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June O'Sullivan, LEYF CEO

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The new vision for Early Years

The Department for Education and the Department of Health have published the Government’s vision for the foundation years.  In their own words…

It is designed to describe the Government’s vision to everyone who commissions, leads and delivers services for mothers and fathers during pregnancy and for very young children, to the age of five.

Specifically, this vision includes:

Again, in their own words…

Taken together these documents constitute the Government’s response to the Graham Allen MP, Frank Field MP and Dame Clare Tickell recommendations where they relate to the foundation years.

These publications emphasise the vital role that skilled and knowledgeable professionals and strong leadership play across the foundation years.

This requires a framework of high-standard qualifications that meet the needs of employers, and equip early education professionals to support young children’s development.

I have to own up to playing my part in creating this new vision, as I sat on the Steering Group which produced the final document – an interesting experience, and I have to say also generally a very positive one.

As individual members of this group, we were invited because of our expertise in different areas, and so all had a view to share.  As a group, I was quite impressed with how we managed to suspend our personal passion and paranoia and got on with the job in hand.  The method of steering used was referred to as co-production (not an elegant phrase), but simply meant we would work alongside each other and as many others as possible to create the final document.  Perhaps more crucially, it promises an ongoing process that needs to be continued to make the document come to life.

In the report there are boxes which focus on areas that need more attention.  There are certainly areas that I feel need further attention and, in the spirit of co-production, I hope many people will offer their views, advice and research.

For example, I think we need to strengthen the importance of the under 2s, bearing in mind 2 year olds are little more than babies and so balance what we think they need.  I would also like to see much more explanation about the concept of school readiness, as this could be much mis-interpreted and fail to recognise the Froebellian principle, that childhood is a time in its own right (and so not pre anything), and that schools need to be just as ready as the children.  My view that children are better off in nurseries until they are at least five years does not always gain the support of colleagues, but I hold fast to the idea.

Elsewhere, I am delighted to see that qualifications are to be examined as part of a review led by Professor Cathy Nutbrown, ensuring practitioners access the right qualifications suitable for the task in hand – but realise this is no mean feat.  We have been tinkering with qualifications since 1992, with the introduction of the National Vocational Qualifications, and have never managed to satisfy everyone and keep costs low, and this tension will remain.  So good luck to Professor Nutbrown, and let’s hope there is enough co-production – involving everyone from apprentice to employer – to balance the response.

Finally, leadership needs some input.  At LEYF the graduate leadership initiative has worked well for us, with 40 staff recently completing their Foundation Degrees.  Like anything, much of what you learn is only as good as the teacher who teaches you, and so we need to keep our eye on quality and not all rush to offer the newest product because it brings gold and glitter.  In principle, I am keen to support the continuation of the graduate leader; I have yet to measure its impact with our staff, but anecdotally feel it has boosted their confidence and got them reflecting more.  One thing we must build into leading and managing programmes is some teaching about how to run a successful setting from a business perspective, as this very important strand rarely features.  Unpopular as this may be, without it we will soon be without nurseries to provide children with their Early Years care and education.

In summary, I hope people will make the time to read and properly digest the document, and then take up the offer to help co-produce the next set of policies which will shape the services we all provide.  In my view, the broader the contribution we all make, the more likely policy will need to reflect the views and needs of practitioners who will make it happen on the ground.

Our own apprentices are being introduced to policy reviews and ways of engaging from day one, and their understanding of the role of Government and policy makers is greater and more confident as a result.  This can surely only be a good thing, as the best policies are those designed from two perspectives; research and practice, interwoven into a coherent and effective, jargon-free set of activities and behaviour.

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