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Essential value of Continuing Professional Development

Michael Freeston reflects on the changing nature of continuing professional development available to early years practitioners.

Over recent years the nature of Continuing Professional Development (CPD) training has changed out of all recognition. Colleagues who can remember the picture in the early two thousands will recall a very rosy picture. As part of the 10 year Children’s Plan, skills update training was widely available, covered a comprehensive range of topics, was often free of charge and there was even the chance of back-fill money to cover staff time away from the setting. 

However, as is the case in most industries, ongoing professional development training for early years managers, staff and volunteers, was an early casualty of austerity. Opportunities for staff to attend classroom based provision to update their skills and share their experiences have declined considerably as budgets in local authorities and member organisations such as the Alliance have been reduced.

CPD is essential to secure and raise quality levels across the early years sector. Practitioners need to keep up to date with latest research and thinking in child development and all aspects of high quality care as well as ensuring provision meets the seemingly endless changes to regulatory requirements in areas such as safeguarding, British Values, Prevent, Paediatric First Aid, Early Years Pupil Premium etc.

So there are risks associated with the current decline in the availability of in-class CPD, and practitioners across the sector have responded to this with recognition that new ways of keeping their skills and knowledge up-to-date are needed. Much of this new approach to CPD is on-line with a dramatic increase in the availability of e-bulletins, webinars and on-line training. The benefit of e-delivery of CPD to providers such as the Alliance is the dramatic ‘reach’ that is possible.  Attendance at the Alliance’s monthly webinars (3rd Wednesday of each month at 4.00pm – check website for details) runs into the hundreds and recordings of the sessions are downloadable, so accessed by many more.

The Alliance’s partnership with EduCare to provide CPD training to managers, staff and volunteers began in May 2013. Since then over 28,000 people have undertaken free programmes including Safer Recruitment, Child Neglect, Managing your Ofsted Inspection, Prevent Duty and Becoming a Reflective Practitioner.

In both cases ‘attendance’ levels are far higher than they could realistically ever be in face-to-face’ delivery approaches. In addition, each practitioner’s attendance is not dependent on their being lucky enough to live in a reasonable travel-to-study radius of the training event. This flexibility also allows practitioners to study at a time that suits them.

Another major benefit of electronic communication is the speed at which information can be circulated. Alliance Facebook posts and Tweets allow for almost real-time updates and commentary on policy announcements and sector developments. E-bulletins and mini-guides can be posted quickly to provide analysis and consider the implications of new requirements in a way that would have taken weeks to reach their target audience via traditional mailings.

Indeed the sheer volume of available information sets a challenge for practitioners. An inbox filled with updates from a range of senders or a smartphone choked with Tweets and posts runs the very real risk of not being read at all, so the advice is to be selective on sources.

This also highlights one of the major concerns of the one-to-many focus of e-supported CPD; that whilst it may be excellent at transferring knowledge there is less certainty about the ‘so what’ question. The undoubted benefit of group-based CPD is that it encourages, supports and challenges participants to reflect on their own practice in light of their new knowledge and consider how they will change as a result. That is not to say that group engagement with e-based provision is not possible; many managers report that they use recordings of Alliance webinars as the basis for staff meeting discussions to reflect on how the topic covered impacts on their setting’s practice. Similarly the Alliance’s e-supported quality improvement scheme, Excellence through Reflection encourages participants to share their experiences and comments via group forums with others engaged across the country and, increasingly, around the world.

So whilst the sector is to be congratulated for the way it has embraced on-line CPD, this methodology should always be seen as only a part of the mix of effective professional development. Early years provision is a ‘team-game’; the quality of provision is not solely determined by the qualification levels and CPD undertaken by each individual in a setting. Rather it is a product of the collective approach taken across the team, and how knowledge and skills acquired are shared, reflected upon and applied to best meet the needs of the children in their care.

There is currently a risk that budgetary restraints mean that on-line provision becomes the only source of CPD available and this would limit the drive for continuous improvement across the sector.