Living wage – can we square the circle?

When I first started Kids Allowed back in 2003, my vision was to start a company that delivered affordable to all, high quality childcare.

I wanted to deliver the vision I had for the highest quality, purpose built facilities with highly engaged, skilled colleagues and a low staff turnover, beautiful resources and outdoor play facilities that were second to none. However, very quickly into the business planning process when we were “doing the numbers”, I realised that something had to give and what gave was the “affordable to all” part.

It was a circle I just couldn’t square.

Recently, there has been a lot of talk in the news about a “living wage” and in principal I totally agree, but the issue is that the more we pay our colleagues, the more the services costs the customer and there is a balance to be struck.

Since the coverage on the news, I decided to take a look at the breakdown of wages at Kids Allowed and was pleased with the outcome because I know we do more and pay more to our valued colleagues then others in the sector

  • We have 11% of colleagues on minimum wage. Once they complete their qualification in our childcare training academy, which all of them are doing, they will move up our pay scales and away from minimum wage. No qualified colleague is on minimum wage.
  • 41% of our colleagues are paid better than minimum wage but not on a “living wage”.
  • 48% of our colleagues are paid better than “living wage” and most considerably more.

For childcare, that is pretty amazing but I look at it and want to do better. It will probably be another square I can’t circle! I don’t think there is anyone that would say people in childcare are paid enough for the job they do and the responsibility they take. However, if we asked our parents if they would pay higher fees to support this, the answer would rightly be “no”. Parents are already paying the equivalent of a mortgage (sometimes more) to send their children to nursery – an issue the government are rightly looking at.

Out of interest, I ran “the numbers” putting everyone on at least the new living wage rate…. and it broke! The business would go bankrupt overnight (or the fees would be so ridiculous that we wouldn’t be able to find enough customers that could afford to pay).

For my part as a responsible employer and advocate of women being financially self-sufficient (I mention this because 91% of the team are female), my focus is on being a great place to work (you spend so much of your waking time in work, you have to enjoy it). I want to ensure that there is a career path for those that are ambitious that takes colleagues at Kids Allowed on a journey to the sector busting wages we pay our Unit Managers, Teachers and Managers, and ensures that the aspiring Managers of the future (our Senior Nursery Nurses and above) are paid on or above the “living wage” rate.

The way we look after our colleagues shows through in a low team turnover (3.9% per month) and the longevity of many of the team that work for Kids Allowed. I am, however, acutely aware that our customers foot the bill for these decisions and that in tough economic times, I am already struggling to balance the high cost of our services with the wages our team deserve.

We will also be looking at the addition of a pension plan with the introduction of pension rights (in 2015 for a company our size) and like the “living wage”, I agree this is something that needs doing. However, to “square the circle”,  I can’t help but feel that the government needs to do more to support working parents (tax breaks etc.) which will in turn help to better support our skilled colleagues at Kids Allowed and the childcare sector in general.

Learning through play

Learning Through Play

Learning through play can be much misunderstood and a few parents can get anxious that their children are not doing any “formal” learning whilst at nursery.

At Kids Allowed, we believe children learn “all day, every day” and we have a strong ethos of learning through play and purposeful play. This is underpinned by our “right here, right now” planning where the team observe children’s interests and respond in the here and now to support children’s learning through the things they are naturally interested in and inspired to try.

For the first time, we have taken a cold, hard look at the effectiveness of our practice and we are thrilled with the results.

We are committed to publishing these results every year so that parents can see how we are doing in playing our part to give your children the best possible start in life.

At Kids Allowed our primary purpose is “Making Children Happy” and part of our mission statement is “To help our children develop into happy, confident, young people and give them the best foundation for lifelong learning.”

Tying in with that philosophy, we hope this evidence gives those parents that already support with our ethos of learning through play the knowledge that they are doing the right things whilst also giving those that worry that more formal learning should take place, the confidence to relax and trust that they are doing the best for their children.

