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Conference plenaries 2016

Annual National Conference 2016: plenary sessions

A process-oriented strategy for the improvement of quality in education
Wellbeing and involvement as the guides
Professor Ferre Laevers

The experiential framework covers three starting points for looking at quality. At the centre stand the process-variables wellbeing and involvement.  They signal to us the extent to which the learning environment succeeds in mobilising the energy of the child in relation to his or her development. From there we revisit the learning environment and identify the active ingredients for raising levels of wellbeing and involvement in children.

But all that is just a means to get to the essential goal of early years practice: to foster sustainable development  in every child. These connections between the learning environment, the process and the outcomes and the implications for practice and policy will be highlighted and supported by evidence from research.

The unfolding of children: inspiring thinking on child development
Professor Chris Pascal

This session will focus on the importance of practitioners having an understanding and knowledge of child development through the foundation years and key stage 1 (birth to 8 years) and the critical role of this phase of development in a child’s long term wellbeing and achievement. 

Whilst acknowledging the unique developmental progress of children, it will explore children’s unique journey as they pass from babyhood through the school years in key aspects of their learning and development, including personal, social and emotional development; communication and language skills; and physical development. 

It will also contextualise that developmental process to understand the influence of close interpersonal relationships (Trevarthan) and wider ecological influences (Bronfrenbrenner) including the role of key persons (Bowlby), family and the wider social and cultural influences on development.

Finally, it will explore how to create a learning environment to support optimal child development in the early years. This includes the development of a supportive pedagogic environment, ethos and climate, positive and empowering relationships and interactions, group organisational strategies and challenging, play based, child initiated activity.

I am 2! Seeing things my way
Dr Kay Mathieson

Being 2 is one of the most exciting and formative times in our lives and there are amazing transformations that take place in all of the prime areas.

Increasingly our 2-year-olds are spending time in EYFS settings, the importance of sensitive, responsive interactions and high quality provision must be central to our practice. Engaging parents in a shared understanding of their young child’s development involves creating a relationship that encourages sharing of specialist knowledge from home combining with specialist knowledge from the setting.   Keeping the child central to our thinking is essential to maintaining positive communication over time. A key event in this relationship is the integrated review when parent, early years and health practitioner perspectives are brought together to consider a child’s progress. If we really seek to continually improve our practice our preparation for this event will begin when we first meet parent and child.

This keynote gives time and opportunity to reflect on a 2-year-old's perspective and challenges us to explore our practice as experienced by the child, their parents, our colleagues and professionals beyond the setting.

Being curious, being confident, being courageous
Why practitioners (as well as children) need these attributes
Professor Julie Fisher

Being an early years practitioner is demanding. In the course of a working day practitioners make a myriad split-second decisions about how to behave and how to respond in ways that will enhance children’s learning and development. So what attributes enable those working with young children to get it right?

This keynote considers how practitioners know what they need to know in order to support and extend children’s understanding of themselves and the world around them. It examines how practitioners become knowledgeable and articulate about young children’s learning and the impact this has on the many ways that learning is facilitated and encouraged. And it asks how, in a climate of top-down pressure, practitioners stand firm in their beliefs in order to offer children an education that is appropriate, meaningful and life-enhancing.

Speaker biographies

Professor Julie Fisher is an Independent Early Years Adviser and Visiting Professor of Early Childhood Education at Oxford Brookes University.  She held the post of Early Years Adviser in Oxfordshire for 11 years during which time she was chair of the Early Years Curriculum Group and the National Association of Inspectors, Advisers and Consultants Early Childhood Group.  In 2001 she became the first elected chair of the independent national Early Childhood Forum.  Before moving to Oxfordshire, Julie was lecturer in early childhood education at the University of Reading.  She has taught children from 3 to 12 years and has been headteacher of two urban, multi-cultural schools.

Working with a number of schools in Oxfordshire, Julie completed a three year research project on the transition of children from the Foundation Stage to Key Stage 1, culminating in her book Moving On to Key Stage 1: improving transition from the Early Years Foundation Stage. She has recently completed a further research project studying adult-child interactions with children from six months to six years, the outcomes from which have been written up in her forthcoming book Interacting or Interfering? improving interactions in the early years (to be published January 2016).

Julie is author of a number of articles on early childhood education as well as her other books  Starting from the Child (now in its 4th edition) and The Foundations of Learning.  

Professor Ferre Laevers is director of the Research Centre for Experiential Education based at the University of Leuven and co-founder and former President of the European Early Childhood Education Research Association. Most of his work is linked to the innovative Experiential Education project (EXE) of which he was the founding father, more than 35 years ago.  In EXE, a child’s wellbeing and the intensity of his or her mental activity (involvement) is seen as a key indicator for the power of the learning environment and a condition for deep-level learning.

Other notable positions he has held include member of the editorial board of the European Early Childhood Education Research Journal, author of the background report for Flanders in the context of the OECD-Review on the “Policy on early childhood education and care”, member of the OECD-Review teams on the Policy on early childhood education and care in the UK and France and visiting professor that the University of Hertfordshire.

Dr Kay Mathieson has worked in Early Years and primary settings since 1981. This has included supporting children with additional needs, especially behaviour, and their families. She led the Early Years Inclusion Team in a London Borough for 6 years, which involved supporting  private, voluntary and independent sector settings to develop more inclusive practice. She has completed her PhD research into the development of social competence in young children at Sussex University. She worked part time with the National Strategies as an Early Years Regional Adviser until 2011 when she became a Director of Linden Learning, an ethical educational training and consultancy business.

She has a particularly interest in exploring what life is like in our early years settings for 2-year-olds and the way in which children with additional needs and their families are included effectively. This has led to her most recent book that uses case studies to explore the SEND Code of Practice 2014 Inclusion in EYFS (Open University Press 2015), I am two! Working Effectively with two year olds and their families (Early Education, 2013) and Understanding Young Children’s Behaviour (Practical Preschool Publications, 2012)

Professor Christine Pascal OBE is Director of Centre for Research in Early Childhood (CREC), an independent charitable research centre, based at the St Thomas Children's Centre in Birmingham and, along with Professor Tony Bertram, is also Director of Amber Publications and Training. She was a teacher in primary schools in Birmingham from 1976 to 1985, before moving into the university sector and specialising in early childhood research and evaluation projects. She has been Director of the Effective Early Learning (EEL) Project, the Accounting Early for Life Long Learning (AcE) Project, and was the National Evaluator of the DfES Early Excellence Centre Programme. She has also led several cross national research projects into early years policy and practice.

Currently she is President of the European Early Childhood Education Research Association (EECERA). She was President of the British Association for Early Childhood Education (Early Education) from 1994-1997, and is now a Vice President. She has also done extensive work at government level to support the development of early years policy, sitting on a number of national committees, has served as a ministerial advisor, and since 2000 has been an Early Years Specialist Adviser to the House of Commons Select Committee on Education. She has written extensively on early childhood development and the quality of early education services and served as an Expert Advisor to Dame Tickell’s review of the EYFS in England. She is currently engaged in developing a cross-national Early Years policy comparison tool as part of a project conducted with the IEA (Netherlands). She was awarded the OBE for services to young children in 2008 and a Nursery World Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012.