CREC Development Sessions
Research Round Up

Over the last 6 months we’ve been working in partnership with Centre for Research in Early Childhood (CREC) with the aim to grow grassroots capacity through reflective practitioner research. As part of the #RadicalChildcare development phase we have been exploring new ways of providing parents with access to flexible childcare models, being very mindful that – whichever models are used – they must always be of the highest quality and the needs of the children remain paramount.

For that reason we have worked closely with CREC to investigate and evaluate how different models impact on the children using these services, and to provide these childcare models with tools to help them embed continuous improvement processes around the highest quality early years provision. We have been deeply excited to be working with them, continuing on from an introductory session which took place on Monday 26th February which you can catch up with here, and a twilight session on Monday 16th April, which you can read outcomes from here.

This blog shares what came out of the third and final session together, providing insights from the CREC research partnership as a whole, how participants found it and what some of the developments have been for the settings involved.

Aims of Session

  • Sharing best practice and reflections from throughout the investigation
  • Share outcomes in the form of presentations from each settings
  • Open evaluation dialogue around benefits and challenges of this collective research time and approach
  • Establish next steps


Who’s in the Room?

Professor Chris Pascal from CREC (session lead), practitioners from Bloomsbury BeginningsKids West MidlandsPurple Rocket Nursery and Impact Hub Birmingham.


The session began with updates from each setting as to how they’d found implementing the research methods within their practices so far, before moving to further guidance from Chris and discussion around how best to make the research as useful as it could be without becoming impractical within the busy, dynamic context of flexible Early Years provision. Finally, themes from the conversation were explored further in smaller groups, ready to prepare for the next phase of research with renewed focus on a particular area of focus.

Here are some of the key outcomes from this session together.

Deep Observation

By observing a child deeply you are also observing the environment and how they engage with others too.

Angelica from Purple Rocket Nursery shared how she’d focused in on an individual child for some detailed observations, a different approach to all previous research undertaken on her masters where observations had mostly been about looking at group dynamics.

Using tracking, frequency and sampling observations, her focus was looking at a particular child’s learning in the nursery across a number of sessions and supporting them as a quieter child who didn’t often get involved with others or in deep play. She observed and also trialled intervention points to understand more about the child and give them space to try new things and play more with others.

“Tuning into the learning and interests of quieter children was something I’d never thought about before. Focusing on one child made me realise you need to think about them as individuals.”

As a result of looking at this child and others she judged that it may be important to split the playschool group into smaller groups and give them stations to rotate around, to stop more dominant children leading. In a child-led setting but with framing from adults, with areas zoned and choice of activities, she saw an increase in the child’s engagement with activities such as writing and drawing, and other children joined in with them.

Chris (CREC) described support for this method of gathering lots of deep data, taken over different days, times of day, different kinds of observations, whilst always thinking: how can we support the child? Collecting information on multiple occasions can mean a pattern emerges. and we should be asking all the time – is it okay what they’re doing, because reflective time is good too.

Angelica also added that she’d found it enriching to listen to silence and the quiet moments as well as the wow moments with children because they are expressing themselves all the time, to reduce risk of neglecting or overlooking those who hang back.

There were interesting reflections from the group around what point children may be having deep, thinking time to themselves and you risk of detracting or steering them away, but the group agreed it was part of their role as practitioners to ensure children got those opportunities for learning and connection, being mindful of whether they may be choosing not to engage or have a barrier to doing so.

Shifting Focus From Parents

Ann from Bloomsbury beginnings shared that this had been as much a training as a research project for them, having done some of the exercises before but not as a coherent whole, nor with this supportive collective structure around it and sites for sharing outcomes, ideas and challenges.

During this period of research they’d been interviewing parents, documenting what they shared about their child’s needs and interests, and completed two observations of children. The impact of doing those two was really powerful, she explained. We know that when we document it makes a great difference in our confidence – the process of recording and thinking about it.

This approach had a powerful impact on practitioners’ skills and motivation, and they expressed a new optimism about outcomes for children in ad hoc crèche settings such as theirs if they followed principles shared by CREC, as well as a new perspective on how the child becomes a vehicle for your relationship with parents, not the other way around.

“As a practitioner, when I began this programme my primary focus was on the parents, and then we learnt in order to give them what they needed we needed to focus on the children, the stimulation and care that they receive in our setting.”

