The staff group appointed to work at Pen Green in the early 1980s were committed to engaging parents as decision-makers in the planning and implementation of work at the centre. They knew that working in this way was not about compensating for disadvantage. Instead, it was about acknowledging the impact of poverty on the lives of local children and their families, and encouraging families to take an equal and active role in developing responsive services.
The values and principles behind the services at Pen Green were set out by families, local politicians and local authority officers. Their big idea, their vision for the future, was that in this small community there should be a service for children aged under five and their families, a service which would honour the needs of young children and celebrate their existence. It would also support families however they were constituted within the community.
Their vision was underpinned by the belief that:
the most effective way of delivering coherent education, health and social services to young families was through an integrated centre which would be easily accessible (i.e. at pram-pushing distance)
services should be flexible and responsive to the needs of all local children and their extended families
education and care are indivisible, that the early years curriculum offered in these services should be developmentally appropriate for children aged up to five years and should recognise the central position of play in early learning
services should respect and value children and parents’ individual differences and celebrate ethnic, linguistic and cultural diversity
education begins at birth, and services must recognise the key role parents play as their child’s first educators, and parents’ commitment to their children’s early education
parent education and adult community education should be made available to parents within services for early childhood education and care
all the staff working in these settings need to be highly trained, reflective practitioners with equitable conditions of service, adequate pay, appropriate non-contact time, in-service training, supervision, opportunities for promotion
workers in early childhood settings need to be concerned with power sharing and community regeneration.
The principles that underpin the work at Pen Green are the principles of community education. Community education should:
be concerned with individuals’ capacity to be self-directing
help individuals to gain more control over their lives
be about raising self-esteem
promote learning as a lifelong experience
be about equal opportunities
be about pushing boundaries
be about constructive discontent and not having to put up with things the way they are
encourage people to feel they have the power to change things
be about self-fulfilment
The team at Pen Green Centre share a vision that respects each child’s right to be viewed as an independent and autonomous individual with a fundamental right to a fair and equal education. We are on a journey to becoming an inclusive centre with equality of access, to achieve this staff need to breakdown barriers to access and pro-actively seek out the children and their families, not wait for them to come to us.
We believe that children and their families need person-centred services which promote full social participation and enable them to maximise their health, well-being and life chances.