Drawing on the Early Years Alliance (EYA) report it is suggested that, in deprived areas, 17% of childcare providers are expected to close within the next year. Whilst this suggests that austerity is shaping the availability of childcare provision, the suggestion that “some nurseries had lowered the quality of food given to children” is equally alarming. The BBC also suggest that budget cuts have resulted in 43% of childcare providers having to “cut back on learning resources” with an additional 19% reporting they “had lowered the quality of food” given to children.
Until the Department for Education, and the Early Years National Funding Formula, meet the financial shortfall necessary to ensure adequate food, nutrition and educational resources, regional Community Investment Companies (CIC’s) attempt to support early years provision create equitable educational opportunities and positive life outcomes.
The Real Junk Food Project, Fuel for School, ReThink Food and Food Revival all intercept surplus food and redirect it for human consumption. The Power Project collects surplus books, games, musical instruments and sports equipment, and re-purposes it within primary schools in the Yorkshire region. However, what each of these CIC’s have in common, is that over the past three years each of them has worked with the Carnegie Co-creation Project.
The primary aim of the Carnegie Co-creation Project is to provide Leeds Beckett Education students with meaningful engagement within the broader context of education. The project is offered as a placement opportunity, and students are invited to ‘add value’ to the grass roots frugal innovations, whilst working as a democratic team with specialist facilitators.
During the collaborative placement an innovative co-creation pedagogy is utilised to develop creative strategies to improve success, and learner satisfaction, whilst designing Education Packs which are then distributed to Primary Schools. These Education Packs have included lesson plans and teaching resources, mapped against the National Curriculum, that support the physical, mental and emotional health of primary school children. Whilst peer mentoring each other, the students develop enhanced academic and employability skills though team-based learning.
First-year student Irum Mahmood reports “It’s different to lectures and seminars, because whilst we design and implement developmental, formative teaching and learning, we are at the same time experiencing it”. In addition, a third-year student Eve Dodman says:
Working with cross disciplinary specialists improves our professional relationships and develops our professional identity. We’re empowered to develop our networks and professional practice. Negotiating with peers and tutors has encouraged us to challenge and stretch ourselves in terms of what we think is possible.
The value of meaningfully engaging with the broader context of education led first-year student Jasmine Anderson to say:
Lectures are good at presenting theory and policy, but hands-on experience makes it come alive. None of us really knew what to expect from uni, and now we’re able to apply our learning. It’s broadened our understanding of what it might mean to work in Education. It’s been invaluable to do this so early in our course. It’s helped us to make realistic decisions about where our future careers may take us.
Perhaps one of the benefits of undergraduate students engaging with grassroots social innovation projects is that it develops a clearer vision of the challenges faced by those working in education.
Students who join the university with a somewhat rose-tinted view of their future ‘helping young children develop’ are encouraged to re-frame their expectations. Until all children who access education are free from food insecurity, and have access to effective and equitable learning resources, neither they - or those who aspire to teach them - can obtain the outcomes they deserve.
Without reducing pressure on the Department for Education, and the Early Years National Funding Formula to provide adequate financial support, it is still possible for students to develop agency and create a meaningful impact within the civic community. By doing so, they not only empower themselves, they also leave positive footprints as they begin their journey to professional status.