Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Question 60-75)


21 MAY 2008

Q60  Chairman: But in Steiner, you do not object to inspection on principle?

  Sylvie Sklan: Oh, no, absolutely not.

  Chairman: Do you, Graham? I understood that Open EYE did not believe that the independent sector should be inspected.

  Graham Kennish: I do not go along with that at all. I would say that the whole issue of inspection by Ofsted is linked entirely to the targets. We come back to the targets. Ofsted arrives and every setting knows that it is under the test whether or not it is fulfilling the targets. That pressure, which goes down to the children, will be quite clear and obvious. It is totally obvious to me; I cannot imagine how it is not obvious to those who are proposing this scheme. Last week, in a conversation in which Annette was trying to probe the Chief Inspector about the training of inspectors, she was trying to pursue the difference—I do not know whether or not she succeeded; I felt that she did not—between training inspectors for inspecting early years provision and having early years inspectors who had been practitioners themselves and knew exactly what young children were all about. Let me give you a quick analogy. I would not want a mechanical engineer who has been given some training in electricity to inspect an electrical installation. I would not feel safe at all. That is an horrendous analogy, but it is effectively what is being proposed. It is not just the training for inspection that they need, but also the inner experience of practice.

  Chairman: Graham, we remember last Wednesday well.

  Q61  Paul Holmes: Last Wednesday, the Chief Inspector said that Ofsted inspectors are aware of the different types of school and that they are not applying the same criteria everywhere. I reminded the Chief Inspector that Summerhill School had been failed by Ofsted. The school ended up taking Ofsted to court with judicial review to avoid being closed down. Are you confident at Steiner schools that Ofsted will take into account the variation in style and approach?

  Sylvie Sklan: At this stage, I do not know whether we can say that we are confident, because we have not got there yet. We have to put in place all the systems to ensure that such accidents do not occur—by that I mean inspectors using the wrong criteria by which to judge our EY settings. As I said, it would be good to have a much more robust and objective system in place that is linked to the guidance of the framework to ensure that it is not all down to good faith and working with the inspectors who are about to visit.

  Q62  Paul Holmes: Finally, one of the big things that we identified in the recent report on assessment and testing was the difference between assessment for learning—of the child—and assessment for testing the school, to see how it is achieving, effectively. From five to 19, it has become distorted, in that you are using the test results and the assessment to judge the school and to say, "That's good; that's bad; you're failing and you're excellent," rather than looking at the pupils' progress. Even more at this stage, nought to five, how do we avoid that distortion? If Ofsted are coming in and are going to say, "That's good; that's bad; you pass; and you fail," how do we make sure that the assessment of the child at two, three or four is about assessing the child for learning, to see where they have got to, and where we move on to next, rather than ticking boxes, so that Ofsted will give the setting a good report?

  Chairman: That is a good question and a long question, but, Morag, I shall ask you for quite a quick answer.

  Morag Stuart: The quick answer would be that the only way—I keep coming back to staff training—is that staff have to understand child development. They have to understand the range of behaviours that can be observed at given ages and the desirable outcomes that a typically developing child ought to be able to achieve. It is staff knowledge and understanding of child development that will allow them to do that.

  Q63  Paul Holmes: Ofsted staff?

  Morag Stuart: Practitioner staff and Ofsted staff.

  Anne Nelson: Just to give an example of the opposite to the question you are asking about the negative impact of Ofsted, the outcome of nursery schools inspections last year. They would mainly be inspected by a practitioner who is also an Ofsted inspector. The nursery schools came out as 95% good or outstanding. That knowledge base—the experience which is there—correlates with a thorough understanding of that and a good self-evaluation process. It is a very good example of Ofsted working, I think. But again, the headteacher and the staff would be fully qualified.

  Q64  Paul Holmes: But Ofsted also, every month, judges 60 day care settings and 80 childminders as inadequate, so people who work in those settings must be thinking, "What boxes have I got to tick to please Ofsted?"

  Anne Nelson: And it dominates their lives. When I am training them I say, "Why do you do so much written planning?" and they say, "In case Ofsted come in tomorrow." It is a heavy pressure on them.

