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Members of the Kidzrus Senior Leadership and Management Team participated in the TTS Talking webinar ‘Empowering Early Years Education’ on Thursday, 18 August 2022 in which an eminent panel of sector professionals aimed to discuss what opportunities there are to change the future of childcare and empower the Early Years Workforce. 

The webinar was chaired by Alistair Bryce-Clegg, Early Years expert and consultant in Ealy Years and joint founder of ABC Does. He set the tone for the webinar; to consider how we can collectively redefine the future of Early Years Childcare via a workforce that is well motivated, supported and knowledgeable as those components are key in supporting our children’s wellbeing and educational development. 

 

Alistair then introduced the inspirational panel, firstly June O’Sullivan, MBE and CEO of The London Early Years Foundation. She is a leader in social enterprise who has developed the pedagogy of that group of thirty-seven nurseries and champions community based generational early years education as the basis for social and cultural capital to deliver long term and lasting social impact. She is a ferocious campaigner for children, their families and the early years community. 

He then proceeded to greet Purmina Tanuku, OBE who is the Chief Executive Officer of the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA), an award-winning charity and association that acts as a voice for more than 24,000 nurseries and massively effects the daily lives of more than one million families within the sector. She actively represents the sector to the government, parliamentarians, and civil servants. 

 

Another welcome contributor was Jamel Carly Campbell, Early Years Educator and Consultant who is passionate about Early Years and the importance of having a balanced, diverse and inclusive workforce, curriculum and pedagogy. He has partnered with Men in the Early Years (MITY), is associated with The Fatherhood Institute and has participated enormously in research with The London Early Years Foundation about male roles in the Early Years workforce. 

The final panel member to be introduced to the audience was Kate Moxley, Mental Health Instructor/Consultant and best-selling author of A Guide to Mental Health for Early Years Educators: Putting Wellbeing at the Heart of Your Philosophy and Practice 

(Part of the Little Minds Matter collection of books). 

Kidzrus are extremely pleased to note that they are familiar with the panel, as colleagues have undertaken various professional development opportunities under their direction, are members of NDNA and are delighted to be finalists and recipients in a number of their award categories as well as delegates at a number of their conferences. 

Alistair started the discussion by asking the panel what they see as the main challenges that the Early Years sector has faced and continues to face. June said that recruitment and retention of staff and keeping quality at the heart of everything that we do for the children. We need to consider how do we attract and retain, support them so that they want to stay and do it in a way that gives them the ability, confidence and wellbeing to deliver quality education to the children. 

 

There will always be challenges that impact on emotional, social, and mental health so we need strategies that will support children for the rest of their lives. That can be extremely taxing on adults too who will need coaching and support. 

Jamel discussed his experiences as a Practitioner and there is a lot of support needed as a lot of the staff are feeling the pressure of the domino effect where members of staff end up being ill and the rest of the team must take the pressure. When they leave the staff must 

again take the pressure. We need to ensure that children have support, and their learning is consistent. Also, when you take on new members of staff you must train and support them, so they then have that additional workload. 

Kate cited that covid is still a determining factor in the recruitment and retention crisis. Settings made redundancies and now settings are busier than before but have not been able to replace staff. We need to ensure that they stay, and staff health and wellbeing is affected by the challenges that they face in their daily roles. We must focus on staff wellbeing from a starting point. We are not going to sort recruitment and retention overnight.

 

Purnima claims the major issue is that of political turmoil we are currently in. The minute we start to build a relationship with political leaders they move on so we have to start conversations all over again. The sector has faced several challenges and some of them have not been addressed because politically they should have been a priority. Covid has exacerbated those issues, including recruitment and retention. The number of people taking Level Three qualifications is dropping, the levels of qualified people is dropping and the level of people wanting to work in childcare is dropping. Something must be done, but the sector has carried on providing high quality childcare in difficult circumstances and we should celebrate that. 

Recruitment was not always the issue that it is now, and Alistair asked Purnima what are the factors that make people not want to work in this phase of education. She said that in the ‘old days’ there was real investment with support and funding for people wanting to acquire a Level Three qualification, for professional development and a clear workforce strategy that is not there now, and we really need a comprehensive review. Successive governments have put sticking plasters on something that is not fit for purpose and not working so somebody needs to look exactly at what it is that we need and mean by childcare in this country. What do we mean by having a highly skilled workforce? What do we mean by education? Putting children at the heart of it needs to be done. 

There could have been a break during covid 19 that would have allowed that review to happen, but the government has an agenda of catch-up culture so the Early Years educators will talk about the pressures that they face from others further up the academic chain asking them to catch up and what we should be doing is meeting the children where they are and going on that journey with them. 

