The Big Childcare Conversation

Middlesex University, Hendon

After hustling through disrupted train services, I finally got to the peaceful town of Hendon, where we were having the ‘Big Childcare Conversation’ at the Middlesex University. The conference was organised out of the necessity to deal with the challenge of extending free childcare hours to 30 per week, to be piloted from September 2016. Of course, we are all for free childcare, but the problem is with the consequences it will have on quality as a result of insufficient funding.

Sue Egersdorff’s introduction

The conference was inaugurated in a very humorous way by Sue Egersdorff, co-founder of International Early Years. The theme and the answer to our dilemma was ‘quality’. Sue gave us a number of pointers in preparation for the speakers. I specifically liked one of the statements she made about our intentions for quality: “We did not do this for Ofsted, we did it for the children!”. A reflection worth highlighting!

Our first keynote speaker was Jayne Osgood, a professor of Early

Jayne Osgood

Childhood at the Middlesex University. Her topic was ‘Reconfiguring ‘Quality’ in ECE: beyond discourses and subjectivities to becoming quality’. Jayne’s presentation was academic in its style, highlighting the importance of going beyond quality that is based on traditions of thought, but in her words to be open to “generative possibilities – not to get it right, but to question, to make familiar the strange – not to let go of what we thought we knew, but to generate new understandings that might move us elsewhere”.

June O’Sullivan

This was followed by a very inspiring video presentation by June O’Sullivan, CEO of LEYF, on how quality childcare could be provided in an under-funded world. She brought our attention to the LEYF model, and many simple, but powerful ways to enrich our learning environments: a literacy rich environment, urban outdoor learning, experiencing and being part of their diverse community, multi-generational exposure etc. One of the things that June highlighted that resonated with me was the relational element that plays a major role in the development of children during this early years. She said: “How children love us – that’s quality! I don’t know how you can quantify that?”

Claudio Baraldi
Ruth Churchill Dower

Claudio Baraldi, professor from University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, was next in line. His topic was on ‘Facilitating participation in early childhood education’. He spoke from a Feminist Post-structuralist point of view, of using dialogues and narratives in facilitating participation and in turn learning. He had several examples showing us how we as practitioners could value children’s personal expressions. After this, Ruth Churchill Dower, the director of EarlyArts, spoke on how higher quality engagement and learning could be achieved through creativity. She left us with the statement “Smart settings create a culture of creativity”.

Chris Pascal
Tony Bertram

Finally, we had Chris Pascal and Tony Bertram, from Centre for Research in Early Childhood (CREC), speak on the importance of listening to the voice of the child. Tony said, “We need to get the voice of the child into this. We hear the voice of the ministers, providers, practitioners, but what about the voice of the child?” Chris encouraged us to do Action Research, to never give up but to “keep working on the ground”. Chris also emphasized that our approach should not be just “child-centred”, but “child and family-centred” since the child comes to us in a package as a result of socialisation.


June doing her dance

Chris ended her talk with this very powerful statement that we as Early Years practitioners need to remind ourselves daily: “I don’t know if there’s anything more important than the work we do. We are shaping our future through these little ones”.

The conference ended with June dancing to the song ‘Are you with me?‘, asking all of us to engage with her to be a “disruptive influence” and to make our voice known.

Sid Mohandas is a Montessori practitioner from the UK. He received his training at Montessori Centre International (MCI), London.

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