The pivotal role of Early Years practitioners

Today we’ve seen widespread coverage of one of the most critical issues for our education and childcare system: ensuring high quality learning – particularly speech and language development – for under fives. The key findings have emerged from a significant report recently published by Save the Children, which concludes that “Every nursery in England should have a qualified early years teacher to help toddlers develop skills like speech and language.”

The status of early years practitioners is indeed an issue. I have worked with staff in hundreds of settings and too often see shortfalls in pay and conditions, professional respect, training provision and wider understanding in the community of the role and value of the early years workforce.

Neil Leitch understands this perfectly. The Chief Executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance has said that while a graduate-led workforce could improve learning, nurseries needed better funding to pay better qualified staff: “Without the funding needed to enable providers to pay graduate-level wages, this ambition, while admirable, will be impossible to achieve in practice. What’s more, it’s important to remember that being a good early years practitioner is about more than just having certain academic qualifications – experience, a caring disposition and crucially, an in-depth understanding of child development are all vital and these valuable attributes should not be overlooked”

There is much to be done and simply allocating more funding for childcare places is not enough. Ultimately it is the skills of early years practitioners and the quality of the training and resources at their disposal that makes all the difference to children. The Save the Children report recognises this. Save the Children claims government figures show almost 130,000 children in England last year were falling behind with language abilities before they even reached school.

The best settings that I come across have recognised this, and are working hard to equip staff with the resources and skills to ensure children develop the skills for learning. All of my work for chatta aims to support settings to make this a reality (see our blog: )

chatta is unique approach designed to accelerate progress in early language and strengthen skills in essential oral narrative competence. It’s origins can be found in my own experience of teaching in the early years sector, particularly my extensive work with children with autism, which has given me the opportunity to develop a strong understanding of language and communication development and the science behind it. chatta is now being taken up and further developed by some truly impressive settings. It is increasingly underpinned by best practice in early play, discovery and exploration – but above all by staff training. We are now really seeing the impact of chatta begin to emerge – it is exciting!

chatta settings, such as Lyons Hall Primary School in Essex and Bellfield Primary School in Hull have seen the impact not only on children’s outcomes but also on the continued professional development of staff.

(See more at

We were immediately attracted to it,”  headteacher Andrew Smith says. “chatta is an approach that we are using inside and outside the classroom to reinforce our focus on speaking and listening. The approach has very quickly become part of our practice and part of what we do in lessons. Teachers are extremely positive about it as part of wider learning support in the classroom.”

We’re now preparing to share our experiences and the impact of chatta with practitioners from across the country. Indeed, there are still some places remaining at the free communication and language seminars taking place in April and May. (Tickets available here)

For those who work in early years settings, provide support advice and training for early years settings this is a unique opportunity to take a closer look at the national picture regarding communication and language, and see first hand a solution which ensures progress in essential language development. Our hope is that many of thousands of children will benefit as a result.

The events are free and present practice based on work with 100s of childminders, nurseries and schools, all of which is aligned with key research findings. chatta can change the life outcomes for children, this is why we put training first and focus on the skills of the early years practitioners.

You can read the full report by Save The Children ( Lighting Up Young Brains) here: