'This account was originally written as an article for EY Matters 'Wellbeing For All in Early Years' souvenir conference brochure, but has been adapted as it illustrates Penny's story as told in her own words.'
Juls Davies, EY Matters
I have been involved in Early Years for about 36 years, and in fact if start at the real beginning in 1961 when my brother was born and I became a ‘big sister’, you could say I have been involved just about all my life!
Starting with that big sister role when due to my brother’s needs, I had to help my mum by doing more than a typical big sister, moving on through the arrival of my younger sister, to ‘helping’ in the Playgroup my mum started, to teenage baby sitting, helping as a Guide at the local Brownies and then as a mother myself, I had gained lots of ‘hands on’ experience before I was 20.
In around 1984, I became a volunteer parent helper at the Playgroup my children attended – being honest mainly due to the fact that at 2, my second child was ready for Playgroup but at that time a child had to be 3 to start Playgroup so the only option was to became a parent helper and take her with me on my rota days. Being me and already a keen volunteer, I joined the Playgroup Committee, mainly just listening at committee meetings but being an active fundraiser. By default, I became involved with PPA (now Early Years Alliance). At the same time, I registered as a Childminder and joined NCMA (now Pacey).
Over the years I gained more experience within Early Years, remaining a childminder; being a more active volunteer both for PPA and NCMA; extending my training via various short courses and then finally gaining a level 3 NVQ; becoming an adult tutor for NCMA and PPA; being involved in setting up childminder support groups – oh and having 2 more children of my own, making 4 daughters in total.
Then in 2003 I gained a part time job with my LA but employed by NCMA as a Childminding Network Co-ordinator (childminding the rest of the time until 2004 when I resigned as a registered childminder). I gained a lot more experiences from the ‘other side of the fence’ so to speak. I also became a Quality Assurance assessor for NCMA and an independent scheme enabling me to assess settings across the Early Years sector. I also took on a second part time job directly with the LA’s Early Years team and did some tutoring at my local college.
In 2010 for personal reasons I returned to childminding. Although I loved returning to ‘hands on’ care of children and being my own boss again – all was not well, as I was becoming more and more concerned about Government policy and the direction of travel within Early Years.
Things came to a head in 2012, when I came across Truss and her ‘More Great Childcare’ and ideas for Childminding Agencies. The rest as they say is history, but it is also where I became a campaigner and advocate, and where I set my personal aims in respect of what I wanted to achieve within Early Years.
Setting My Aims
Through my involvement with membership organisations (which I had re-joined as soon as I reregistered as a childminder) I became aware that although everyone agreed that things needed changing for both the children and for settings, there really was not much partnership working with everyone having their own organisational aims. This meant the Early Years sector voice was disjointed and diluted.
Truss actually did me a favour, because she annoyed me so much with her uninformed ‘waffle’ and repeating of text from ‘More Great Childcare’ over and over again, that one Sunday I decided enough was enough, and started the first Ratio Petition. Other petitions about ratios were to follow, but mine was the first. I gained support from Laura Henry-Allain and Nathan Archer with setting up the petition, and also the support of the then Pre-school Learning Alliance (now Early Years Alliance). Many other organisations and individuals supported the petition, which led me to setting my first aim, which was:
To support through my volunteering and campaigning, membership organisations working together to speak with ‘One Voice’
From this aim, my second aim was set:
To develop a means through which the work of all organisations and individuals could be promoted and shared with everyone.
My third aim was simply:
‘To share good practice’
With my aims in mind, I set about becoming a member of as many Early Years organisations as I could. So Early Education, TACTYC, Save Childhood Movement, ICM (an independent childminder organisation sadly now closed), UKCMA (another independent childminder organisation now closed), Childminding UK (a bit later on as a fairly new organisation developed from a long standing organisation), as well my 2 long standing membership organisations.
Although at first there were barriers to overcome in terms of language used, so was appropriate for all, everyone made me very welcome – a huge step forward as most of the organisations had traditionally based memberships. By being a member I was able to talk to all of them, and slowly on a ‘drip by drip’ approach I was able to engage in more and more conversations, to bring up points at AGM’s and to encourage at least thinking about how could work together more.
I became actively involved with NEYTCO (now no longer) and with the Ofsted Big Conversation (OBC) being a lead person in my area for these (then) new organisations that worked with all within Early Years.
