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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Alison Featherbe on Improving CPD in the Early Years
Here’s the full interview with Alison Featherbe, where she and I discuss:
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.