  Q65  Annette Brooke: Can I just pick up on childminding, which takes us into the next session? Anne has mentioned the importance of training. As far as I can see, childminding has become a profession—much to be welcomed—with the encouragement of qualifications. What exactly—or how big, I suppose—is the hurdle going into the Early Years Foundation Stage? The sort of things that have been presented to me are that, obviously, childminders are not really in a position to access local authority courses during the day. They have to pay extra money for courses. It is all very difficult for them. Yet I think things went fairly smoothly in terms of the NVQs and so on. So Anne, there might not be the wonderful child centre on the doorstep, which can support a childminder, but what about those hundreds and hundreds of people in that valuable part of the workforce?

  Anne Nelson: They do access courses and of course, as you say, training. They have to do it at a time when the children are not there, which means Saturdays. You can talk within that about equality and the workforce, although in early years, we have never had a great deal of funding to release people in the day time for training. So there are some issues. I think that what they seem most concerned about—I do not pretend to speak for them as an organisation, although increasingly we do have more childminders in our membership—is the writing down of reports on the children all the time and that the legislation is mainly about learning. I have just been training in observation and the issue is that they interpret observation as a written observation on every child for every moment of the day, whereas if you are properly trained in observation, a lot of what you observe is here, in your head, and you write down the significant things within that.  I think that more is expected of them than ever before, but when you publish something like EYFS, myths grow up and people get worried and scared. They would need reassurance from their local authorities about what is manageable. We saw the same in out-of-school care, with people threatening that, if they had to do the EYFS, they would not have children under five in their out-of-school care. That has been clarified for them, so I think that there is a great need for the Government, local authorities and organisations like ours to try to get that in perspective for people. Doing so is a challenge, and I would not underestimate it.

  Q66  Annette Brooke: Would you rank that as urgent, given the rapid fall in the number of childminders over the past year?

  Anne Nelson: It is urgent, not just because we do not want to lose those people and that choice for parents, but because childminders are a big part of the market for local authorities in providing a sufficiency of childcare. This is urgent from the perspective of local authorities, too. However, it is urgent mainly because we do not want to lose the perspective and choice for parents.

  Q67  Chairman: Anne, could it be that the marginal childminder is being pushed out of the market, rather than that anything unpleasant is going on? We do not want the marginal and not very good providers. In my area, as children's centres have developed, the whole pre-school market has changed quite dramatically.

  Anne Nelson: I hope that EYFS has done enough to set some standards, so that if childminders or group settings are not up to quality, they will go out of the market. Perhaps that sometimes happens through lack of knowledge. Childminding cannot be an easy way to earn a living, because you do not know when you will get children or how many you will get and you do not get any breaks in the day. It is quite a challenge to work like that. Working with young children is exhausting.  I share the hint that, if people are not up to scratch, they should not be in the market. I think that the expectation of standards is important. However, when I work with settings or individuals, those who are not all right think that they are all right and those who are all right continually question their practice and raise their aspirations. There must be something external to help them see what their quality is.

  Q68  Chairman: So there is some value in Ofsted.

  Anne Nelson: I think that there is some value in Ofsted.

  Chairman: I have dragged it out of you, Anne.

  Anne Nelson: Well, it must be recognised that Ofsted provides merely a snapshot—as you are well aware—and it is not a stick to beat people with. Ofsted can inspect only against the standards set by the Government. The value comes in what you do afterwards.

  Chairman: We are running out of time. Annette, do you want to say anything about workforce issues?

  Q69  Annette Brooke: Yes, perhaps I could try to pull it all together. A view has been put this morning that the Early Years Foundation Stage is critical to pulling up standards for all. That is a fair point. Equally, there are issues about qualifications and the experience of the workforce. My question is a bit chicken and egg, but is the issue whether we should be putting the Early Years Foundation Stage in the hands of the under-qualified workforce, or will the existence of the framework add to the quality of the workforce? Have we got the timing right on the two issues of the quality and the workforce?

