A critical year lies ahead

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Nursery practitioners and early years experts discuss the sector’s opportunities and challenges for the next 12 months. By Charlotte Goddard


The introduction of a National Living Wage, and gearing up for teh 30 hours entitlement, are key issues

Last year was a whirlwind time for the early years sector, including a general election, announcements on funding, and changes to qualifications and the inspection regime. 2016 is gearing up to be even more critical. Nursery World asked practitioners and early years experts about their hopes and fears for the coming year.

Neil Leitch

Chief executive, Pre-school Learning Alliance

With a consultation on a new national early years funding formula promised by the Department for Education, 2016 is likely to be one of the most significant years in the sector’s history.

While it’s undoubtedly positive that the Government has finally accepted the need to address historic underfunding issues and to increase investment into the sector, there are many questions still to be answered, such as how this investment will be distributed across local authorities, and what will be put in place to ensure this money does in fact reach practitioners on the front line.

Equally critical is making sure that we do not sacrifice quality to save money. The Government has stressed that it wants more providers to work to minimum staff:child ratios in order to cuts costs, seemingly misunderstanding the many reasons why the vast majority of providers choose not to do so. Are we to understand that the only way the promised funding will stretch far enough is if providers are willing to compromise on this point?

Chrissy Meleady

On behalf of Early Years Equality…

Adherence to British values provides an ongoing challenge for the sector, unfortunately, due to the confused messages being propagated through the Government and the regulatory bodies.

Going into 2016, I am enhancing our support to local authorities and settings to help them comply with the British values requirements, part of which is ensuring that early years settings contribute robustly to community cohesion in all they do.

On top of the moral imperative, the threat of having funding withdrawn for non-compliance with British values prevails.

…as chair, Early Years Apprenticeship Trailblazer Group

Much of the past year has been focused on the development of the Level 3 Apprenticeship, and we remain hopeful that Government will continue to listen to employers’ requests to add other reasonable equivalents to the current list of approved GCSE equivalents, which should come to fruition in early 2016.

We made many gains, such as the securing of GCSEs as exit rather than entry qualifications for apprenticeships and as a workforce requirement for standalone EYE qualifications.

The forthcoming year presents exciting times with the ongoing development of the agreed apprenticeship standards and assessment plans from Level 2 to Level 7, which the Early Years Apprenticeship Trailblazer Group has been tasked to lead on.

The introduction of a National Living Wage, and gearing up for the 30 hours entitlement, are key issues

Purnima Tanuku

Chief executive, National Day Nurseries Association

2016 will be a watershed year. In 12 months’ time, as we gear up for full roll-out of the Government’s 30 free hours in England, the sector will look very different.

Elections in Scotland and Wales will further change our political landscapes, with expansion of free places on the agenda there as well.

The new average hourly rate put in by the Government is set to be £4.88 for funded three- and four-year-old places in England, but the danger is that by the time it gets to the front line – via local authorities and the school funding formula – it could be significantly less. It’s up to us to influence Department for Education consultation on changes in these areas.

Then there’s the question of workforce and the National Living Wage in April. No provider can offer more free hours if they can’t find the staff to care for and educate those children.

Mary Dickins

Early years consultant/author

My hope is that we continue to find the will and resources to support the increasing number of young children whose families are experiencing poverty and housing difficulty. Unless we do so, I fear many will have their life chances drastically reduced.

Hayley Peacock

Managing director, Little Barn Owls Nursery, Horsham – NW Nursery of the Year 2016

Baseline assessment in schools could be an issue this year. The way that policy-makers are looking to create more vigorous testing in schools concerns me. We must fight to ensure inappropriate and unfair testing does not come into early years.

The advent of the minimum wage increase, funded hours increase and pensions obligations coming into force mean providers who are thinking about leaving might make the jump in 2016.

Luckily, we are in a strong position in terms of financial security and are still able to maintain high standards, but it will be harder for people who are not providing really good-quality care and education to compete with those who are. This may mean quality will be raised overall, but at the private owners’ cost. We are hoping to expand next year and having more nurseries come on the market would be good for us – but we don’t want that to be at the expense of other children’s places. It is hard to find properties and get permissions, and I really think this needs addressing.

