One of the biggest changes in my career has been in the Early Years. This has of course delighted me as it is my biggest passion area within Education. The Government had an objective of providing a free pre-school place for every 4 year old child by 1998/99 and for every 3 year old by 2002. However Scotland has had many important early childhood education pioneers: initially and early, the philanthropist Robert Owen, who is famed for saying:
“At no age is the desire of knowledge stronger than in childhood” Robert Owen (1781-1858).
By the early years of the 20th Century Nursery Schools and Child Gardens were opening in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee. The development of provision for children was matched by new courses to educate teachers: infant and nursery teacher specialisms developed as an additional year of teacher education. The primary influence of the family was increasingly understood. Working with families must therefore be a vital component of putting policies into practice.
However pre 1997 there was little formal and council led Early Years provision in Argyll and Bute. The main Pre School Provision was in the form of voluntary groups and community play groups. When my own children were little I was heavily involved with the Scottish Playgroup Association. The early years of school were already a great interest for me but my fascination for the very early years began with the involvement with SPA.
In 1997 the development of Pre School Units within our schools began to meet the government policy drive. Margaret Lauder was the Pre School Officer who led these developments in Argyll and Bute. Margaret was so committed to early years she decided to extend her family and have another baby. Margaret then job shared with Alison MacKenzie and these two exceptionally talented and committed professionals taught me lots about the world of Care Commission, legal aspects and building requirements. They both valued my early years pedagogy and we formed a good team for those initial days of developing Early Years in Argyll and Bute. Since those early days the area has really grown and developed and become a national infrastructure. I have been really fortunate to have led developments in early years both locally and nationally Early Years.
The years from mid 1990s saw a rapid increase in the importance of Early Years and were influenced in new statutory policy. Since the establishment of the Scottish Parliament in 1999 most of our laws that affect children and their families are now enacted in Edinburgh rather than in London, and most of the legislation that affects children today has been introduced following. More time to discuss and agree laws affecting Scotland has resulted in a substantial body of new legislation impacting on children, such as the Additional Support for Learning legislation and the Children’s Hearings Act, aimed at improving the lives of our youngest citizens.
|Children (Scotland) Act 1995||Local authorities must produce “children’s services plans” (s.19), must provide day care for “children in need‟ and can provide day care for other children (s.27)|
|Education (Scotland) Act 1980 (as amended in 2000)||As amended, places a duty on local authorities to provide early education.|
|Regulation of Care (Scotland) Act 2001 asp 8 (as amended)||Established the Scottish Social Services Council which registers staff|
|Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004 (as amended 2009)||The local authority has a power to provide additional support to any child living in their area. However, they must provide additional support to: school children (including pre-school education) provided by or in partnership with the local authority and to disabled children under school age who are brought to their attention|
My initial leadership activity with Early Years in Argyll and Bute were at teacher, senior teacher, depute head teacher and head teacher. I had the responsibility of developing the “new” Pre 5 Provision in Inveraray and as such became a regularly contributor to the growing local authority policies and guidelines. I remember a very heated conversation with an associate inspector for HMIe who could not understand why the Pre 5 in Inveraray was not run in a similar way to her own nursery in Edinburgh. There began a deep conviction to ensuring our rural context is taken into account in all national policy.
In 2008 the Scottish Government set out a vision for early years services in Scotland to ensure that children get ‘the best start in life’. The Early Years Framework recognised that what happens to children in their earliest years says much about our society and is key to outcomes in adult life. This is supported by a wide range of research evidence from education, health, justice and economic experts. The framework was about giving all our children the best start in life.
To meet the needs of taking forward the Early Years reviewed the governance system and created a new post of a Quality Improvement Manager to manage the new multi-agency approach. I began this role in June 2007.
