Thursday, 26 October 2017

Susan Isaacs: the remarkable woman educator who changed parenting

An important but relatively unknown part of Susan Isaacs’s work is the parenting advice column she wrote for The Nursery World in the late 1920s and 1930s, under the pseudonym of Ursula. But in case you think this is a sort of dusty by-way from the past, I would seriously urge you to read an important new collection of some of those columns, Wise Words: How Susan Isaacs Changed Parenting and think again – because they speak to contemporary concerns about childhood, learning, health and parenting in a remarkably vivid way.

At this stage, I must declare an interest: Wise Words is edited by my partner, Caroline Vollans. Throughout the development of the book, from first idea, to the months she spent digging around in the Isaacs archive at the UCL Institute of Education, I have been privileged to be the first to hear her excited accounts of discoveries amongst many hundreds of letters and Isaacs’s answers.

Astoundingly, Isaacs answered every single letter – published or not – and she quite clearly saw her work as Ursula Wise as being as important as anything else she did. She spent much of her final months, suffering the agonies of cancer and the dreadful side-effects of powerful radiotherapy treatment, putting together a collection of the columns which is now long out of print.

In a recent journal article, the researcher Michal Shapira argues that the Ursula Wise columns were instrumental in popularising ideas from psycho-analysis and offered a “powerful rebuttals to behaviourist, disciplinarian parenting methods helped shift the focus of caregivers to the child’s perspective, encouraging them to acknowledge children as independent subjects and future democratic citizens.”

Childhood and parenting in England were changed forever by the columns of Ursula Wise: and Wise Words offers a fascinating insight into how Isaacs persuaded, argued with and encouraged middle-class parents and nannies to think differently about the children they loved and cared for. 

To give you a flavour of the book, here are a couple of my favourite letters and the replies. There are more details about how to order Wise Words and how to claim a 20% discount here.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Should Early Years Teachers stay in their silos?

I'm sharing the PowerPoint which I used for my discussion at the Primary Umbrella Group about system leadership in the early years. The presentation is based on my Occasional Paper for TACTYC.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

‘Collaborative quality improvement’ – a way forward for England’s maintained nursery schools?

I wrote this occasional paper for TACTYC (the Association for Professional Development in Early Years) which considers ways forward for England's maintained nursery schools.

Lately there has been much discussion about possible futures for England’s maintained nursery schools (for example, Merrick, 2015; Ward, 2016; Weale, 2017; Dixon, 2017). This paper explores one possible future for nursery schools: as the leaders of quality improvement for the whole of the early years sector in England. The paper will argue that a cultural and historically-based understanding of the fragmented early years sector is needed, and that peer learning and professional development require funding at every level if the ‘collaborative quality improvement’ model (DfE, 2017: 35) is to be successful. Maintained nursery schools will also need continued protection if they are to adapt to this new role.

The decline of England’s Maintained Nursery Schools
At the time of writing, there are just 401 nursery schools left in England according to EduBase, the Department for Education’s online database. EbuBase lists 205 nursery school closures, supporting the claim made by Merrick (2015:2) that ‘a third of maintained nursery schools in England have closed since 1980’.  During roughly the same period (1980 to 2015), the population of the United Kingdom rose by 7.8 million (Office for National Statistics, 2015a). The number of three- and four-year-old children accessing early years education and care in England has also been rising steadily in recent years. In other words, it can reasonably be argued that the decline of maintained nursery schools in England is not the result of a fall in demand. Nor is it part of an overall decline in early years provision. The British Association of Early Childhood Education (Merrick, 2015: 5) argues that nursery schools are closing because of changes in national and local policy around funding: ‘as local authority budgets come under pressure, nursery schools’ funding is being eroded’.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Signing off for the summer break

Hello and welcome to my blog.

You may be wondering why it has been so quiet, with nothing posted since March?

I'm currently working on the Celebrating Children's Learning project for East London Early Years and Schools Partnership.

Members of the project team are hard at work putting together a book about our work, which will be published by Routledge towards the end of the year.

You can see some of the latest thinking which is coming out of this project from the PowerPoint accompanying my keynote to Oxfordshire's Early Years Conference.

You can also hear my recent discussion with Laura Henry online.

Meantime, I'm very pleased to say that my best-selling book Successful Early Years Ofsted Inspections has been shortlisted for a Nursery World award.

I'll be workshopping and exploring more ideas around the Celebrating Children's Learning project at #LearningFirst Canterbury in early 2018.

Want to find out more about #LearningFirst? Sign up here to join the #LearningFirst team and find out more.

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Are you prone to hero/martyr syndrome? I know I am...

I was recently working with a group of educational leaders, looking at the "Hero's Journey". This seems to be a rough import from Joseph Campbell's work on mythologies into leadership theory.

We talked about arriving as newbie leaders in difficult situations.

The school is not as good as the previous headteacher and governors thought it was. We start delving into stuff and find out that one thing after another isn't fit for purpose. Pretty soon, we are feeling despair about ever getting to the bottom of all the problems, let alone fixing them.

Or we knowingly take on a school in difficult circumstances - but find that the complexity and misery involved isn't adequately described by blunt, official terms like failing or inadequate.

The "hero's journey" trope suggests that now we fall into a kind of abyss. And it's only by accepting that we are in this abyss, and getting others to accept it, that a kind of rebirth can happen.

Back in 2009, I blogged about my own version of this - a horribly difficult 100 days during my first headship.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

The London Mayor's Education Conference 2017: why we should support plans to develop early years hubs in London

Here's something which is cause for optimism: Sadiq Khan has appointed a deputy mayor, Joanne McCartney, to lead on education - including early education and childcare. At the 2017 Mayor's Education Conference last week, in a gloriously sunny City Hall, Khan also clearly stated his commitment to high quality early education, and better availability of childcare.

The view from London's City Hall
I was fortunate to have a slot to talk to a group of about 120 of London's leaders in education about the "hub" project in Newham which I've been involved with, called Learning without limits.

In the Manor Park hub, which is where I am based, schools, settings from the private and voluntary sector, and childminders have been working hard, together, to improve quality and to make the whole system easier to access for parents.

We have a way to go yet, but the impact of the last few years of work has been impressive and a tribute to the joint efforts we have made and our determination to keep doing better.

In Manor Park all the early years group provision - whether in schools, or in private or independent settings - is graded Good or Outstanding by Ofsted.

Childminder quality has improved significantly and is close to the average for England.

Over 75% of children eligible for a free place at the age of two are now accessing that place.

Outcomes by the end of the Early Years Foundation Stage in Manor Park are ahead of the national average, too. In summer 2016:
  • 69.3% of children nationally achieved a Good Level of Development (PDF);
  • 72% of children in Manor Park achieved a Good Level Of Development
That doesn't mean things are as good as we want them to be.

Thursday, 2 February 2017