Archive for June 2007

Goodbye DfES / Childminders

Undoubtedly the biggest news of the last couple of days in the childcare and education sector is the break-up of the DfES. New prime minister Gordon Brown has instead created two new ministries, so in future we'll all have to get used to watching the work of the new Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF). No doubt it will take a few days for a detailed overview of how the new body will operate, but until then this Q&A article from the Guardian will give you a little information about the new ministry, as will Brown Shakes Up Education Arena from the BBC.

On a different note, yesterday saw my first ever solo babysitting experience, with a well-behaved but very lively 18 month old child. Thankfully I survived, but this seems like a good excuse to mention the work of the National Childminding Association, who perhaps could have given me a few tips before I started. The site contains information for both parents and prospective childminders alike, while the publications page is a great source of free documents.

Ethnicity and Education

A new report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation entitled Tackling Low Educational Achievement has been in the news this morning. Although the report takes a holistic approach to examining the reasons for the poor performance of some children at school, it seems to have made headlines primarily for its conclusion that most low achievers are white.

This is interesting as previous research has tended to focus on the achievement of ethnic minority pupils. Last year the DfES published Ethnicity and Education: The Evidence on Minority Ethnic Pupils aged 5–16 which is an in-depth study of this area, while Special Educational Needs and Ethnicity: Issues of Over- and Under-Representation looks at SEN provision in this area.

Mature Students & ICT

A slightly more personal touch to today's post... I'm currently in the early stages of a research project which will look at how effectively mature students make use of online information for their assignments. Hopefully by September a questionnaire will be circulating with more detailed information, but in the meantime any mature students who want to make observations regarding their online search skills are very welcome to email me. Here are some of the areas that I'm interested in:

How often do you use the internet / Athens for your research?
Do you have any problems in finding the information that you require?
What could we do to help you improve your skills in finding information?

You don't have to give your name if you don't want to, although I would eventually like to get together a small group of students who are willing to share their views on these topics. You just need to be honest - if you're having real difficulties I want to know, so that hopefully we can do something about it.

Leave A Comment!

Did you know that you can leave comments on this blog for other users to see? If you've read a post and think that I've not mentioned a useful resource, or would like to request a further post on a similar topic, or just want to leave some constructive feedback, then you can do so. In theory this makes it possible to generate a public discussion on the blog's contents, hopefully for the benefit of both myself and users. Here's how it works:

  • Underneath each blog entry you will see a ‘comments’ link - click on this
  • A pop up-window will appear with a box to write your comments in - type in whatever you want to say
  • Below the comments box you will be asked to copy some text into a box marked 'Word Verification' - this is to prevent the blog becoming overrun with spam
  • Finally, choose 'anonymous' from the options below (you can always sign your name after the comment if you want people to know it's you)
  • Click on 'Publish your comment' and that's it done. The comment will appear on the blog once I've approved it (this is to prevent people leaving abusive or offensive messages) , which will usually happen between 9-10 the following morning. You can read your contribution (and anyone else’s) by clicking on the same ‘comments’ link that you used to start this process.

Hopefully that's clear - anyone want to go first? Or if you'd rather contact me privately, then you can email me using the address at the top right of the screen.

Child Poverty

Since coming to power in 1997, one of the main priorities of the Labour government has been to tackle the issue of child poverty. As a result, a large number of reports have been published on this topic, and you can read about some of these by looking at this previous post from 27 March.

However, a new report which is published today by Save The Children demonstrates how much work is still to be done in this area. Among the claims in Severe Child Poverty in the UK are the statistic that one in ten children in Britain is living in severe poverty (defined as an average family income of £7000).

Religious Education

This morning's main story regarding young people appears to be the publication of a new Ofsted report, which suggests that the provision of religious education is in need of an overhaul. The report makes a number of recommendations, including a call for a national curriculum for religious education, and the idea that teachers should show children that religion is not always necessarily a force for good. Making Sense of Religion is online now via the Ofsted website.

Making Connections

I just returned from the NAEYC Leadership Conference in Pittsburgh. I always enjoy this conference because it is made up of professional leaders and instructors in the field of early childhood. I appreciated the conference this year because of the workshops that I attended to keep my skills sharp. Past conferences have concerned me because many workshops were so high-level that I didn't understand how that information could be helpful to the teacher on the front line. This year, I found the information much more usable. I think one problem we have in education is the disconnect between "experts in the field" and the front line teacher or caregiver. We should never lose sight of how to support children on a daily basis in an effort to show how much we know.

Men In Childcare

How many males do you know that work in an early years setting? The answer is probably very low, if indeed you've met any at all. And it's not really that much of a shock when you look at some of these statistics from the Daycare Trust on Men and Childcare.

In our current equal opportunities culture, it's not surprising that this is an area that has attracted research in recent years. In 2003 the Daycare Trust published an 8-page pamphlet entitled Men's Work? which neatly summarises some of the issues surrounding this topic, as does Who Says Men Can't Care?, a magazine article from 2004. For more detailed information, Heather Rolfe's Men in Childcare report is well worth reading, while a slightly different angle is explored by the Pre-School Alliance, who have published Fathers’ Involvement in Early Years Settings: Findings from Research.

