Select Committee on Education and Employment Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 44 - 55)




  44. Margy Whalley has become a familiar person, a friend, to the Committee over this projected inquiry. She took part in our initial seminar and she has been extremely helpful to the Committee, but that certainly has never in my experience stopped her being extremely frank. She has managed multi-disciplinary Early Years services in Brazil, Papua New Guinea and England. She was the founding Head of the Pen Green Centre for Under-fives and their Families and has worked there for 13 years. She has done many other things but we do not have time to talk about them. Margy, what have we missed? I will not ask you what you liked about it—you can say that at some time, if you like—but what were the missed opportunities of our report?

  (Dr Whalley) I will have to zap through my papers. The first missed opportunity, and really my only disappointment in the report, was that it did not seem to have considered what I see as a critical issue about the number of different childcare settings that children are still having to use in one day. For me it is a key issue for the low waged, particularly outside metropolitan authorities where there may be some choice. In fact in our kind of community there is very little choice and services still are not able to offer the flexibility that parents need, parents who are working shift work, to support those parents working and their family lives. I think there needs to be a real commitment, where children are in different settings, for Early Childhood practitioners to work more collaboratively, and, if they are going to do that, they are going to need time out and non-contact time to be able to do that. It is very disturbing to us to see what dissonances and discontinuities in the childcare that children are receiving is doing in terms of their welfare, health, development and transitions into school settings. That was the main disappointment. When you talk about research, I would like to see more emphasis on practitioner research. If we are going to raise the status of Early Childhood educators, then they need to see themselves as reflective practitioners. They need to take advantage of the training that has been thrown at the partnerships but they also need to develop their own skills and their own knowledge base. We have got wonderful Early Excellence Centres now all over the country and they need to be supported to engage in practitioner research in the same way that the TTA tried to encourage teachers in the primary phase. Early Years educators do not have a lot of confidence, so they may need a lot of encouragement to do that. The research that is coming from the University departments needs to be owned by Early Childhood practitioners. If they get involved in their own research and develop it into their own practice, I think they will do that. May I just say that I think it was a powerful document?

  45. Yes.
  (Dr Whalley) May I say that?

  46. Music to our ears!
  (Dr Whalley) OK.

  47. Say it on television. Say it to camera!
  (Dr Whalley) It was a powerful document and we liked the human face of the report, with photographs, and the clear use of language which meant that Early Childhood practitioners have been excited. We have photocopied copies and sent copies to all the people that we are working with. We are thrilled that the first recommendations were about working with parents. The fact that the first four recommendations are concerned with working with parents makes it clear that the Select Committee sees work with parents as a real priority; it is not just a tokenistic add-on now. And the fact that it acknowledges that education can start at birth. We do believe that it is the seamless transition between services and between the home and these services that needs to be addressed more clearly. I think it was exciting that you acknowledged the importance of parental participation and that parents could be involved in the profile writing. That was radical. It was music to our ears. But I do have a caveat: How do we make it a reality? We have got to change attitudes, hearts and minds and initial training in all the different disciplines if we are going to get professionals really to engage with parents in that kind of a way. We have had so many parenting programmes since the sixties, we have had a plethora of people doing things to parents, particularly in poor communities, and we do not need that. We do not need those kind of programmes—I do not think that they have the long-term effect and I think the research bears that out—but we do need to share knowledge and information with parents and that needs a different kind of Early Childhood educator, a different kind of practitioner, one who is secure enough in their own knowledge to be able to listen and work directly with parents. We have a vision for the future where parents are on line to our Early Childhood settings and we can really share information with parents in a more exciting way

Charlotte Atkins

  48. Given your emphasis on parents and parental involvement, how do we get men involved, so that we do not have the sort of problems that we had with boys in `86 and 7?
  (Dr Whalley) I think the involvement of fathers is critical and I was glad you mentioned it. I think one of the most fundamental things we can do is actually making it an essential thing for every setting to find out about which parents have parental responsibility in law. Most centres and most nurseries that I know are not even aware that fathers who have parental responsibility have an entitlement to information about their children. If we just did that as a baseline, if we required all Early Childhood settings to establish which parents have parental responsibility, then they would naturally have an obligation to inform fathers, to give fathers information about parents evenings, about meetings. Fathers are the invisible parents in Early Childhood settings. It is amazing that people just do not know about the Children Act and do not know about parental responsibility and they do not know that it should be a requirement, a moral requirement and a professional requirement, to inform fathers. Then you have to give them a whole range of different ways of engaging with fathers. There are centres that have got vast experience in that, but there would need to be a lot more training on that. If you just did the parental responsibility bit, find out who has the right and entitlement to information about their child in an Early Childhood setting, that would be an enormous first step.

