The Business of Early Childhood by @hfstallard

Conference: reflections and next steps

I recently attended an excellent conference on the Business of Early Childhood organised by International Early Years at the University of Chester.

This is a re-blog post originally posted by Heather Stallard and published with kind permission.

Despite initially feeling less than excited at the prospect of a five hour drive following a 4am start(!), by the end of the conference I was stirred, inspired and motivated. The journey home flew by as my head buzzed with ideas. The passion from the presenters was clear and made me very keen to discover more about their vision and next steps. So, I thought I’d share the key messages I took from the conference with the aim to inspire you to find out more too.

International Early Years was started in 2014 by some prominent early years professionals with the intention to provide the best outcomes for children through: providing information, being an active vocal member within the early years sector and investigating and sharing policy and practice. Founding members include June O’Sullivan MBE, Sue Egersdorff, Pam Munday and Dr Eunice Lumsden.

1. Early Years needs a voice

When describing early years practitioners, one of the words that I’m sure you would come up with is ‘passionate’. However, we can be a divided sector, too focused on our own agendas and not sharing practice. The frustrations we face, particularly with national issues, are the same. Yet, holistically, we are not vocal enough in expressing this as a sector.

June O’Sullivan spoke of the importance of using local MPs and Local Education Authorities (LEAs) and thinking creatively of ways to engage them within settings. She also spoke of the importance of standing up as a universal early years community to speak out about injustices.

Reflecting on this, I do not feel we have a universal voice. Within teaching, for example, there are several large unions which are active in speaking about issues and have a powerful voice within the primary and secondary sectors. We deserve the same. We may all feel passionately about similar issues, but without showing our collective voice we do not do ourselves justice.

Dr Sara Watson spoke about her success with Ready Nation, a corporation in the USA that encourages businesses to invest in the early years. As we all know, getting it right in the first five years is more likely to result in better outcomes later in life.

For businesses, this means increasing the pool of skilled workers, boosts the economy and leads to more customers: demonstrating that investment in early years can be an effective use of public funds.

This is another area that the we in the UK early years sector have not exploited to the best of our ability. We could be more vocal (or, rather, more effectively vocal) about how important our sector is and how it can result in financial benefit to the country. June O’Sullivan pointed out the importance of learning to ‘talk the talk’ in terms of the language of business and finance and this is important to showing that we are a professionalised and diverse sector.

2. What will you tolerate?

Being tolerant is a vital skill, especially when working with children! However, Dr Eunice Lumsden and Sue Egersdorff asked us to consider: “how much are you willing to tolerate?” and “What are you not prepared to compromise on?”

Reflecting on my own setting, I thought about some issues that are a shade of gray, rather than black and white, and that could potentially cause confusion. We need to be clear what is non-negotiable and when it is appropriate to put an issue up for debate.

The same questions can be asked on a wider scale and can apply to national issues. What national issues are non-negotiable and need to be addressed by the sector and what are we comfortable to work with? The ratio debate is a good example of this. It goes against what we know is best practice for our children and we need to make a stand.

3. Leadership is not a passive act

Sam Piper of Dale Carnegie Training ran an excellent session on ‘stimulus and response’ and the gap that exists between the two.

I had only recently attended a course – run by my local authority (yes they do still exist!) – that touched on the difference between leadership and management. Essentially, a leader has people follow them, while a manager has people work for them. A leader may not be an effective manager and vice versa and, if you are to embody both, you must know the distinction and be effective in each role. It was helpful that this subject was fresh in my mind because Sam demonstrated that how we respond to a stimulus is affected by our leaders.

This means that, as leaders, we have to be particularly aware of the impacts of our responses to a stimuli.

It was a timely reminder to keep in mind how well we communicate with our team, colleagues and children and it made me reflect on my interactions with my team staff. For example:
– Do I always respond in an effective way?
– When is the best response to say nothing at all?
(Maybe Ronan Keating knows the answer to the second question!)

Putting it in to practice

The whole conference provided a lot of food for thought on both macro and micro levels, but you get the most benefit from any lesson when you put what you’ve learned into action. (Otherwise, you risk feeling invigorated for a few a days but ultimately achieving nothing).

To do so, it helps to consider your organisation’s goals alongside what you have learned. You may find that you need to adjust your goals or that you need to design new strategies to ensure a positive impact on your practice and, if you are so inspired, the whole sector!

Either way, it’s always beneficial to reflect by referring to your notes and conferring with others. I’ve done the first bit and would now like to do the second. So, if you attended the conference, please do get in touch!


Heather is an experienced and passionate early years professional who works with and supports teams to improve practice. She is currently putting the final touches to a Master’s in “Early Years Professional Practice”.
The original post can be found here.


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