We feel our approach, rather than ‘hot housing’ children and starting their formal learning too early, focuses instead on children being happy and enjoying their time at nursery and preschool. We have a well regarded approach to our learning which encompasses the room’s layout, furniture, resources, activity planning, the Kids Allowed team, the child and of course the parents and all of these things come together so that our children learn naturally, attain at a high level and most importantly, have fun!

The graphs below summarise the learning outcomes against the Government’s Development Matters Document which we have used to form the basis of our Tracker Booklet that every child has at the back of their learning journey.

Please note the following when interpreting the graphs –

• “Exceeding” means progress is being made beyond that ordinarily expected for the child’s age range, and that the child has not only completed all “Development Matters Statements” for their own age range, but also the next age range too. Exceptional!

• “Completed” means all “Development Matters Statements” for this age range have been achieved. Given that most children still have a number of months to go before they are expected to complete their age range*, this is a fantastic achievement.

• “Emerging” means progress is being made with some “Development Matters Statements” for this age range still to be achieved. We must remember, this in no way should be considered a learning concern as many of the children still have a number of months to go before they are expected to complete their age range.*

• The 17 “aspects” feed into the 7 “areas” of learning. For example “Understanding” is part of 3 aspects that are summarised as the area “Communication and Language” or “CL”.

• The data is based on 181 children who are leaving our Preschool to start school reception class in September 2012.

• The 17 Aspects of the Early Learning Goals are designed to be achieved by children at the end of reception class.

• 12% of children included in this data have additional needs or have English as a second language. Both these factors can affect the time it takes children attain certain aspects.

*many children still have a number of months to go before they are at the end age of their range (for example, many children are 51 months old at the time of doing the assessment of their outcomes, which are measured against the Development Matters Statements for children age 40-60 months, meaning that child still has a further 9 months to complete the development matters statements for that age range and in the context of a 4 year old, 9 months is a very long time and a lot of life experience and learning to go!).


We think the combination of great parenting, effective learning through play at nursery, talented colleagues and a company that is passionate about delivering on its primary purpose of “Making Children Happy”, is creating fantastic outcomes for children. To have so many children completing aspects and areas, many with months to go before they are due to and in addition over 30% of the outcomes being completed not just for the age of the child, but the next age band too, Kids Allowed feel we can say with confidence that Learning Through Play works.

For more information about our approach to learning through play, please click on the above link to watch a short video

Video Blog for the Kids Allowed Team Explaining the Ethos Behind the New Tracking Booklet

We’ve launched a new tracking booklet in preparation for the changes to the Early Years Foundation Stage.

This video blog is to support and explain to the Kids Allowed team the ethos and context behind the new booklet.

We’d love to hear your comments below!

Thanks for watching.

Children at the centre of everything we do, not Ofsted

This is the first video blog from our Founder and CEO Jennie Johnson – we’ve titled it ‘Children Should Be at the Centre of Everything We Do – Not Ofsted’.

The blog is a response to the recent press relating to Ofsted reports and the imminent changes to the governments framework of the childcare sector known as the Early Years Foundation Stage (E.Y.F.S.).

We’d love to hear your comments below!

Do surveys matter?

It depends what you are asking, why you are asking and what you do with the answers.

It always amazes me that whenever advertising campaigns are shown on the TV with headline grabbing statements like “9/10 women agree their wrinkles disappeared!” the almost unreadable small print on the bottom of the screen states that only 100 women were actually asked! The world’s a big place and if you’ve only asked 100 people, then that doesn’t hold any credibility if you are an international brand.

At Kids Allowed, we do two annual surveys – one to our parents and one to our team.

It’s tempting when writing a survey to ask questions you know you will get good answers to and avoid others, but what’s the point in that? Our parents are not stupid and they would see straight through it and the whole exercise would be a waste of time. You’d end up not really digging deep and not discovering the things you can do better.

So when we did ours, we took a brave pill and made sure we asked deep, searching questions about all areas of our practice. We gave parents the opportunity to complete it anonymously if they wanted to and we gave plenty of opportunity in the format of the survey for comments as well as the usual ‘agree/disagree’ statements on various scales (e.g. strongly agree) to really get to the nub of their ideas.

