Conference: Starting from the Child?

7 June 2024 9.30-5.00

Establishing and shaping a debate about the purpose of early childhood education (ECE) and how we ensure quality, and the future outcomes for the child, remain central. Indeed, where the signs are that we do not always agree, it is perhaps, more than ever, an imperative for the profession. Not only for the best interests of children and their families, but for practitioners in the profession, and those who surround us in the continuum of learning and children’s services.

Our rapidly changing world is increasingly, and inevitably, influencing the nature of the early years curriculum. As we have matured as a sector, in academic, research, and practice terms, we continually build our informed insights into the processes of effective learning. All of this should drive our diverse, different, and shared considerations of early years pedagogy.

On 7 June 2024, the second in-person hey! (Hempsall’s early years) conference sought to spend time to consider all of this, to develop new conversations to support positive and impactful direction, and to celebrate the launch of the 5th Edition of Prof. Julie Fisher’s seminal work ‘Starting from the child?.

The event, held at Coram Campus, in London, and chaired by James Hempsall OBE, provided an apt and timely opportunity to both recognise the impact of Julies work and to place it within the valuable context of how we collectively form the next steps in profession’s journey. While finding a ‘truth’ about ECE is an ever-evolving quest, recent events, and the impact of all sorts of external challenges have further intensified the intent and importance of this undertaking.

Our aim was to travel through the continuum of learning from 0-7 years. The scope and content of the presentation focussed upon specific age ranges: 0–2, 3-5, and 6-7. We heard from: internationally renowned early years expert, Jan Dubiel, programme director for hey!; Ruth and Oliver, both practitioners from Hind Leys Preschool; Alison Whelan lead teacher at the Federation of Darlington Nursery Schools; and Dr Sue Allingham, of Early years out of the box. They all provoked intense discussion and consideration, answering and asking questions in equal measure. Julie’s hour-long story of her book, set out how we should all be starting with the child, and spreading the word with all those that need to know – and whose support we need, whilst considering the curriculum and ways in which practice and outcomes could become easier – certainly less difficult. Afterwards, the discussions evolved into how, both strategically and practically, a consensus could be realised. The continuum of learning and progression from birth, and the principles and practices that need to enable this, practically, philosophically, and ethically formed a central part of the ensuing discussion, and no doubt the thinking that has continued afterwards.

Whilst perspectives, and traditions, can vary and collide with each other, it was refreshing and uplifting to gauge the core nature of agreement among the diverse attendees and their perspectives. Described by one delegate as a spa day for the soul we need more opportunities like this, to connect and re-connect, immersive ourselves in the shared vision and find constructive and measured ways to celebrate and build upon the critical importance of what we all do.That is the mission of hey! and you can find out more by visiting