Helen Jones

  49. What you said then, Margy, highlights the need for proper training which we have discussed at length. How would you tackle the problem that still persists of people having the belief that anyone can work in Early Years, you do not need to be trained, and how would you go about raising the status of those who do?
  (Dr Whalley) I think there are two issues. It is not just that anyone can work in Early Years and that a lot of people misguidedly refer non-academic young girls into the Early Years; it is a question of the kind of training that we are offering them. It was wonderful to see that you are supporting training and the Government, in its Response, is citing that there is some money that is going to be invested in training, but it is the quality of the training that matters. It is engaging the right kind of training with the right kind of people. I think we have to make it a much higher status profession. Salaries and conditions of service come into that. It is not a high status profession at the moment. It is the alternative to hairdressing in a lot of schools and colleges and I grieve for that. There was some discussion from the witnesses about whether the well-intentioned amateur was OK. I want people who care passionately about children to work in Early Childhood education but I also want them to be very knowledgeable. I think an entitlement to on-going training—the NVQ is very much a minimum level qualification. Work needs to be done to accompany the NVQ in terms of increasing the language skills and mathematical skills of staff in our settings because I do not think it is good enough to have people who are not able to feel confident in numeracy and literacy working with young children. They have to have their confidence built up. Maybe every Early Childhood setting could do like we do at Pen Green: staff have a right to go on GCSE English and Maths whenever they enter into the establishment. That could be part of their training, so they do not lose sight of their knowledge base. I think the TTA needs sorting out. You may need to change the legislation. We are fighting with them at the moment because we have people with the NNEB qualification, the ADLE and the Adult Teacher Training Certificates. They perhaps only need one more year to complete the equivalent to an under-graduate degree but trying to convince TTA and the rest of them that Early Childhood education is a specialist field is a nightmare. We are in correspondence with everybody, right the way up through the hierarchy. They require Early Childhood educators to understand what is going on at Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2, and that is where the focus has been in the last 18 years, and what we now need to see is Early Years as a specialism and more recognition of that—and, if I may say, Early Years education, not in its narrowest sense, but Early Childhood educators must be able to be effective advocates; they need to know about adult learning because they are working with parents all the time, and that is a very different skill; and they need to know about community development. We have talked about Sure Start. Those kind of projects will not work without skills in community development—it is not enough to have good ideas and take them to people and offer them to people. You need to be asking people what they want, and that requires skills, the skills of a community worker. Those need to be part of the Early Childhood training programme.

  50. It gives us a few good questions to ask the Minister.
  (Dr Whalley) I have a few of those too.

Valerie Davey

  51. I think I can begin to see a new report coming out of this in terms of qualifications and the training. But can I come back to a more down to earth (dare I say it) situation. You are talking about the need for more consistent care settings for children. Are you saying that from your experience at Pen Green you have got a solution?
  (Dr Whalley) No, I do not think we have a solution. I think we are working towards one, because what we ask parents is what they need to support their family life. If we could only give them what they need, we would be fulfilling a dream. We ask them, at least, so that we can be clear about getting it right. If what they really need to support family life is flexible childcare provision from 10 to 2, that is what we offer them. But there is clearly not nearly enough full-time childcare provision for people who need it; there is not nearly enough provision for children from two to three or for children from nought to three, and there needs to be a range of provision. In our kind of community, where people are in work/out of work, in work/out of work, even the minimum costs that our playgroup requires them to pay can be too much. The afterschool club has to be self-financing, so the minimum requirements of the afterschool club, if you are in and out of work at that kind of a rate, are difficult to sustain. No, we have not got the answer but I think we have got a principled approach: ask the parents what they want and then try and make the service meet the parents need, not fit the parents into the service.

  52. But you are saying in your criticism of the Report that the actual physical setting in which children find themselves day by day should be more consistent, but the actual care a parent needs is a question which you ask and that is excellent.
  (Dr Whalley) Yes.

  53. Clearly, looking at shift workers, maybe at seven in the morning the need starts, or earlier. Making that provision, such that the children are not bundled into somebody's car, pram or whatever and dropped around the neighbourhood, or even further afield. The actual centre, such as yours, asking that question, may come to understand better and provide better?
  (Dr Whalley) I think listening to parents is a starting point but we just do not have the resources to provide the kind of services that parents and families deserve. Although the government is introducing some wonderful new initiatives, like Neighbourhood Nursery schemes, what most local authorities and partnerships are having to do is put these scarce resources into different parts of poor communities. So, ideally we would love to have a highly skilled, highly staffed professional group working with children from nought to three, but that is a long way into the future. We just do not have those kind of resources at the moment. What I would say is that people are shutting their eyes to this as an issue. That for the poorest, the most vulnerable children this is a very, very key issue and it must be addressed. Even if it is just about getting staff to find out where the children are in a day, in a week, how many settings they are going into, trying to work more collaboratively with those people so there is not so much dissonance for children.


  54. Did you have a fellow feeling with Pam Bolton when she was giving evidence just now, in terms of trying to struggle to provide a coherent service well beyond what she is financed for? Do you find that the same?
  (Dr Whalley) It is annoying. I think the exciting thing about the partnerships is that they are making people work in a more collaborative way. But somehow we have lost some of the local authorities and the LEAs in this too. I think at a central government level there has got to be some consideration about getting the LEAs and the local authorities to think "integrated" throughout their services, not just when they have got a Sure Start or when they have got an Early Excellence Centre or when they have got a Neighbourhood Nursery. Clearly they are more entrenched than they have ever been in some ways. I think one of the things that we have not done when we have introduced these new initiatives is to take the chief executives, the officers and the politicians locally on board to see how we could make more sense of this. Because what they are doing is saying, "OK, you have got a Sure Start"—or "You have got an Early Excellence"—"therefore you do not need this other thing." Actually the poorest areas need the fully integrated comprehensive service.

  55. They need a very highly tailored service, not a "bog standard" one.
  (Dr Whalley) They need the best. The children deserve the best.

  Chairman: I do not think we can ever use that term! Margy, thank you very much for that. I am afraid the time is up. All the witnesses I could have listened to and asked questions of for much longer, but thank you very much. Margy, I think, with your rapid delivery, you have got twice as much on the transcript as everybody else.

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