Listening to Families / Obesity

If you currently work in a nursery then you may soon be looking at changes to your working hours. A new report entitled Listening to Families was published yesterday by the Daycare Trust, and recommends that nurseries should open at weekends and in the evenings to suit parents whose jobs don't follow the traditional 9-5 working day. The DfES initially funded the research, and appears to have accepted its findings. At present the report doesn't appear to be available online, but I'll be a posting a link when it finally appears so watch this space!

Another story making the headlines today regards the increasing prevalence of obesity becoming a factor in child protection cases. For more information on this subject try looking at this previous post from February.

Another Internet Tip

When carrying out academic research, it is usually important to ensure that the information you are using is up-to-date. This can sometimes be a problem when surfing the internet, as it's not always clear when a Web page was last revised.

The next time you have this problem, try clicking in the address bar, deleting the URL, and then type the following:


If you're lucky, a box will pop up with the date and time that the page you are looking at was last edited. Like most internet tips it's not completely guaranteed to work, but it's certainly worth bearing in mind if there's no other way of establishing this information.

More tips from the internet bag of tricks will follow the next time there's a slow news day... :)

Is there a Class Divide?

The latest report from the Millennium Cohort Study suggests that children from disadvantaged families are already falling behind more affluent peers in terms of their development by the age of three. A User’s Guide to Initial Findings from the study also contains detailed information on topics as diverse as child health, education, housing and the role of siblings on an infant's development.


A study in Belfast has concluded that a system called linguistic phonics helps children to make more progress with their reading skills.

This is just the latest development in a debate over phonics that has generated a lot of research in recent years. It's impossible to do justice to the various viewpoints in a short blog post such as this, so a good starting point would be to look at Phonics: The Debate, an excellent page on the National Literacy Trust website which contains links to relevant news stories, research reports and more.

If you do only examine one report on this subject, then take a look at A Systematic Review of the Research Literature on the Use of Phonics in the Teaching of Reading and Spelling, which was published by the DfES last year. The DfES also has a Phonics website, which contains information for schools on how to choose an effective programme.

Families with Children in Britain

Last month saw the publication of the seventh annual survey of the Families and Children Study (FACS), which investigates the circumstances of British families with dependent children.
Families with Children in Britain: Findings from the 2005 Families and Children Study (FACS) is a hugely detailed report into all aspects of childrens' and family life, although if the prospect of looking at the whole document (492 pages!) fills you with dread, then a much condensed research summary is also available.

Searching An Individual Website

Do you ever get irritated because you are sure that the information you want is on a particular website, but you just can’t find the right page? This is often a problem with large websites such as the DfES where the sheer amount of information available makes it difficult to find the exact section that you need. Even when a search box is available from the homepage, they don’t always give the most reliable results.

The next time this happens, try using Google to search the site for you using the 'site:' command. Simply type your search into Google, then enter 'site:' followed by the homepage of the site that you’re searching. So if you were searching the DfES site for information on the foundation stage, your search would look like this – foundation stage - it’s not 100% guaranteed to work, but can often save you a lot of frustrating browsing.

The First Three Years

As I have been writing an organizational tool for caregivers of infants and toddlers, I have been amazed at the developmental milestones that occur during the first three years of life. Having grandchildren in the age range of 11-36 months, it has been nice to see how those milestones occur. It is also evident that it happens at different times for different children. There are things caregivers and parents/grandparents can do to support this development. I am committed to have many more conversations with my grandchildren. The development of language is so critical.


A new survey has suggested that parents' fears over their children's safety is preventing those children from indulging in unsupervised play, and impacting on their opportunities to form bonds with friends. The survey is part of the Children's Society's Good Childhood Inquiry, and you can read a summary of the results online.

There has been so much research on various aspects of children's play that picking out just one or two suggestions for further reading is difficult. However, two recent documents which are worth a look are Neighbourhood Play and Community Action - which reports on a project to develop play opportunities in local neighbourhoods - and The Importance of Play in Promoting
Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds
, a US report which approaches the topic from a pediatric's perspective. Further information on play in the UK can be obtained from the Children's Play Council.

Birmingham Council Plan

A local feel to today's entry - to see where your taxes are being spent, you can take a look at Birmingham's Council Plan 2007-10. It has a number of sections on children's and community issues which may be of interest.

Disabled Children

A recent report from the Treasury and DfES has examined how services for disabled children can improve their life chances. Aiming High for Disabled Children: Better Support for Families was published on 21 May, and coincided with a government pledge to commit £340 million to improving services in this area.

Three reports from the past year are worth reading if you have an interest in this area. The DfES has been behind two of these - A Better Start: Children and Families with Special Needs and Disabilities in Sure Start Local Programmes and Preventing Social Exclusion of Disabled Children and Their Families - while the University of Birmingham was responsible for My School, my Family, my Life: Telling it Like it is. Further useful information can be obtained from the Disability Rights Commission, although this is due to be superseded by the new Commission for Equality and Human Rights in October.