An ordinary morning followed by a spectacular evening at the NMT Top 20 awards   Leave a comment

On Thursday 21st May I got up and prepared for a morning of childminding. To be honest the only child attending was my granddaughter Annabelle, as I had managed to swap days / do different hours for the other children who usually attend on a Thursday, so that I could finish at lunchtime.

My friend and colleague Carol came round with her minded children to play, so it was a normal morning from that perspective. As regular readers will know Carol and I bounce ideas of each other and reflect on our practice. The subject of discussion (in between supporting play and reading stories, doing snack and all the other things that childminders do every day) was policies and if they are effective, if parents take them seriously and even if they read and understand them (although all sign to say they have read them). Discussion was around making policies shorter with just the main points, going back to verbal discussion to ensure better two way communication and partnership working. Other subjects included Ofsted, proposed increase in funded hours … and more.

However at 11ish Carol went back to her setting, and I prepared to set off on an adventure to London and to the NMT Top 20 awards.

I need to backtrack a bit to explain why I was going on this adventure.
At the end of an email about the Ofsted Big Conversation, June O’Sullivan suddenly asked if anyone had entered me for the NMT Top 20awards.
My reply was no, and why would anyone want to enter me after the fuss I made about the Nursery World awards last year. June replied that she  really wanted to nominate me and would do so. Within a short space of time June had completed the nomination form, and several colleagues had provided supporting statements. Other colleagues then emailed into the  NMT team to support the nomination. My  heartfelt thanks to June and all the colleagues who took the time to support this nomination.

Nothing much happened then, and as I had not heard that I’d been shortlisted as a finalist, I pretty much forgot about it. However when searching on the NMT magazine website I spotted a list of the finalist for the 2015 NMT Top 20. To my complete and utter surprise I was one of the top 20.

A few emails later, and it became apparent that I had not received the email notifying me of my finalist position, due to a  full stop being missing in my email address. Once this was all sorted I was sent the confirming email, and I confirmed to Jessica the organiser that I would be attending.

So this is why on Thursday 21st of May 2015, I set off on an adventure all on my own to London to attend the awards dinner. The awards were being held at  Barclays headquarters in Canary Wharf, which happens to be an area of London I have not been to before. The journey to Canary Wharf although long and involving several changes of train and once in London a couple of tube changes,  was fairly straightforward.

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Canary Wharf Tube station entrance (actually took on way home)

Unlike my previous two recent trips to London, when it rained heavily,  this was a very sunny day and it was a pleasure to be able to walk around the Docklands area. I found the hotel that I was staying in, and then with a map from the hotel receptionist, I set off on a fact-finding mission to find Barclays headquarters. Luckily it turned out to be about a 10 minute walk away and was easy to find. I enjoyed walking through this bustling built-up area of London marvelling at the very tall buildings, the sculptures, and the water features.

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Once I had located the venue, I retrace my steps back to my hotel. Time was in short supply so I had a quick shower and got ready to walk once again to the venue.

I arrived slightly early and so waited outside for colleagues to arrive, the first of which was Ken McArthur who I’d met at a recent OFSTED big conversation meeting, and who I regularly communicate with via Twitter. Other finalists then started to arrive, some of whom I had met previously, some of whom I had engaged with on social media, and some whose names were familiar from reading childcare media but whom I had not met or engaged with before.

After introductions, we made our way as a small group into the very grand building, there was a special desk set up just for the awards evening where we collected our visitor badges which allowed us to access the main building. We headed to the 31st floor and I have to admit I was starting to panic as I’m not very good with lifts or heights.

However  the lift was very smooth and once on the 31st floor provided I didn’t stand too close looking out of the window, I managed to avoid any panic attacks due to the height. We were greeted warmly by Jessica the organiser and other staff and given our voting forms. Each of the Top 20 finalists had to vote for their top three people, and hand the form back to Jessica. Alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks were freely available with staff topping up glasses as needed. I had some very nice fruit punch because of course I don’t drink alcohol. During the drinks reception I spoke to several people including some that I’d not met face-to-face before, hugs were exchanged with those I had met before, and handshake with those that I had not met before.

We were then asked to make our way to the room where dinner was being served. This room was set up with round tables and everyone attending had a name place, and a brown envelope which contained a certificate marking their achievement of being one of the Top 20. There was also the results of a survey carried out by NMT magazine.

Many finalists including myself took opportunity to take a photo or two of the magnificent view, however we did not have long as we were asked to take our seats for dinner.

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The tables were set beautifully and the at table service was fantastic. Note had been taken of my dietary requirements, and although not everything served to me was to my personal liking it certainly met my dietary needs. Other guests at my table thoroughly enjoyed their meal and commented on how nice it was. Wine and water glasses were regularly topped up, as was coffee at the end of the meal.

During the meal I enjoy communicating with those sat nearest to me including Sarah Steel, Deborah Thorp, Ken McArthur, and Chris Townson. Two the organisers and Ruth Pimentel were also sat at my table but not near enough the close conversation. As Sarah and Deborah were nearest to me, it was with them that I had the most in-depth discussions, predictably about all things early years but also about where live and family.

