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Should you aim for accreditations in your early years setting?

The pros and cons of this unique form of early years professional development
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August 31, 2023
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In a rush? Here's the quick run-down.

  • Guest author Emily Hanson explores the pros and cons of working towards accreditation in the early year.
  • While there are plenty of reasons to aim for accreditation, be it offering improved outcomes for children or a selling point for parents, these courses cannot replace robust early years qualification.
  • Emily recommends viewing these off-the-shelf accreditations as the “cherry on top” of your practice. The early years qualifications, like Levels 2 and 3 or PGCE, are what really underpins the knowledge and teaching in your provision.

If you are a regular when it comes to researching continuing professional development, you are likely to be very familiar with the concept of early years accreditations. 

Whether it’s becoming Forest School accredited, becoming a Hygge in the Early Years setting, or a setting approved for the Curiosity Approach, there are accreditations aplenty to apply and train for if your setting is interested. 

It would seem that accreditations are a great way to improve your setting’s reputation while upskilling staff. But is this truly the case? I’d like to talk about the benefits of being an accredited setting - as well as the limitations.

Why become accredited in the early years?

Early years staff development

Accreditations are often exciting projects for a nursery to aim for and there are several benefits too.

  • Supporting the professional development of staff, and therefore overall outcomes for children in your setting.
  • Training up nursery staff in a new discipline such as forest school, for example, can hugely benefit staff members in their overall knowledge and pedagogical awareness.
  • Adding an exciting element of new provision to your offering can also support staff morale - particularly during times when ratios are full and workload is heavy.

This could also support you in overall staff retention and recruitment if your setting becomes known for upskilling and developing staff members. Staff that feel they have gained valuable skills during their time with you are more likely to stay.

Early years setting development 

Some accreditations work wonders to support upskilling your workforce, while others can help you laser focus on improving an area of your setting, such as outdoor play or nursery layouts. In this way, utilising an accreditation to really push forward change and development can be a great way to add a string to your bow while actively improving the outcomes of little ones in your work.

Focusing on accreditation on the back of an Ofsted report, for example, can support you in creating concrete evidence for improvements, while going for accreditation in response to parental feedback is a really robust way of proving you are listening.

Nursery reputation and parental interest

Finally, another great reason to become accredited is to improve the overall reputation of your setting. While many parents won’t have experience or knowledge of what different accreditations mean, popular accreditations like being a forest school setting are very universally appealing. This is particularly true if your setting is based in an area with multiple nurseries for parents to choose from - or several nurseries with excellent Ofsted reports. A parent looking at two nurseries where one has forest school leaders may well choose the setting with a recognised accreditation.

If you’re looking to stand out, formal certification is proof that your nursery works hard to continuously improve and develop. Sharing your journey towards accreditation can also be a great way to get plenty of content on social media platforms, if that’s an area you’re targeting.

If you are keen to develop links and connections with local universities or colleges, accreditations can also be a great reason for PGCE or Level 3 cohort visits!

What to consider before pursuing an early years accreditation

I’ve shared plenty of evidence for why accreditation could work for your setting. Accreditations do have their limits, though - and there are lots of qualifications and elements of organisation that a setting should meet before aiming for accreditation. Let’s run through these a little.

Accreditations do not replace academic and practical training

While accreditations are exciting goals to aim for, they should never replace adequate, formal staff training. Of course, all staff entering your setting will have a qualification baseline - but should budgeting for accreditation come before supporting a staff member to move from level 2 to level 3, or pursue degree level training? I would argue absolutely not.

I like to think of accreditations as cherries on the top of well built cakes, while Level 3 qualifications, PGCEs and degrees are your hardy cake dowels that would keep Mary Berry happy! If you have a workforce of staff members keen to progress their career formally, you are much better placed using budget and staff time to support formal training and development before aiming for the cherries. This is not to say that you shouldn’t aim for those cherries - but make sure you and your staff are happy with their baseline level of training first, especially if your budget requires you to choose between the two.

Accreditations should be a shared decision across the whole team

Sometimes it’s easy to get excited and get carried away with the thought of accreditations. After all, accreditations are run by other businesses and are designed to be shiny and appealing!

With this in mind, it’s key to ensure that the decision to pay for and pursue an accreditation is one made with the opinions of all staff in mind. After all - if your staff have very little interest in pursuing a new form of development, they’ll likely lack the drive to push it through, and that’s money wasted.

If you’re keen to focus on an accreditation, talk to your staff members about what excites them. 

  • What do they feel your setting needs? 
  • What would they be keen to learn about? 
  • What meets the needs of your cohort? 

Take these things into consideration so that the collective decision to pursue a new path is one agreed upon by all.

Accreditations should factor in your cohort and local demographics

It’s vital to consider whether the cost of gaining accreditation, both financial and in terms of time, is the best way to utilise your limited resources for the specific cohort and demographic you serve.

For example, if your nursery is already in a very rural area where your cohort has regular access to outdoor space, but your literacy levels are below the national average, spending additional funding on a forest school accreditation over early literacy provision is likely not the best option. 

The big ideas

download pdf
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Official Danish Government Reopening Advice

Guidance from the Danish Health Ministry, translated in full to English.

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UK Nursery Covid-19 Response Group Recommendations

The full recommendations from a working group of over 70 nursery chains in the UK.

Please note: here at Famly we love sharing creative activities for you to try with the children at your setting, but you know them best. Take the time to consider adaptions you might need to make so these activities are accessible and developmentally appropriate for the children you work with. Just as you ordinarily would, conduct risk assessments for your children and your setting before undertaking new activities, and ensure you and your staff are following your own health and safety guidelines.

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