Alistair asked Jamel what the challenges that he and his peers face and how to overcome them. Jamel stated it is about creating the family environment, being in touch with the community and knowing what is going on, having empathy for the demographic as we all have been affected, but for some more than others. Some parents have been unable to put their children into nursery so have had to wait to send them to school; that includes colleagues who have had to cut their working days and that has affected the nursery in terms of workforce and ratios. Things are not the same and never will be – everyone has a different perspective on what is going on and how it affects them. 

Alistair sees the need to promote a culture of respect that is based on research and science alongside lived experiences of practitioners on the shop floor. The cost-of-living crisis, those unable to work and affordability of childcare post covid impact on the provision that we can offer and on the wellbeing of practitioners. June sees wellbeing as an issue and whether staff feel valued. We need to adopt the status of ‘teacher’ as we care and teach and make a significant difference to the lives of our children. 

Purnima looked at matters from an owner’s perspective and says that many are worried about the future; whether they can maintain a viable business financially. Caring for staff alongside other challenges has impacted on owners health but they also must protect their wellbeing. 

Kate interjected as we don’t often talk about health and wellbeing; that we need to support each other to stay well as that will, in turn, be beneficial to our children. We need to reinforce the protection of mental health as a priority. Jamal says protecting and respecting relationships is vital; looking out for each other matters and creates a knock-on effect with children and inspires others to work in the sector. 

Purnima was of the view that covid has positively affected parents view of early years education as they had a snapshot of our work by home schooling. The NDNA campaign #firstfiveyearscount aims for universal respect and to promote employment opportunities within the sector and Purnima has invited everyone to sign the pledge and have your own individual voice heard. There is an under funding and lack of workforce strategy from the government; so NDNA are lighting the torch to start from the bottom, not the top in looking for improvements. 

June said that the argument is nothing new, but we must join to ensure improved investment, to empower and create a national positive narrative for the sector. We constantly deal with safeguarding, neglect, childhood obesity, parental poverty, the need for food banks and supporting housing under the umbrella of education for small children. She says that the conversation is important to build the lacking national strategy that will allow us to negotiate with the government in a positive and structured way. 

Alistair says that by using our knowledge, research, and science from early years as specialists in forming policy we can bring credibility to the sector. Purnima sees it as a definitive blueprint for childcare that goes from pre-birth to going to school and we need to draft that ourselves to add weight to negotiations with politicians and to reach out to parents so that they are aware of the intricacies of the childcare system. 

Collectively we want the best outcomes for all children in the best way possible, including what Early Years practice looks like, workload expectations and a shared pedagogy for all age ranges. Jamal advocates an individualised child centred approach including dialogue with parents to secure positive outcomes. He says we also need a representative sector that mirrors our diverse and comprehensive society. Alongside others he drafted an EY Blacklist that details high level personnel such as Laura Henty-Allen and Laura Pemberton, inclusive resources as they were distinctly lacking. He is of the view that we need to make ways to connect with parents and families, and with the local communities so that their voices can be heard. 

As a sector we need to be inviting and representative to those looking in and show that it is a rewarding job, despite the challenges. We cannot control some things, but we do have lots of control of others and we need to collectively have our voices heard. 

Purmina promotes various ways to protect mental and physical wellbeing as they make a positive difference, especially since the return from lockdowns. Kate states that a lack of investment and inconsistent focus on wellbeing for Early years teachers in comparison to other age ranges is worthy of note. 

We need to act more purposefully with training for senior managers to equip them with the tools to deal with issues arising within their teams and adjust training at all levels. We also need to get the work-home life balance right and ensure that wellbeing is a prominent feature and is practiced daily. If that is in place, then the secondary things such as treats for staff will have more of an impact rather than a tokenistic gesture to get staff through a difficult time. Purnima organised a social evening with Alistair with over 700 people in attendance to lift spirits and engage with each other. 

June organised a staff conference with more that 800 delegates present, during which they sang and relaxed. Staff wellbeing is prominent by providing breakfast for staff and ensures that they arrange activities that promote wellbeing for staff and children instead of being under pressure to do those things out of working hours. She is of the view that we need to 

maintain the joyfulness of the sector where there is calmness and time to work with the cohort children. They need to deliver a day that is good for them and colleagues and drive that to the home with parents to help manage the difficulties of modern life. 

It is important to make work part of your own wellbeing, to focus on our own mental health and present the best versions of ourselves to our children, their families and communities and also to our colleagues. Mental health and wellbeing is of paramount importance. 

To conclude, without doubt we have many challenges ahead but collectively we are stronger and more likely to succeed. By producing a blueprint and having a working strategy we can tackle recruitment and retention and raise the standards of Early Years education. 

We would like to take this opportunity to thank all the members of the panel for a very informative webinar. It’s evident that we are all facing similar challenges many of which we can relate. Hopefully by working together as ‘one voice’ we can overcome them and show what an amazing Early Years workforce we have, one which will change the future of the next generation and more importantly for our children and their families. 

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