Hopes and dreams for early years in 2022 and beyond


Twelve professionals with links to the early years reveal their aspirations for the sector in the year ahead, and set out what needs to change to ensure families’ needs are met

Rachel de Souza, children’s commissioner for England

My hopes and dreams for the new year are simple. I want to see us really make strides in our efforts to keep children, especially the youngest and most vulnerable, at the heart of the recovery.

Over the past 18 months, all of us have been shocked at just how dramatically the shape of our lives can be altered by circumstances beyond our control. And yet The Big Ask survey my office carried out in 2021 has been an important reminder that, from the day they are born, a child’s fundamental needs remain the same.

We know how vital the first 1,000 days of child’s life are. Let’s make every single day in 2022 a day of love and high-quality support in early years.

Natalie Aguilera, Children’s Centre campaigner

After spending much of the latter half of 2021 campaigning to stop the closures of two Children’s Centres, we have been given a reprieve by Hackney Council, who have ‘paused’ the closures. This means that 35 staff keep their jobs and over 100 families keep their affordable childcare, for the time being.

My hope for the year ahead is that we are able to persuade the Mayor of Hackney, Philip Glanville, to publicly commit to safeguarding all subsidised childcare places and Children’s Centres, by making this a manifesto pledge for the upcoming elections. We will be joining Children’s Centres across Hackney to fight any further threats to these invaluable community resources.

Corinna Laing, deputy head of Spring Nurseries by Action for Children

As we reflect on last year, we are grateful. It’s important to acknowledge our dedicated workforce who continued to work throughout the pandemic to support our country’s key workers by providing childcare for their children.

Looking forward to 2022, we hope to build our passionate workforce. In 2020 we launched our careers pathway to encourage those keen to work with children to join our teams and embark on a dedicated training programme. Early years is a fantastic career choice, and we must all be ambitious for children. We’re delighted to launch ‘Grow at Home’, a tailored home learning programme to support parents with a range of exciting experiences and activities.

Jamel Campbell, early years consultant, children’s author and co-founder of the EY Black List

In the new year I hope to see our wonderful sector being finally acknowledged for all the hard work, sweat and tears it invests in the care of our community of the future (our children). I wish we are given praise and funding as reparations for the hardship we have faced and are still facing during Covid. I hope to see more diversity and balance (Black people) within our sector’s panels and exec teams. I would like to see more thought being put into inclusion and anti-racist CPD and embedding into our settings’ pedagogy, culture and practice. Remember, we are shaping the community of the future and to change the narrative, we need to reflect and change our narratives.

Cheryl Hadland, Tops Day Nurseries and founder of GECCO

GECCO’s sustainability recommendations for 2022:

Safeguard children’s futures, even though Ofsted are not specifying sustainability in the Early Years Inspection Framework – yet! We can do the following, without impacting our budgets.

1. Clean Air Put signs up and show you care. 

Share a local travel plan to help everyone reduce use of diesel/petrol vehicles, including suppliers (and no excuses please, new electric and hydrogen trucks are being built in the UK at the same cost and availability (new only).

Put plants everywhere to filter carbon dioxide and other toxins from our children’s breathing air.

2. Fight climate change. Ask suppliers what their carbon footprint is, so you choose those with the least impact. Spend accordingly, as money talks.

Ask what happens to products if they are damaged or broken – we want to have them repaired, or give them back to be recycled, not put into waste.

Go increasingly vegetarian, or even vegan.

3. Fight pollution and extinction of species. Avoid one-use plastic if you possibly can, including wipes, balloons, clingfilm, packaging.

If you make sure sustainability is in every person’s job description, we can all protect children by following children’s and staff’s interests, letting respect and empathy for every living creature be our guide. Every little action makes a difference – because together these are millions of actions.

Sally Harvey, Nursery World Childminder of the Year 2021

My aim for 2022 is to continue to ‘add tools to my toolbox’, with a particular focus on maths and speech and language.

Training with Karen Wilding of EY Maths in 2021 has not only transformed my maths outlook but also allowed me to be part of a wonderful community of generous learners.

I believe more childminders could be encouraged into the profession if it was shown respect, not least by the Government. An increase in funding that reflects the true cost of the dedication and professionalism of all early years workers would not go amiss.

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary, National Education Union (NEU)

I hope that levelling up reaches the early years. So far as funding is concerned, it’s almost as if Covid-19 never happened and the long-term neglect of the sector’s needs is a scandal. I hope the sector will come together to demand effective change. The campaign by maintained nursery schools, to secure and improve supplementary funding, shows what’s possible.

I hope the DfE will step back from its efforts to impose on the sector an inappropriate model of education. Baseline Assessment in Reception classes is a distraction: in a recent Teacher Tapp survey, only 1 per cent thought it was a positive experience for children. Ofsted’s interventions are often deeply unsympathetic to the whole ethos of early education.

While other countries assert the value of well-funded, child-focused early years education, England is stumbling along another road. It is more than a hope that policy will take a new direction; it is a necessity.

