Early Childhood Education – what can we learn from Sweden?

A report from the Organisation for Economic Development described as a policy profile on the importance of early childhood eduction focuses on Swedens curriculum design and implementation. The report is packed with research and contains much of interest to people concerned with children’s early learning and development. Thanks to Sheila Laing for highlighting this report. The following is from the introduction to the report

Early childhood education and care (ECEC) has become a policy priority in many countries. A growing body of research recognises that it makes a wide range of benefits, including social and economic benefits, better child well-being and learning outcomes as a foundation for lifelong learning, more equitable outcomes and reduction of poverty, and increased intergenerational social mobility. But these positive benefits are directly related to the “quality” of ECEC.

Definitions of quality differ across countries and across different stakeholder groups depending on beliefs, values, a country’s (or region’s) socio-economic context, and the needs of the community of users. While definitions should be interpreted with caution and sensitivity when comparing cross-country practices, the OECD has taken a two-tier approach to define “quality” to proceed policy discussions. Therefore, this policy profile considers quality in terms of “structural quality”1 and “process quality”,2 and sets out “child development” or “child outcome” as quality targets.

Based on international literature reviews findings, the OECD has identified five levers as key policies to encourage quality in ECEC:

1) Setting out quality goals and regulations

2) Designing and implementing curriculum and standards

3) Improving qualifications, training and working conditions

4) Engaging families and communities

5) Advancing data collection, research and monitoring

Of the five levers, Sweden has selected “designing and implementing curriculum and standards” to be the theme of its policy profile. As reference countries in focus for international comparison, Sweden has selected New Zealand, Norway and Portugal.

Download the report: (pdf, 1.75MB, 64 pages)


Or download from the OECD webiste



Midlothian Champions report

The Midlothian Equally Well Readiness to Learn test site was established late in 2009, as a development of the initial test site in East Lothian with a focus on early years. The rationale behind the Midlothian test site was to focus activities and learning around improving readiness to learn, to contribute to breaking the cycle of poorer than average health outcomes (in Midlothian) in the target communities: Gorebridge, Mayfield and Woodburn.

Its aims were:

> to develop sustainable improvements in early years’ services by involving local people in shaping services that improve health and wellbeing

to build understanding and support joint working between agencies and community organisations on health inequality

to support innovative approaches to improving readiness for learning.

The report linked here details the work developed by the Midlothian Service champions to imprve and develop services and engage parents in improving readiness to learn in the communities of Mayfield, Woodburn and Gorebridge, The report details some exciting work either developing exisitng good practise or services innovating and redesigning what they do to improve readiness to learn

 Midlothian Report LR


The Parent Early Education Partnership was started in 1995 and  has developed a five-year programme offering developmentally appropriate support for parents and carers.  It covers the period from their child’s birth to starting school. Already well established in Midlothian this programme is relatively new to East Lothian, and Support from the Start has sponsored training for around 30 practitioners to bring this programme to more parents and children in East Lothian. The cluster champions groups that have got going so far have all identified PEEP as one of the resources they would like to bring into there communities.

 PEEP Programme Aims

  1. To promote parents’ and carers’ awareness of children’s very early learning and development through making the most of everyday activities and interactions.
  2. To support parents/carers in their relationships with their children, so that the children’s self-esteem will be enhanced.
  3. To affirm the crucial role of parents/carers as children’s first educators.
  4. To support parents/carers in the development of their children’s literacy and numeracy.
  5. To support parents/carers so that they can encourage the development of positive learning dispositions.
  6. To promote and support parents’ and carers’ lifelong learning.

Maureen Black family, engagement worker, has been runnig a PEEP group for babies and their parents in partnership with the Musselburgh Burgh Primary school using the schools community room. The sessions are very popular with parents as this recent feedback suggests

We’re really enjoying these Wednesday afternoons with you. The sessions are really relaxed and fun for the wee ones (and us big uns) and you are so welcoming. 

For more information on PEEP and the evidence base for the programme visit  www.peep.org.uk



Wee Pans Stay and Play

Wee Pans StaynPlay on PhotoPeach

Today at Prestonpans Infant School, we started our new Friday afternoon nursery session for young parents and their children under 3 years of age. What a joy it was to welcome a young couple with their 12 day old baby. We are all awed by the fact that this wee lad will be coming to our school to play on Friday afternoons as he grows and develops and comes to nursery then school.  What a privilege.  Why do we wait till they’re 3?  Another single dad came along too and it was great to see the dads chatting about their bairns. 

A ray of hope indeed…..

Thank you Ronnie Hill for making this all possible…..