In response to The Early Years Framework, agenda Douglas Hendry, Director of Community Services instigated the merger of the two elements of the early years services which traditionally sat within Education and Children and Families. A new post of Quality Improvement Manager was created in June 2007 and I was fortunate enough to take forward this exciting role to be the strategic lead for children in Argyll and Bute aged 0-8 years. My main responsibilities were:
- To develop an integrated Early Years Service which provides quality, engagement and early intervention in light of developing national picture.
- To provide challenge and support to schools and early years providers to ensure highest quality management and provision.
- To contribute policy and service development for Early Years by supporting the Heads of Service (Children and Families and Education).
I led the Early Years Service through a time of change implementing a service review at the heart of this work were the commitment to quality, engagement and intervention. I had wider responsibility as a senior officer within Children and Families for working with in the GIRFEC model. This opportunity widened my knowledge and ensured that I had a wider view on delivery of services. I led the Early Years theme in the Validated Self Evaluation undertaken by Argyll and Bute Education Service. The result of this self-evaluation identified the Early Years sector as strong, making very positive impact on children and their families and in a very good place for further developments. Throughout this work I was supported by the amazing Early Years team
The basis of the work and the core of the vision and values was based on the impact of early interventions. The photo of the two brains of a child which indicated neglect was and continues to be a real wake up call for me. This influential project has been the long term evaluation of the 1960’s American High Scope Perry Pre-school project. In 1962, 64 children aged 3 and 4 who were considered at risk of failing at school were provided with high quality pre-school education.
The importance of early intervention has become a real focus for Scotland and the Heckman Curve demonstrates that “early interventions promote economic efficiency and reduce lifetime inequality” but: “early investments must be followed by later investments if maximum value is to be realised” (Heckman, 2008).
The commitment to the long term investment in Early Years has seen growth on the provision offered and as at August 2020 Argyll and Bute were on target to meet the implementation of the National Early Years programme for 1140 hours of Early Learning and Childcare. Our provision is built on our access to the environment, our culture and our partnership working. One of the commitments is for 50% access to the outdoors. All of our provision has looked at how to ensure this is in place and I am delighted that this work is part of the legacy that I leave behind. It was brilliant to show Marie Todd, Minister for Children and Young People, visit Argyll and Bute and see the difference we are making.
There are many fabulous people associated with Early Years across Scotland and the UK who have been such an influence on me during my career. Some people who need a wee mention are Alice Sharp, Marion Burns, Liz Paterson, June O Sullivan, Professor Aline Wendy Dunlop, Jenny Carey, Juliet Robertson, Iram Siraj, Kathleen Johnson, Linda Burgar, Ruth Reid, and Stephen Glen-Lee. The introduction of the Children and Young People Improvement Collaborative has also been a wonderful opportunity to build the multi-agency work around the children and their families. We take this forward through the multi-agency work in Argyll and Bute as part of the Strategic Group for Argyll and Bute’s Children. A great success story was the Top Team Award for the GIRFEC Approach. Huge thanks to my colleague and friend Tricia Renfrew for teaching me so much about GIRFEC.
- The Early Years FrameworkRealising the Ambition: Being Me (2020) is the national practice guidance for early years in Scotland. The guidance covers the period from birth through early childhood into primary education.
- Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) builds on the solid foundations developed in the critical years pre-birth to three. Within CfE, children are entitled to a broad general education from age three until the end of S3. The early level of CfE for most children spans the period of time from age three until the end of Primary 1. It supports a smooth transition in learning between ELC and primary school.
- How good is our early learning and childcare? (2016) provides a suite of quality indicators. These support staff to look inwards, to scrutinise their work and evaluate what is working well for babies, toddlers and young children, and what could be better. The framework is designed to be used to support self-evaluation for self-improvement by practitioners at all levels.
- Getting it Right for Every Child (Scottish Government, 2012).
- Education Scotland Act (2000, 2009) and the Children and Young People’s Act 2014.
- Dunlop, A-W (2015) Aspirations and actions: early childhood from policy to practice in Scotland. International Journal of Early Years Education, Vol. 23, No. 3, 258– 273.