While our sector is inundated with paperwork, inspections and training opportunities in recent years, one might question why one would take on more work with the Síolta Quality Assurance Programme. Our full day care facility has just celebrated ten years of service and while we began the Síolta QAP process confident of our practice, our experience, our qualifications, and felt competent of our knowledge of the Síolta standards of best practice, there was still that vulnerability of having our work assessed and judged on one day of inspection. The Síolta QAP, although a huge commitment, enabled us to establish our own methods of validation – to evaluate and reflect on our work in the early years, and to make decisions as a team, on how to develop and extend our practice. With the wonderful support of our mentor Fiona from Early Childhood Ireland, we really started to learn what a child centered approach looks like – how every aspect of our service comes down to the rights of the child, and being able to prioritise their wants and needs over everything we do.
We became more aware of the complexity of our role in supporting each child’s development, and that all of this stems from our view of children – seen, at times, through a physical lens of a camera during Fiona’s mentoring visit! Although a daunting experience, these reflections on our interactions and our environments on screen, made us more mindful of the physical and emotional spaces we are creating for children here. As the Manager, this also made me realise that the Síolta journey is not one that you can walk alone; it has to involve the whole team – and so it did! Our service is split into two settings, the Nursery (0-3 years) and the Granary (3-5 years), with a team of thirteen staff. This Síolta QAP meant that I learned more about professional practice here, and enabled me to really recognise the strength of the team; to see the capability, the initiative and the commitment as they took on responsibilities for their key groups and their own environments. With the guidance of the Aistear Síolta Practice Guide, we reflected on all aspects of service provision here, setting goals and targets that gave renewed purpose to our role.
We were now looking at spaces and interactions with a critical eye; debating on how we could make interest areas more inviting to children; observing each one’s interests, strengths and their needs – having their voices heard; becoming more mindful of our relationships with parents and how better to involve and support them. Sometimes, working in the early years’ sector can be an isolating experience, and I know that we were working to the best of our abilities and our knowledge prior to this Síolta QAP experience. However, we have discovered that the Síolta QAP journey is a long road that leads you off on many paths, detouring as we decided to take on further training to learn more about some element of practice; redefining our mission statement and the ethos of the service, which in turn led to further development of the curriculum or changes in the environment. And although we have had our Síolta validation visit and received the maximum grading of Level 4 across all 16 standards of best practice, we know that we have not reached the end of that road. I think, as a team, we have been inspired to never feel as if we are ‘there’ – that we have this enthusiasm and confidence to keep on developing our practice.
There are many conversations about professional identity within the sector, but I think I can speak for all my colleagues here, when I say that we have emerged from this process feeling proud of what we do – and to call ourselves Early Years’ Teachers and Educators. It is not just about the piece of paper that we receive at the end that says we are a Quality Early Years’ Setting, it has been about the process of reflection and of growth, and that real sense of satisfaction and confidence of knowing that what we do really matters!
Sharon Skehill has worked in the early years’ sector as Manager and Room Leader of her full day care facility in Abbeyknockmoy, Tuam, Co. Galway, for over ten years, along with her team of 13 staff. She is currently studying for her PhD in Early Years’ Education with Mary Immaculate College.