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Smarter training - Professional development with the Alliance

With so many changes in the sector, training and professional development is more important than ever. Michael Freeston, director of quality improvement at the Alliance, introduces a new solution: SMARTpd.
The need for early years practitioners to ensure their skills and knowledge remain up-to-date has increased hugely in recent years. Insights provided by neuroscience have continued to improve our understanding of children’s early learning and development, meaning that practitioners are increasingly expected to have a greater level of understanding.
Practitioners are also required to consistently meet regulatory and inspection requirements that are frequently changing, such as recent changes to safeguarding training requirements, the Prevent Duty, British values and paediatric first aid, while the focus of inspections is continuously evolving.
All these changes require individual practitioners and staff teams to regularly reflect on and adapt their provision to ensure new demands are met.
As such, supporting all practitioners to improve their practice should be a continual process rather than a single goal demonstrated by a qualification or certificate.
Changing standards
What Ofsted look for as evidence of effective practice continues to evolve to reflect the growing evidence base. For example, the 2015-16 annual report highlights that the “most common areas identified where children’s development lags behind are communication, language and listening skills, personal development and behaviour”. Clearly, practitioners can assume that these areas will become issues of particular focus in future inspections and so should ensure that they develop these skills in the children in their care.
Budget constraints
Of course, it’s not only the ‘what’ of early years professional development that has changed, but also the ‘how’. Reductions in local authority budgets have meant that opportunities for general professional development training has declined. This means that, increasingly, many local authorities are only supporting settings with specific areas identified in Ofsted inspections as needing improvement. Others are charging for essential training, such as local safeguarding, that was previously free. And in those instances where training is offered, managers are often unable to release staff during open hours to ensure ratios are maintained. This means that professional development is often undertaken in an individual’s own time and increasingly undertaken online.
Within this complex and fragmented picture, it is unsurprising that practitioners are often confused about how to prioritise their professional development. Managers also often struggle to coordinate their team’s professional development within a limited budget.
To address this challenge, the Alliance is launching a bespoke approach to professional development. SMARTpd will offer practitioners and managers a consultation with an experienced, qualified training advisor to tailor their development programme to their individual needs and budgets.
Setting managers are invited to complete a short questionnaire providing information including the current qualification levels of the staff team and any areas identified for development in their self-evaluation form (SEF) or at the last Ofsted inspection. This will form the basis of the consultation with Alliance staff to identify the most appropriate online modules, recorded webinars, workshops and publications.
Programmes will be constructed from existing Alliance courses, quality improvement schemes and include free-to-member resources and reduced price publications.
Eve Smith, training administration manager for the Alliance, who helped develop the SMARTpd approach, said: “There is so much professional development training and support available that it’s often hard for a team to identify what they could really benefit from. With SMARTpd, our staff have done the research on your behalf and can work with them to shape a programme that meets their needs and pocket.”
The new model has been tested with a number of settings and the Alliance training team has been encouraged by the range of areas on which managers wish to focus. Managers have welcomed the chance to consider their team’s needs with an impartial third party setting.
If you would like to benefit from the tailored SMARTpd programme, please register your interest by contacting the SMARTpd team: