In 2018 we launched the Alliance's Outstanding Member Awards. The response was overwhelming and attracted an incredible calibre of nominations. As a result, the judging panel felt it necessary to create a new Special Commendation award category. In this way, some nominees could be formally recognised for their dedication and outstanding contribution to early years practice. Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Alliance, said:
“We were so excited to launch our first-ever Outstanding Member Awards this year. The calibre of the nominations we received surpassed our already high expectations. We already know how committed and passionate practitioners are – both paid and volunteers – working tirelessly to delivery quality care and education and provide vital support to local families. It is such a pleasure and so important for us to highlight practitioner excellence and celebrate their contribution across the sector through our awards.
All of this year’s winners and nominees demonstrated an incredible commitment to the early years and a willingness to go beyond expectations to support children and families. They should be very proud of what they have achieved.”
In this blog we share a little insight into the amazing dedication and inspirational practice of our Special Commendation nominees.
Becky Cox, Cholsey Pre School, Cholsey
We Spoke to Rob Wood, Chair of the Cholsey Pre School committee and Becky's nominator for an Outstanding Alliance Member Award, who told us:
"Becky is a very selfless individual whose commitment extends to the wider community outside of the Pre School boundary. I have seen several instances of Becky approaching challenging situations from the perspective of trying to find a way of helping others. One such occasion involved the mother of one of the Pre School pupils, who has difficulty with literacy and therefore struggles with some basic tasks like cooking a meal for her children from scratch rather than a ready meal. Becky designed and produced a series of meal menu cards using photographs of the ingredients and key steps rather than a traditional written recipe... Becky continually goes the extra mile for the Pre School and the wider community. She is a delight to work with and has led the Pre School through two Ofsted inspections, both of which were rated outstanding - which sums her up well."
We love Becky's creative idea on helping parents to feel more confident about how to cook healthy meals for their children (without allowing any obstacles to get in her way) - truly inspirational!
Charnwood Nursery & Pre-school Team, Charnwood Nursery & Pre-school, Leicester
Bev Coltman, Managing Director of the Charnwood Nursery and Pre-school, told us all about their partnership with the local care home, Hadrian House, which has been a huge success, even featuring in local news reports for the area:
"Inspired by Channel 4’s documentary Old People’s homes for 4 year olds, children have been making weekly visits to the local care home (since October 2017) to improve the health and happiness of the older people. This weekly activity has been life changing for the residents, the children and our staff.
Children and residents engage in a variety of activities such as active singing & dancing, inflatable 10-pin bowling, ‘pie-face’, cooking, art & crafts, balloon play, reading stories, sharing photos and feeding the squirrels."
The setting also emphasises outdoor learning, as Bev explains:
"On-site children take part in experiences such as; outdoor cooking, den building, texture kitchen, transient art wood whittling and using tools.
Children go on weekly outings where they spend a full day in a completely natural environment, enjoying mud sliding, tree climbing, learning about wildlife and natural creativity."
A parent sums it all up the best, with her testimonial for the setting which says:
"Thank you for giving my babies the best start in life."
What a fantastic testiment to all the hard work and dedication for the Charnwood Nursery and Pre-school Team!
Gill Moore, Hadley Under and Over 5's Nursery and Preschool, Telford
Kerry Jones, Setting Manager, nominated Gill Moore for the Lifetime Achievement Award due to her tireless committment to providing high quality care and education to the local community for 50 years. She told us:
"Gill still remains the very bedrock of our nursery and preschool, fifty years on from its humble beginnings... Some 15 years ago Gill spearheaded a massive fundraising effort to raise the funds to purchase the Old School when local authority decided to sell the building, and through sheer love of her community and dedication to providing quality childcare, was successful in her bid, securing the sale and ensuring Hadley Under and Over 5’s nursery and preschool continued to stay in its rightful home.
Gill is today still at the helm as Company and Fundraising Manager... Gill can be found rallying a loyal team of volunteers at the settings Community Charity Shop sited in the very heart of the Hadley community in the local shopping centre. The Community shop is testament to the nursery and preschools forward thinking approach, as a registered charity, all donated goods are sold on to help local people with an affordable solution to their every day needs. The Nursery and Preschool profit from all funds raised once outgoings have been covered."
Gill's unwavering dedication to the setting and local community over the past half a century (!) is surely a inspiration to us all, and reminds us of the passion early years professionals demonstrate as they work every day to provide the highest quality early education for the children in their care.