  Anne Nelson: Over the past few years in early years, we have developed quantity. Now we are focusing quite hard on quality. As well as EYFS, there is a Government early years quality programme. You cannot have that quality without well qualified staff. It is quite clear that that is a prerequisite. The Scandinavian countries that we heard about earlier have a much higher level of qualification than this country. The principles and the commitments in the document are very laudable, but there is a danger in the way that the learning and development grids have been presented. They could be misused by those who do not have the right child development knowledge. That is a major concern for us. To throw another aspect in, there is confusion about the role of the Early Years Professional. The Government's view is that that person will lead the learning, certainly in the PVI sectors, and that teachers will still lead the learning in the state maintained sector.  However, being an EYP is not a qualification, but a status. In some cases, for instance, people have taken the EYP route immediately after their degrees. In my experience as a teacher and practitioner, you have got to have some experience before you can lead others in the learning. I am pretty sure that that will not help in the challenge of raising the qualification, which Annette mentioned, so I think that we have to go for qualifications to make it better.

  Q70  Annette Brooke: Is that slowing down the implementation of the statutory requirements?

  Chairman: You only get two questions to each person.

  Anne Nelson: I do not think that you can slow it down. I want to get those two points across.

  Morag Stuart: I think that training does improve quality. Certainly, the training that the CLLD team has put into the early reading development project has raised the expectations of teachers, the achievements of children and the confidence of both. As I have said, I think that all early years practitioners should have a good understanding of child development.

  Q71  Chairman: Morag, if you know that there are problems in early years that cost a lot of resource to sort out and that it is very expensive to totally change the quality of your workforce, by paying and training them better, is not the Early Years Foundation really a different way of trying to achieve that, but with much less resource?

  Morag Stuart: Do you mean putting a programme in place?

  Chairman: Yes.

  Morag Stuart: I do not think that it will work if you do not have the training.

  Q72  Chairman: So, do you have to do both?

  Morag Stuart: Absolutely.

  Q73  Chairman: Is there a sign that the Government are doing both?

  Morag Stuart: I think that some encouraging things are going on, but not enough.

  Chairman: Annette, do you have anything else to ask?

  Annette Brooke: No, I think that you drew out what I am trying to get people to comment on.

  Chairman: Does anyone else want to come in on that last one, on the chicken and egg?

  Graham Kennish: No training programme can deliver anything; the people who deliver it and who form the relationship with the practitioners form the training. Teaching is a process of relationship, and no programme will do anything because it is the relationship between people that does things. It is the relationship between the carers and the children that inspires their self-confidence and self-worth. All other aspects of learning follow from that process, and all good teaching, at whatever age, inspires the qualities that that unique child has at that time. A teacher's timing is to time what is needed at a certain moment. It is a very subtle process, which gets less subtle as you go up. Although you have to take a set of exams at 16, as you come down, lower and lower, the subtlety and power of that process reaches down into the element of play. That aspect of play is the most subtle, creative and dynamic aspect, and until practitioners have really understood the nature of play, for instance, it is not something that you can put into a programme.

  Q74  Chairman: But, Graham, when I heard your colleague, Anna, speak earlier, I got the impression that one of the things that Open EYE is worried about is that, although you are able to squeeze out the person who is good at that, they are unqualified.

  Graham Kennish: Absolutely, but there are two things there. If you have someone who is unqualified, disaffected and not particularly interested in children, you have a double negative whammy. It is certainly true that someone who has a real love for and interest in the children around them will probably, unconsciously and intuitively, give a great deal of support to a child's emotional development.

  Q75  Chairman: But surely Open EYE does not believe that you should train them for that.

  Graham Kennish: Absolutely not, there should be a training, but the danger with training is that you become over-professionalised. It is rather similar to the dilemma that we faced in the last session, where one had to confess that the experts disagreed vigorously with one another, as we heard them do. Within the training of professionalism, it is very important to realise that professionals and experts disagree, and there needs to be that fructification of the alternative view points that professionals bring, so that they can allow a creative process. We can never say that we now know what a child is all about, because we clearly have a lot to learn about what children are really about and what the nature of play is and all of those things. If we said to parents that we know what that is, we disempower them and others who would seek to be innovative. That disempowerment comes from the statutory imposition of goals and targets.

  Chairman: Graham, thank you very much. This has been an excellent panel and we learnt a lot. I know that you will keep in touch, so that we can make the inquiry as good as it can be.

  Graham Kennish: Thank you very much for offering us this space.

  Chairman: Thank you.

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