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Interview: “We Want to Help Practitioners Do What They Do Best”

Rainbow, one of 1decision’s early years characters

In this advertorial feature we speak with Hayley Sherwood, the founder of 1decision, about their decision to bring their highly successful schools product to the Early Years sector.

For those of our readers who have worked in, or know somebody who works in, a primary school, it is likely that you have come across 1decision. The leading provider of interactive PSHE and safeguarding learning tools in the UK, they are used by schools around the country to provide critical life-skills education to children in Years 1-6.

With an interactive bank of resources supporting teaching in PSHE, RSE, Health Education, SMSC development and safeguarding, designed in a visual way to engage children growing up in a world of smartphones and tablets, 1decision have led the way in transforming how schools help young children to develop skills in managing difficult emotions, and environmental and social pressures.

We were excited to discover that 1decision were bringing their unique approach to the Early Years sector, so we sat down with founder and CEO Hayley Anne-Sherwood to find out more.

Hi Hayley, thanks so much for making the time to chat with us today. I guess our first question is: "Can you describe your product and early years portal in 60 seconds or less?"

Ooh, that's a challenge! Yes. We offer a child-focussed interactive programme that has been developed to covers many of the early learning goals and the Development Matters framework, mostly focussed on the areas of PSED.

The personal development of early learning is vital. Although some resource providers cover elements of PSED, it is not recorded and cannot always be assessed. We are taking a different approach, helping young children develop core skills, knowledge and vocabulary around their emotional and social development.

Hayley Sherwood, the founder of 1decision

What inspired you to create 1decision and how did you get started?

I think my inspiration for 1decision was founded in my own childhood experiences of education. For a start, I was very much a visual learner in a time when schools were more focused on the auditory style of teaching. It was difficult for me to engage, or to take in what they were saying, leaving me feeling quite isolated and cut off from my own learning. School made me quite angry and frustrated.

As an adult I became involved in the other side of education. I managed an alternative provision for disengaged children aged 11-16, most of whom did not see school as a welcoming and supportive environment or an opportunity to learn. These students felt like it was more of a punishment, causing them to abandon any aspirations or hope. I developed a programme to give them goals, helping them to look at challenges such as peer pressure. It was about focussing on values and finding the ways to engage them.

I realised, however, that for some of these children we were coming in late. We needed to reach them sooner, earlier in life, to maximise impact. This led me on a journey all the way to early years practice.

So what did you do before 1decision?

I've had quite the varied career! Before working in schools, I lived abroad managing younger people in the nightclub, restaurant and bar sector. I worked in the industry for some time, and as a part of the job I found myself taking on a mentoring and pastoral role for younger staff. I was sometimes called an "unofficial social worker"!

It was this experience helping vulnerable young people, many of whom had been let down by their schools and communities, that inspired me to go and work within schools themselves. It kickstarted a journey that I think I was always meant to go on!

What makes you excited about working with early years professionals and nurseries?

There are two things in particular. One is about where early years teaching fits within 1decision's mission. I have been amazed by the dedication and fantastic work that I have seen early years practitioners delivering, often under very difficult circumstances and with limited resource. We want to help practitioners do what they do best!

The other is about people: as we have developed our methodology for engaging children on all of these issues, from the first day I was working with those 11-16 year olds, it became increasingly obvious that the earlier we can become involved in childhood development the more impact we can have. For us this is an opportunity to really transform the lives of children and prepare them to be happier, better equipped adults. No stage of development has more impact than these early years of a child's life, as practitioners know, so we want to help equip early years professionals in the important work they do.

What we find particularly exciting about our method is that, unlike other tools, we build in assessments from the start. It isn't just about delivering, but how do we assess and recognise what a young child has learned. Can they communicate it to other children? We don't want to be just another of resources, but to help intentional and measured practice.

When did you decide to start providing books, videos and online materials to the sector, and why?

I think I'll begin first with the portal and why we have taken that approach!

I guess the first thing about doing it this way is that we can constantly update and fine-tune the support we give settings and early years teachers based on their feedback. Although some say teaching does not change, we disagree. This is a dynamic sector, with professionals learning better methods all the time. Our online portal allows us to keep pace with changes to guidance such as the Development Matters framework as they happen, rather than nurseries having to wait six months for a new edition to be printed. We can always add further, unlimited, value.

Furthermore, every setting community has its own differences and the children within it their own needs. We provide flexibility and can be proactive in making changes, our setting and school partners are never bound by a 'one size fits all' approach. Nurseries know best what their children need.

The interactive element is our main offering. However, we add books and other materials as often as we can because we know that time away from screen is especially important to young children, while books are a precious resource. This lets us enjoy the best of both worlds; a dynamic, constantly updated portal to support ongoing practice, and books, games and more that interact with the portal for that hands-on engagement.

How has COVID-19 (the dreaded C word!) affected 1decision and ways of working?

COVID-19 has obviously disrupted a lot of people's education, jobs, businesses, way of life. It was no different for us.

We are grateful for one thing however; it provided a focus for us to finish developing and honing our early years portal. For example, we were able to build on a huge number of requests from professionals, parents and others in the early years and primary sectors who needed more support with home schooling, and ways of learning that combined online learning and tools in-hand. We have been able to develop more helpful videos, tools, and resources that are already being used in homes and settings, something we did not anticipate this soon.

We were extremely motivated to do this too as our tools have proven invaluable in helping very young children explore the emotions of what, to them, must be bewildering and emotionally charged. For many this will be the first crisis they have witnessed within their family setting, and at a much younger age than they would be prepared for. That really drove us on to push our development further.

What is next for your early years work?

Oh wow, there's actually so much!

We have developed a whole early years programme which includes a core of 20 different stories, focussed on helping children with the transition to school, learning to share, road safety, separation anxiety, understanding autism and much more.

We are also making sure to cover important topics that have become all the more important because of the pandemic. For example, providing tools to help children understand and process the emotions around grief a little better. A lot of children are being impacted by what is happening to loved ones in this crisis, and we wanted to help.

We are also developing an additional 20 stories that will be useful for practitioners developing positive parental partnerships. These include looking at the bedtime routine, coping with a more complicated child-rearing environment, and more.

These will be animated and read-to-me stories designed to really engage children. According to research two thirds of young children are now visual learners, so we have refined our ways of engaging them in these topics.

We are also very excited to announce that we are about to launch a parent and carers app to provide further support for parents and carers. It will help in managing things such as separation anxiety when the children first attend nursery, reception, and school.

There’s so much else too, but I’m worried my answer could go on for hours!

Haha, no worries, we are at the end of the interview now anyway! We wanted to ask, to finish: “What else did you want to share with our readers about 1decision?”

We are here to try and help across the board. Firstly, we want to help the children, as their learning and development is what drives us. But we also want to support the parents, carers and early years professionals in understanding what is happening to their young children emotionally, and how to help children manage these confusing stages of life. Between work and home, parents have increasingly little time and energy. This can have an effect on their children's ability to express their feelings as they miss key input.

Meanwhile professionals are tasked with one of the most rewarding but difficult jobs, with huge responsibility towards children's safe development. We want to help children learn the vocabulary around explaining their emotions, helping them to understand it. We want to give parents, carers and professionals, a tool to help.

We have developed this in such a way that progress and challenges can be assessed. Children can verbalise and showcase their understanding, giving early years professionals the chance to record the learning journey, a key part of practice. We help practitioners to help children in reaching their early learning goals.

This is an advertorial sponsored by 1decision. If you would like to explore partnership and content opportunities with That Nursery Life then please do not hesitate to get in contact via our the bubble in the corner of this screen.