One of the main things I did (alongside the ratio petition) was to set a website called ‘One Voice Together for Quality’ and a linked Facebook group. At the time there were not that many professional Facebook groups – at least not when compared to today. The website was free for anyone to use, and I hoped organisations and individuals would list their events and groups; that a database of training and conferences could be created; and a ‘one stop shop’ of early years articles, research and so on would be established. However, it did not really take off - maybe the sector was not ready for such a move? Maybe it was my lack of IT skills? The lack of time was certainly an issue because I was still working as a childminder and very active with my volunteering at local and national level.
Something I was very successful with was my blog ‘Pennysplacechildminding’ where I wrote about my childminding practice, thanks to support and encouragement from Laura Henry-Allain and Kathy Brodie. I think I was a bit ahead of my time as I challenged the idea of preplanning; of excessive written policies, observations and ‘next steps’. Although I did not use the term ‘In the moment planning’ this is what I was doing. I also advocated for outdoor play, heuristic and loose parts play, for less plastic and more natural resources and much more. People liked my blogs despite the dyslexic and time short errors, and I developed a huge following.
I wrote about campaigning issues and about Ofsted issues. I wrote blogs about training and conferences I attended – not given away the content for free but expressing my opinion and providing links to information freely available on the internet. In addition, I unpicked Government policies, documents and consultations putting things into everyday language to support others. I also hosted a few guest blogs where others could share information and / or practice.
Over a period of about 4 years, I also wrote articles mainly for ‘Practical Pre-school; within the ‘Child Care’ section, but I also wrote for other publications when asked.
In 2016 I retired from childminding with an aim to become even more active with my campaigning and advocating, and also had plans to host conferences and deliver training. My celebration event was not only to celebrate my achievements to date (including finally gaining a degree) but also to try out the idea of ‘not for profit’ events so attendees could benefit from high quality events at reasonable cost, building on my experiences of organising events for those I volunteered for – and in particular OBC. A large number of Early Years organisations and individuals volunteered to speak for free and the event was a huge success in that not only celebrated my achievements, also shared a lot of good practice and early years information and research.
Unfortunately, I became very ill the following year and suffered poor physical ability and chronic pain. I had to learn to walk again (and still not able to walk more than a few steps without an aid) plus the impact on my ability to think was severally affected by the morphine I needed to take on a daily basis.
Still, I am not one to give up easily, and in 2018 I organised a second event on the same lines as before. Again, I had a lot of support from speakers and attendees, however although successful, it was too much for me, and I knew that would be the last event I organised – unless my health improved.
Reading this you may now be wondering why I think my aims have been achieved when clearly, I have only partially been successful. To be honest I had been a bit depressed and left thinking despite my best efforts I had not achieved my aims.
That is until recently, when I realised that actually others have taken my work forward. I am not claiming credit as some of those people may not realise, they are carrying my work and aims forwards. They may not have heard of me or my aims; they may well have been working on this for as long as I have. However, the bottom line is my aims have been achieved and for that I am grateful, and I know in some small way I set the ball rolling.
First, I now see the membership organisations working together more with a few examples being the coalition of organisations working together to respond to the EYFS reforms; with Early Education having links to Pacey’s website; and the EY Alliance working with Early Education on a webinar…. And more. I hope this sort of partnership working continues and extends. As I have said for many years, each organisation can have its own Unique Selling Points and they don’t have to share everything, but it is beneficial to speak with ‘One Voice’ on matters that concern all and impact on the children.
Second I am very aware of the work done under the name ‘EY Matters’ including the first conference. Really, although no direct connection, this is building on my idea of the ‘One Voice Together for Quality’ website. The work of EY Matters under the leadership of Juliette Davies is inspirational, and I wish I had had the skills and time to develop the idea as she has.
So not taking credit away from those who have worked hard to achieve my aims (without even realising they were) I am extremely grateful as my aims have been achieved and so I can now step down off my soapbox and concentrate on making the most of everyday to build memories for myself, my family and my friends.
Talking of friends, one of the lasting impacts of my involvement in Early Years is the number of very good friends that I have made, and that still keep in touch with me. Due to this I will still attend events when I am physically able to, so I can meet up with friends and colleagues – and I am still happy to write articles as a volunteer (when asked as won’t be actively seeking to do this).
Signing off by standing down off my soapbox as a proud and happy person
Penny Webb BEM