Improving Childcare Provision in the Falkland Islands
Improving Childcare Provision in the Falkland Islands
Improving Childcare Provision in the Falkland Islands
Middle Leader, International, Early Years
Childcare provision in the Falkland Islands has been considered as unacceptable for at least the past decade. The childcare sector is made up of three nurseries and six childminders; over two hundred children attend one of these providers daily. Previous work elevated this issue to a high level priority and the Falkland Islands Government (FIG) has invested in improving the sector, first by appointing a Nursery Liason Officer and a Childcare Advisory Teacher (myself) and later, a Project Manager. My role is to improve private childcare provision and lead Early Years in the school. The reason for selecting the project is to increase the proportion of children entering FS1 demonstrating knowledge skills and abilities that reflect their age-related expectations in order to positively impact on the school’s target from the school improvement plan (SIP) ‘to raise and maintain good levels of progress and attainment in all early learning goals’.
Strategy and improvement
Childcare in the Falkland Islands is currently unregulated and is one of the few first world countries in the world where this is the case (Childcare: How the UK compares to the rest of the Europe, 2014). In addition to the lack of any regulation, any change in childcare arrangements has historically been considered as low priority. As a result of this childcare providers have operated with minimum staff:child ratios in unsafe buildings, with untrained staff. The head teacher of the school identified this issue and requested that a Lucy Faithful reviewer widen his remit and report on the sector. Two reports on childcare in the Falkland Islands deemed it as troubling; the sector was stuck in a low fee, low wage, low training, high staff turnover cycle that was becoming increasingly fraught (M.Sheath, 2015). The reports were pivotal and influenced positive progress.
A follow-up childcare report presented three options, with the third one recommended. This was to develop a regulated service supported by government investment. (Arculus, 2016) In order to achieve these recommendations one of the first actions was to create my current role: Childcare Advisory Teacher. As Early Years lead in addition to this role, I analysed the FS1 baseline data to investigate the effect of the current nursery provision on the FS1 standards.
From the data I identified that children entering FS1 had much lower communication and language skills than the UK average of 71.8%. (GOV.UK, 2017) It was found that 52% of children entering FS1 were below or considerably below age related expectations (ARE). 92% of these children attended a childcare provider in Stanley at the time. In order to address this, I first identified the key factors to target in order to improve. These were:
1) improving staff knowledge and confidence through developing a comprehensive training plan; and
2) Developing stimulating and language rich environments.
3) Alongside this, my plan included the implementation of the Falkland Islands National Minimum Standards, a document that had been developed in previous years, but not officially adopted.
To ensure change, I considered Kanter’s 10 commandments for executing change. As Kanter points out, change is not a simple process and is multidirectional and continuous. The commandments were a useful tool to refer to while creating my project plan and terminology such as ‘break from the past’, ‘communicate’ and ‘reinforce and institutionalise change’ are tangible in my project. (Kanter. R, 1992)
The first step towards positive change was identifying the training needs of staff through a training audit. The overwhelming majority of staff had no childcare qualifications. Out of 35 staff, only two had a relevant childcare qualification. During my visits to each childcare provider, it was evident that staff morale was quite low and noted that staff turnover was high. The audit informed me that the main training needed to improve standards was early years training. Therefore my action plan focused on upskilling staff, improving confidence and modelling good practice. The plan also involved visits to an OFSTED inspected nursery on the nearby military base, the modelling of story sessions and of quality adult/child interactions. These change management strategies related well to Kanter’s commandment of crafting an implementation plan, developing enabling structures and involving people to support change.
