A big early childhood education day

hey! conference 15 March 2023

15 March 2023 was a date that will go down in early education and childcare history.  For us at the start of the day, the significance was all about our first hey! face-to-face event, and a rare occasion to gather in the same room to share thinking and ambitions.  That was big enough.  However, the Chancellor had other ideas. 

The day ended with a huge gasp of astonishment after some surprising and unprecedented announcements.  Whilst rumours had abounded in the weeks and days in the run up to the spring statement, we knew from experience that early education and childcare can be all too often missed out of government’s learning and employment ambitions.  Not this time.  

Back to hey! and our event set out a challenge to the sector to consider how we all could, no should, nay must, reframe the future of early childhood education.  It was a follow up from our launch in the summer of 2022, and our hugely popular online conference in the October.  1,600 people signed up for that free three-hour event, over 950 attended on the day, and almost 1.5k people have viewed the recording since.  That all made us feel like a movement has begun.  That day in October was also when we launched our policy paper outlining the conditions and actions needed to achieve what children, families and practitioners need, no deserve, to make such change happen. 

Fast forward to March 2023, and we came together and dedicated more time in the same room.  After a welcome from Carol Homden CBE, CEO of Coram, our location for the day, we began with Jan Dubiel, hey! Programme Director.  Jan explored in more detail the policy paper and set out the actions required.  He called for a mission that could take the messages from the sector out to the wider education community, to better nurture and grow everyone’s understanding of the work we all do.  Jan asked for us all to identify the things that connect us, and not focus only on those micro-details that can all to easily and unhelpfully drive us apart.  He suggested that we need to embed the understanding and use of children’s learning behaviours and as a consequence of this; proposed the Characteristics of Effective Learning supporting the EYFS be reviewed and brought up to date. 

We also heard from a stellar line up of expert input and these contributions added extra layers of richness as they focused on key elements and focus of the hey! Agenda. They reframed their descriptions, intents, evidence and research, and processes and values throughout.

Dr Jools Page, reframed her seminal work on the concept of ‘Professional Love’ to locate it within the demands of COVID impact, especially for children who have formed their view of reality and enculturation within an atypical context. She explored the nature of Emotional and Social Development and how effective understanding, and strategies can support this and ameliorate some of the direct challenges.

Dr Lala Manners, focussed on the importance and relevance of Physical Development and how this aligns with a greater context around health, self care and appropriate development. Integrating this knowledge, both specifically and holistically will be vital to ensuring that children grow, thrive and succeed. She also proposed the establishment of a new Institute for Early Years to enable the profession to gather together the sometimes disparate voices and elevate the public perception of the status of the profession.

Sarah Tillotson from the Education Endowment Foundation brought together the current research evidence that identifies the importance of language acquisition and development and how this is integral to success, achievement and attainment. Supporting the importance of an avowedly and unashamedly ‘evidence-led approach’ ECE provision, she outlined how research supports and identifies successful strategies for implementing this for all children in the EYFS.

We all felt a collective sense of togetherness and commitment. 

All of this before lunch. 

The lunch break coincided with the budget statement and the inevitable drip feed of information, speculation, second-guessing and expectation began.  There was much chatter and it set us up for a full hour of deep debate and informed discussion.  This was ably chaired by former Nursery World editor Liz Roberts.  The room came together under the idea of a new and complete voice for the sector, a single message from a much more effective source. 

Then it was time to sum up under the guidance and insight from James Hempsall, director, Hempsall’s.  James wove into the summary the observations from the event and connected them to the emerging and eye-wateringly huge commitments being announced in the House.  We acknowledged how the sector had matured and had grown its research and evidence base significantly – all within a generation – and that must be used to inform and empower the mission.  We heard how very many policies, strategies, priorities and plans there were from all angles, and the need for us to navigate those to best outcomes.  We agreed there were dusty corners that needed attention.  All outcomes and aims need to be integrated and not segregated, and the expertise and practice of effective observation and assessment, and curriculum and pedagogy be properly presented to the public, other practitioners, and politicians alike.  And as for the news, then we must work hard to ensure fresh policy and asks from the sector are appropriately structured, delivered, and positively impactful.  


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