How to develop sustainable and effective partnerships locally

Rebecca works within a team of co-minders and assistants in Yeovil, Somerset. There are over 20 children on role and six use the 30-hour extended entitlement. Rebecca works in partnership with her local pre-school to offer the 30 hours to three of these children. She also works with a local school to offer after school care using the 50 per cent rule. Here she describes how she has been able to facilitate effective partership working across Somerset through her roles as Lead Childminder and Quality Hub Coordinator. Rebecca was Nursery World Childminder of the Year in 2016.

The work that we have done locally has helped to forge strong partnerships across different providers across Somerset. It has taken hard work from everyone across the region, but we have been fortunate to have strong leadership and commitment in the community to make it work. The local authority has always been very supportive in our journey of collaboration– and we are already seeing improvements in outcomes for children.

The local authority recognise the contributions of childminders and recognise their unique offer to local families – as well as the demands on their time that need to be recognised in order to involve them in effective partnership. In my role as Cluster Lead and Quality Hub coordinator, I have been encouraged to make sure that the voices of childminders have been included every step of the way.

The journey of collaboration began for me by being invited to join the Education Design Team work on our local early years strategy, ‘Somerset Improving Together’. This was a real light bulb moment – it was a chance to really get involved, build understanding about how different providers operate, and work together to ensure that better outcomes for children lay at the heart of the strategy. It was inspiring to see everyone who could be part of a child’s journey from birth into adulthood in the same room. Together we worked on a plan to support our local authority in their vision to ensure every child has the opportunity to reach their full potential and grow into happy and healthy adults.

As a team we understood the need to make relationships with all professionals across the early years sector but also understood that time and work patterns could be a real barrier. I was determined to take into account different providers’ working patterns, so for cluster meetings there is one at 3.30pm and an identical session at 6.30pm. That way, we can ensure everyone’s views are included.

Effective and sustainable partnerships is a team effort. We have joined up with a local teaching school and have been working on improving the quality of teaching across settings. The Early Years Learning Partnerships have been a great way to share good practice and make those connections needed to maintain strong partnerships. We have focused on really practical aspects of our work, and what I’ve been really struck by is how the feedback and learning works in many ways: teachers and private providers have greatly benefited from childminders’ practice insights as well as vice versa! In Somerset we often talk about ‘self-improving communities’ – and that’s really what it is.

One of the areas we have been working on as a whole team is identifying the different transition points across the early years and developing an action plan that we can all work towards. This has been really helpful for my role as Lead Childminder and with the providers and teachers within the quality hub. A Lead Childminder’s role is to plan play sessions and also arrange networking evenings and this has been a great way to feed in their input to the strategy as well as cascade out the action plan we’ve developed.

Childminders have really benefited from this interaction – one told me they enjoy getting the benefit of “a wider understanding and perspective of each other and the bigger picture”. One teacher told me “having the opportunity to network has made it easier to do transition visits – we have secure relationships now and I can get a good context of the child’s background ready for supporting transition.”

Our partnership group is having an impact in other areas too, for example we’ve been able to join forces to offer free or low cost CPD across the partnership and our early help officer attends network meetings to build understanding about the role of the childminder with families across south Somerset.

Most importantly for me is how I can clearly see – through looking at the data – just how much partnership working is already starting to make a big impact in improving educational outcomes for children. It is also helping us to work smarter and identify those areas that really need attention. For instance, our latest data has identified an increased gender gap in outcomes so this has given us added impetus to address this as a focus for our work.

Top tips for effective partnership working

  • Commitment from the leadership of the local authority is essential to kick-start partnership working – but once it’s established, working in a more integrated way soon feels intuitive.
  • Partners need to feel truly equal around the table. For some childminders, coming along to a partnership meeting could feel daunting, so a short phone call or visit just before a big meeting really helps to make them feel welcome and make the most of their contribution.
  • Partnership working means smarter working – we’ve found it has cut down on the number of meetings as we are not seeing duplication of meetings across the community
  • Barriers to partnership working can always be overcome with a little creative thinking – running two identical sessions at different times meant that both teachers and childminders could get involved without too much additional disruption
  • Meeting regularly helps to build up a high level of trust to encourage open and honest dialogue.
  • Seeing the benefit to outcomes for children helps to build support and momentum for further improvement – now we can see what can be achieved we are all motivated to do even more!