Iesha Notice, Ice Tickles Childcare, Dartford
Iesha Notice, Childminder at Ice Tickles Childcare and Special Commendation in the Outstanding Early Years Individual of the Year category, told us about her legendary seasonal events, as well as her motivation for running her own childcare setting despite the numerous challenges she has faced.
"I do everything I can for the children and families of the community. My passion is to help children and support their parents and carers, so all the events I do are cheap or free. I do fun days and fetes... The children absolutely love it and parents can enjoy a day out with their children. A lot of the family get involved and I do competitions and games on the day.
I founded a charity in 2014 called "Blounts Disease UK" it is a disease that affects children and adolescents in their legs whereby they bow and cause the patient to not be able to walk. There is no cure for this disease and the only option is to break their legs and reconstruct. When i found out about the disease it really touched my heart as i had been wanting to do charity work for a while and had been doing small events but felt there was a lot of charities out there. I wanted to feel like I in particular was making a difference. I am still building the charity and hope that in the next few years I will be able to support children and their families with the medical costs, rehabilitation and medical or physical support.
My setting has 2 playrooms, a sleep room and garden dedicated to the children. Children are at ease and have plenty of resources. I like to encourage children to do their best and like to give them the opportunity that they may not get elsewhere... Children are potty trained and taught independence once they can speak and if they achieve this then great, but if not then there is no pressure or expectation. "
Parents whose children have attended Iesha's setting agree:
"Ice tickles child care is brilliant I have never seen my children so happy at a childcare setting and all the activities are great fun!"
With such glowing reviews it's clear to see that Iesha's commitment and enthusiasm for supporting the children in her care has paid off and had a huge, positive impact on the children and families she works with - congratualtions Iesha!
Jean Scarff, The Owl Pre-school, Kent
Rosie James, a parent and committee member, wrote to us about Jean, our next nominee who was awarded a Special Commendation in the Early Years Individual of the Year category.
"I was asked to write a couple of words about Jean, but I apologise I will need more than a couple to describe what a dedicated, hard working, wonderful person she is and has been over the many years she has been at the Owl Pre-School. Jean was even at the school when my 33 year old husband attended.
My son attended 2 years ago and he idolised Jean ‘Mrs Scarff’ he had some special needs that were out the ordinary to other children and Jean personally looked at all aspects of his learning and independently created a way to help him develop. She was so kind to him and helped him to start interacting with other children without him knowing it.
Now working with Jean on our committee her determination and dedication to ensure the pre-school is a huge success with Outstanding Ofsted Reports and praise from all parents still never fails. We are so fortunate to have her as part of the team and truly believe we would be lost without her!"
Jean herself also spoke to us a little bit about how the early years have changed since she began her involvement with the Owl Pre-school 40 years ago:
"I started as a Mother-helper and after doing the PPA Foundation Course joined as a member of staff. I retired in July 2015 and am now Chair of the Committee. How have things changed in the last 40 years. In many ways not that much. Our core values are the same now as they were then. In 1979 we offered sand, water, craft, home corner, book corner, storytime, songs and we had a colour table, nature table and interest table. We had no outside space so outings were really a treat. In 1991 we moved into our own building with its own outside area which we have developed with a Forest School approach. Since then the burden and cost on pre-schools from paperwork has grown just like the Enormous Turnip. We now have Policies, Learning Journals, Forms for everything, Compliance visits, Audit visits, Ofsted Inspections, visits from Kent Early Years to name just a few! Does all this add to the quality early years experience we offer? I sometimes wonder. Children through the years have not changed. The wonder of nature and the joy of wellie boots and a large puddle will never cease to thrill. Learning through play with caring dedicated staff provides the best possible start but it must always be remembered that the early years is a unique time in their lives which should be celebrated for its own sake and not just seen as a stepping stone to their future school life."
Jean's years of experience really shine through in her passion for nurturing children - we can see why the judges just had to include Jean as one of our Special Commendations this year - congratulations Jean!
Julie Johnson, Peter Pan Nursery and Forest School, Surrey
Julie is a Forest School leader at Peter Pan Nursery and Forest School, and is passionate about sharing the skills and experience she has in making the most of outdoor learning opportunities. We spoke to Sue, Julie's employer and the person who nominated Julie for an Alliance Outstanding Member Award, who said:
"For 25 years Julie has worked at Peter Pan Nursery and Forest school and in that time I have never known her to come into nursery without a smile on her face or a huge dose of enthusiasm for the day ahead... In her role as our Forest School Manager she ensures that children are supported to explore our woods to the full. Under her expert and exciting tutorage they learn to manage their own risks: climbing across fallen trees and building bridges over ditches; recognising different bird song and tracking pheasants and foxes; and lighting a fire to cook on. With the same enthusiasm she joint chairs our local Forest School Association and passes her knowledge to other practitioners... Julie has led creative practice in our setting, and across Surrey, through her involvement in the Open Sesame and Creative Shoots projects. She brings magic and sparkle, not only to our setting, but to many others in Surrey too."
