My main membership organisation – and the one that I am a volunteer for is the Pre-school Learning Alliance, however I am also a fairly new member of Early Education, having just renewed my membership and now in my second year.
Last year when I joined Early Education it was too late to book the annual conference, and so this year I was keen to attend and see for myself what the organisation is all about. Personal experience has taught me that it is those face to face interactions that tell you far more about an organisation than its website or member information pack.
And so I found myself on a train journey to York where this years conference was being held. A straight forward journey with just one change at Birmingham and the hotel just a few meters from York station. However after a full days work with the children, a journey of a total of 4 hours from my front door to the hotels front door was maybe a bit much and I was shattered by the time I had checked into my room at the hotel. I had also missed the Friday get together and pre conference talks etc.
It is a difficult call for me to make about conferences as national conferences are often on a week day (s) or as with the Early Education conference have the main event on a Saturday but other related conference activities on the Friday. As a registered childminder this means I have to either not attend week day conferences or events, or I have to close my setting – which has two major consequences – one I lose a days (or two) pay and the parents of the children I care for have to make alternative childcare arrangements or take a day off work themselves.
So not an ideal situation , however if I want to continue with my own professional development, I have to make these decisions, because to have the opportunity to listen to a wider range of speakers, I have to travel and attend on whatever day it is that these conferences are on. This year for the first time I have decided to take unpaid training days – and the parents of the children have been very supportive, making the decision a little easier to make.
I think it is going to become even more important, for me personally in the future as the local authorities role in providing training (and maybe in providing support) decreases or even disappears completely, meaning myself (and other practitioners) will have to be more proactive in accessing appropriate training. For childminders this is going to difficult as those who choose to remain independently registered with Ofsted – rather than joining one of the proposed new ‘childminder agencies’ – will have to not only ensure they access appropriate training but will have to find training put on at appropriate times and at a price that they can afford.
Please bear with me, I know I am digressing – but I think the points that I am raising will need to be considered by everyone – those attending conferences and those organising them.
So continuing with my digressing, I want to write about the price of national conferences and training events, and how to make information more accessible to more practitioners.
The Early Education Annual National Conference was actually very good value – especially for members. As a member I paid just £105, non members paid £145 – very reasonable for 3 very good speakers, with each presentation 1 hour 15 mins long – plus an excellent opening address – and the opportunity to network with other professionals – and some well known early years ‘experts’.
However for some childminders (and I assume some other small settings such as pack away groups) this represents a huge % of their profits – especially if you have to add travel and hotel costs – and for some childminders one or more days pay (needs to be remembered some childminders work on Saturdays; and also often have to travel on their own making travel more expensive than for those that can car share).
Another factor for many childminders and younger practitioners is arranging the childcare of their own children, as this adds another financial cost and / or time constraint ( it was commented on during the conference about finding ways to encourage younger practitioners to join Early Education – and I would say membership organisations in general)
Now I am not suggesting that organisations such as Early Education must cut the cost of attending conferences or training, as these events are very expensive to organise and every organisation has to cover costs and ensure the organisation remains sustainable. However I do think that consideration needs to be given as to how to help support those practitioners who find it difficult for whatever reason, to attend these events.
As I am a believer in offering possible solutions to things, here are some ideas for consideration;
- Provide the presentations as individual download options from the website – low price or free to members, more expensive but still reasonably priced for non members – and maybe an option that if become a member at same time would get at members price or as a ‘welcome gift’?
- Give permission and provide the appropriate powerpoints / handouts to a network of trainers, so that the training / information can be cascaded to others. This could be done through a ‘royalty type’ fee payable to the original speaker and a token fee to the organisation that arranged the event. Trainers such as me, who could then deliver to local colleagues. Let’s say the ‘royalty fee’ – from each person who wanted permission was £30 to each original speaker and £10 to the organisation – that is just £40 per presentation used. Localised trainers, like me, could then hire community rooms and deliver the training in evenings or Saturday mornings – one presentation at a time to meet the professional development need and current interests of local practitioners. I know that I could personally cascade this training on this basis to local colleagues for about £10 per person (or less) per presentation. Schools and nurseries who are able to use their own buildings would maybe be able to do it for less or even free if they use the settings training budget. The presentations would be great for in house training / focus for staff meeting discussions.