It seemed that initial mindset had stemmed from the parents as being the ones who are paying, with discussion continuing around inclusivity, relationships and trust. If the parents were given a living wage, would they be able to charge a more reasonable rate? asked Chris. In a lot of childcare funding there’s arguments about supply side or demand side – whether money should be given to parents to pay, or money to providers so parents don’t have to pay.

Working Within A System

In whatever way you build relationships it’s going to impact on the children directly or indirectly.

The children KIDS work with have special educational needs / disabilities so their focus was about quality vision for those children, looking at consistency and equal opportunities no matter where they come from. They described that as Children’s Centres were reduced, so families were having to travel further to centres. In that aspect they were revising their provision to look at whether they could build capacity with parents leading moving forward, giving them capacity to move around the district.

“We met with partners to ensure we were building on what exists rather than duplication, signposting families to one another, working together rather than in isolation because it’s a wider problem.”

They used this time to review what they’re doing at the moment, as well as training and building knowledge ready to support parents in different ways. The shared that the difference it’s made to their thinking has been: Accepting that things don’t always go to plan – and that’s okay, but that it’s important to remain consistent. Importance of investing in staff development. Importance of needs of families being met, as well as holistically looking after staff team and wider partners.

They was also some interesting discussion points around language and communications, as they changed their name to KIDS Family Groups rather than focusing on being “parent-led”, but instead reflecting that they’re doing wider work involving siblings and other family members. These groups are about establishing the foundation of children and families together, whereas the group felt the word ‘creche’ is interpreted more as a drop in provision, that can, especially if you think of a child with autism, can be really unsettling to be in.

The Role of Grown Ups

The Impact Hub Birmingham creche team carried out participant observations of 9 children, including physical tracking, documentation using photo and video, and a parents questionnaire, exploring the role of adult playworkers and creative practitioners to inspire and create sites for learning and development through play.

Initial observations: The thing with our provision is high ratio of adults to children. Sometimes that feels brilliant and really in depth, and sometimes it feels really intense, with too many grown ups. Exploring this, the team found that interactions were still highest between children, with adult to child one of the lower, showing that whilst adults are in there, they are not necessarily always directing children.

The group felt they’d been able to develop their reflective practice, consistent with the other settings, and that time and evidence to reflect had been really valuable for how they had begun to grow the provision in a relational, creative way.

This research period has allowed us to change things quickly – in the moment and post-session – identifying things that require intervention and trying different approaches in real time.

As a result of the research period, the team trialled new ideas with an experimental mindset, including a no toys day where all plastic toys were removed from the creche and only scrap materials such as cardboard, clay etc. and wooden toys were made available. Looking at the role of creative work in session, the team shared its observed importance in setting, and also that it’s logistically quite easy to pop up. A learning here is that having resources that are very open ended and not adult-led means that children have space to bring their own ideas to them.

Membership to the space was also reworked from Parent Membership to Children’s Membership, to reflect an acknowledgement of children as citizens in their own right, rather than citizens in waiting, which you can find out more about here.

What’s Next?

After coming together as a group for this final session at St Thomas Children Centre, we hosted a sharing about the research programme and other aspects of the #RadicalChildcare work in the open as part of our #RadicalChildcare Run Down in September, with further insights from Sean Delaney from CREC.

Here’s what practitioners involved would love to see next:

  • Would love a quarterly opportunity with wider Early Years practitioners audience to continue action research with Chris’ involvement
  • More regular courses, more meetups with similar business and exchanging ideas!
  • I would definitely get involved with any sessions that would enable us to provide better outcomes for children and families. In addition, I know that within this session it was discussed about having future sessions closer together but from my personal experience it felt more beneficial having the sessions spread out to provide me more time to reflect and revise.
  • I would love to maybe do a webinar with you on summarising what we learned and share with all the participants.

Following on from a 6 month development phase funded by Big Lottery, we’re now excited to be proposing an ambitious 2 year programme to continue and build on the work and learnings from this phase. For now you can explore our Children’s Membership, come along on a #RadicalChildcare discovery tour to learn more, get involved on the #RadicalChildcare hashtag, join the #RadicalChildcare facebook group, or visit for more information on our brilliant research partner.