But of course, nothing tells us more about the impact a practitioner can have than the response from the children they work with - one parent wrote to us about Julie because she wanted us to know what an amazing and inspirational early years practitioner Julie is, and how much her son loves his time with Julie exploring and learning:
"Julie inspires our children everyday and the impact she has on their learning is outstanding.
She leads the Forest school element at the nursery and dedicates so much of her time and energy into making this a special part of the children’s experience at nursery... My son looks forward to his forest school day at Peter Pan and often talks about things that Julie has told him.
Julie brings an amazing amount of energy to her job as an early years practitioner even after over 20 years at Peter Pan, it is obvious it is more than a job to her as she invests so much of herself to it. She always has a smile and positive outlook which makes the children love her even more. She does everything with the children in mind and nothing is too much for her, putting the children’s needs first and thinking of how to make their learning more exciting and fun (the way it should be).
I feel truly blessed that my children have had Julie as their early years teacher and know that her influence has been a big part of their enjoyment of their pre-school."
Plough Green Pre-school Team, Plough Green Pre-school, Surrey
Next we spoke to the Plough Green Pre-school Team, to find out a bit more about what makes their setting stand out and what helped them to earn a Special Commendation from our awards judges:
"At Plough Green Pre-school we make opportunities for children happen and ensure that all children have their voice heard. Recognising that children are unique, we use different learning methods to support differing learning styles. One example of our inclusive practice is for all staff to have basic Makaton training which is used with all children in the setting alongside speech. The development of children's communication and language skills is vital to ensure that they are able to express their feelings and ideas which in turn allows children to make the best progress in their learning.
Our garden area is a valuable learning environment in so many ways...The children care for the flowers and vegetables that they plant using seeds gathered from the previous year. The various garden resources allow them to discover the world around them. Social skills are developed in the mud kitchen where the children experiment and create 'delicious dinners' for their peers and staff to enjoy. The hard work and support of the committee and parents allows us to be able to provide children with additional resources through fund raising, which we would otherwise be unable to afford due to increasing financial demands on settings' funds."
We received so many glowing testimonials from parents who wanted to say a few words about why they feel the Plough Green Team are so special - but perhaps Amy's comments sum them up best:
"The Plough Green staff are AMAZING! They create such a warm and nurturing environment... I coouldn't be happier to have my child learning alongside these amazing bunch of women."
Springfield Bees Pre-School Team, Springfield Bees Pre-School, Essex
The Springfield Bees Pre-school Team Manager Carla Deluca told us about how making the children's interests the focus of their learning experiences has helped the team to develop a programme of activities supported by parental participation:
"Learning experiences are tailored to children's individual interests and staff make an effort to gain as much information about a child's home life to support this. Staff have overcome the challenge of having no direct outside space by building relationships with surrounding schools so children can access a playground and fields for outdoor play regularly... STEM sessions take place twice a week which are run by a parent scientist and have contributed to improved EYFS outcomes for children in Maths and Understanding the World. Parents regularly participate in sessions and share their knowledge and experiences with children reinforcing the benefits of belonging to a diverse community."
Lisa, the 'parent scientist' who runs Springfield Bees' STEM sessions twice a week, said:
"I started volunteering at Springfield Bees soon after my eldest girl enrolled there. Each morning the staff team set up a menagerie of fresh engaging activities for the children, including sensory, crafting, imaginative play and much more. It was a delight to see my little girl's face light up at the play possibilities before her each morning. I was encouraged to stay and play with them as a volunteer, and with my background as a professional scientist I was excited to include some basic science experiments into the mix of activities. These were very well received by both children and staff, who are always enthusiastic to introduce new experiences for the children. The staff would build upon these activities during the week to to further enrich the children's learning... Their commitment to the children and passion to build strong relationships to nurture and encourage them as individuals is very special. When my second daughter started preschool I was delighted to be invited to do a regular two STEM sessions each week. The children get hands-on experience of exciting science experiments and engineering challenges. These session are great fun and eagerly anticipated by children and staff alike. Each session I am accompanied by a staff member, who helps me to engage and inspire the children to question and understand the world around them. They often take the STEM concepts that I introduce and develop them further with the children. This has had a tangible impact on the attainment of child development outcomes.