Teaching & Curriculum Excellence
The Department of Education’s Early Years Evidence Pack reinforces the importance of quality childcare for early years. It states that ‘94% of children who achieve a good level of development at age 5 go on to achieve the expected levels for reading at Key Stage 1, and they are 5 times more likely to achieve the highest level.’ The research also states that to achieve quality, a highly qualified workforce is a key factor. (Education, 2011)
I extensively researched the Swedish and Finnish Education systems and found their childcare systems admirable. Parents are given more parental leave and are allowed to take up to 480 fully paid days (16 months), which is more than is provided for in the Falkland Islands (currently 3 months for FIG employees). Finnish and Swedish children start school later, childcare provision is highly regarded and the government invest in staff training and quality provision. Due to the excellent parental leave, children don’t enter childcare until 1 year old. Regulations for childcare are covered in the government’s Education Act. (Gunnarsson, 1999)
As parents in the Falkland Islands do not have the same parental leave available and unemployment is extremely low, childcare is essential for both parents and the economy. As my project is based on improving childcare provision by introducing the National Minimum Standards against which childcare providers will be inspected, my project team also researched childcare regulations in the UK and found that it is compulsory for all nurseries and childminders to be registered and that there are specific standards that they must meet. (The Childcare (General Childcare Register) Regulations 2008, 2008)
Working in Partnership
It was evident from the beginning that it would be essential to work with others both within and outside my team. Within my school team, I worked closely with the FS1 team to analyse data and assess the impact that the current childcare was having on our baseline results. To improve these standards by implementing the National Minimum Standards (NMS), it was essential to work with the wider education department staff such as the Childcare project manager and the Director of Education. Through the development phase of the NMS, I worked with various government departments such as health, fire and legal services, to enable their input in the subject specific chapters.
From the start of the project, I realised that to make an impact, the most important collaboration would be with the childcare providers themselves. To ensure and enable change, I knew I had to develop respectful relationships with each provider and aim to be an inspirational, positive role model. Creating links with the OFSTED inspected nursery setting at Mount Pleasant military base offered a great inspiration to engage settings on their journey ahead.
Managing Resources and Risks
Local government invested a significant amount of money in this project targeted at specific actions; £1,000,000 was proposed and agreed prior to my post, to enable childcare providers to create quality settings which will meet regulatory standards. An on-going scheme of subsidy was also agreed to allow providers to meet staff to child ratios. This part of the budget was non-negotiable and could not be used freely within my project.
The aims of my project sought deeper impact. One aim was to enrich staff with knowledge and confidence through training. As there was no direct budget to enable this, I had to find a solution by working with various outside agencies. I worked with the local training centre and negotiated a reduced cost for first aid and food safety training. Costs were reduced from £60 per course to £8.
I identified that the major gap in training was childcare qualifications. The majority of the qualified childcare practitioners were not working within the childcare sector due to the low salaries. Through negotiations with the training centre, I delivered the City and Guilds Level 1 Caring for Children Award, carrying the cost for preparation, delivery and assessment within my role. The training centre further agreed to fund the City and Guilds learning assistant costs of £70 per person. Over twenty providers were interested, costing the Training Centre £1700, without factoring in training and assessment hours. A further barrier to the training was the limited availability of bank staff in order to release staff for training during working hours. I worked with providers to find a compromise, the result was that training on Saturday mornings enabled twenty five childcare staff to enrol and train together.
My aim for improving communication and language in the Early Years set the steps required. The first step was to identify KPI’s to ensure the project met the aims. The next step was to develop relationships with the childcare providers, as well as outside agencies such government departments and Mount Pleasant School. The next stage was to baseline providers against the NMS to create each setting’s action plan, as well as provide related training including Level 1 Childcare Award and Safeguarding. The baseline assessment involved observation, modelling of activities and developing a bespoke training programme for each provider. (See Appendix 4) For example, one setting asked for training on completing accident forms, where as another asked for behaviour management training. While these steps were being implemented, the legislation to make childcare regulations into law was moving along concurrently as this was the backbone of the project.
Analysis of all factors leading to project success identified significant risks. Each strand depends on another and therefore if failed, this could impact negatively on the whole project. I used a risk register and identified staff turnover and correct implementation of NMS presented the highest risk, both separate but intrinsically linked. Implementing the NMS and underwriting this action with the regulations would improve standards and retain staff. Any delay in the implementation of regulations would result in childcare providers losing staff due to the reasons identified at the start of the project. Other risks identified were the quality of buildings and resources, as well as low staff salaries.
