Julian Grenier: The key interview takeaways:
Dr Julian Grenier is the headteacher of Sheringham Nursery School and Children's Centre in Newham, East London and the lead author of the Department for Education's Development Matters guidance. Julian is also a founding fellow of the Chartered College of Teaching (and recommends their Eary Years Hub).
And, most impressively, after thirty years in the sector, this year Julian was awarded a CBE for services to Early Years Education.
We caught up with Julian at Nursery World 2022 to find out how he's feeling about catch-up, covid recovery, and how the Development Matters guidance has been embraced by the sector.
Julian witnessed first-hand the difficulty children, who'd lived almost their whole lives in lockdown, had when they entered nursery at two years old. At Sherringham Nursey, Julian and his team focussed on PSED and how they created partnerships with parents, to make this transition as easy as possible.
However, Julian notes that this hasn't effort to welcome families back in hasn't happened in all Early Years settings. Even now restrictions have gone, some Early Years providers are still keeping parents at the door, as it's 'easier', but that this is not best practice. The Sherringham team have been working closely with families to ensure children feel safe, settled, and ready to make progress.
One of the things that Julian is delighted to be able to do again, now Covid restrictions have loosened, is to take the children at his setting on trips again. Julian explains that if we want children to make progress in their speech and language, we ought to give them something interesting to talk about. Even simple things like going to the shop or riding the bus mean children can get thinking and talking about something new and exciting.
But while the restrictions were hard, Julian also found that Covid offered the setting some really important learnings. When parents couldn't enter the nursery, the Sherrignham team made really good use of digital platforms to maintain partnerships with parents and support home learning.
Julian explains that they no longer send a traditional newsletter, but offer smaller, more frequent communications to parents, with more pictures and videos. The feedback they've had is that parents prefer this and the leaders in the setting can offer other useful resources, like an activity idea, or a story read by the child's key person.
And catching up? Julian says we can't really know what the long-term impact of Covid will be for the young children who've lived through it, but his outlook is positive. Julian says that his hunch is that children are remarkably resilient and will 'bounce back' with high-quality Early Years provision.
To quote Julian, as practitioners, "We need to be the best we can be."
Julian is really proud of Development Matters and is pleased with how it's helped to reduce unnecessary paperwork and assessments in the sector.
However, Julian feels it's regrettable that there ended up being two separate non-statutory curriculum guidance documents for the Early Years Foundation Stage framework. While Julian does acknowledge that it can be good to have different resources, his wish was that all the professionals had come together to create one document, so there was less confusion for providers about which was 'the right one'.
Julian explains that we have a lot of practice development to do in terms of assessing SEND children. As adults, Julian says, Early Years practitioners spend too much time assessing child development, especially for SEND children, and not enough time on finding different ways of making the curriculum accessible.
Julian is passionate about removing spurious age and stage bands from assessment, as this fails to acknowledge how children develop at different rates. However, it is even more important that we don't band a child with SEND as younger than they are, as this is not useful or good practice, and it doesn't help us in understanding the child's barriers to learning or learning differences.
For example, a three-year-old child with ASD may have a delay in communication and language. However, you would not address this concern by assessing them as '12 months old' for communication, as they are not communicating like a 12-month-old. The strategies Early Years providers use to support a 12-month-old's communication are not the same as those you would use for an Autistic three-year-old, so the assessment does not help to identify need or plan the right support.
Instead, professionals working with SEND (and all) children should focus on inclusive practice. Julian explains that our practice should support that child to access our curriculum, education, and experiences, rather than excluding them to special educational provision.
A 'structured process of formative assessment' can support professionals working with SEND children to identify and celebrate their learning strengths, as well as identify the barriers to learning, so they can be addressed.
Julian recommends that as Early Years practitioners, we be much more ambitious about what progress the children with SEND in our care can achieve, with the right support.
Julian has found that creating a real focus on children's communication, through Talking Times, has had really good results. All the children have a specific time for a small group activity with a book, twice a week. Children are encouraged to take part and talk about the book, which can be less intimidating in these small groups.
Julian explains that before, they assumed that having a conversation-rich environment was enough, but they've learned that it's not good enough. While he admits it's hard to schedule this small-group time with staff, it's shown to be worth it.
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.