- However, maybe the lead could be taken from Community Playthings excellent free training materials – I have personally used these materials and love the fact that I can just deliver as provided – or that I can add extra images and text to meet the needs of colleagues. And because I share Community Playthings ethos of sharing good practice – I do not charge to deliver these sessions.
Before I move on to my personal feedback about the speakers at the conference – I have one small but very important observation to share.
Early Education is open to all early years settings now – including home based ones which is why I felt it appropriate to become a member and to attend the Annual National Conference. However while at the conference I did not feel completely included – one of the speakers mentioned the word childminder, the word ‘settings’ was used on occasions and it was mentioned that open to all early years settings – but other than that the words I heard most in relation to practice and settings (other than child and children) were; schools, classrooms and teachers, I think if Early Education want to promote themselves to all early years settings then they need to consider the language used and ensures it includes everyone, and this would include ensuring that the speakers are informed of the diversity of membership. I hope this observation is not seen as a critical comment – as it is not intended to be. I am aware of the history and beginnings of what is now Early Education and realise that the terminology used is historic rather than intend to exclude some. I also acknowledge that childminder members are very few – I think I was the only childminder member present at the conference.
Another observation, was although other delegates were very welcoming, that when I introduced myself to some as a childminder there was a bit of a ‘confused look’. Again this is not meant to be critical, as public perception of registered childminders is led by the negative comments from Wilshaw, Gove and Truss – and the media backing of those views. There is also still a general lack of knowledge about registered childminders and some still do not realise that childminders are (currently) all registered and inspected by Ofsted to the same requirements as all other early years settings – ie, the EYFS, and that childminders can and do provide the 2,3 and 4 year old funding.
This is maybe something that Early Education could look into – maybe something on the website about the different types of members and the work they do, I would certainly be very happy to draft something about childminders. As I say it is not a criticism, because if I had not worked for the local authority for 7 years, or been a volunteer for the Pre – school Learning Alliance then I would not have a very good understanding of non childminder settings, so I don’t expect other practitioners to be fully aware of childminder practitioners.
At a couple of recent conferences the person opening the conference has made a point of saying – ‘In the room today we have …not names of individuals but ’general descriptions’ which certainly I found useful.
As always, just my thoughts, to be used, or reflected on and not used if not appropriate. However if these thoughts have occurred to me – they may occur to others.
Moving on then, to the actual content of the conference. Please note that I do not take notes but rely on memory – and usually have a very good recall.
However on this occasion as will be explained later on – there is a very good reason why my recall may not be that good this time – so if I have attributed things to the wrong speaker or added my own thoughts as if the speakers thoughts – please, a) forgive me for my errors, but also b) take my feedback as a holistic recall rather than a factual account. (and look out for the explanation!)
When I arrived there was opportunity to network, have refreshments and browse the displays and things to buy. The one good thing about travelling by train is that you really do have to think about weight and size of anything that you buy.
So I limited myself to one catalogue, and one book purchase ‘How Children Learn – Characteristic of Effective Learning’ by Nancy Stewart. Not because I don’t have any knowledge and understanding of this matter but because I am always looking for references for my training sessions and the articles that I sometimes write.
I chatted to a few other practitioners and was delighted when Helen Moylett recognised me, (we had previously met at a Worcestershire conference) gave me a warm welcome and we had a chat about the days news re the head teachers conference grilling of Mr.Gove, and Nick Clegg’s voiced concerns about the ratio proposals in More Great Childcare
Julian Grenier opened the conference – he is the interim National Chair of Early Education, as they, are currently recruiting a new chair due to their current chair Megan Pacey standing down.
Personally, I was pleased to be able to put ‘a face to the name’, as I have been putting links to Julian’s blog on the One Voice website – a site I set up to provide as much information as possible about anything and everything related to ‘More Great Childcare’, and also personally commenting on his blogs (which is why at first break I took the opportunity to have a quick chat to Julian and to introduce myself).
