Bishopston Beanstalks is an independent preschool; a pack away setting which operates within Bishopston Methodist Church. Bishopston Beanstalks began in 2013, taking over from an existing provision on the same site. The setting is run by a well-qualified, dedicated staff team as a not for profit, workers co-operative, providing care and education for a maximum of twenty-four three and four year olds, at any one time. Natalie and Rhian co-manage the setting and explained that, ‘The staff are all directors of Beanstalks, which enables us to make our own decisions about how we run the pre-school.’ There is an obvious passion and enthusiasm towards the provision and being able to be masters of their own destiny is hugely beneficial. ‘It has been great, to work together and decide for ourselves the most appropriate way to manage our finances.’ As a co-operative, the running of the setting is very much a team effort, with termly directors’ meetings. Rhian explains, ‘Everyone feels part of the team. Day to day, Natalie and I make decisions, but overall all of the directors are involved and contribute to how the setting is run, including our two parent directors.’
The Bishopston Beanstalks team recognise the importance of reflective practice and embarked on their Bristol Standard journey, from the moment they were up and running back in 2013. Both Natalie and Rhian were already familiar with the Bristol Standard and recognised the benefits of using the framework. Natalie explains, ‘We thought it was important to work in a reflective way and use a self-evaluation tool. The way the Bristol Standard is broken up into different dimensions, allows you to think about what you are doing and easily identify areas to focus on.’
As Rhian and Natalie had previous experience of undertaking the Bristol Standard, they were able to draw on this knowledge when deciding how best to embark on it with their team. Natalie describes how they made a start, ‘We looked at all of the dimensions and initially picked the ones that seemed most relevant. Rhian and I would discuss it between ourselves and then take our thoughts to the rest of the staff team to develop them further.’ The staff meetings were an ideal opportunity to focus on all of the dimensions, using the framework literature to guide them, especially the questions at the end of each dimension section. ‘We found the lists of questions really useful. It was reassuring to use the questions to focus on and make sure we were on the right track.’ Natalie and Rhian also found it useful to read the text on the dimension they were covering prior to each staff meeting, so that they could highlight information relevant to their setting.
Rhian and Natalie appreciated the help and support offered at the meetings held by the Bristol City Council’s Bristol Standard team. Natalie gave details of how beneficial these were, ‘We went to as many Bristol Standard sessions as we could. They were really useful. Each meeting would focus on one dimension and it gave us an opportunity to discuss ideas with other settings and share our thoughts. Having the support of other people and the Bristol Standard mentors made the process seem easier. We found that we could more or less complete a dimension in one session.’ Rhian explained how the meetings specifically helped them to think about the appropriate wording, particularly when it came to writing about the benefits for the children. This seems to be something that many settings appreciate help with. ‘Everyone finds the benefits for children really hard, so we discussed this at staff meetings. We know how children benefit from the things we do but it’s just having the language to explain it effectively.’ Natalie validates this, ‘Going to the Bristol Standard meetings gave us the confidence to do the other dimensions, it wasn’t as hard as we thought it was going to be.’
Both Rhian and Natalie appreciated the need for the process to be a team effort and wanted the staff to have ownership of the Bristol Standard journey too. With this in mind they delegated some dimensions to staff members. ‘We delegated a couple of dimensions, for example, one to our Diversity Lead. She led the discussion about our setting’s strengths and we worked together to create the targets we wanted to work on.’
It’s obvious that the Bristol Standard journey has been a really positive experience for Rhian and Natalie and their provision. Rhian explains, ‘Prioritising targets has really helped us focus on what we need to do. As new managers it was really helpful, because it covers every area that we need to think about.’
The team have recently had their full submission successfully validated and are currently working their way through the targets that they have set for the coming year. They have set a target of introducing communication friendly spaces to their setting and are anticipating that this will have a beneficial effect on their practice.
They have already set to work on their priority target of moderating their assessments of the children. ‘Before, our assessment was done in an insular way by practitioners and we found that at times we were approaching it from different angles. We felt we needed to be more consistent in the way that assessments were made.’ By moderating our assessments of the children as a staff team we provide more cohesion. Natalie explains that, ‘Since introducing ‘Planning in the Moment’ all the staff have been able to get to know the children better. We have three weekly focus children and all of the staff will be contributing to their assessments, this benefits the children as we are really focused on those individuals and all know what their needs and next steps are, narrowing the gaps.’ Rhian concurs with this explaining, ‘we are able to pick up on children who need more specific support. We talk about it more as a team, rather than the key person just being responsible. We get more information this way and build a better picture of the child.’
The setting looked at ways of recognising and encouraging the child’s voice too. They liaise with parents to establish children’s interests, including sharing photographs from home. ‘We try and sit down individually with those children and ask them what’s happening in each photograph. It’s been so helpful. The process encourages children to talk about what they have been doing.’ These are put into individual Learning Diaries for the children, providing them with a sense of ownership and a lovely way to celebrate the transition between pre-school and home.
Natalie and Rhian would encourage others to embark on the Bristol Standard journey having found the experience a really positive one. It has helped them to feel more self-assured. ‘Completing the Bristol Standard gives us confidence to be able to talk about what we do as a setting.’ They would advise others to use the Bristol City Council’s Bristol Standard support sessions as they found them very beneficial. ‘They gave us confidence to tackle other dimensions and realise it’s not that hard. They were supportive and I would certainly go to them again. They were lovely, you felt you could ask them anything and that nobody would judge you.’
The Bristol Standard journey has obviously been such a hugely empowering and positive experience for Bishopston Beanstalks. It is apparent that the whole setting, staff and children, are benefitting from being on this journey. ‘It has been great to reflect on our provision, helping us to realise what we do well and the areas we need to focus on more.’ Rhian explains how they felt when receiving notification about their successful submission. It was obvious that they were thrilled to receive a bespoke letter. ‘We were impressed that there were specific comments about our Bristol Standard submission. It made it feel really worthwhile, we felt like it had been read thoroughly.’ A lot of work and effort goes into a setting’s Bristol Standard journey and Natalie and Rhian really appreciated the acknowledgement of this.