The Famly Interview: Alison Featherbe on Improving CPD in the Early Years

Continuous professional development helps teachers, children and families alike.
July 29, 2020
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Alison Featherbe: The 5 key interview takeaways

  • Because of funding cuts to the Early Years sector in recent years, CPD is becoming an increasingly privatised service, and fewer settings are investing in it.
  • There are plenty of CPD resources available online, but there’s almost too much — it takes time and know-how to sort through and find the good stuff.
  • Face-to-face learning is still the best option. It’s important to have room for debate and discussion, especially when we’re learning new pedagogies or unlearning bad habits.
  • Good CPD teachers need to give their students concrete expectations of what they’ll learn in the course. This makes it easier to share that knowledge with the whole team.
  • Implementing CPD lessons, and knowing what to focus on, needs to start with strong relationships and a good understanding of one’s team, children and families.

Like we often say with children, learning is a lifelong process.

So why do we sometimes forget that once we grow up?

Well, there are plenty of reasons it might feel like that. One of them is that when we’re talking about grown-up learning, we often use a different term: Continuous professional development, or CPD.

And if you’re talking about CPD in the Early Years sector, you should turn to Alison Featherbe.

Alison is an Early Years consultant and trainer, with a particular focus on leadership and management training and staff development. Her work is helping those in the sector keep building new skills over their whole careers. That is to say, CPD is her bread and butter.

I connected with Alison at this year’s Nursery World Show to discuss the state of CPD in the Early Years sector, and where we might take it in the years to come.

You can take a look at some of the biggest insights from the interview in the clips below, or scroll to the bottom of the page to watch the full 15-minute interview.

Where are we now with training in the Early Years?

With the funding issues that the Early Years sector has faced in recent years, Alison says that continued professional development (CPD) is often one of the first things to get cut. The danger that we’re seeing is that CPD becomes a privatised service, available only to the settings that have the extra money to invest in it. This is a problem — all settings deserve to give their team continued training and learning resources, so that workers in the sector can build their skills throughout their career.

What do people invest in instead of CPD?

Around the 1:40 mark, Alison talks about what settings invest in rather than CPD. In most cases, safeguarding and welfare take priority, as well as putting more resources into leadership and management. This is tied into the new Ofsted framework, she says, which gives more responsibility to team leads and managers to develop the rest of their staff.

Where do we go for training these days?

Because team leads and managers have so much responsibility for the training and development of their team, they’ve got to be creative. The good news, Alison says, is there are plenty of resources online. You can find hundreds of lectures, blogs, podcasts, articles, videos and full training courses on nearly every aspect of the Early Years sector. But when there’s so much of it, it takes time to find the good stuff. Because team leads and managers are already so busy, it can be hard to find the time to collect the best training resources for one’s team.

The value of face-to-face training

Just after the 3:30 mark, Alison gets into why face-to-face training is still important. Online resources are good, but they’ve got less opportunity for discussion and debate, which is especially important for new or contentious issues. Open discussion helps people digest new info, unlearn bad habits, and reconsider their attitudes toward certain pedagogies. Online CPD has its value, but it’s not a full substitute for in-person training.

Choosing what to focus on in CPD

At the 4:30 timestamp, Alison talks about what we should focus on in Early Years CPD. The most important thing, she says, is that we choose courses or build skills that pay off over time. We shouldn’t just go to a weekend session, learn a few neat facts, and never revisit them. We need to build skills that we use regularly in the long run.

Sharing CPD learnings with the whole team

So how do we share what we learn with our team? If you’ve just spent three to six hours at a seminar, you probably won’t be able to pass along every single thing you learned. It’s on the CPD lecturer to give good learning outcomes at the start, to make it clear to attendees exactly what they can expect to learn. Taking notes, and setting aside time to discuss these learnings with teammates both make a big difference, Alison says.

Making change that works for you and your setting

It’s hard to encourage effective learning if you don’t know your team well. Alison emphasises the importance of knowing your team member’s strengths and weaknesses, and also knowing the children and family at your setting. Considering all the personal relationships at your setting is the key to implementing effective changes, as it must be tailored to suit where you’re at and who you’re working with.

Adults’ role in development

At just about nine minutes in, Alison talks about how adults can provide an environment for children to learn through play. A major strength here, she says, is knowing when to pull back.
It’s the difference between interacting and interfering — you need to set children up for play and exploration, but let them take the lead in that environment.

How do we balance interacting versus interfering?

So how do we find that boundary between interacting and interfering? It helps to do a risk-benefit analysis. Take, for example, children playing on a slippery hill. What is really at risk in this situation — and what are they learning, what draws them to play on the hill? Interrupting play, or acting rashly on a perceived risk, could deny children a valuable learning experience.

It’s good to be aware of risks, Alison says. But children are far more clever than we think, and we need to give them the space and opportunity to show that.

The full Alison Featherbe interview:

Alison Featherbe on Improving CPD in the Early Years

Here’s the full interview with Alison Featherbe, where she and I discuss:

  • Why the Early Years sector has invested less in CPD in recent years
  • What settings are spending on instead of CPD
  • Where we can look online for good CPD resources — and what to look for
  • Why online CPD resources aren’t a full substitute for in-person learning
  • How we decide what to focus on in our CPD
  • How CPD educators can make sure their teachings go a long way
  • What CPD course attendees can do to share what they learn with their team
  • Why you need to know your team, children and families well in order to find CPD training that makes sense for you
  • What adults can do to encourage children’s development, and the right distance to give when children are playing and exploring
  • Understanding the balance between interacting and interfering when it comes to play

The big ideas

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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.

Learn more about Famly

Find out below from Neil Leitch about the impact of Famly at the Early Years Alliance, and see what we can do for you in a personal demo.