Cowgate Under 5's Centre

A Message from Lord Pickles and Lord Blunkett, followed by Cowgate Under 5's Centre's best practice article

The ability to listen and learn from one another has always been vital in parliament, in business and in most aspects of daily life. But at this particular moment in time, as national and global events continue to reiterate, it is uncommonly crucial that we forge new channels of communication and reinforce existing ones. The following article from Cowgate Under 5's Centre is an attempt to do just that. We would welcome your thoughts on this or any other Parliamentary Review article.

Blunkett signature Rt Hon The Lord David Blunkett
Pickles signature Rt Hon The Lord Eric Pickles

Head of Centre Lynn McNair
The child is a creative being
Situated in southeast Edinburgh, Cowgate Under-5s Centre
serves the needs of those aged between 12 weeks and
five years. Underpinning their work with the philosophy of
Froebel, the founder of the modern “kindergarten”, the nursery
prioritises the idea that children should grow up feeling loved, safe
and respected. Head of the centre Lynn McNair discusses with
The Parliamentary Review
how she and her team achieve this.
Cowgate Under-5s Centre offers a flexible all-year-round experience for children
aged between 12 weeks and five years, and their families. We are located in the
southeast of Edinburgh, with some of our 57 children coming from the local area
and others from further afield. The children can attend part-day, full-day or full-
Visitors often comment on the fresh, vigorous and free spirit which pervades the
setting and observe the love shown and the respect in which children and practitioners
hold each other. Indeed, this talk of love
is in line with one of the National Outcomes
for Scotland, which claims that children should grow up loved, safe and respected.
We, then, are a moral space in terms of the distribution of resources, freedom, respect
and control between generations and cultures. We are considered a place where a
shared repertoire of cultural patterns is constructed and jointly reconfigured, and
one that can challenge the idea of fixed nationalities and unitary selves.
Our underlying philosophy
Our provision is underpinned by the philosophy of Friedrich W. A. Froebel, the
founder of the “kindergarten”. Froebel was a 19th-century German pedagogue,
»Head of Centre: Lynn McNair
»Established in 2002
»Based in Edinburgh
»Services: Day nursery
»No. of children: 57
Cowgate Under 5’s
Highlighting best practice
who was a pioneer and advocate for
the education of very young children
and the tuition of professional
teachers, most of whom were women.
Froebel’s legacy has been advanced by
those who are inspired by his wisdom
regarding the principle of unity, which
influences learning, the importance of
play and the value of learning through
nature and outdoor learning.
According to his thinking, the role of
the practitioner is to foster the child
to take the initiative and inspire the
child to “live and act in harmony”.
Froebel’s emphasis was not so much
on the outcomes of education in terms
of discrete skills or areas of learning
but on living with children: play was
not located in discourses of outcomes
This brings me to the discomfort that
our practitioners have experienced with
regards to current pressures from the
Scottish government to tame, predict,
prepare, supervise and evaluate young
children’s learning. Various tools for
recording have been suggested, tools
that compartmentalise curricular areas,
resulting in children being assessed
against simplistic red, amber and green
levels of learning. These standardised
tracking measures leave little space for
a holistic view of development.
Viewing children as unique
At our centre, perhaps because of our
Froebelian principles, we view children
as unique individuals, who are diverse,
complex and irregular, not fixed
entities, but beings full of surprise,
possibilities and potentialities. We
have alternative ways of seeing and
being with children. For example, we
are keen to disrupt the normalisation
of children and childhood and to
engage with the complexity of
thinking about the taken-for-granted
assessment schedules. Beyond this,
we advocate an engagement in
tensions and uncertainties and strive to
Thus, as a team, we wanted to rethink
how we capture children’s learning
and consider how to move beyond the
mundane. We know from research
that the validity of milestone testing
is poor; these tests lack richness with
little opportunity to unearth graphic
details of children’s experiences,
while the singular and unidirectional
trajectory presented in the milestone
metaphor ignores the variability in
developmental processes.
We consider our children to be
wayfarers and when there is no final
destination, there is always somewhere
the child can go. We are keen to
record a more wired-up sense of
curiosity regarding children’s complex
encounters. Our team are known
to demonstrate acts of pedagogical
resistance, when what is being asked
of them goes against their Froebelian
principles. We believe there should
be tolerance to allow us to put our
Creativity does not wait
for the perfect moment
We view
children as
who are
complex and
irregular, not
fixed entities,
but beings full
of surprise,
ideas into the public domain without
fear of retribution from political or
local authorities that have the power
to punish those whose ideas they
disapprove of.
Our “Lived Stories” approach
In order to practise this theory, we
began capturing our children’s learning
through “Lived Stories”. This is a way
of documenting children’s experiences
through storytelling, and the method
seeks to chronicle the present
experiences of children, in the very
real, idiomatic sense of documenting,
which seizes the discursive events
of everyday life. Lived stories are
composed of three elements: the
narrative; the analysis, which tracks
and monitors children’s progress; and
the planning, which involves thinking
of ways to deepen the complexity of
children’s learning.
Lived stories reflect the complex
nature of children’s lives – thus
representing the multifaceted nature
of their experiences. The narratives
are very personal as they connect
with the unique lived experiences
and feelings of children, and allow
for taken-for-granted assumptions
to be challenged. They are written
with a sense of intimacy and they
enable practitioners to delve deeply
into complex phenomena, as reducing
complexities often leads to superficial
assessments that gloss over complexity
and provide minimal information.
They also encourage practitioners to
consider how we discover the myriad
ways that children make meaning and
they document the transformational
process of children’s learning.
Our aim is to move away from
reductionist, narrow and simplistic
methods of recording children’s
learning and towards capturing
the complexity of the experiences
lived by children. We must listen to
the rendered illustrations shared by
children, their parents and practitioners
as they engage with the vivid life
Our aim is to
move away
methods of
Children are the simple
embodiment of human

