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Case study: Pioneering the PANCo qualification 

Linda Baston-Pitt, former nurse and early years professional, worked with us to develop the Physical Activity and Nutrition Coordinator (PANCo) qualification. Her mission was to improve the holistic wellbeing of everyone in the vicinity of an early years setting - children, practitioners, parents, and carers.  

Linda, CEO of PurpleBee Learning, was a nurse before she became an early years professional. She developed her interest in wellbeing while working in healthcare. Linda said: “My last role in nursing was in preventative healthcare, looking at how to support wellbeing. You’d think that would be a normal part of health, but quite often you treat symptoms rather than help people manage their health themselves.” Linda’s holistic approach to health and wellbeing informed the creation of the PANCo qualification, which supports practitioners to enhance the wellbeing of children in an early years setting, so they’ll go on to make healthy choices throughout life.   

What PANCos do 

PANCos work in early years settings to emphasise the importance of physical activity and healthy eating practices for children’s personal development. Before developing the PANCo qualification, Linda returned to education to do a Positive Psychology Master's degree. What she learnt was that: 

"What you eat and what you do when you’re 0 – 5 has a direct impact on your behaviours much later in life. If you’ve had a positive experience with physical activity and nutrition during the early years, you’re more likely to grow up making healthier choices and be more in control of your own wellbeing needs."

A PANCo practitioner in an early years setting also supports other adults, including fellow practitioners, parents, and carers, to make healthier choices for the benefit of everyone in the community.  This is built into the qualification as Linda believes it’s important “to make a connection between an adult’s level of wellbeing and a child’s, because an adult’s wellbeing directly impacts on a child’s.”  

The PANCo qualification adopts a sustainable and inclusive approach to promoting wellbeing through a focus on improving the lifestyle choices of everyone in proximity of the early years setting. 

How the PANCo qualification was developed 

The PANCo role and qualification were developed after a health and wellbeing conference Linda organised around 15 years ago, attended by early years specialists from NCFE. Professionals in the sector, charity representatives and health professionals, including paediatric physios and dieticians, also shared their expertise. Linda found the expertise of NCFE’s early years team invaluable:  

"Working with NCFE and sector specialist Janet King, who understood the sector was crucial. Because it wasn’t just about the knowledge and understanding of health and wellbeing, it was about creating a role – a bit like a SENCo – to take what you’ve learnt with the ability, skills, and tools to put it into practice. A huge amount of it is down to competence building."

The goal of the PANCo qualification was to make it accessible to any professionals in early years who wanted to develop their knowledge of physical activity and nutrition in the setting. “It was a fantastic opportunity for Level 3 staff, leaders and managers – in fact anybody working in early years.” At first, it was only available as part of the Level 4, but now people can do a standalone qualification in this specialism. This further improves the accessibility of the qualification to all early years professionals.  

PANCos present and future 

There are currently over 3,000 PANCos practicing in Britain, who all trained after the qualification was first launched in 2012. Because the qualification can also be delivered digitally, there are now PANCos worldwide, in locations as far afield as the Czech Republic, Germany, France and Hong Kong. Plus, according to Linda, there’s an emerging interest in the Middle East and Australia. 

International PANCos feedback on the qualification and share their knowledge to further develop the recognition of physical activity and nutrition in the early years. This helps us to advance our mission to promote learning wherever it’s needed. 

Linda’s ambition for the qualification is that the PANCo position continues to gain relevance. “My ultimate goal is that the PANCo becomes mandatory in every setting, like a SENCo. In that case, it would then attract funding.” With funding, the qualification would become more accessible for all early years providers. “That’s always the biggest barrier for a lot of settings – cost.”  

Linda continues to work towards that goal with NCFE’s Janet King and the rest of our team. “Janet and I keep in touch constantly about where PANCo is going and what the next stage is. It’s a real partnership and collaboration between us.” 

Interested in collaborating with us to inform the future of learning? Find out more about working with us and get in touch. 

What you eat and what you do when you’re 0 – 5 has a direct impact on your behaviours much later in life. If you’ve had a positive experience with physical activity and nutrition during the early years, you’re more likely to grow up making healthier choices and be more in control of your own wellbeing needs.

Linda Baston-Pitt