Examination of Witness (Questions 44 -
WEDNESDAY 25 APRIL 2001
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 ityou can say that at some time, if you likebut
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?
(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 programmesI do not think that they have the long-term
effect and I think the research bears that outbut 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
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.
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 trainingthe
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 thatand, 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 developmentit
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
(Dr Whalley) I have a few of those too.
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
(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
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.