We wrote the team survey in exactly the same way.

With the team survey, we did some extra things too. We gave every team member the opportunity in their working day to have time out and access a computer to complete the survey. Again, we gave the option of anonymity to encourage honest feedback and for both surveys there was a competition to encourage participation. For the parent survey this was a week’s free childcare to the winner and for the team survey, we offered a weekend away.

We publish a summary of the results to our parents and team and each can see the others because together the surveys make a complete picture of how we are doing. E.g.

  • Are we a good employer?
  • Are we good at providing exceptional childcare?
  • What can we do to become a better employer?
  • What can we do to improve our service to children and parents?

We have been doing surveys for 4 years now and each year we understand what we are good at, but more importantly, we find out what we can improve. It is fuel for our fire and part of delivering on a core value of “getting better every day.” It gives us a to-do list and by looking at it the following year, lets us measure if we have made the progress we wanted to make in the areas the surveys helped to identify.

If you’re interested in seeing our latest results, you can view them here –

And if you are a childcare provider interested in doing a similar thing and don’t know where to start, drop me an email and I will send over our questions so you can adapt them to your own setting –

As the Daycare Trust said, do not just rely on Ofsted reports to make your decisions. I think survey results should be another part of the mix (along with at least one visit, chatting to parents and chatting to colleagues at the setting).

A “blended” workforce for the Early Years


There is a lot in the press at the moment about the qualifications of professionals in the Early Years’ Sector. The tabloid’s attention grabbing headlines stated, “Preschool carers can’t read or write” and “You need more qualifications to work with animals than children”, and the like.

This is a kick in the teeth for the many good providers, of which we count ourselves amongst, who work really hard to improve the status of the sector.

In my view, we should be looking to attract highly skilled colleagues but we must remember that in a caring profession like childcare, I would always recruit for attitude and train later if required, than employ based on qualifications alone. As they say, you can teach skills but not attitude.

I agree that most colleagues (all ideally) will have a deep understanding of children’s development.

However, we need to remember that in the context of a nursery, there is a team of people involved in the care of the children. Along with highly qualified colleagues, we may also have a small number that don’t have this academic knowledge, but do have an intuitive understanding and devoted approach to the care of children, and this should also be valued and encouraged. At Kids Allowed, we really value these colleagues too and would always want them as part of a blended workforce looking after the children.

And if we are really to improve outcomes for children, we need to revisit the content in the NVQ training for the sector. The CDWC (Children’s Workforce Development Council) wants us to have a minimum level 3 qualification to work with children. But if you are an employer in the sector, all the owners I come across agree that the NVQ qualifications are not producing practitioners with a deep understanding of children and their development or knowledge of how to plan great play experiences and learning opportunities. We find ourselves having to provide lots of additional training to develop our colleagues to where we need them to be.

When I speak with the older (yes, I said older!) colleagues at Kids Allowed that went though the old NNEB training, they say the old training was much better, more practical and more hands on – with the child at the centre of all the learning. We seem to have lost something in the way we provide the NVQs now, and I believe this needs urgent attention.

At Kids Allowed, we are looking to start our own academy where we start to train the way we know works best – hands on, practical training and coaching in the rooms. We know this will have a huge impact on the confidence of the childcare professionals we bring into the company as it will give them the deep knowledge and understanding they need to ensure the children have an amazing time whilst they are with us; and while the children are having fun – when we do it right, they will also be learning deeply too.

At Kids Allowed, we currently employ over 200 colleagues of which 91% are qualified or in training, 55% are qualified to level 3 or above and 10% have a degree in childcare.

All part of delivering our mission –

“Our mission is: To help our children develop into happy, confident, young people and give them the best foundation for lifelong learning. We pledge to do this in a clean, safe, inspiring environment with the best team and relationships founded on trust, honest and respect.”

The Importance of a Warm Welcome

Teacher and Parents with Child

When you consider it, children often spend 8-9 hours in a nursery (and possibly up to 10) on a given day.

