

We are still tracking children on our online platform. We believe this informs and helps us plan. For us we print out the keyperson tracking which stays in the key persons pocket and is a working document to scribble (quick) notes on if and when needed.

Planning, whatever your settings form take should be child centred and reflect all staff and children. Again it shouldn’t be long winded and arduous. Spend more time with the children, that’s where the progress takes place.

Whatever you do, do it for the children. Do paperwork that helps you not that which adds stress to the work process. Be reflective always and make the learning exciting!

The New Educational Inspection Framework My take on it.

The New Inspection Framework is out and we are all caught up in the whirlwind of what has changed. Many are in a panic over the new terminology, new categories of assessment, and wondering if we really can use less paperwork and analysis.

I’m looking at it differently. How can this play to our strengths? Does this play to our strengths? I believe it can. Safeguarding is still a priority, so nothing new there. Leadership and management is still expected to be key to success. There’s no suggestion of dropping any standards, high standards and high quality are as important as ever.

So, why do I think this could play to our strengths. The framework is all about what we hold dear. The children first and foremost! How do we get there?
• Through our ethos, values and pedagogy.
• The theories we follow, the way we believe children flourish personally and develop rapidly through those awe and wonder activities we provide.
• Through knowing our children really well. Where they were when they started with us, where they are now and where we intend to take them on their learning journey
• What makes our children tick. What is it that makes them the unique individual they are?
• How we support the vulnerable children, those with special needs and/or disabilities, and those disadvantaged children whose families may need more support and their children need more meaningful learning experiences.
• We strive to improve experiences for our children all the time!

Why are we getting worried? remember the EYFS is the same.
A few newish concepts are there to get our heads round. We have to think Learning intention, implementation, and impact. We also have to look into the term Cultural Capital. These seem the two main sticking points. I would argue, we do these already if we follow all those bullet points.

Gill Jones ( Ofsted’s Deputy Director of Early Education) also talked passionately about rhymes and books increasing vocabulary and its impact on children’s future success. When I talked to my teams about this they said if they hadn’t read a book for a while the children usually put a book in our lap (or tap us on the head with a book!) wanting a story.

As a setting we have already cut down paperwork. Laura Henry’s Keep it Simple Planning©️ set us in the right direction (thanks Laura). I’ve never insisted on lots of observations. I’ll be taking my foot of the pedal a little bit with tracking, especially group and cohort tracking. However we still need to know that our children are progressing. Our time could be better spent in the process of helping them progress rather than obsessing about tracking charts.

So far, hopefully, so good. Can we chat about all these things, you bet we can. So when Ofsted come round we will be talking, we will be discussing, we will be showing off all that we do. We may not be looking at tracking (phew!) but we will be talking about progress and how we achieve fantastic learning outcomes. Managers will be showing them how we safeguard children, how we help staff develop and encourage them to flourish at work.

If your doing things well, keep going. Look at the new framework and look at how it can play to your strengths. Always improve and never stand still! We’ve got this!

Link to Keep it Simple Planning©️

School Careers Day – with a special moment.

Today I did my annual visit to the local school for their careers day. Rather than sending students out to various work places, the school chooses to bring working people to the students. This year 37 people from different businesses pitched up.

We are all asked to give the students a mock interview for a couple of lessons and the give 30 minute presentations about our work. For the presentationI always take toys and make it mostly a practical session. Three reasons for this:

  1. To help students understand your never to old to play! ( They’re doing their GCSE’s so play is a great de-stressor! )
  2. To get the students to work in groups and get them to compare the way they play together to what it might look like when your 3. Believe me some of the behaviours are similar!
  3. To get students to think how and what our children learn
    The students have great fun and it’s a great way to get across what we do.

This year a very special thing happened. A little voice piped up “I went to Sparkles.” Yes it made me feel old but what a joy to see her. She remembered she didn’t speak any English, and I remember I had to make my handbag child safe so that we could sit and empty the contents and “talk” about them. I asked her what her plans were for the future. She didn’t know, but her friends said how smart she was, to which I replied “ Of course she is, she went to Sparkles!”

One more thought. One of the activities I bought in I put a homemade number line with numbers written in Polish, which one Polish student loved. I’m not sure what schools do but maybe we need to think of other ways of making other languages visible and usable in setting at school. Two of the girls I did mock interviews with had not been in this country long, one didn’t speak English what she arrived. Apart from Hello and Welcome signs on display I wondered what was in place to support home language as well as what’s available to help them translate all their lessons! Probably many things but food for thought.

A thoroughly enjoyable day with lovely students. See you next Year.

Our Latest Training Day Starring Action Amanda Featuring Juliette Davies (strongly)

The title reads like film credits because these two lovely people created the best training day we’ve had in a while. We planned it for our first day back after Christmas which turned out to be perfect! It brought all the staff from my two teams together for some learning, fun and action. 

To be honest, I wasn’t quite sure what we would be getting, but I know Amanda, and I know she has a passion for getting children moving and active so they may become confident healthy adults, so I knew we were in for a treat. Her latest venture is to help us as Early Years Practitioners develop fun music and movement programmes using her app (very reasonably priced!) and giving informative information of the impact this has on children’s all-round  development. With 10 bags of props we were all like littl’uns in a toy shop!

After a short presentation it was time for us to get lively. Using shakers, pom poms, masks, streamers and many more props we sang danced and laughed. We worked to different styles of songs, learnt how to compile a session to keep children active and interested. Amanda armed us with a few tricks of how to mix it up to make it work for us. A few staff activities involving a bit of choreography kept us all thinking, and it wasn’t the most likely staff that took the lead. Everyone had a chance to shine.

Amanda’s personal touch talking through how we could construct the sessions showed her true passion and how she genuinely had our teams needs in mind. You couldn’t help but be touched by her enthusiasm. If she could give me some of her energy, I would be most grateful!!

I’m not forgetting the wonderful Juliette Davies and her amazing organisation EY Matters that she formed to support the Early Years Sector last year as an aside to her Virtual Support business, Virtual Support UK Ltd. She helps trainers and practitioners with all those behind the scenes bits that are so important. For our training day I know she was helping Amanda launch her new venture and will continue to help it take off. For me as part time consultant and PVI owner she has helped me brand my consultancy, helped me with logos, power point presentations and all sorts! A bit like a magician! 

I thank you both for a fabulous day of learning and laughter for my lovely team. I hope to see you again soon.