About: ExIs4EYs – So who are we?

We are a group of former managers and inspectors of Early Years provision in England. We recently got together to share our concerns regarding the Early Years sector and recent developments and proposals therein.

We concluded that our main concerns and desires for the sector were as follows:

  • Alarmed at the apparent development of policy by the regulator which has the potential to impact negatively on generations of children.
  • Appalled at the disregard of existing evidenced based research; the ignoring of practitioner and expert experience into the ways in which young children develop and learn, and how these should direct the development of new policy directives.
  • Apprehensive about the notion of bringing two year old children into a school environment, with teachers who lack appropriate training in child development and early years’ pedagogy.
  • Anxious to see a workforce that is valued appropriately by adequate remuneration, is highly trained, emotionally intelligent and enabled to work with the most vulnerable in society.
  • Concerned to see appropriately experienced and qualified regulators and inspectors who are able to sensitively inspect and report.
  • Uneasy that current economic and ideologically led policies are limiting parental choice, ignoring local need and impacting negatively on child and family well being.
  • Apprehensive that radical changes to the regulation and inspection of domestic childcare is economically driven and ignores the wishes and opinions of providers and users thereby putting quality and safety at risk.
  • Afraid of the notion of deregulation leading to changes in staffing ratios that are economically driven and ignore issues of quality, safety and welfare.
  • Desire to see an all party agreement of non-political intervention in early years.

About Us

As the title suggests we are all ex-Ofsted Inspectors who worked for the Early Years Directorate undertaking; Inspection, Registration and Enforcement as part of our activities. Our length of service differed but we have remained in contact as our lives have taken different turns. Recent turns within the early years’ sector have spurred us into action. We felt that we could not in all conscience ignore what was happening, we felt that we needed to do something, say something and that having been an inspector gave us a very specific insight into the inspection regime, and therefore a legitimate voice to challenge some of the current disturbing proposals for the sector. Whilst the group is larger, currently there are three of us who are actively contributing to the blog and you will see that our names will appear beside the different posts. And so by way of introduction:

Mike Collins, otherwise known as British Blokes Cooking, I am a 52 year old man who has worked in health and social welfare for 32 years. Originally I trained as an actor and performer only to be blighted by stage fright in its most vile and awful form. However, my performance experience did teach me something about empathy and walking in another’s shoes.

I began my journey into other people’s lives as a trainee counsellor for an organisation primarily aimed at counselling young people in an east London borough. I moved from there to work in residential social care for adolescents for eight years, working for various London boroughs and a number of social work agencies.

My next role for eight years was as a Community Development Worker for a value based charity on a large panel construction estate in what, at the time, was one of the poorest areas of the country – according to the Church of England. In that time I developed and managed a variety of community based projects including: childcare for up to 48 children; holiday camps; a dual language library; money advice sessions; pregnancy testing and counselling service; and an annual community festival to name but a few.

I then went on to work as the manager of a multi-disciplinary Child Development Team in the NHS, eventually becoming General Manager for Specialist Children’s Services in Tower Hamlets Healthcare Trust. These two posts took another eight or nine years of my time.

Latterly I became an Early Years Inspector and Inspection Team Manager, working for Ofsted and then an outsourced private company for another nine or so years.

These days I cook, write, blog, and act as a consultant on a variety of issues.

The organisations and colleagues I have worked with have taught me a great deal and I thank them for that very much. However, the ‘real’ people and children I have met through the course of my work have taught me more. Far much more…

Zenna Kingdon: (1Chutney Queen) After my first degree I returned and qualified as a teacher. I specialised in Key Stage 1 and Early Years. Later I spent three years as an inspector within the Early Years Directorate of Ofsted. When I joined my youngest had just turned a year. He turns 13 this summer and along with his older brother now towers over me.

On leaving Ofsted I began teaching early years practitioners on Foundation degrees. Now, I am a Senior Lecturer at the University of St Mark and St John. I am responsible for a range of Education Studies programmes, including BA (Hons) Early Childhood Education. I continue to teach on our Foundation degree, the top-up to full degree and on Early Years’ Teacher programme. My teaching from undergraduate to post-graduate provision focuses on play and pedagogy and the impact that these have on the lives of young children.

I have had extensive involvement with the PVI sector, including chairing my local pre-school for a number of years. My current research interests are centred on play, role-play and Sustained Shared Thinking. I am in the process of writing up my PhD thesis at Plymouth University. My first book was published last autumn:

Kingdon, Z and Gourd, J (2014) Early Years Policy: The impact on Practice, London: Routledge.

A second title is currently being written. I also contribute to the blog: Marjon Education Studies. My passion is for the early years’ sector. I believe that the youngest and most vulnerable members of our society should be offered the best opportunities possible, that their voices should be heard and that their needs met and they should be safe-guarded at all times.

Leoarna Mathias: (Hunky Dory Early Years / Not Different But Interesting) I once was a counsellor and a community play worker – amongst other things. The days of 30 years in one job and then the carriage clock on the mantel piece are long gone. Working mostly for charities on fixed term contracts, I found myself in the summer of 2002 redundant, and, being recently divorced and in the middle of purchasing my own home, in need of a ‘proper job’. In a move that seems rather remarkable to me now, I successfully applied for a job as an inspector, and began the steep learning curve of understanding early years from both a regulatory and child-development perspective. My law degree and background in psychotherapy and emotional literacy helped. I found myself passionate about the work that early years providers did – and angry on their behalf that they were so poorly supported by government.

These days I am a writer, blogger, activist – but no longer an inspector. Following the birth of my second child, I could see no way to remain a salaried inspector, so I volunteered to go freelance (the shift to outsourcing having already taken place). I worked hard to juggle inspection visits and ever-shifting quality assurance expectations for six months. I complained a couple of times about the way I was being managed. And then I was told, (after eleven years exemplary performance review) that I was no longer meeting expected performance criteria and ‘they’ would be no longer be giving me work.

I genuinely have no axe to grind. I would have left by now if they hadn’t shoved me. There is no way I could have carried on wearing that badge under Wilshaw, Gove and the requires-improvement-teacher-led banner this government seems determined to wave in the face of all early years (and common sense). I am proud that I have forged a new path, writing to a less prescriptive, more honest tune. But I know my time with an Ofsted lanyard around my neck gave me insight, a valuable perspective. I write a lot about life, parenting and children’s play here and about early years issues here.


Michael, Zenna and I all started working for Ofsted on exactly the same date and in the same team. Our careers and lives have since led us in very different directions, but we share passion, outrage and commitment. We look forward to more former colleagues and friends joining us.


4 thoughts on “About: ExIs4EYs – So who are we?”

  1. This sums up my concerns. It is great to find a body of practitioners including former inspectors who understand the importance of the early years and have the weight to challenge current policies.

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