After Julian had completed the usual welcomes and thanks, he mention the difficult and challenging times that the early years sector is currently facing, before handing over to Helen Moylett who is the president of Early Education. Helen also mentioned the difficult times and the challenges we face in ensuring that our voice is heard and that we can continue to provide the best early years care and education for the children in our care.
Helen then introduced Angela Anning Emeritus Professor of Early Childhood Education at University of Leeds.
Angela presented the opening address and set the scene for the day ahead.
She spoke about creativity and it being at the heart of everything, because creativity is not just about painting and drawing or even involves an end product, it is about how people think and link ideas and skills together – and therefore find solutions to problems.
As an example of this we were shown a clip from ‘Strictly’ –
Problem being of course bringing skills of a gymnast and a dancer together, being able to communicate emotions without words and needing to take risks – all of which were solved with ‘spine shivering’ brilliance.
The clip was so powerful at getting the ‘creative’ message across that it was referred to throughout the conference.
The next speaker was Anna Craft who is Professor of Education at Exeter University. Anna talked about ‘Possibility Thinking’ and the fact that children will need skills in the future to cope with things that we don’t even know exist at the moment. Furthermore that teaching for a specific purpose such as to pass tests or exams – although has its place – should not be the primary reason behind the curriculum – either early years, primary or secondary.
Anna presented the image of a maze and asked us to think about how we could navigate the maze – was there one way? Could we be creative in our thinking? Where there other ways to use the maze? Did we have to reach the end? Could we pause and ponder? Could we back track? – and what about the children and how we present activities to them? Do we impose our ideas? Do we allow the children to be creative?
Anna also touched on the current situation within the early years sector and how we might all be feeling – I admit that she used words that I would not personally have used to convey the meaning, and so I had to use my skills to supplement different words that had more meaning for me personally – and surely that is another skill that we can help foster in the children we care for?
So my understanding is that Anna was asking if we felt in control of our own settings and would be able to cope with whatever changes were implemented or indeed not implement them if we did not agree, or if we felt that we had no control and that things were being done to us (as the early years sector) that we did not have opportunity to do anything about, or did we feel that we could take an active part in expressing our concerns and our combined knowledge and experience for the overall benefit of the children and the early years sector. There were 4 things and they were presented as a plus sign grid with one thing in each quadrant but that also suggested that we could be a bit of one and a bit of a different one at the same time. Feedback after a short discussion was that some did not know where they personally were, others that at different times they were at different points – and some that they were at all points – on different aspects at the same time.
Personally I thought this was very enlightening and a result of the confusion created by the governments ‘drip drip’ of information, lack of information on some things – and in some cases conflicting information.
By then it was lunch time and I was very hungry – I had had a good breakfast and did not take the opportunity to have refreshments when I arrived – and was taken a little by surprise when there was not opportunity (or time) for refreshments at the first break.
As a diabetic I do have to be careful with when I eat (and to some extent what I eat). So I was looking forward to lunch – unfortunately for me though it was not to my liking! And although I did try it, I could not eat it. However I did manage a coffee and a very nice cup cake.
Most of lunch time was spent talking to a lovely elderly lady called Peggy who told me that although she had not been a member for the whole 90 years of the association, she had been a member for rather a lot of those years! I have to say, I did feel a certain responsibility for Peggy – to chat to her and to ensure she was passed food and so on, not that I am ‘moaning’ it was lovely to chat to Peggy – but it did prevent me from chatting to as many people as I might have, and it stopped me from fully considering my own need to eat!
I did however chat to a lady from Scotland – a teacher who currently had a secondment to work in the early years team of her local authority, and I also chatted to one of the Community Playthings ladies about their products and their training materials – while looking at the trains displayed bellow us in the museum.
Although it was a long lunch break before I knew it, lunch was over – and I had not eaten – other than the cake! You may be beginning to work out why my recall of the day is not as good as it usually is.
Back into the main hall for the afternoon session, Megan Pacey spoke about the history of Early Education – including showing some photo’s of key people involved in the association when they were children. She also spoke about the future and made some very interesting links to things from 1923 and 2013 – which of course is the period covered by Early Education in its various forms.
