Inclusive practice within early years
Some of the Connect Childcare team recently attended the Childcare & Education Expo in Coventry – listening in to lots of expert seminars held by sector leaders.
One of these informative talks was led by independent education consultant, Sejal Payne, whose focus was on ensuring inclusive practice within the early years setting. She spoke about the importance of considering the needs of the children and their families in relation to race, ethnicity, and culture, as well as recognising the difference between equality and equity.
It was a fantastic session, but don’t worry if you missed it, we’ve summarised some of the key takeaway points here on the Connect Childcare blog – and we have more write-ups in the pipeline over the coming weeks, too.
Looking at the different areas of inclusion
Kicking off the talk, Sejal explored the different areas of inclusion – race, ethnicity, and culture – and highlighted how understanding these areas is key to not only inclusive practice but effective practice too.
She said that when we think about race and ethnicity, we know the former isn’t biologically inherent and the latter is deeply linked to our behaviours, origins, cultures, and traditions – and that sometimes they can differ from what the ‘mainstream’ narrative is in society.
Sejal explored how all these areas are intrinsically connected with self-esteem, self-worth, self-value, and our identity – all of which contribute to a person’s sense of belonging.
For early years settings, she explained that it’s this sense of belonging that we should be trying to achieve. The message was that if a person – whether an adult or a child – feels this, they can aspire to be whoever they want to be. And by disregarding these areas within inclusion, childcare providers are creating and sustaining the barriers the children will have.
By celebrating our differences, early years professionals are developing a sense of belonging for everyone and ensuring they have high expectations of every child, as they take on board their individual needs.
What inclusion looks like in the early years setting
What does inclusion mean to me? What does it look like in my setting?
These are the two questions Sejal posed to delegates during the talk, and she highlighted the importance of recognising and addressing the uniqueness and distinctiveness that children and their families bring to the setting.
A good place to start is to make sure that race, ethnicity, and culture are a part of the big conversation settings are having on a daily basis – and this should reflect the children attending the nursery, as well as their backgrounds and life experiences.
Sejal pointed out that sometimes these conversations aren’t taking place across the sector because we’re not asking the right questions.
Inclusion is recognising that children are so multifaceted, multicultural, and multilingual and isn’t viewing each of them through one single lens.
In fact, the Inclusive Practice Early Childhood Forum says that inclusion is about a process of identifying, understanding, and breaking down barriers to participation and belonging.
Sejal said that in the early years, staff have a duty to promote diversity and understanding of different cultures, so that we develop tolerance and respect and promote cohesion – ensuring settings reflect a multicultural Britain.
Parental engagement is crucial for inclusion
Some practitioners may be reading this and thinking, ‘How do I find out more about the children in my care?’ and the best place to start is by speaking to their families.
Many professionals within the sector are great at engaging with parents – involving them in their child’s learning journey and collaborating to extend child development into the home – but getting to know them well on a deeper, more personal level is also vital.
Sejal explained how having this connection with parents equips early years champions with a greater understanding of where the children in their care come from, where they were before, what language they speak at home, and how long they’ve been in the country. As a result, this then allows staff to identify relevant needs and put measures in place to ensure these are met.
Similarly, Sejal also mentioned that while settings may be doing wonderful things, some of these may not be right or are diluted, if practitioners don’t have the full back story about the children.
A holistic approach should therefore be given to every child and their family – they shouldn’t leave any part of them behind at home and everything and everyone are welcome.
The message that followed was that when childcare providers have this relationship with the parents and families of the children, it’s easier to support them and ensure everyone is working in partnership.
Once early years staff have this information, it’s then important to put a strategy in place as to how this will be disseminated throughout the team, so that everyone in the setting understands everything about the children. This could be through staff meetings and portals or be included in the child’s centralised record.
Making sure the setting is equitable and inclusive
In this interesting part of the session, Sejal explored the difference between equality and equity, and the importance of settings continuously evaluating their approach to inclusive practice.
While equality means that everyone is treated the same, equity is defined by creating equal opportunities so that everyone has a fair system in which they can succeed.
It was at this point in the talk that Sejal showed the audience the image below.
She explained that in the ‘equality’ side of the picture, while the three people may be equal – in the sense that they all have an opportunity to look over the fence –if there’s nothing to make the shorter people the same height as the taller people so they can see, that’s not equitable. Sejal emphasised that we need to think of our children as individual beings with strengths and talents and make sure we don’t treat any group – whichever background they come from – all the same.
Sejal also talked about the importance of celebrating similarities too because that’s the commonality, that’s that human side of making people real. It’s about having those conversations which acknowledge how many things we do have in common as opposed to always looking at what’s different.
Embedding good practice
Your starting point is to have a constant cycle of review: you know you’re doing well – where are you doing well, where is the evidence for that? The evidence is not for Ofsted, it’s for you so you can see what you’re doing and what impact this is actually having because that will help you evaluate what your next steps are.
You don’t have to invent the audit tools, they already exist! Sejal offered some helpful audit tools from local authorities which you can use when you’re walking around your setting and what to look out for. This will allow you to create a very simple action plan around inclusivity, race, ethnicity and culture, and link it up with everything else you’re doing so you’re not adding to your load, it’s threaded in with what you’re already doing.
Review your books with diverse bookshops:
- Mantra Lingua UK
- Tamarind Books
- Diverse voices: the 50 best culturally diverse children’s books
- Diverse Voices – 80 Children’s Books that Celebrate Difference
While there were lots of other points mentioned in Sejal’s talk, these are some of the key takeaways that we’re happy to share with you on our blog. We hope you found it useful!