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Nurseries Need to Clearly Communicate Our Role in Children’s Education

In the face of myriad challenges, the sector must come together to show parents what we have to offer, says June O’Sullivan…

  • Nurseries Need to Clearly Communicate Our Role in Children’s Education

As a sector, we all want to provide ‘best-in-class’ early education and care for children.

This is harder for some than others, and every setting has high and low points, but that does not alter the fact that to provide the best, you need to sustain your business, and support, nurture and retain staff.

At the same time we must articulate a clear message to the public about what we do, and deliver ‘outstanding’ Ofsted inspections. So how do we do all that?

Unfortunately, there are a number of challenges in our path. The sector is operating in a much wider market, subject to a host of PESTLE (political, economic, social, technological, legal and environmental) factors.

Politically we are living in a time of austerity and change. Our government is negotiating a Brexit deal and we will have to manage the consequences.

There is continued fallout from past political policies (the two years it has taken to address the A–C entry requirements and the failure to accept functional skills; the lack of political leadership around strengthening our funding and training infrastructure).

Economically, poverty is increasing. Childcare costs remain high, and children in poor areas are at risk of accessing lower-quality services, despite the double disadvantage that could result.

Locally, economic challenges (a combination of low salaries, high housing prices and increased transport costs) have impacted on our ability to attract and retain staff.

Identifying a method of delivering the underfunded 30 hours that doesn’t add more financial burdens to the business model has been a struggle. Parents entitled only to the 15 hours are being squeezed, as fewer setting are offering provision for funded-only children.

Social challenges are wrapped up in political and economic issues, and are being aggravated by demographic changes to large parts of the country.

Families must contend with a lack of the support structures they need to help them with childcare, and this is affecting parental needs and the future shape of nursery occupancy.

From a health perspective, we need to think about the child obesity epidemic and how we address the issues of nutrition and physical fitness as part of our provision.

Technology is changing how we engage with parents and we must think about investment in websites, CRM systems and methods of communication that better align with parents’ smartphones.

Meanwhile, legal changes such as the National Living Wage and the need to comply with GDPR require our attention, lest we end up paying hefty fines.

Finally, environmental responsibility lies heavily on those of us who look after the next generation. From glitter to disposable nappies, we need to think about how we procure and dispose of our waste.

We also need to work out what we are for. Alan Sinclair wrote that, “Investing in early years is as close as it gets to magic without being magic.”

But if we want to build a nursery infrastructure then we must consider whether to grow and if we do, how. Our big competitors are schools, funded through the DfE and philanthropic grants. The cost to us is greater.

Social finance is probably more expensive than the banks! However, when seeking investment we need to measure our return on social impact. We must find ways of working with local authorities faced with large financial cuts in the face of increasing needs.

In the face of these issues, the sector needs to agree a national campaign that describes what nursery education has to offer. Too few parents recognise how we teach and insist on moving their children to schools because they think this is where they ‘learn’.

Too many believe that going to the school nursery means an automatic place come Reception. Such folly needs to be addressed coherently.

Our strategy for dealing with all these challenges has to be built on a collaborative approach, although our tactics may vary.

Our campaigns must come from one voice, and be linked to the bigger picture – which is ensuring that all children get a fair chance to access good-quality education.

June O’Sullivan MBE is the CEO of the London Early Years Foundation. Visit leyf.org.uk or connect on Twitter at @JuneOSullivan.

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