Where do we go from here?

The Government invested heavily in the early years some year ago, with the aim to develop and improve provision as part of the modern welfare state. This led to an increase in the number of early learning and childcare places available, the provision of an entitlement to funded early learning for all three- and four-year-olds and subsequently to two-year-old funded places. Some children benefit from 30 hours funding and Early Years Pupil Premium to support working parents and to close the gap for disadvantaged children.  The gap in funding received via the Local Authority and the cost of providing high quality childcare, has meant that many providers have had to reduce their costs or have sadly had to close.

Over a period of time Local Authority support has diminished and continued professional development is no longer free or subsidised. Funding and overheads are an increasing issue yet providers still have to deliver the statutory requirements of the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) Framework.  They continue to focus on ensuring every child benefits from a high quality experience in their early learning and care  and with Ofsted as the only ‘arbiter of quality’, many providers have turned to social media to answer their burning questions. Whilst this has many benefits, it is also a concern when questions are being asked about staff, parents and children in a public space.

Children who need additional help are identified and supported and providers continue to ensure all children are safe through the safeguarding and welfare requirements. However, cuts in support from the LA has meant that those who are constantly aiming to raise standards and improve quality are finding themselves  with so many other ‘hats’ to wear.  All too often it’s hard to find the time, inspiration or specific expertise to maintain and develop a high quality learning environment.

Investing in an Independent Early Years Consultant may seem like an additional cost that you could do without, but can you really afford not to have that ‘critical friend’ to support you? Consultants keep themselves updated, reading  new documentation from Ofsted, research and articles from many other sources so that you can focus on leading and managing your settings. We bring this information to you in our consultancy, training, social media and regular emails. We create a two-way relationship that builds a ‘culture of collaboration’, we reflect together to evaluate where you are and determine how to move forward and when you are working alone this is really important. We also signpost confidently if you need support outside of our remit, this means you don’t spend ages finding a solution!

We certainly hope that through the Government’s spending review that funding increases, in many LA’s a programme of social mobility has seen the DfE is invest to improve children’s outcomes through the home, early years settings and local services.  Look out for free training, resources, and events. https://foundationyears.org.uk/2019/06/government-action-to-boost-social-mobility-in-the-early-years/

It is very important to keep yourself updated – sign up to newsletters and follow a wide range of Early Years Consultants on Social Media.

Whilst it is really easy to ask questions via Facebook pages, please remember your professional integrity and rules around confidentiality – create a network of trusted providers in your locality, a safe space to share your thoughts.

Lastly, it is so important to look after yourself! Eat well , sleep well. Set aside some ‘you’ time, try not to work weekends! Plan your working week to include time outside getting back to nature! Use SMART targets for your ‘to do’ list, having an action plan will help. Reconnect and spend time with those families and children that you work so hard to support, time reading a story, investigating or sharing the learning with a parent will be just the boost that you need.

SNAP is a Facebook page that has highlighted the fact that our planet is in ‘terrible trouble’. It is a page for nurseries and schools who want to become sustainable. It has been started by Louise Lloyd-Evans, the owner of Young Friends Nursery and Nature School in Hove, East Sussex. Lots of useful information, guides and inspiration to ensure we reduce the use of plastic in Early Years Settings. Louise and Alison are currently writing training – watch this space!

SNAP – Sustainable Nurseries Against Plastic

We know that every child is unique and it goes without saying that every person and staff member is unique too! If you nurture you and your team, then the people who will benefit most are the children! With staff development, workload and wellbeing high on the agenda (mainly thanks to the Early Years Alliances ‘Minds Matter’), we all know it makes sense to build ’emotional resilience’ skills in yourself and in your staff team. Continued Professional and Personal Development (CPPD) is key. In adding the ‘personal’ we acknowledge a close emotional attachment to our work and frame it with the respect that it deserves.

Research tells us that it’s our interactions that make a difference. That relationship and connection that you have with a child is one that cannot be transferred to others. Your responses, deep respect and insatiable thirst to make a difference to a child is unique and none of those need to be noted, captured on a device or quantified for data gathering. If those interactions are central, then our part in them needs to be truly authentic. Stock phrases, thinking about when your next break is and not really knowing where a child is ‘at’ means that you are the puzzle with the missing piece, the toy without the battery or the block without the space. Children sense that and we cannot afford for children to think that ineffectual relationships are the norm.  So, how can we find the piece or the battery? Well we need ‘space’ to develop personally.

I think it’s important to say we are all leaders, no matter what role you are in. Leaders of our own practice and excellent role models for others and children around us. Therefore, in any capacity, don’t just assume that you or your team ‘know’ everything. Take the time to find out, reflect on your day and really think about what you can take from any experience or challenge, you have the power to change the way you react to a situation should it come up again. Questioning rather than accepting is something we need to instil in children, yet if we are not practicing those critical thinking skills ourselves then what sort of role model are we being? Having the confidence to question why you do things is a skill. If you are managing staff, then you certainly want to create a culture of questioning and feedback otherwise your team won’t move on. If you are at the beginning of your career don’t push those questions away. Organise your thoughts and look for opportunities for feedback. You will grow in confidence and the responses will leave you with more questions than answers! This is essential to how we grow and develop professionally and personally and if you don’t ask you don’t get! Opportunities to reflect together as a team are at the core of everyone’s wellbeing. Provide an opportunity to do this at the end of the day.  It’s part of the transition from work to home. Taking your ‘thoughts’ about work home with you can be hard, it’s also not healthy, find ways not to do this, I believe you owe it to yourself to be ‘you’.

At the heart of you as a practitioner is the heart of you as a person. Do you remember when you were told ‘your school days are the best days of your life’ and you didn’t believe them? Well, as you get older you realise that ‘you have only one life and it’s up to you to make the most of it’. We’ve all been dealt with different cards, experiences and influences. We have a duty to recognise these and choose how we use this information. Again, question and ask for support. We can rebuild. Deepening foundations, to make a house that is sturdier, bigger ready to buffer the elements, are you papering the cracks or digging out to secure?

What are you interested in? Now if somebody was to ask me that question I’d say ‘Early Years’ and I do spend lots of my time thinking, reading, listening, networking and questioning all things early years, but I’m a massive foodie and I love cooking, preparing, sourcing and feeding my family. This is my ‘down’ time and it makes me feel connected once more, but don’t tell anyone I cook whilst listening to Early Years TV, TED talks and podcasts!

At the end of the day when it really is time for you, I try and listen to some ‘guided meditation. I find the app ‘Insight Timer’ really good for this, but sometimes just listening to your natural environment is all you need to do. The birds, cars, trains, wind, rain all busy doing something whilst you are stopping. If you don’t stop, you can’t start again and we need to start each day afresh. Sharing the techniques, you use to think about you, gives you a greater sense of wellbeing. If we don’t share what we know where would we be as a race? Sharing really is caring!

For lots of reasons our job is not easy, it’s demanding and challenging yet rewarding and worthwhile. Investing in children is the most important thing we can do for humanity and as adults we need to get this right. Getting it right for us means we can get it right for children. So, develop as a person as well as a practitioner, find your puzzle piece, put your batteries in, it’s time to really think about your best resource, YOU!