Unique partnership project set to transform early years education

4th May 2021

An innovative new Sheffield Hallam University-led project is set to transform early years education and care, with the opening of a new community nursery and research centre.

The Early Years Community Research Centre (EYCRC), based at Watercliffe Meadow School, is providing up to 40 full-time nursery places for children aged two to five in the Shirecliffe area of Sheffield.

It is the result of a unique partnership between the school, Sheffield Hallam’s social mobility programme South Yorkshire Futures, Save the Children UK, and Sheffield City Council, which aims to give local children the best start in life.

Following an incredibly challenging year for education settings, the Centre opened its doors to children on Monday (26 April) following extensive renovations to transform a disused part of Shirecliffe Community Centre, adjoining Watercliffe Meadow School, into the new community nursery.

It is funded through a £345,000 grant from the Department for Education’s School Nurseries Capital Fund, offering a much-needed extension to the existing nursery provision, which will help to improve outcomes for children in the community.

The new Centre will be a hub for innovative early years learning and care alongside multi-disciplinary on-site research, bringing together academic research capacity, community-focused education and care, and expert knowledge from the children’s charity sector. 

The partnership will benefit children across the UK through the dissemination of research findings and best practice to the early years education sector.

Greg Burke, Director of South Yorkshire Futures at Sheffield Hallam University, said: "The transformative power of excellent early years provision is unquestionable. We believe our new Centre can be a blueprint for best practice, innovation and delivery in early years, benefitting those children in society who need it most.

"The extension and strengthening of these partnerships will create a unique nursery delivering research-informed early years education and care and developing further multidisciplinary research projects.

"As a University, Sheffield Hallam is committed to the region and enabling all our young people to achieve their potential. Providing young people with every possible opportunity to thrive has never been more critical."

Early years is the most vital stage of learning and development in a young person’s life with the gap in attainment and educational outcomes between the most affluent and most deprived opening before a child starts school.

A recent study on the early years, commissioned by the Royal Foundation, found difficult experiences in early childhood were often the root cause of key social challenges such as poor mental health, family breakdown, addiction and homelessness – with the cost of late intervention estimated to be around £17 billion per year in England and Wales.

Watercliffe Meadow has worked with Save the Children UK since 2013 and is one of the charity's UK centres of excellence for early years. The focus has been to involve families in their children’s education, and this will continue and expand with the development of the new nursery.

Ian Read, head teacher at Watercliffe Meadow, said: "There is nothing more important than high quality early years provision and the relationships we are able to make with our families through this. At Watercliffe Meadow our motto has always been, 'Let's get this right, right from the start!'

“The opening of the new provision in partnership with Sheffield Hallam University, Save the Children and Sheffield City Council gives us a fantastic opportunity to start this hugely important relationship even earlier. We are looking forward to working with our partners to develop this high quality, innovative provision for the families in our community."

Rachel Parkin, Save the Children’s Head of North of England, said: “We are delighted to be a part of this partnership, working with Sheffield Hallam University and Watercliffe Meadow to bring this innovative and thought-provoking approach to the area. By bringing together innovation, research-informed practice and a community approach this Centre will make an impact for the children and families that it supports directly, and by adding to the evidence-base it has the potential to make an impact far beyond.

“At Save the Children we are committed to the Early Years, supporting families and professionals to work together to support young children’s ability to play and learn and have great childhoods, no matter their family income. The Early Years Community Research Centre is a really exciting part of that commitment.”

Councillor Abtisam Mohammed, Cabinet Member for Education and Skills for Sheffield City Council, said: “Every child deserves the best possible start in life and a good quality early years education is key to reducing inequalities in educational achievement. I fully support this collaborative and innovative provision and I have no doubt that it will benefit many families in the local community.”

The Centre will be managed alongside Sheffield Hallam University’s existing nursery in Broomhall, Sheffield, which will offer a number of additional benefits for the children and staff at both sites as well as further opportunities for students through placements and research.

Students across the University, including those studying architecture and early childhood studies, are also helping design an innovative outdoor space at the Centre.

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