Strategy & improvement
There were various points when I needed to analyse data, progress and attainment. I carried out a detailed analysis of the FS1 baseline data on entry in 2017 and this formed the basis of the supporting evidence for three Executive Council submissions in June and November 2018. (See Appendix 1 and 2). I also analysed FS1 data at the end of each term, and noted an increase in communication and language standards.
Following every visit to a childcare provider, I wrote a report stating the focus of the visit and any actions to address. This enabled me to track the progress of each provider. I carried out a mid-course survey as well as an end of course evaluation using Survey Monkey during the Level One Award and Diploma. This was an excellent method to gather views and influenced further training.
L1 NVQ modules were Growth and Development of Young Children, Supporting Babies to Play, Understanding Learning and Development through Play and Respecting and Valuing children. These modules provided a necessary relevant base upon which staff could continue to build.
Evaluation tools enabled the group chose the additional eight modules once the Level 1 course moved onto the diploma. Modules were chosen specifically to bridge gaps in current knowledge and to provide essential skills. I designed the course specifically to meet the needs of my students, adding elements that I identified were essential e.g. for the module ‘Practical Health and Safety’, I formulated activities where the students wrote risk assessments for the every day trips they do and to identified why these are important. I also included a two hour session from the Health Visitor who spoke to the childcare staff about sickness and handwashing. To experienced childcare professionals, these issues may seem basic; it is assumed that staff should know it already. However, as described previously, most childcare staff (even though most are educated, some at degree level) lacked any childcare qualifications, knowledge or experience. Hence, every session provided was received well and motivation for learning remained high throughout the course.
As well as staff wanting to continue learning and developing confidence, an additional reason to continue the course was that the Saturday morning sessions were providing an important support network. Some of the course participants were childminders which can be a lonely job. The course provided an opportunity to network with other childcare workers.
Teaching & Curriculum Excellence
A strength of this project has been the increase in staff confidence. At the start of the Level One course, the same two participants would offer answers. Throughout the course, other participants became confident to offer their opinion and once it was realised that the learning environment was supportive and non-judgemental, even the quietest participant offered ideas freely. During my weekly visits, it was incredible to see how elements of the course were feeding into provision. For example, as part of the Understanding Learning and Development through Play module, we visited the FS classrooms to observe their provision. The FS2 teacher had prepared learning activities for the childcare staff and everyone had the opportunity to look around the learning environment and ask questions. The participants appeared inspired by this and by the following week two of the nurseries had a role play area, led by the children’s interests.
This leads me to identify a weakness, this being that training opportunities are limited. The necessary courses needed to meet the bronze level of the NMS are available, even if only offered a few times a year. However, early years courses are limited in the Falkland Islands. This could result in knowledge loss and enthusiasm becoming stale. In the UK for example, the majority of childcare providers have access to a varied and stimulating training programmes. In the Falkland Islands, this training programme was developed by myself in collaboration with the training centre and due to our isolation, variety is limited.
My main aim was to improve the communication and language skills of the early years children that attend a nursery or childminder. This may seem like a simple task, yet with a lack of training or quality role models this was challenging. From observing staff and children in the setting, the evidence was clear that many staff didn’t know how to talk to children. In one setting, the only time the children were spoken to was when they were being told not to do something or given a command to eat a meal. Through weeks of observation, it became apparent that staff did not see the benefit of playing and talking to the children. When this was addressed with a staff member, they reported that they felt they weren’t doing their job properly if they were seen sitting on the floor and talking to children. Early on in my project this evaluation heavily influenced my training as it struck me that staff were unsure what their actual job role was. The majority of the childcare sector was enrolled onto my course so I was able to address the issue of job role immediately. During an activity I asked the childcare staff to write on a post-it note what they felt their main role was - no one wrote ‘talk to the children’. Phrases such as ‘feed the children’, ‘look after them’, ‘keep them safe’ were repeated but no one identified that talking was important. This led me to engage the support of the speech therapist in the session about respecting and valuing children through talking and listening to them. This session involved watching video clips of adults playing with children and identifying whether their interactions were effective. This was a real ‘light bulb’ moment for some staff as this activity forced them to reflect on their own practice. This change in mind-set was apparent during my next weekly visits. Not only was the setting slowly changing and new play opportunities were available, which usually encouraged speech, staff were observed sitting down and simply chatting to the children. This was heart-warming to see.
