A new Blog for a New Year! We’ve kicked off the new year with one of our four training days, which was a great way to inspire, inform and refresh our staff teams, especially after our longest closure period of the year, when they’ve all had a chance to spend time with their families and friends. We’ve also decided to start a monthly blog, which will be written by Zoe and other members of the Acorn Action Research team. The overall theme for our action research is our social impact, and 2020 will see the publication of our first social impact report. Our annual report for 2018, which you can download here explained our social impact model, and we hope to publish our report for 2019 by Easter. Our action research group has been exploring our social impact, including two key areas in which we put our relational pedagogy into action. The first of these is home visits, which we carry out as part of the settling-in process for new children, and next month’s blog will explain some of our early findings about the benefits of those. Secondly, our March blog will look at our intergenerational visits by many of our nurseries to meet and socialise with elderly people, in care homes, retirement villages, and sheltered housing, and we are exploring the benefits for the children of those visits. For this month, I’ll run through some of the highlights of 2019, and look forward to the challenges of 2020. 2019 – Highlights and Dramas January’s highlight last year was the installation over the Christmas break of new toilets at Stanwick, and then in February we had three Ofsted inspections in the space of a week, all Good, and our Central Support Office downsized to a smaller office in Cosgrove. March was a very eventful month, with the theft of our forest school van (speedily recovered, thanks to its vibrant signwriting making it unmistakeably ours) followed by a flood at Stony Stratford (caused by a squirrel getting into the roof and gnawing through a water pipe) and a full scale evacuation at our Sharnbrook nursery, caused by a security alert (nothing serious, thankfully) on the Colworth Science Park. April saw the installation and refurbishment of flooring at Jubilee Wood and Shenley, and in May our Brafield nursery was voted Nursery of the Year by Northampton’s Chronicle and Echo! In June we began the negotiations to take over the old children’s centre at Cold Harbour, and in July we had two fabulous staff events – the annual conference, and the family fun day and BBQ. We also began the catering for the Holiday Hunger project in Milton Keynes, which ran through the summer holidays, and then in September we celebrated 30 years of Acorn at our original nursery in Castlethorpe, which was soon followed by one of our best ever Ofsted inspection reports at our Outstanding Kents Hill nursery. The Cold Harbour nursery opened at the end of November, and I was named one of the Top 100 Women in Social Enterprise, which was a lovely surprise at the end of a very busy but successful year. 2020 – New Nursery, and Sector Challenges Looking forward to 2020, we have been put through to the second stage of the MK Business Achievement Awards, for Business Impact in the Community, and for Customer Service. We have also submitted a paper to the British Early Childhood Education Research Association which we hope to present at their annual conference in February. We have a busy year ahead of us, and we’re very excited about opening a nursery in the new YMCA building in Central Milton Keynes in May this year. Our Cold Harbour nursery is up and running, and the Outdoor Learning Centre there will open at Easter. It’s going to be another busy and exciting year, but not without its challenges. Later in January, I am speaking at the Big Early Years Debate in London, which is focussing on the funding deficit in the sector. As I’m sure most people know by now, the level of funding provided by the government for the supposedly ‘free’ nursery education is insufficient to cover the cost, causing severe financial difficulties for many early years settings, and causing the closure of many smaller nurseries and pre-schools. So far the government is still insisting that settings should cover the shortfall with additional charges, but also states that these should be ‘optional’ which would potentially result in inequalities of provision, if some children are excluded from having freshly cooked meals and engaging in the full range of activities. This goes against all the early years principles of inclusive provision, which is why at Acorn we are completely transparent about how much funding we receive and what we need to charge to be financially sustainable. We are very fortunate that our parents are supportive and willing to pay the additional costs, but with our costs rising each year, and the need to really invest in developing our workforce, the problem is not going to disappear any time soon. Balancing high quality with affordability will always be our biggest challenge!