This week, I am bringing you a personal blog from the EYE and Practical Pre-School Early Years Pupil Premium conference in Birmingham. I am Amy Reyniers, Director of Comms for NurseryBook, mummy to Rafferty aged 19 months (who attends a nursery in SW London) and a bump due in January, and have been privileged enough to attend this event on behalf of NurseryBook.
I have been truly blown away by the energy, creativity and enthusiasm of everyone in the sector today. There has been honest appraisal and acknowledgement of the barriers to accessing funding and what can realistically be achieved with £300 per child – but with passion, practical suggestions and creativity, everyone in the room is united in their drive to give all children the best possible start in life.
The main theme that has emerged for me personally is “making an impact”: whether the huge impact of parental engagement; the potential impact of the sector when it believes in itself and works together; and the tangible impact of data when used to empower the sector to own the change. To quote June O’Sullivan of the London Early Years Foundation, “don’t introduce projects, change practice and embed change so it stays changed.”
On the topic of parental engagement, advice that particularly stood out for me was June O’Sullivan’s (of the London Early Years Foundation – LEYF) “each one teach one” – encouraging practitioners to have more meaningful interaction with parents at pick up time. Taking it beyond “Tallulah ate all her broccoli” to “Tallulah is really interested in fish. She might be a marine biologist one day. When you go to the supermarket this weekend, why don’t you see if you can find a tilapia?” Not a cod, mind – a tilapia, with all the poetic linguistic impact that word has. One simple idea for each child’s parent that enhances and builds upon their learning in the early years environment.
Then Professor Sandra Blandford of Achievement for All talked (amongst other things) about how to hook dads in. And told us the fascinating story of the dad of eight that hung back outside the school gates until someone engaged with him and realised he couldn’t read. Many years later, he’s now not only reading but training to be a teacher.
With regard to the amazing potential of the sector, all the speakers talked to this but it most overwhelmingly came across for me during a workshop on Making the Early Years Pupil Premium work, which was run by John Trow-Smith, also of the LEYF. It was a powerful session of active data collection – we split into regions and answered key questions about EYPP, designed to elicit practical approaches to making it happen (from accessing the funding to investing it most effectively), which June O’Sullivan took and drafted – live – into a letter for Sam Gyimah, Childcare and Education Minister. Talk about the power of collaboration and getting it done!
Finally to evidence. The Education Endowment Foundation presented an accessible toolkit that showed the impact a change focused on a particular area of learning has, in terms of the number of months improvement in a child. So, effective parental engagement makes five months of impact on a child’s development – a measurable closure of the gap.
Then in the afternoon, Gill Jones of Ofsted explained how inspectors will be looking for practitioners to demonstrate the impact of the EYPP. However, she was also clear that early years providers must be honest with their inspectors about barriers and limitations. Have you struggled to identify which children received the funding because your Local Authority didn’t give you this information? How have you followed up to try to find out? If you can evidence that you were proactive and still don’t have the information then the inspector will have to stop there. If you can identify the eligible children, you must show documentation for the funding you have received but you don’t need long written plans – much better to explain how you have or will spend the funding and what impact you expect that to have and why. The inspector will want to fully investigate this by speaking to or observing the eligible children and discussing with their keyworkers or other parties.
Overall, it was a hugely inspiring, useful and interesting day, both from the perspective of being interested in the sector and as a mum. As I mentioned, despite challenges, the room was united in its desire to make an impact – and with the energy, creativity and drive demonstrated today, I have no doubt that the early years sector will make the EYPP work.