A Collective Responsibility

The following is the conclusion of a comprehensive review of research about breastfeeding and why there is such a difference between socio economic groups in Scotland conducted by the Glasgow centre for population health

There is considerable evidence and policy support for breastfeeding as the best source of nutrition in the first six months of life. However, the socio-cultural and demographic contexts of the mother are more important determinants of breastfeeding practice than theoretical knowledge of the benefits of breastfeeding.

In a breastfeeding culture, all strands of society would consider breastfeeding as a human right and make it the ‘norm’ rather than the exception. The mother plays a central role and should be supported in her ‘duty’ to make the child’s ‘right’ possible but it is not her responsibility solely, as the choice of infant feeding is located within multiple contexts and influenced by inter-related factors. Maternal health in particular is pivotal since the ‘issues with the mother’ become the ‘issues with the child’. Protecting maternal health invariably protects child health and by extension, the future.

A breastfeeding culture makes it a collective responsibility – addressed in multifaceted approaches – to create an environment where the ‘best for the infant becomes the best for the rest of us’.

I really like the sentiment of the above because it puts responsibility with the community supporting a women rather than the individual. I think this responibility becomes clearer when you understand that the majority of women from all background do initiate breast feeding – over 70%.

Based on the Infant Feeding Survey conducted in 2010, the estimated breastfeeding initiation rate in Scotland was 74%. This was a significant increase from rates reported in 2000 (55%) and compared favourably with initiation rates in England (82%), Wales (71%), and Northern Ireland (64%). However, this rate was still less than the rates reported in other European countries.

However, only 36% were still breast fed by 10 days. So its everybody responsibility to make sure that its as easy as possible to maintain that decision, and for communities where initiation rates are low – its everyone’s responsibility to turn that around. This supports needs to be evident from all sectors of society – if it is just health professionals then there is a danger women feel badgered to breast feed rather than supported.

What can we do :-

  • make sure your local shops, cafes, schools, hospitals, health centres and public building are welcoming of women who are breastfeeding by getting them to sign up to a breast feeding friendly award
  • if you are teacher look at how you can use the new breast feeding in the curriculum resource like that recently piloted by Whitecraig Primary school
  • make sure your workplace has a policy in place to support women who are breast feeding
  • if you have positive experience of breast feeding talk about it and offer advice and support to new mums
  • become a peer supporter or develop a peer support system for women who have made the decision to breast feed
  • if you work in primary care or a a midwife make sure you are up-to-date on how to offer practical support to women with breastfeeding and know where to direct women who are experiencing problems
  • If you are a person with responsibility in public service make sure that your organisation understands that breast feeding is a community responsibility and not just an individual choice.
  • Since its election time – ask the people you intend to vote for what they will do to make sure the community is taking responsibility for supporting breast feeding mums

Any other suggestions welcome

Finally breast feeding is not just a nice thing to do it makes a difference for children and reduces costs

Results from the UK Millennium Cohort Study (MCS) of 15,890 infants found a 53% decrease in the rate of hospital admissions for diarrhoea and 27% for respiratory tract infections in infants exclusively breastfed for six months.

Longitudinal studies of breastfeeding and intelligence in later life (in Denmark and the Philippines) suggest a strong association between breastfeeding and performance in intelligence tests in adulthood. Findings from these studies, comparing breastfed and non breastfed infants, showed that longer breastfeeding duration of up to nine months influenced intelligence even after adjustment for socioeconomic and possible family effect

Delivering on Early Years

A conference at the National Museum of Scotland on the 7th March organised by Holyrood saw a range of speakers from across theUK and panel discussions on a wide range of topics of interest to professionals with an interest on improving and promoting early years care.

Human Connections

The day was ably chaired by Tam Baillie, Scotland’s Commissioner for Children and Young People and was started off with a look at human interconnections and the connected baby with a moving and heartfelt presentation by Dr. Suzanne Zeedyck who used and promoted her new video “The Connected Baby” (www.theconnectedbaby.org).

This was followed by illustrative case studies on the importance of attachment from Paul Gilroy of Crossreach (Paul Gilroy Crossreach) and on working with communities by Mary Glasgow of Barnardos Scotland (Mary Glasgow Barnardos)

The Policy Context

The second part of the morning focused on the wider policy context and was kicked off by Councillor Isabel Hutton, COSLA Spokesperson for Education, Children and Young People.  Cllr Hutton emphasised the importance and centrality of the early years acrossScotlandin order to make a long term positive difference toScotland’s future.  This was followed by an interesting panel discussion and Q&A session with a range of participants form Health, Education, Local Government and the Third Sector.