As parents, we drop off our little ones, often in a rush to get to where we are going and then collect them again at the end of the day wanting to know what our children have been doing in the time we have been gone. Although the children may spend hours in the setting, mum and dad often spend just a few minutes in the morning and evening and in that time, we need to gain their trust, build relationships and keep them informed.

At Kids Allowed, we have recognised that these few minutes are absolutely key to building strong relationships with our parents. If we don’t get it right, a child could spend an amazing 9 hours with us but because we haven’t taken the time to inform parents of their child’s day properly, the impression a parent gets may be totally different and incorrect assumptions can be made. (We must remember, it’s not ONLY about making sure our children are happy, parents are paying our wages so we need to remember that them being happy too is really important!)

Our Manager spends the first hour of the day “hanging around reception!” Some may think this is a waste of time and they could be doing something more useful, but we have decided that there is nothing more important than parents and children seeing the person in charge when they arrive, having a sense that the Manager is visible and has a high-profile presence in their Centre.

It doesn’t stop there, when parents and children arrive to their base room they are warmly welcomed again, this time by the room based team and if they are in, by their Key Person too. We don’t think you can be greeted too many times!

Just the few seconds out it takes to raise your head, make eye contact and have a welcoming smile on your face makes all the difference to both the parent and most importantly the child, making them feel safe, welcome and happy to be there.

Encouraging a child to come into the room and join in either with breakfast or an activity, so that parents can walk away knowing their child is engaged and happy, means a parent can leave for work (or where ever they are going) feeling confident that their child is going to have a happy day and of course, if needed, have a conversation about anything we need to know or any instruction we need to follow for the day.

Parents often comment that even team members not in their child’s base room will say hello to their child by name and they love this, feeling part of the wider community of the Centre and feeling that everyone is there for them.

At the other end of the day, the handover is equally, if not more important.

Honestly is vital too. Don’t say a child’s had a great day if their face is tear-stained or they have not been themselves – be truthful (but tactful). Nothing knocks a parent’s confidence in your team and your setting more than knowing they are being fed a line to keep them appeased.

Another thing to try to avoid is the ‘generic’ – “they’ve been great” that doesn’t say anything and feels like a fob off. Let the parent know something special their child has done that day, for example, “Olivia’s had a great day, she had fun playing with Johnny and Kate and she had a great time in the construction area, building and knocking down towers. Is this something she enjoys at home?” This takes just a moment but is real and personal and shows we are really interested and have engaged in their child’s day.

And it’s only our view – but avoid “EYFS speak.” Parents want to be spoken to in plain English rather than jargon. We often forget that words we use every day, out of context with a parent are often confusing and mean nothing.

We have to be realistic. We can’t give a “War and Peace” handover, as other parents would be waiting, but these few minutes of personal feedback along with a warm welcome when they arrive and a lovely big wave as their child is leaving makes everyone feel special.

We have found when colleagues join us from some other settings, they really don’t understand the importance of these key, few minutes of the day to parents and children. They can be dismissive or generic in their feedback or they don’t understand the importance of acknowledging parents in the room and giving them eye contact and a smile, so don’t assume these things are happening. If you want to deliver a 5 star experience to children and parents, it’s getting the little things right that matters.

I’m not writing this thinking we get it right every single time, we don’t! But as a childcare provider we recognise it is important and we train and coach our team on how to do it properly.

Our parents seem to agree it’s something we do well. In this year’s parent survey 97% agree they are warmly greeted in the morning and 93% agree we provided a good handover at the end of the day. This has vastly improved from when we first asked parents this question a few years ago and we have a happier customer base because we have focused time, attention and training on it.

Kids Allowed – Happy children, Happy parents – Happy colleagues

Smoking and children do not mix…

…We all know it, but it’s a brave (or stupid) person that takes on an issue like this with a team of 230+  -of which probably a good 15% are smokers!

Over the years, Kids Allowed has tried all sorts to reduce the impact of smoking on children and non smoking colleagues.

When we first opened, 8 years ago, we had a team garden for all colleagues and this doubled up as a smoking area for colleagues.