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At the end of the meal, the opportunity was taken to look at the results of a survey through NMT nursery top 20 in conjunction with Barclays, this provided a very useful insight into the views of the nursery sector.

Next on the agenda was the awards ceremony  (although one lady Sue Jones had already had her presentation as one of the five most inspirational people 2015, as she had to leave early). The remaining four most inspirational people 2015 (Catriona Nason, Jennifer Blain, Stuart Bamford, and Kate Peach) then received their awards which was a nice trophy. What I thought was very nice, was they were asked a few questions about what it was but they did and why these things were important to them.

It was then time to announce the three people from the list of the top 20 who had been chosen by the other finalists to be recognised for their work. In third place was June O’Sullivan, in second place Laura Henry and in first place Purnima Tanuka who is CEO of the National Day nurseries Association. Congratulations to all three as well deserved recognition of the work they do within the early years sector.

One of the nice things about this award is that everyone within the Top 20 is a winner and is recognised for everything they do for the early years sector. Another nice thing is once you have taken first place, although you can be nominated again, you cannot be voted for, therefore Neil Leach who is CEO of the Preschool Learning Alliance could not be voted for this year as he won last year, although he was still nominated and selected  as one of the Top 20.

Once the awards were over we invited to network with each other and to enjoy a few more drinks. I spoke to many people congratulating the winners of the trophies and the top three of the top 20, thanking June O’Sullivan for her nomination of myself, and ensuring that those who I’d be walking back to my hotel with (Ken McArthur and Sarah Steel) were still happy to do so.

One of the things that struck me most about these awards was that everyone was treated as an equal, and every single person felt honoured to have been included in the list of the Top 20. For myself as a childminder among a nursery based group of people this was very reassuring and comforting .  A few people were surprised that I was a childminder, but most people were aware of who I am and what I do with regard to my campaigning, volunteering and supporting colleagues, this is evidence that childminders can have a voice within the wider earlier sector, and can work in partnership with all.

I am not usually one to sing my own praises, and I’m not going to start now, however I think my achievement in being recognised as a voice within the early years sector should encourage not only other registered childminder’s but other early years practitioners who like me have a ‘hands-on’ role within early years settings. I do not have any funding for what I do, it is all in my own time and at my own cost, there is not a hidden agenda to create an income in any shape or form – I just campaign, support colleagues and  volunteer because I think it is important. And the judges of the NMT Top 20 clearly thought so as well – I was told that there was a large number of nominations this year, and therefore everyone who was listed as one of the Top 20, was exceptional and really deserved their place in the Top 20.

I think if more of what I call ‘everyday people’ were prepared to speak up for the children of this country, and speak up against things which they know are not in the best interests of the children, we could collectively make a huge difference.

I think those CEOs, campaigners and experts within early years field do a grand job speaking up on behalf of the early years sector, however without the voice and backing of huge numbers of early years practitioners and indeed parents of the children, the impact on government policy and ensuring the children’s interests are represented at national level will be limited.

Therefore I urge everyone to do whatever it is they are able to do to speak up and ensure government get the message that the children of this country need to enjoy their early years without the pressure of formal curriculum or  assessment. Not everyone will want to, or be able to have a ‘soap box’, but things that everyday people could do include signing petitions, writing to their MP, writing to membership organisations to express their views so that these can be taken forward by the membership organisations to government, asking questions about why government plans are deemed to be in the best interests of children, writing letters to the press and childcare media, using Facebook, Twitter and other social medium to share information and posts by others.

My message is if we all do a little bit and do it frequently,  we will gather momentum and at the very least ensure that government policies are debated and informed not only by research but by the knowledge and experience of those who work with and support early years practitioners and the children in their care.

Not all government ideas and policies are unworkable in theory, but they lack input from the early years sector and have not been thoroughly thought through, costed or piloted. WE, – YOU – ME – EVERYONE, can change that, and support the government in their aim of improving outcomes for children. It is not always a case of throwing money at things, but a case of making best use of what is already in place, changing things that are not working very well – and being brave and saying when things are not right. This is reflective practice – and everyone from government, to  practitioners should practise this.

To end this blog, I hope it is has not only given a recall of my personal experience of attending the Top 20 Awards, and a feel of how honoured and valued I feel,  but that it will inspire others to become more active in expressing opinions and objecting to policies that are not in the best interests of children. A small starting point would just be to share this blog with friends and colleagues via social media, emails and newsletters.

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog, thank you to June O’Sullivan for nominating me for the Top 20 awards, thank you to those who supported my nomination, and thank you to the judges of the Top 20 awards for deciding that I should be included.

Finally, my thanks to Barclays for hosting the event in their spectacular headquarters, and in partnership with other sponsors for ensuring an ‘everyday person’ like myself could be recognised for our achievements and enabled to attend the event with no actual cost for attending, sensible dress code that did not require evening wear, and therefore the only expense was travel and if needed overnight accommodation. My previous experience of attending an award ceremony had made me nervous  about entering any future awards events but I am glad that I was nominated for this one, and delighted that my  whole experience of the Top 20 awards was positive and enjoyable.

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