Chris Reid, chief executive of Connect Childcare – a nursery management software provider

My hopes and dreams are around sustainability, funding, and staffing. I hope the Government puts a stop to the continued underfunding, ensuring the true cost of providing high-quality childcare is recognised and reflected in financial support.

Similarly, the staffing crisis needs to be addressed. An Early Years Alliance survey recently revealed that 77 per cent of respondents ‘feeling undervalued by Government’ as the most common reason for leaving the sector. My dream is that the country’s leaders take effective action to prevent this from happening.

Also, sustainability needs to be further embraced in the early years. By implementing eco-friendlier practices, settings can experience environmental, financial, operational, and social benefits, helping to create a learning environment that prioritises child development and the health of our planet for present and future generations.


Zoe McIntryre – Children’s Right2Food project manager at The Food Foundation

We know how damaging poor nutrition can be in early childhood, both on a child’s physical and mental health. It’s truly heart-breaking that, by the start of primary school, more than one in five children are overweight or obese.

Our wish for 2022 is for Government to recognise the urgent need to improve nutrition in the early years and prioritise policies that do so. There is clear evidence that a healthy diet is too often unaffordable for families on the breadline and, in these difficult times of rising food prices and cuts to social security, it’s so vital we do everything we can to support low-income families to eat well.

One current Government scheme doing this is Healthy Start – it offers funds to young families and pregnant mothers on a very low income to buy fruit and vegetables, pulses and milk. This could be a nutritional game-changer for struggling young families, but many who qualify don’t know it exists and uptake is very low. The Government recognises Healthy Start needs a revamp – in fact it is currently being digitalised with completion in early 2022. However, many more families should be benefiting – to do that, we need eligibility widened and the scheme to be better communicated with reach right into the heart of communities.


Carol Payne, interim CEO, I CAN

An increase in support for speaking and understanding would be a great way to ring in the new year.

We finish 2021 with a clearer understanding of the negative impact of repeated lockdowns and social distancing measures on the speaking and understanding skills of young children. This has created extra worry for families who are already under increased pressure.

In 2022, we hope that parents will have more access to information about typical development of speaking and understanding skills so that they can seek help early when their children need it. We hope parents will be empowered with information about how to support their child’s speaking and understanding at home so they can shape the future life trajectories of their children.

We hope the Government will commit to creating a cross-departmental children’s speech, language and communication strategy so that children can get the right help at the right time.


Courteney Donaldson, managing director – childcare and education, Christie & Co

Firstly, I would like to thank nursery providers for their dedication throughout what has been another challenging year.

We have seen unprecedented demand from buyers during the past 12 months, enabling those wishing to retire to achieve premium prices for their much-loved businesses. I truly hope this trend will continue; rewarding nursery owners for the years – often decades – they have dedicated to their businesses, frequently at personal cost and financial risk.

Our early years workforce faces acute pressures. I sincerely hope that this is the year they receive the long-overdue recognition and investment they so thoroughly deserve.

Deborah Lawson, Community Union assistant general secretary (Voice Community)

Our hope for 2022 is we can move forwards from the pandemic with a better future.

Our priorities will be those of our members, as highlighted in our appropriately named report, The Future of Education, where early years staff told us:

  • they do not feel valued;
  • pay in the sector is too low; and
  • funding is inadequate and inconsistent.
  • On their behalf, we want to see:
  • a return to learning through play;
  • a focus on social skills and mental wellbeing;
  • the free entitlement that is fixed, fair, properly funded and simple – to work for settings and parents;
  • a fair wage for every worker; and
  • career development for early years staff.

Early years professionals shouldn’t feel they have to leave the sector in order to make ends meet.

The new Education Secretary and his team seem to appreciate the challenges the sector faces, and we will continue to work with them to seek resolution to those problems.


Martin McTague, National Vice-Chair of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB)

Staffing is by far the biggest operational cost for most childcare providers, so increasing wage costs, compounded by the 1.25 percentage point increase in National Insurance contributions coming into effect in April will be potentially devastating for many nurseries. 

Adding to the sector’s woes, the current 66 per cent business rates relief for the sector also runs out at the end of March. 

Staffing shortages are widespread within early years provision, and look unlikely to improve in the near future. 

Inflation is also eating into operating margins, and the level of funding provided by the Government for free allocation does not cover rising costs across the board.

In short, the Government needs to act to avoid worsening the crisis in the sector, with enhanced reliefs for staffing and rates costs, and a higher funding offer.

Aimee Kimbell, principal of Riverside Nursery Schools – part of the Dukes Education group of nurseries, schools and colleges

As the wise and wonderful Whitney Houston once sang ‘I believe the children are our future, teach them well and let them lead the way’ and this wouldn’t be possible without the amazing work of nursery educators so first and foremost we want to say a huge thank you to them all for their continued hard work and dedication and we hope you enjoyed a well-earned break this Christmas.

It’s been a tough couple of years for the world, especially for early years settings struggling not only with the impact of the pandemic but also industry wide staff shortages so let’s hope that 2022 brings more talented practitioners to all nurseries so we can continue to teach and inspire the next generation. And a bit of world peace wouldn’t go amiss either…Happy New Year!

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