Blog from Dr Nicky Platt, EYPDP Programme Lead, Education Development Trust – featured in the February 2020 edition of the Foundation Years newsletter.
Allow me to start with a personal reflection.
I’ve taught and trained in some ‘interesting’ places in my time. Post-soviet police states, and Middle East hot-spots top the list. So when I’ve told friends, family and former colleagues that I’m now leading a programme here in England and in Early Years, ‘how lovely’ has been the typical response. ‘How nice’. As if I’m on some kind of sabbatical.
This response continues to irritate me enormously. There’s nothing ‘nice’ about the challenges facing the Early Years sector in this country. There is an everyday heroism in the attitude and behaviour of Early Years practitioners that goes pretty much unnoticed by the rest of society. And yet, in the 11 months we’ve been working to get this Programme going, my team and I have heard incredible stories from our CPD Champions – all practising EY practitioners. Stories of courage and resilience in the face of financial pressures, job insecurities, workforce churn, and the ‘wicked’ problems of entrenched deprivation and cyclical inequality. How they do what they do, day in and day out, is a mystery to me. Except that having met so many practitioners recently, I’m beginning to understand that they are very special people.
Our practitioners come from across 51 Local Authorities and serve some of the most disadvantaged children in the country. They are funny and ambitious and irreverent and incredibly knowledgeable. They work long hours and aren’t always 100% sure they really have the time to commit to this programme, or that they will always have the support they need. But they’re finding that we are supporting them: the DfE has committed to paying for their cover, and for us to provide all the training, mentoring and resources needed to make this initiative last – to ‘make change stick’.
And in turn, our Champions are committing, emotionally and intellectually, to the learning we are making available to them. They are passionate about closing the ‘word gap’ between disadvantaged young children and their peers, which left unaddressed widens irrevocably until our poorest children are stranded years behind at school and find it almost impossible to catch up. And they are already starting to embrace and embed change.
Here at Education Development Trust, we are partnering with speech & language experts Elklan, and with the Chartered College of Teaching, to deliver this large-scale DfE initiative. Our task is to provide high quality, evidence-informed CPD for pre-reception practitioners, those working with children between the ages of 2 and 4, in the most disadvantaged areas in the country. We are training and enabling practitioners to improve outcomes in language, literacy and mathematics, with an emphasis on improving children’s overall communication skills and giving them the best possible start in life.
Our delivery model is based on the principles of sector-led, practice-based improvement, and falls into 2 tiers of training. During Tier 1, we train the Champions – over 400 EY practitioners specially recruited to be peer-experts. The course enables Champions to receive accreditation in Language and Literacy for 2–4s, and accredits them in applying this learning through the Communication Friendly Settings (CFS) standard. These two accreditations:
- give Champions a grounding in current EY research and theory;
- enable them to implement evidence-based approaches across EY language, literacy and mathematics; and
- develop their subject knowledge to enhance the quality of adult–child interactions, to identify children at risk of SLCN, to engage with parents around their children’s learning, and to give them the confidence to support other EY practitioners.
But for Champions to succeed, being an expert is not enough. The training is therefore designed to twin this subject mastery with change-making skills development, ensuring Champions are fully prepared to build other practitioners’ capacity.
During Tier 2, the Champions cascade Language and Literacy for 2–4s and Communication Friendly Settings training to practitioners across their locality. So by the end of the Programme, we aim to have provided accredited training for around 3000 practitioners, and for 1500 settings to have achieved Communication Friendly Setting status.
Right now, we’re in the third month of delivery, stabilisers off, and well into Tier 1 and the Champions’ initial training. It’s going to be a bumpy ride, I’m sure, but we’re a tough lot, we have fantastic support in the DfE Early Years team, and we have absolute faith in our Champions. We’ll keep you posted on progress, but please do follow us on twitter and instagram, or drop us an email if you have any questions or want to offer any thoughts. Advice, support and challenge always welcome!