5 things we learned at our autumn education and childcare student conference | NCFE

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5 things we learned at our autumn education and childcare student conference

Our recent autumn education and childcare student conference invited staff and learners from across the country to join us and hear from our expert speakers as they shared their knowledge, advice and guidance with all in attendance. The virtual event explored a range of topics within the sector, helping learners to gain an insight into the varied career pathways available to them, into the tools and resources there to support them, and to celebrate the work of early years educators and professionals. 

Following the success of last year’s student conference series, we were excited to welcome the following guest speakers, who joined us and over 375 attendees for our first event of the academic year: 

  • Karina Poultney-Shaw, CACHE Product Specialist at NCFE 
  • Maeve Macknelly, Director of Play at Therapy Helston 
  • Dawn Newman, CACHE Alumni Communities Manager  
  • Preeti Patel, Head of Education at Montessori Centre International   
  • Stacy Mann, Subject Specialist in Early Years and Childcare at NCFE and Peter Elliott, Website Manager at NCFE 
  • Selena Hall, Lecturer in Early Childhood Studies at the University of Wolverhampton and student Isobel Bailey     
  • Angie Rogers, Subject Specialist in Teaching and Learning at NCFE 
  • Virginia Brown, Before, After and Out of School Manager 
  • Janet King, Sector Manager in Education and Childcare at NCFE. 

Here, we summarise five of the key things that we learned during the conference to help support you as you advance in your career in the sector.

1. It’s a truly rewarding sector to work in

Whilst those currently working in the sector will already have a deep appreciation of this fact, it was fantastic to hear first-hand accounts from our conference speakers on why they love working in the education and childcare sector. 

We heard from Isobel Bailey, who has just enrolled on a Level 5 course, BA (Hons) Early Childhood Study, at the University of Wolverhampton. She shared the story of her career journey so far, stating: “I’ve always been intrigued to work within early years, as I believe it provides unique opportunities to achieve a goal – which is to make a difference in children’s lives. 

“Whilst I never fully understood my own interests when I left school, it became clear that working with children made me feel rewarded. I want to make a difference to individual children’s lives.” 

As the Director of Play at Therapy Helston, Maeve Mcnally also shared her own motivation for working in the sector: “Knowing now that I can support people and children with the support that I needed, that I didn’t receive [in my childhood], is so important. It’s such a rewarding job and such a great opportunity to do something different and make a difference to children’s lives.” We couldn’t have said it better ourselves! 

2. Make the most of free resources and support

The education and childcare sector is one that is based on the principles of care, kindness and knowledge-sharing – so be sure to make the most of the vast set of resources and support available to you, said Stacy. 

Our recently relaunched Education and Childcare Careers Toolkit offers a range of rich and engaging support materials on everything from CPD, to career pathway maps, to conversations with childcare specialists, and in the form of webinars, podcasts, articles and guides. It also hosts content on topics including sustainability, mental health and wellbeing, and male practitioners working in education and childcare. It’s mobile-friendly, easy to navigate and best of all, completely free to use, and we’ll continue to add educational and informative content into the toolkit over the coming months. 

Another fantastic free resource is Skillzminer, a powerful AI tool that can help you to discover your individual strengths and transferable skills, helping you to determine your ideal career path and to source jobs that work for you. Skillzminer can be accessed through CACHE Alumni for free. 

Our newly launched Education and Childcare Career Toolkit is filled with helpful resources. Image credit: Photo by © Isabelle Johnson / London Early Years Foundation

3. Your choice of roles is endless!

When it comes to the education and childcare sector, there are perhaps more opportunities than you may have realised regarding the breadth and depth of roles on offer.  

As a lecturer in Early Childhood Studies at the University of Wolverhampton, Selena shared how: We have students who have gone on to some really exciting and varied careers!” She then listed some examples, which included primary school teachers, police force support workers, Camp America workers specialising in SEND, play therapists, those who work with ex-offenders, charity workers, and those who go on to specialise with their masters. 

Janet went on to expand on potential education and childcare careers during the Q&A session, listing roles such as assessor, tutor, lecturer, at your local authority, or even in inspection and regulatory work. 

If you’re feeling overwhelmed or unsure about which path to follow, tools such as Skillzminer (mentioned above) are incredibly helpful. But also, don’t panic, as the likes of professional development can help to shape your interests along the way... 

4. Professional development is crucial

Whilst continuing professional development (CPD) is important in most sectors, it’s particularly important in education and childcare. Children change, and they change quickly – influenced not only by their fleeting interests but the technology they’re learning to interact with, as well as the circumstances of the world in which they’re growing up in (take the pandemic, for example). 

Speaking of her own CPD, Angie Rogers, our Subject Specialist in Teaching and Learning, shared her own experience: “I can say that I’ve never stopped learning – it's a continual path. We live and we learn, and it’s always going to be what pushes us forwards in our careers.” 

She also spoke about how CPD can influence and encourage you to explore different pathways in the journey of your career: “My career has gone from various different roles, and that’s why it’s so exciting. You’ll do [CPD] training, and that could take you to a new opportunity. So never stop developing!” 

5. Always look after your mental health and wellbeing

An important question was asked during the closing of our Q&A on the topic of mental wellbeing and self-care. Sent in anonymously, the question read: “I’m worried about making sure that I'm doing the best I can – how do I take care of myself in this profession?”  

Janet King responded with some important advice: “In terms of yourself, it’s very important that when you start a career where you’re giving such an awful lot of yourself each and every day, it’s important that you too have access to support.” Make sure that you feel safe and secure, that you feel confident about managing challenging situations, and that you believe and value yourself – as there is only one of you! 

Utilising online resources is another way to find support when it comes to mental wellbeing. As a starting point, you might wish to check out the mental health and wellbeing support area of our Education and Childcare Career Toolkit. Always remember to take care of yourself and ask for support where you need it! 

If you’d like to catch up with our student conference and access our speakers’ brilliant sessions in full, you can visit the past student conferences area of our Education and Childcare Career Toolkit, where the recording will be available shortly.  

“I can say that I’ve never stopped learning – it's a continual path. We live and we learn, and it’s always going to be what pushes us forwards in our careers.” 

Angie Rogers, Subject Specialist in Teaching and Learning at NCFE
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