Colleagues who had had a cig on their break had to spray perfume and use a mouth wash / spray to try and disguise the smell, but we all know this is totally ineffective.

We moved to colleagues, in addition to the above, having to put on a jacket so that the smoke did not make their clothes smell – a little better but still not good enough.

We then moved to a total change of clothes – this helped somewhat but the smell was still there in a colleague’s breath, hair, hands etc.

We then also had non smoking colleagues complaining that their team garden was unpleasant and smelly (and it was) and also the smoke travelled in the air to the other gardens used by the children and, depending on the way the wind was blowing, sometimes came back in to the Centre through the open doors and windows.

So the next step was to move the smoking area out of the team garden to a smoking shelter – but where to locate it? Let’s face it – no one wants the first impression of their nursery to be smokers huddled in a shelter.

Finally, after grappling with the problem for years and making the smoking policy more and more extreme (change your clothes, walk to the smoking shelter – wash your hands, mouth etc), I tabled an agenda item for our operational board meeting, attended by all Managers and asked the question – how do they feel about me banning smoking all together – even on breaks?

I was expecting a million reasons why not to but instead the Managers all agreed that something had to be done. They too were sick of the smell and the bottom line was that smoking and children just do not mix.

It reminds me of the days when everyone went to the pub at lunch and had a few drinks! When I first started office work 20 years ago, this was the case and we all did it. Then the company I worked for brought in a ban on drinking at lunch time – and fair enough – we all performed better in the afternoon when it was brought in and now it is the norm.  I honestly believe this is where smoking and childcare will go over time and we hope that being one of the first to tackle the issue will set a standard for others to follow.

So the first question is – is it legal? We checked and, yes, we can state that smokers, even on their own time over breaks during a shift at Kids Allowed, cannot smoke.

So, we knew we were allowed to do it – next thing is getting the smokers “behind us”.

We started a four month consultation and  worked up a new smoking policy – amendments were then made to the policy during the consultation to take into account the smokers’ views but the basic principal of “no smoking at all while in uniform or on shift – even on breaks” did not change.

Even the smokers mostly recognised that passive smoking and children is a “real” issue and although it is hard on them, on the whole they understand and support what we are doing as it is in the interests of the children.

We decided to time the ban in line with January 1st (New Year’s Resolutions and all that) and have also supported the team with the purchase of the best quality “Electronic Cigarette Starter Kit” for all smokers that wanted them, at the company’s expense. Kids Allowed pays for all colleagues to have basic health cover and this includes a stress management hotline to support and help colleagues trying to quit smoking. To support this further, we also provided colleagues with useful information and web links provided by NHS on stopping smoking.

We also reviewed our disciplinary policy and procedures and have made it clear that in addition to the consultation and notice period for the ban, it will also have “teeth” i.e. intentionally flouting the ban WILL lead to disciplinary action up to and including dismissal. Now we have taken the brave step, we have to see it through.

I honestly hope we don’t need to make an example out of anyone as it would be such a shame but we will if we have to, otherwise it will not be taken seriously.

In the last 4 months, we have also changed our recruitment process to make it clear what the expectations are regarding smoking for new colleagues so that anyone joining the company does so with their “eyes wide open”.

We are only 2 days in but what we are doing seems to have peaked a lot of interest.

Our parents have been very supportive overall. One parent, also a smoker, is “appalled” at what we are doing but we are never going to please everyone.

It still amazes me when I see nursery nurses (not from Kids Allowed I might add!) walking around in their uniforms smoking and I am even more amazed at the commercial naivety of allowing smokers to congregate at the entrance of nurseries to have a smoke.

So what are our motives for doing this? They are both commercial and health conscious. It is a commercially sound decision as it differentiates us and keeps our existing customers very happy and this all helps set us apart as a provider that is setting rather than following the standards.

However, the overriding reason is that the health of the children we look after must come first and in the long run, it will also help the health of the colleagues that smoke.

So do you feel brave? Start the consultation with the team now and let’s help childcare become a totally no smoking sector…