Talking Early Years with June O’Sullivan: In Conversation with Julian Grenier

April 28th 2021

I was very pleased to talk to Julian Grenier, Headteacher of Sheringham Nursery School in Newham in this month’s episode of Talking Early Years. He and I have always had a mutual respect for our work, but we have not always seen eye to eye and I hope that continues. Great practice comes from robust debate and critical, serious thinking where we have the mutual respect to listen and consider each other’s points of view and counter the arguments rationally, honestly openly.


Recently Julian did a review of the Development Matters which raised many an eyebrow about the process.  Did he sell out because he signed up to do some work for the DfE?  Did he inform people openly and clearly enough?  Did he risk his honourable reputation as a pedagogical leader by delving into such a contested and at times toxic space?

More recently Julian wrote a powerful blog analysing a piece of research that was designed as an evaluative review of research in the early years that would support whether our practice was getting it right. Julian used this report to challenge whether we as a sector were too comfortable around a set of shared beliefs and acceptance of a resulting status quo. He wondered about what we miss if we don’t question ourselves, our methods and our attitudes.  He posed some tough questions.

Are we too dependent on a narrow range of voices in the early years?

Is there a dangerous assumption that the early years workforce isn’t able to read and evaluate research critically, and doesn’t know what a systematic review is?

Is it time for us to lift our game in the early years, and value serious academic discussion over populism?

His assumption, which, I tend to agree with implies that we will get stronger as a sector and more confident about the art, craft and science of the Early Years if we are willing to critique our work bravely and thoroughly.

This conversation looks at some of these debates but ultimately focuses on the power of pedagogy in the hands of the right pedagogical leader.