It is an absolute pleasure to work with such a talented, enthusiastic and committed team, whose hard work, creativity and dedication brings such joy and enrichment to the lives of all the children who attend."
Again, there were far too many wonderful testimonials from parents to include them all, but we think these final words from another parent about how much her daughter enjoys her time at the setting speaks volumes:
"My daughter Tara loves Springfield Bees Pre-school and talks a lot about all the fun she has and things she learns there. Her key worker Anca was in our family picture she drew :-)"
Pauline Browne, Magic Moments Pre-school, Baldock
We spoke to Geraldine Stygal, local authority adviser to Magic Moments Pre-school, and the person who nominated Pauline for an Outstanding Member Award. She explained why she felt compelled to nominate Pauline after knowing and working with her for over 10 years:
"Pauline is SENCO at the setting and supports all other staff to identify additional needs in their key children groups, implement support and monitor the high quality teaching and inclusion within the setting. She takes a lead on working with parents, guiding them to access other services provided by the childrens centre eg, SALT drop ins... The setting is a pack-away scout hut but Pauline always ensures a stimulating and inclusive environment is provided each day. I am in awe of her enthusiasm after so many years working in a challenging and ever changing role. The setting supports many deprived families and Pauline makes them so welcome with her friendly manner. She is such a warm a pleasant person and is so knowledgeable but always happy to share her knowledge and experience with others. This often happens at local cluster group that she attends. I have been so impressed with Pauline over the years how she constantly reflects on her work and always wants to provide the best care for all children but especially those with SEND. I am certain she is very worthy of this recognition for her contribution to early years childcare."
Team Lodge, Zoe Evans Childcare Ltd, Kent
We also spoke to Zoe Evans, founder of Zoe Evans Childcare, who nominated her staff team (Team Lodge) for the awards, to recognise all their hard work in bringing together all of their skills, knowledge and experience in order to create a home-from-home environment at their provision. Zoe said:
"I intended on being a 'Leader' in my new role, working 'together' as a team, not dictating what practitioners do and do not do. Yet staff struggled with the realisation they could now fully immerse themselves into their role independently, lead themselves and their key-groups and all the while be equally respected and valued. It took a great deal of time to realise the intentions initially set-out and for the team to come together as hoped.
The last six months has seen everyone grow from strength to strength and the results through this fantastic team in working together the way they do, are amazing! We have a monthly 2 to 3 hour staff meeting during the evening and we discuss plans and ideas around the children's likes and interests every day. This doesn't stop when we leave for home, with a 'WhatsApp' group entitled 'Team Lodge', where we reflect on the day and share resource ideas, many of which practitioners make and bring in from home. The team work tirelessly and passionately for what they believe in and I feel they should gain recognition for this from the viewpoint of a very proud and lucky Leader!"
As with all of our Specially Commended nominees, we had lots of wonderful testimonials from parents who couldn't wait to tell us what a great job the nominees do every day! But this one, from a parent of a child with additional needs, gives us a great insight into how this exceptional team work together to deliver the best outcomes for the children in their care:
"I would love to take this opportunity to share our wonderful experiences of The Lodge.
This truly is an amazing setting with a fantastic atmosphere and provides what we believe home from home care.
Knowing that our little boy is happy and in a safe/caring and understanding environment is really hard to come by, and we finally found it at The Lodge. Our son has been diagnosed with ASD since attending The Lodge and I believe he truly could not have been at a better setting, as we all went through this journey together.
Once our son started at The Lodge his development and happiness went from strength to strength, we finally found a truly amazing setting that spent the time and had understanding of his ‘quirky’ ways. They are always finding ways to support his needs, and we as parents have also learnt new tactics from The Lodge... The dedication and massive support network within The Lodge really is second to none, and for our son to be able to walk in the door at the Lodge and settle down with a smile on his face after not attending for 6 weeks at a time speaks absolute volumes.
From the bottom of our hearts this is a truly exceptional setting and we are one extremely grateful and happy family and feel like the luckiest parents to have found The Lodge as a setting for our son."
Once again, a huge congratulations to all of the award winners and nominees! The level of passion, dedication and creativity on display clearly demonstrates the outstanding calibre of vibrant and committed professionals in the early years sector today. And thank you to everyone who took the time to nominate their early years champions in their community - we can't wait to do it all again next year!