Leading with Impact
Leadership styles, as described by Goleman, Boyatzis and McKee (2004) include coaching, visionary, affiliative, democratic, pace-setting and commanding. The first four styles are considered as being the most effective approach in leadership and these are in fact the four styles that I have adopted throughout my project. (Goleman, 2004) The visionary style, or authorative style as referred to by Hay McBer, is when a leader moves people towards a shared vision, telling them where to go, but not how to get there. As my project is about improving childcare, it was essential to lead staff towards the shared vision. I achieved this by recognising that the childcare providers were fully capable of reaching the end goal of the project. The next step addressed that they did not know what the end result looked like. It was established that they needed to improve, but they had not had the opportunity to see what a regulated nursery looked like. Through the course and visits to MPA nursery, staff started to see what they should aspire too. When working with the settings to create their action plan, I adopted both the coaching and democratic style. I supported them to celebrate their current strengths and identify the actions needed to address their weaknesses. In listening to and valuing their input, my democratic style gained the trust, respect and commitment from settings. As Hay McBer states, the most effective leaders are able to switch flexibly among leadership styles as needed. (Goleman, 2004) The overall approach that I felt was necessary was the affiliative style. This was crucial in order to build team harmony and trust through building strong emotional bonds and improving communication.
Effective communication is key to this project. I use email for daily communications as this enables me to keep track of discussions and information sent. This has been effective with the majority of settings, where it is not, I visited regularly instead to deliver the same messages and information. This supported the development of my relationship with this tricky setting, as it gave us the opportunity to address other issues when necessary, in a relaxed manner. The Nursery Liason Officer edits the fortnightly newsletter. This has proved to be an effective method of announcing dates and events. This is complemented with termly Nursery Alliance meetings, run by my team, which address a range of issues. When I started delivering the NVQ course a private Nursery Alliance facebook group was created for positive networking. This has been an amazing way to bring the childcare sector together and the settings are posting a range of ideas and tips. I feel that by getting nurseries to see themselves as a community, the change will be sustained because it comes from within.
Working in Partnership
Throughout the duration of the project I collaborated with a variety of specialists within and outside of my team. Within my team, I worked closely with the Nursery Liason Officer to ensure that the childcare staff are supported with resources and activity ideas. I also worked closely with the FS staff, one of whom delivered a session on Understanding Learning and Development through play as part of the NVQ training.
In delivering the modules ‘Practical Health and Safety’ and ‘Supporting babies to play’, I recruited the Health Visitor and Speech Therapist to deliver a session each. This was welcomed by both specialists as they wanted to target the childcare sector, but often found it difficult to deliver information to all staff at the same time.
I sought support from other specialists throughout the project, ranging from the Public Health Advisor to the Labour Force Specialist.
Managing Resources and Risks
As described during the design phase, the budget regarding capital development and subsidy are set. Subsidy costs will be reviewed annually in relation to inflation and feedback from settings. The main issue to consider will be ‘Is the subsidy enabling settings to retain staff?’ I will lead any necessary change.
The on-going success of the childcare sector in the Falkland Islands relies on sound analysis of the financial and staffing implications. The major implication is the funding needed to cover staff when they attend training, or are ill, and the effect of this on settings being able to stay within ratio standards. As described, there is limited bank staff, resulting in absent staff not being covered, and ratios not being met. This is identified as a next step requiring a funding proposal.
Cost of training is another implication. Maintaining free or reduced fee courses may be a challenge, but is essential because if childcare settings are to pay full price, this will limit the amount of staff that attend and thus reduce the impact on their practice.
The government have provided funding for my role, the role of the Nursery Liaison Officer and reduced cost training. However, I have no budget for miscellaneous costs such as hosting Nursery Alliance meetings and training courses, or buying resources for use during modelling activities. I have proposed this in the next budget submission.
I assess the performance and capability of others and identify development opportunities by managing the performance of six early years staff. I work with staff to set SMART targets which address whole school aims, as well as addressing each staff member’s developmental needs.
