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Early years conference success

Early years leadership conference a success

Three high-profile speakers attracted more than 70 professionals to a conference organised by Prospect’s Early Childhood Education Group at the end of June.



The event at the University of Leicester was organised under the theme of “Leaders of Learning in the Early Years” and attracted a wide range of early years professionals interested in continuous professional development. Speaking were:

  • Professor Jackie Marsh of the University of Sheffield, about “Digital childhoods: transforming early years teaching in the electronic age”
  • Jan White, a consultant for outdoor provision in the early years, about “leading thinking on outdoor learning”
  • Professor Iram Siraj of the Institute of Education, about how effective and caring leadership can make a positive difference to the provision offered and improve outcomes for both children and families.

The event was opened by Sandra Simmons, chair of Prospect’s early childhood education group, who gave an overview of the current state of early years education.

Literacy in the digital age

Professor Jackie Marsh spoke about the impact of new technology on children and how it can be harnessed for their benefit.

She gave an overview of research projects that have examined the impact of popular culture, media and digital technologies on young children’s literacy development, both out of school and in early years and schools settings.

In homes, this includes activities like communicating by email, texting, Facebook and Skype; children and parents accessing the internet together on smartphones and tablets; sharing e-books and playing online/tablet games together or using console games such as Wii.

Figures from Ofcom in 2013 show that 28% of 3-4 year-olds use a tablet and 42% of 5-15 year-olds. Many engage and learn from older and younger siblings, and children also have a role as experts teaching their own parents.

Professor Marsh discussed how creative and innovative teachers can respond to the challenges of the new media age, and gave several examples of successful activities.
She drew the audience’s attention to the online resource Digital Futures in Teacher Education.

Learning outdoors

Jan White, an expert in outdoor learning, spoke about the role and nature of being, playing and learning outdoors. Key principles include:

  • all children have the right to experience and enjoy the essential and special nature of being outdoors
  • young children thrive and their minds and bodies develop best when they have free access to stimulating outdoor environments for learning through play and real experiences
  • knowledgeable and enthusiastic adults are crucial to unlocking the potential of the outdoors.

White is the author of Playing and Learning Outdoors: making provision for high quality experiences in the outdoor environment and the website and book Making a Mud Kitchen. She has a website with more information about her approach.

Leading in early years settings

Professor Iram Siraj stressed the importance of effective and caring leadership in raising standards and increasing the quality of learning in early childhood settings, about which she has written a book.

Some assumptions about good leadership were not necessarily appropriate to early years settings, she explained.

In early years reflecting on and through practice held the key to effective leadership. “Unless we take account of the emotional, moral and ethical aspects of our work, our behaviour is unlikely to bring about the results we truly desire,” she said.

One assumption was that good leadership should be based on an ethos of competition with a focus on rivalry and opposition.

But the early years perspective required “commitment to collaboration and cooperation. Competition is present but… takes on a more just, humane, societal or community perspective.”

Another assumption was that leaders were concerned with “product-oriented large organisations consisting of systems of rigid, formal, bureaucratic rules governing behaviour and hierarchical line management.”

Early years leaders, however, work in smaller, more informal and structurally diffused organisations; people-oriented services concerned with chidren and their families. “Change is continuous and therefore offers more flexible, diverse and individualised approach to programmes.”

  • To join the Aspect group of Prospect or get involved in the early years national committee, please call 01924 207890 or email aspect@prospect.org.uk