Interview - Bernadette Duffy OBE

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Author and former head of the Thomas Coram Centre in Camden


Bernadette Duffy

Ms Duffy retired from Thomas Coram last month

What plans do you have for your retirement – will you continue to contribute to the sector?

Though I have left Thomas Coram, I am not sure I have retired. I am still active in the sector, undertaking advisory work, being vice president of Early Education, trustee of the Froebel Trust, and writing. I hope this is a time to pass on the experience and opportunities I have had to others through advisory work and writing.

You’ve had such a varied career within the early years, what has been your greatest achievement and most memorable moment?

I have been fortunate to work in a number of different roles over the years -practitioner, head, contributor to working parties and advisory groups for the Government, writer, speaker at conferences - it has been great to have had so many opportunities to deliver in different ways and learn from so many people. Being part of the development of key documents such as Birth to Three Matters, the Early Years Foundation Stage Framework and Supporting Families in the Foundation Years has been a privilege. Receiving an OBE in 2005 was very memorable.

During your time in the sector, what changes have you seen?

Since the early nineties there has been amazing progress - when I started it was up to each local authority to decude what they would provide and it was a postcode lottery for families.
It has been wonderful to see the recognition of the importance of early years by different governments.

Qualifications and the quality of provision have improved. There is now a shared understanding and commitment to the EYFS Framework. However, there is still work to do. The expansion of 15 free additional hours for working families is welcome, but it is essential that with the expansion, quality of provision is maintained.

I am pleased to see increased funding through the Early Years National Funding Formula for those settings that have been on low hourly rates, but concerned that the cuts others will experience will have a negative impact on many of the most vulnerable children.

We now have a wealth of experience and research evidence on what makes a difference and it would be short sighted not to fully use this to inform developments. I hope we learn from the past as the saying goesThose who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.'

Where would you like to see the sector in the future?

So much research points to staff qualifications as the key to quality. I understand recruitment anxieties due to higher entry requirements, but in the same way we have high expectations for children, we must have high expectations for staff.

The focus should be on supporting people to achieve and not taking a view that they can’t. Some of the best practitioners I have worked with started in support roles with no qualifications and through their hard work and the settings encouragement gained their qualifications.

The most important thing is always ensuring the child is at the centre of our decisions – what is best for them and how we can make it even better.

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