With each childcare setting, I have carried out a pre-inspection against the NMS criteria. This has provided a solid baseline of the current state of each setting and in collaboration with the setting, we are able to formulate an achievable improvement action plan.
Throughout the course and through observations I support individuals to reflect on their performance and ability and adjust course plans to target development opportunities.
Throughout the project I have faced situations that have taken me out of my comfort zone. Having worked within a school environment with like-minded professionals for the majority of my career, working within this environment has been challenging at times. I am proud of the way I have become respected, adaptable, courageous and persistent. Working with different government departments has been a learning curve and developed my ability to advocate for what I believe is most beneficial for the childcare sector. This project is absorbing; every part of my job role is linked to an aspect of the project. Some aspects are controlled by another government department, which presents frustrations as the childcare project is my working world, but to other departments, it is a snippet of their daily routine. Working in this environment has developed my resilience; I know I have the strength to lead effectively, even when faced with multiple barriers.
My professional development interests are to become an accredited trainer for more early years training courses such as ELKLAN, Talk Time and possibly the Level Two or Three early years course. These courses will further develop my skills as a practitioner and for training adults, with dual benefit for the childcare sector.
Teaching & Curriculum Excellence
My project’s aim addresses the impact of decades of inadequate early years provision. The project is a success, but this is far from the end. The childcare sector has been on an incredible journey over the past eleven months. The settings have acknowledged the need for change and are on board. At the time of writing, all nurseries and five childminders gained provisional registration (meets the Bronze standard) and this marks the start of their transition to full compliance with the NMS.
The training element of the project has had particular success, in terms of improving knowledge and confidence building. I will carry out the Level One course again next year for new staff that have recently started in the sector. Once the law is enacted next month, and the sector is regulated, the training centre will offer Level Two and Three qualifications in childcare.
Settings have demonstrated drastic improvement. Most feature role play areas, book corners and improved outdoor facilities. Staff are planning weekly activities and one setting holds planning meetings to plan weekly themed weeks. It is evident that children are more focused, happy and engaged. Staff report that behaviour has improved and this is evident through observations of calm atmospheres. Observing staff engaged in quality interactions e.g. singing to, talking to, laughing and playing with the children, is now common.
At the start of the project, I described two of the settings as being ‘the early majority’ and one as being a ‘laggard’. Remarkably, one of early majority has become so motivated that are now ‘innovators’ in our community of childcare providers. They demonstrate eagerness to be the best provider, ensuring that they were first to register and meet the bronze standards of the NMS before the law is enacted. They recently self-funded a trip to Washington to participate in an Early Years conference and have enrolled on a Level Four online Early Years course. This has had a tangible positive effect on the whole sector as they inspire others to improve. This is significant shift is transformational: this time last year the same setting was unable to recognise that talking to children was beneficial.
The project has had a positive impact on FS1 baseline standards. In October 2017, 52% of the children were below or considerably below ARE, with 87.5 % of the children attending a childcare provider. This year’s on entry data only indicates a 2% improvement with 50% being below or considerably below. However, out of these children, only 17% attend a childcare provider, indicating a significant improvement from 2017. The KPI of 100% of children achieving ARE has not been achieved at this stage but the project is still in its early stages.
The impact of this project is monitored annually with on-entry data analysis by my early years school-based team. The positive impact of this project goes even further than the original aims i.e. a significant national benefit is the increased attraction of the Falkland Islands as a place to live, work and raise a family. My on-going work will now be to ensure providers consistently meet and aspire to improve on their measured standards.
Negotiating NVQ course actual costs from £353.63 pp to £0 for providers was pivotal. Evaluating the course supports the decision to enrol a maximum of ten students in future courses. This will enable the assessment and preparation time to be manageable while balancing other activities to support the providers.
To further improve the cost effectiveness of childcare improvement, I have brokered an arrangement with the Education department where childcare providers are included in school training e.g. that provided by visiting specialists such as Clinical and Educational Psychologists. The cost is carried by the schools, who eventually reap the benefits of the improved childcare sector.