This article was sponsored by Cowgate Under 5's Centre. The Parliamentary Review is wholly funded by the representatives who write for it.

Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss's Foreword For The Parliamentary Review

By Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss

Even by the standards of the day –this has been one of the most exciting and unpredictable years in British politics.

The leadership election we’ve just seen marks a huge moment in our country’s history. This government is taking a decisive new direction, embracing the opportunities of Brexit and preparing our country to flourish outside the EU.

As international trade secretary, I’ll be driving forward work on the free trade agreements that are going to be a priority for the government. Free trade isn’t just an abstract concept bandied around by technocrats. It is crucial for a strong economy and for the ability of families to make ends meet. Free trade benefits people in every part of our country, as British firms export to new markets and people doing the weekly shop have access to a wider choice of goods at lower prices.

The essence of free trade is in the title: freedom. It’s about giving people the power to exchange their goods without heavy government taxation or interference. Commerce and free exchange are the engine room of prosperity and social mobility. I’m determined to tackle the forces who want to hold that back.

One of my priorities is agreeing an exciting new free trade deal with the US, building on the great relationship between our two countries and the Prime Minister and US President. But I’ll also be talking to other partners including New Zealand, Australia and fast-growing Asian markets.

And with the EU too, we want a friendly and constructive relationship, as constitutional equals, and as friends and partners in facing the challenges that lie ahead – a relationship based on a deep free trade agreement. Our country produces some of the world’s most successful exports, and the opportunity to bring these to the rest of the world should make us all excited about the future. It is this excitement, optimism and ambition which I believe will come to define this government.

For too long now, we have been told Britain isn’t big or important enough to survive outside the EU – that we have to accept a deal that reflects our reduced circumstances. I say that’s rubbish. With the right policies in place, we can be the most competitive, free-thinking, prosperous nation on Earth exporting to the world and leading in new developments like AI. To do that, we’ll give the brilliant next generation of entrepreneurs the tools they need to succeed. Since 2015, there has been a staggering 85 per cent rise in the number of businesses set up by 18 to 24 year olds – twice the level set up by the same age group in France and Germany. We’ll help them flourish by championing enterprise, cutting taxes and making regulation flexible and responsive to their needs.

As we do that, we’ll level up and unite all parts of the UK with great transport links, fibre broadband in every home and proper school funding, so everyone shares in our country’s success.

2019 has been the year of brewing economic and political revolution. 2020 will be the year when a revitalised Conservative government turbo charges the economy, boosts prospects for people across the country, and catapults Britain back to the forefront of the world stage.

Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss
Secretary of State for International Development