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Early Years Conference opened by Minister 9 November 2007

MINISTER for Education Anne Craine MHK this morning declared open a two-day Early Years Conference at the Isle of Man College.

The Department of Education event - entitled Sustained Shared Thinking - has attracted delegates from schools, government departments, nurseries and playgroups. It is being held as a key part of the development of an Early Years Strategy for the Island, which will bring coherence to the work of all of those involved in the life of young children.

Visiting speakers include Claire Warden, a former deputy headteacher who is now a director of the educational training and resource company Mindstretchers, Chris Sarson, from the charity Roots of Empathy, and Marilyn Thorpe, a serving headteacher who is heavily involved in improving school standards at national level in the UK.

Local speakers include Cheryl Smith and Joanna Fisher, both senior educational psychologists with the Department of Education, and Pam Kerruish, a social worker with the Department of Health and Social Security's families' support team.

The Minister said:

'Everyone here shares the same passion and belief that if we are to make a real difference to the lives of children and our society then we have to get it right for children and their families from the very beginning.'

She said:

'Last Friday I was pleased to have a meeting with Sir Al Aynsley Green, the English Children's Commissioner, in London. During our conversation it became clear that his role is very much concerned with the promotion of children's causes and rights.
'He spoke of many things that affect the lives of children, smacking, respect (or lack of it), what he termed hidden harm, the abuse of children that goes on behind closed doors, the use of the mosquito listening device in today`s society and as he spoke I realised that what he was talking about was really “reactive”. What I think I was looking for and I am sure are all of you, is a “proactive approach” and I believe we have, in developing the Early Years Strategy, potentially the most positive action that can make a difference to children's lives.
'I came away from that meeting with the realisation that we cannot address all the problems that surround children and young people overnight but that by focussing on specific areas we can make a difference,' the Minister said.
'Today and tomorrow you will be looking at the importance of nurture in the development of children. I have to say that it concerns me greatly that we have a culture, driven by a booming economy, that encourages both parents out of the home in order to meet their needs, thus discharging the care of their young children to others.
'We are aware of the importance, particularly during the early years of a child`s life, of providing them with a “constant” presence in their lives. That may be their Mum, Dad, Granny or another “significant” person. If that is not possible then it is up to us to make sure that the care that is provided is of the highest standard achievable.
'In order to be able to provide the very best in care for our children we need a well qualified and diverse workforce. Your willingness to be part of that is recognised by you being here today,' the Minister told delegates.
'We have the ability in our small country to make a difference to the 16,000 children in our care and where better to start than at the very beginning.'

In a welcoming address, Senior Education Adviser Stuart Dobson said that two years ago, the Department published its new Freedom to Flourish Curriculum, which says young people should develope readiness, relationships that are positive, resourcefulness, resilience, remembering skills and reflectiveness.

He asked:

'Where better to start than with a three-year-old, a four-year-old, a five-year-old?'

Mr Dobson said change was required in culture, practices, processes and structures to bring about the positive outcomes for children.

'We are trying to create an exciting, vibrant early years environment where care is of the highest standard.'

The conference continues tomorrow (Saturday).

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