Dr Sue Allingham

Writer, consultant and trainer

My overriding concern is that we are bombarded with so much practice that is not underpinned by sound evidence and research. This results in the buying in of packages for ‘teaching’ which are ‘all singing and dancing’ but of no pedagogical value whatsoever.

My hope for 2016 – and the driving force behind all my work – is that all those in the early years in whatever role will always ask ‘why is this important?’ before they buy into something, plan something or change their practice. If that is difficult to answer then it almost certainly means that some more reading and thinking need to be done.

Liz Bayram

Chief executive, Pacey

In 2016, Pacey wants to work with Government and sector colleagues to ensure we have a joined-up strategy that supports childcare professionals to improve their skills throughout their careers. Now the Government has committed to look at workforce development, 2016 will be a critical year to develop practical solutions, to ensure we build a confident and motivated workforce that can deliver increased access to high-quality childcare, and which also removes the barriers to progression we know many excellent practitioners still face.

Second, with rising cases of childhood obesity and early mental health problems, we want to ensure the policy agenda is underpinned by the child-focused, play-based care and education that we know best supports children’s whole development.

The new 30-hours offer gives early years practitioners a unique role to play here, but as one member told us in our Building Blocks report, we need to focus on ‘preparing children to be life-ready, not just school-ready’.

Jane Bulmer

Nursery manager, Franche Community Primary

Our local education services have been taken over by a private company, and we are not sure whether there is going to be an early years service offered like the one we have now, with very cheap training and early years advisers. If training is reduced, or more expensive, in 2016, that will have a massive impact on us.

We are looking forward to delivering the 30 funded hours because, from a child’s point of view, it’s amazing. You can do so much when you have children all day instead of half a day, but the logistics are challenging, even in terms of things such as coat pegs and spaces in the dinner hall.

Jenna Holloway

Deputy manager, Elmscot Day Nursery

There are lots of exciting new projects and practice ideas to develop in 2016, in line with important changes to the common inspection framework, such as British values and the ‘prevent’ duty.

We are supporting our teams to reflect on what they already do, and will also involve parents, showcasing our work with posters, displays and the newsletter.

In January we are beginning our project to develop the outdoor learning environment, and we are going to be using the Mosaic approach to listening to children in order to help them contribute to the planning of our new nature area, a refreshed mud kitchen and a new playhouse. Giving children as much time outdoors as possible is so important and gives a different perspective to everyday activities such as painting.

Ruth Pimentel

Chief executive, Toad Hall

Aside from early implementation of the 30 hours free childcare, which will be very intriguing, I think the biggest issue for us at Toad Hall is likely to be recruitment and ensuring we get the quality of staff that we need to continue to offer high-quality childcare and early learning. The issues with recruiting staff are now becoming critical and I see this becoming the biggest challenge for the sector in 2016.

And my wish for the sector is that children’s health and well-being doesn’t drop down the agenda. In particular, I would like to see a greater emphasis on ensuring children are getting good-quality food and nutritionally balanced meals.

Liz Ludden

Owner, Dukes and Duchesses nursery

My hopes for 2016 and beyond would be for all children and families to be able to access high-quality provision regardless of their postcode.

My dream would be for us to have a period of stability and for the Government and the decision-makers to listen to professionals who understand child development and what families really need.

David Wright

Owner, Paint Pots Nurseries

In 2016 I hope to raise the profile of the issue of recruiting more men into childcare. We are holding an event in Southampton in February and trying to get Government backing, especially because we have now got a male minister in charge of early years.

There have been some supportive comments from Government, but there is nothing out there as far as policy goes, unlike in Norway where the government is committed to increasing diversity in the workforce – why not do that in the UK?

We have a job to do in terms of changing attitudes in the media and among careers advisers, so when young men are brave enough to say they want to work with young children they are not deterred from that.

Amy Stancer

Course leader, early years, Bishop Grosseteste University

In 2016 we will continue to train early years teachers, who have already demonstrated the difference they make for young children’s learning and development, both during their training and in their new positions.

As the first group achieving Early Years Teacher Status, they are our ambassadors for young children with their specialist skills and knowledge – their confidence in the new baseline and assessment processes and understanding of child development, for example, has enabled them to bring strengths to their role.

Over the next year the BGU partnership hopes to develop strong relationships with early years settings; for example, inviting all our setting-based mentors to our training events to support the development of a learning community.

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