So, we got our first Early Years Pupil Premium payment and, along with it, I was invited to spend a good chunk of it on attending the “Improve Life Chances For Children For Disadvantaged Children In Early Years” conference, where I could network with a range of education professionals and share ideas of how best to use our funding. Wouldn’t it be better to invest in learning from other seasoned professionals on how to use this wonderful windfall (I’m kidding, it was only £204 for the whole summer term) on something tried and tested that will have significant and lasting impact on children’s outcomes – not just those I work with now, but for all children to come – rather than frittering it away on some expendable or other? Pish posh to extending the home-grown vegetable plot so that more children can dig in or to roofing a decking area for all year round outdoor play. I was going to learn something from experienced and knowledgeable professionals. But not just any old professionals though, no. I was going to learn from…wait for it…schooooool teachers. Yes.

Now this training was from 8.30am to 4.30pm with lunch included. (Heck, when was the last time you attended CPD with food thrown in? Those were the days…) I arrived late, as I had explained I would when booking, as I had the school runs to attend to first.  The room was packed and I was ‘relegated’ to the childcare provider table where I was given the opportunity to network with, well, local nursery managers and staff who I already knew and who I already network with. In fact, a third of them were former undergrad students of mine – ohhhh the irony of it. Not that they’re not great people or that they’ve nothing worthwhile to impart but I’d been sold on the idea of networking with professionals beyond the childcare sector. No, I’d been put in my place. I was part of the Cinderella service and not to have ideas above my station. Now, I acknowledge that perhaps there was some kindness there. That perhaps the person who arranged the seating thought that a humble Childminder might feel out of her depth among strangers from even as far afield as, errr Stockton on Tees, 13.2 miles away. That perhaps the person who arranged the seating was new to Hartlepool and didn’t know that I’m the kind of gal who isn’t afraid to make a killer first impression. Yes, I’m one of those who, especially when shaking hands with a man, adds that ever so tiny power move of twisting a firm handshake so that my hand is on top. (Never done this? Try it).

As a glass half full kinda person and not to be deterred, I brought myself up to speed by skimming the handouts until I reached the slide presently showing on the screen. My glass suddenly started to look less full. I was in for roughly 6 hours and 45 minutes of talking about child poverty and neglect with the final 15 minutes dedicated tooooo….what to do with the pupil premium. Oh joy. Suddenly my financial investment in my own CPD looked woefully misjudged.  At that very moment, I could have been canvassing parents for giving up any spare time to come and hump sacks of compost around, to sand down old pallets, to cut lengths of timber to size. I could have been collecting unsaleable products and waste materials from my local B&Q. I have a policy: never buy what I can be given for free. (This is a given in the childcare sector, so underfunded are we).

Aaaaaas a glass half full kinda person and not to be deterred, I put my misjudgment aside. At least it wasn’t sunny outside (don’t you just hate being stuck indoors when otherwise you would be outside enjoying your day?) And there were actually a few laughs. Like the Trainer with the tiniest voice. She did warn us that her voice might not carry very far and we were to shout out to her if we couldn’t hear her. Once or twice, somebody did. But she couldn’t hear them. It got a bit awkward after a couple of goes so nobody bothered again. Even those at the front of the hall were visibly straining to catch her words. Obviously I was at the back so I couldn’t hear a darned thing. I was relegated remember. It didn’t matter though, I could see from the handouts that I wasn’t going to be learning anything new anyway. Over lunch, somebody must have told her that nobody could hear her and she was given a huge microphone (hip hip) and which she did dutifully hold in her right hand (hooray). Everyone pulled themselves up from their slouch but the anticipation was short-lived. Very quickly we all realised that she was right handed which meant that rather than speaking into the microphone she merely gesticulated with it, much as she had before she was given the microphone (booooo). Everyone slouched back down again like bored teenagers.

But it was funny. Because every once in a while she remembered she was holding a huge microphone. And every time she did remember was every time she raised her voice for emphasis so that amidst the long spells of near silence, her booming voice punctuated the air and startled everyone from their slumber. So we of the relegation table had many a giggle at the expense of the ‘real’ professionals. And then there was this. This shouldn’t be funny at all but it really highlighted just how much more in touch with reality those in the childcare sector ‘the poor relation of education’ are. When asked for examples of neglect we’d witnessed first hand, one dear teacher proffered: “when we undressed for PE one day, I saw that a child’s socks were filthy. She must have been wearing them for at least 2 days!”  Tuts and sighs and rolling of eyes all round, yes, all of the other teachers know exactly what she means, yup, inadequate parents who shouldn’t have children if they can’t be bothered to look after them properly. They’ve got children with parents like that in their schools too. It gets better. “And you know, one time (same teacher) a little boy told me that his foot was hurting. I knelt down and removed his right shoe and realised that it was a couple of sizes smaller than the left shoe. I knew that he had a younger brother in the school and that he wore the same shoes and do you know what? Their mother had obviously mismatched the shoes and that poor little boy’s toes must have been squashed up all day and it must have really hurt him”. More tuts, sighs, rolling of eyes and berating of inadequate parents who shouldn’t have children if they can’t be bothered to look after them properly. There were teachers complaining of parents not coming to parent evenings, sports days and school plays. What the….? These were really the only examples of ‘neglect’ they’d witnessed first hand? Seriously, what could we on the relegation table really learn from these people? What planet have these people been living on?

The last laugh of all though was on me. My invoice for this ‘training’ came through today and along with it the pricing structure. Not only did school staff get charged 20% less to attend than I did, but I also had to pay for somebody to cover for me while I was on this training, which doubled my outlay.

But I’m a glass half full kinda person and not to be deterred, I bagged myself a deal to provide CPD training to a local day nursery and negotiated a discounted hire fee for a training room at the venue. Kerching.

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