20th October 2021 All Posts

Ask The Expert – Episode Two: June O’Sullivan

Catch up on our interview with June O’Sullivan, CEO of the London Early Years Foundation (LEYF).

Earlier this year, we launched a new blog series called ‘Ask the Expert’ – which provides a platform for all Early Years (EY) professionals to share their experiences and advice with the industry, on their chosen specialist subject.

We’re now building upon the success of the written series by including video interviews with our chosen guests, so you can choose to either watch, read, or listen in your own time. 

At the recent Childcare and Education Expo event we interviewed June O’Sullivan, CEO of the London Early Years Foundation (LEYF). Here, she informs us of the challenges the sector is currently facing, how LEYF plans to overcome them and her wishes for the sector this academic year.

Watch here or read up on the article below.

Tell us a little about your early years sector background…

I’ve been working in the Early Years sector for far too long. I’m now the CEO of the London Early Years Foundation which is the largest social enterprise in the UK. We provide more access to childcare with our ‘Robin Hood’ fee structure which allows us to fund at least 30-35% of our places for those who would otherwise go without.

As CEO my two main areas of focus are pedagogy and sustainability. I’ve been really getting into sustainability over the last four-five years, so much so that I’m currently undertaking a PhD.

What are the current key challenges facing the sector?

The Pandemic has certainly shone a spotlight on certain issues within the Sector but we can’t forget that we had these challenges way before we even started with Covid. 

We have challenges with:

  • Funding and sector divide – Covid has highlighted the divide between the ‘well-to-do’ and the deprived and disadvantaged groups. The funding structure isn’t helpful, particularly for those that are really struggling in poverty so whilst there is some growth in the market, there are still concerns over the more disadvantaged and poorer communities who are not going to access childcare.
  • The narrative of the sector – The narrative of the sector is not always clear and coherent. However, whether you’re running a high-end nursery or in an area of poverty, ultimately we’re all about supporting children. So if we’re looking for effective messages around common pain points, a new narrative could be to place most things under the three main pillars of sustainability: economic, environmental, and social. 
  • Recruitment and staff wellbeing – We need to make sure that our staff are supported and their well-being is right of centre. Without our staff, we can’t deliver the services to our children. Proper staff training is an important factor that needs to be considered both now and in the future. 

How does LEYF plan to tackle some of the challenges the EY sector faces?

The main movements for our organisation are as follows:

  • Continue to ensure children from disadvantaged backgrounds can access high quality, affordable childcare – We’ve just taken on three nurseries in Newham which is a high area of poverty in London. Our main growth route will be to take on more nurseries that are at a disadvantage and then support these with our other nurseries which are placed in areas where we have parents that can afford to pay the standard rate.
  • LEYF’s Social Pedagogy and Global Academy – The second supportive route to growth is LEYFs ‘social pedagogy’ which we will start to explore and share more. LEYFs pedagogy represents how teachers at LEYF lead learning to provide the very best outcomes for our children. It will help us to deliver the seven strands of a pedagogy which we’ve designed to strengthen children’s educational success. Our global academy will allow us to continually train and develop staff and enhance their learning through coaching, research and access to existing and new qualifications.
  • Supporting the Sector with our Chef Academy – We realised that there was no nutrition qualification for chefs working with children so we delivered our Early Years Chef Academy and professional qualification – the first of its kind for the sector. Over the next few months you’ll see us amplifying the importance of training your nursery chef and we’ll be supporting more settings on that basis. This will help to transform how we provide nutritionally sound meals across all of London’s nurseries.
  • Campaigning for more funding – 75% of the 14.3m children living in poverty have working parents. We need to continue to champion children and poverty. Giving 30 hours of funding to children from disadvantaged backgrounds can positively impact their cognitive and social development so we’ll continue to campaign quite strongly for funding with the Government. I hope that our new secretary of state, Nadhim Zahawi and our new childcare minister Will Quince will be open to that sort of conversation.

What are your wishes for the sector this academic year?

  • I would love to see us sort out the recruitment crisis and have more staff.
  • I would love to have a great public conversation with parents. I think a lot of parents really got to see what we actually do during the pandemic. I think we need to capitalise on that and build strength for our sector together with our parent networks.
  • And then finally, we need to look after ourselves as a sector. We need to accept and appreciate that some of our staff were heroic in all of this and we need to have a deep breath – engage and enjoy.

About The London Early Years Foundation

Headed up by CEO June O’Sullivan MBE, London Early Years Foundation (LEYF) is one of the UK’s largest and most successful charitable social enterprises, operating 42 award-winning nurseries in some of London’s most disadvantaged areas with 32% of our children on a funded-only nursery place. 

Many of the LEYF nurseries, of which 59% are Ofsted ‘Outstanding’ compared to a national average of 22%, including a mix of children from different socioeconomic backgrounds. This is proven to have a positive effect on the development of all children, but particularly those from poorer backgrounds. Where possible, LEYF employs local staff and recruits apprentices which brings an economic benefit to disadvantaged communities.

To find out more about The London Early Years Foundation, visit their website or find them on Facebook or Twitter. 

In Episode 3 of our ‘Ask the Expert’ series, we welcome Cheryl Hadland Founder and MD of Tops Day Nurseries and GECCO. Cheryl shares some top tips on what settings can do on a day to day basis to ensure they are being sustainable in practice; including how to embed an ethos of sustainability and bring children and staff along on the journey.

If you’d like to take part in our ‘Ask the Expert’ video series, please contact our marketing team via marketing@connectchildcare.com.

Share this article
About the Author

Marketing Lead at Connect Childcare