Funding Opportunities and Challenges

The afternoon began with a session focused on funding with input form and a panel discussion with representatives from the Scottish Community Foundation, Inspiring Scotland and the Big Lottery Fund.  Much useful information was shared on the mechanisms, procedures, priorities and thinking behind some of the more substantial grant funders inScotland.

Making it Happen in Nottingham

Katy Ball Nottingham

The final session of the day looked at howNottinghamhas succeeded in rebranding itself as an earlyInterventionCitywith a full and interesting presentation from Katy Ball the Head of Early Intervention and Market Development with Nottingham City Council.  She illustrated how Nottingham had turned around a series of negative aspects of a city with high levels of deprivation and associated problems to one where an Ofsted Inspection recently said that Nottingham has…”an extensive and outstanding range of early intervention services, making a marked shift with vulnerable children and families”.  This was achieved with an extensive basket of early intervention programmes starting from:

  • universal services offered to all (Healthy Child Programme);
  • moving on up to proportionate universal services offered widely but pushed towards certain groups (Baby Massage);
  • then on to targeted work with specific groups (Family Nurse Partnership);
  • and on finally up to highly specialised programmes working with high end/high cost groups to reduce costs and intergenerational impact (Family Intervention Project)

Making it Happen in Nottingham in Northumberland

Jane Casson Northumberland

Katy was followed by a very inspirational speaker, Jane Casson MBE, a Locality manger for Sure Start Northumberland.  She detailed how a range of rather unexpected partnerships developed across her patch with shared services and often co-location of services such as:

  • Sure Start family centres
  • Ambulance Service
  • Community Transport
  • Environment Agency
  • GP Support Services
  • Midwifery Services
  • Probation Services
  • Local Community Charities

This wide range of close partnership working and facilities sharing has led to very significant cost savings as well as a range of concert positive outcomes for individuals, families and communities including:

  • Reduction in smoking.
  • Reduction in 0-3 admitted to A&E.
  • Safety information available for all families.
  • Training in health and safety and basic first aid available to all families.
  • Reduction in house fires.
  • Reduction in casualty / fatality figures.
  • Home Fire Safety message to hard to reach groups.
  • Address the community safety agenda.

John Boyce / Ann Hume

Public Health Practitioner / Manager

East Lothian Community Health Partnership / Olivebank Children & Families Centre, Musselburgh

‘Loose materials & Play’

A small group of staff from East & Midlothian went to visit the schools featured in this short video at the invite of Grounds for Learning. The group included a teacher from Whitecraig Primary, and the team leader for a pre-school centre managed by Midlothian Surestart.. Whitecraig and two Suretart centres are now working with GfL to introduce natural loose materials into the playground. A P1 teacher at Wallyford primary is also working with a local artist to find ways of using different materials in their playground area – this time with an emphasis on recycled materials. Excited to see how these projects develop and hope they prove to be exemplars for other schools and pre-school centres in the use of loose materials for more imaginative play opportunities.

Natural Outdoor Play – in the playground

Another great report on the value of outdoor play opportunities for children. This one by the Forestry Commission on a project at Merrylees School in Glasgow. Thanks to Judith Wood for high lighting this report.

Lots of East Lothian schools and nurseries are thinking along these lines often initiated or prompted by parents. It is something parents can really help schools achieve  Its fun – its healthy – and its good for the birds and beasties and if that’s not enough reason then it also helps children’s learning. So if you like what you read – get your parent council interested and get stuck in!

Natural Play Study_Forestry Commission_100811[1]


Natural Play: Making a difference to children’s learning and wellbeing

presents the findings of a longitudinal study of the pioneering partnership between Forestry Commission Scotland, Glasgow City Council and Merrylee primary school in Glasgow. It provides evidence to show that children’s engagement with a natural play space within school grounds has a multitude of positive impacts on their learning and physical and emotional wellbeing. The study also provides a value for money assessment, concluding that the cost of developing natural play spaces is comparable with those of building traditional tarmac playgrounds. In view of the benefits outlined in the report, it is argued that the provision of a natural playspace within school grounds represents excellent value for money.


Nature Play & Nurture

Whitecraig primary made a short video about their experience as a exemplar for the nature, play and nurture training held at the school earlier this year. This involved the nursery class working with Aline Hill from Big World training and Ros Marshall a nursery teacher and forest school leader, to run an outdoor learning programme. The programme included sessions that could be observed by staff taking a three day course in Nature Play & Nurture. Stobhill Primary in Gorebridge is currently hosting this training and acting as the exemplars. A further course will be available in the spring.