Then it was time for the next speaker Katherine Finkill who runs Playwise and who speaks the same language as me – to the point – as it is - based on reality.
Katherine uses props such as puppets and role play such as taking the part of different ‘parents’ – of course those in the room could relate to different brain connections that the ‘children’ in these scenario’s would make – the shut up and sit there parents, the not perfect but supportive parents, the ‘you do it my way’ parents, the you will be going to Oxbridge parents, etc. and the impact on their future development.
She also talked about her family members and if having a maths ‘O’ level has been a useful skill or not – but how even in adulthood having or not having the appropriate exam success still determines if get a job or not, with non exam based skills and knowledge gained since leaving school having very little influence on job success.
This is not from Katherine – but from me – It seems to me that we value the wrong things in our society putting more value on short term memory and ability to convey that knowledge on paper than we do life skills, caring attitude, flexibility and that ‘possibility thinking’ that Anna Craft had spoken about. Even now the government are devaluing those with years of successful childcare practice – and giving higher value to exam based qualifications with or without hands on work experience. Shame, as both aspects are important and both needed.
Back to Katherine now – she had a wonderful easy to demonstrate way of showing the characteristics of learning in action with a few plastic cups and paper plates – I will be using that one.
Katherine also spoke about if we need an end product – and what indeed is the purpose of an end product – saying as had all the other speakers, that it is the thinking skills and the creative skills of possibility thinking.
Katherine finished with a lovely video of two year olds in different settings demonstrating all those characteristics of learning, all that hands on learning, all that possibility thinking, and loads and loads of creativity.
However I am afraid to admit that I missed bits of Katherine’s presentation as by now I was having a few difficulties with my blood glucose levels – I kept closing my eyes and was struggling to pay full attention – I knew what was happening and kept looking in my bag for the glucose tablets and emergency chocolate biscuit bar, and cartoon of fruit juice that I always have with me – but without success because my bag was too full – full of all the things I needed for the day, with the things given out at registration, the catalogue and Nancy Stewart’s book. Plus my brain was refusing to remind me that in actual fact all the things I needed were in the bright orange medpac – a fairly new acquisition and so most likely the reason why my brain was not giving me that information. I did have on the wristband (but out of sight under my jumper sleeve) – so if I had actually collapsed someone would have been able to support me – but what I had not done was make anyone in the room aware of my medical needs (usually I am with people who know me and therefore ‘keep an eye on me’). A valuable lesson learnt – always tell someone – even if a stranger.
Anyway – I did manage to find the mints in my bag left over from the train journey – and though far from the best thing to eat – they did have a slightly positive temporary effect.
In the break, I went to the loo – but nothing else because my brain was still not cooperating and telling me to eat and I was sat back in my chair well before the start of the last speakers presentation.
The last speaker was Miso’shi Proctor who is from Ghana but lives in Lancashire now. What a brilliant speaker, passionate, factual, child orientated, cross curricular, based on music and stories. Very interactive for the audience – well apart from me because I soon found out that clapping, standing up and sitting down was asking too much of me at that moment in time – so I stop trying and listened as best as I could. I hope that I am going to remember how to fold a piece of material into a bag, a skirt, a thing to carry a child on my back, and a thing to carry objects on my head – all of which Miso’shi demonstrated and gave some in the audience the opportunity to try.
Then before I knew it Helen Moylett was on her feet to do the final thanks and I have a vague memory that she asked if anyone had anything important to say – well I did but by that stage there was no way I could have pushed myself out of my comfort zone and spoken about my campaign against increased ratio’s or the ‘Reclaim Early Years’ day on 1st June.
So if you are reading this feedback and do not know about my campaign or any of the related ‘stuff’ – please can I ask you to take a look at link to One Voice site
After the conference I staggered in a not too straight line in the general direction of York - then because I was getting warm – I pushed the sleeve of my jumper up and I saw the bright orange band – my brain made the link and I quickly found a bench, sat on it, opened my medpac and took glucose, ate chocolate bar, waited for 30 mins before finishing the walk into York where I found a fish and chip shop and brought my tea.
So all was well.
A brilliant conference (even with the half remembered bits) and an important lesson learnt about my own well being!