Ask The Expert – Episode One: Mike Abbot

Catch up on our interview with Mike Abbott, operations director at the London Early Years Foundation (LEYF).

Earlier this year, we launched a new blog series called ‘Ask the Expert’ – which provides a platform for all Early Years (EY) professionals to share their experiences and advice with the industry, on their chosen specialist subject.

We’re now building upon the success of the written series by including video interviews with our chosen guests, so you can choose to either watch, read, or listen in your own time.

At the recent Childcare and Education Expo event, we interviewed Mike Abbott, operations director at LEYF. Here, he informs us of the challenges the sector is currently facing, how LEYF plans to overcome them, and his wishes for the sector this academic year.

Watch here or read up on the article below.

Tell us a little about your early years sector background…

I’ve been in the early years sector for almost 10 years. I started off working with the Co-operative Childcare as the Group General Manager for almost six years then subsequently moved across to LEYF as the Director of Operations for the past four years.

What are the current key challenges facing the sector?

We are seeing a real sector change and a market realignment; certainly for ourselves (LEYF) in London. We’re seeing a fundamental change and a drop in occupancy within the centre of London, which is less busy due to the effects of the pandemic and Brexit. However, in the more residential areas and outer parts of London, we’re seeing a huge demand growth. This has led to us closing some nurseries in Central London and reopening extra ones on the outskirts of the capital, yet we’re still seeing workplace nurseries struggling due to parents working flexible/hybrid shift patterns.

We could essentially split our challenges into short, medium, and long term as we are yet to see how nurseries will recover over the next few months. As long as we focus on being flexible and creative and we react to the market, then there’s a bright future ahead.

How does LEYF plan to tackle some of the challenges the EY sector faces?

We are an organisation that wants to support all children across London, regardless of their background. LEYF operates in London and 76% of our nurseries are in deprived or very deprived areas, and we have to achieve that while still being sustainable in the long term. In order to do this, we require nurseries that deliver a surplus; yet we still need to offer high-quality education with all the rewards that the children and staff need. We haven’t got a bottomless pool of money, so it can be a balancing act.

We’ve done an analysis of the nursery closures in London over the last three years and found that the majority are those in the deprived areas. This is because they are the ones that are dependent purely on Government funding, which is just not enough.

In order for us to drive profitability, we’ll need to review our portfolio of nurseries to ensure that we’re covering all the right areas. We need a portfolio mix, and that means flexibility. Unless you can get a balance of private- and government-supported mix of hours, it’s just not going to be sustainable.

What are your wishes for the sector this academic year?

The pandemic has accelerated some tough decisions, such as closures, but it has also made room for opportunity. For instance, the status of early years has improved, with parents realising just how valuable early years education and care is.

We need to take this opportunity to unite the sector, as a mix of funded nurseries, private chains, and individual stand-alone nurseries, and find what commonalities we all have. We’ve got to start talking with one voice rather than the disparate voices we’ve had in the past. This way we can really lobby the early years agenda with the government.

The simple fact is that education is state-funded nationally for children from the age of five, but is very piecemeal below that age. We know that 0-5 are the critical years and if we can just get everybody to realise that investing in the early years would be an investment in the future of our nation, then there’s a really big opportunity.

About The London Early Years Foundation

Headed up by CEO June O’Sullivan MBE, London Early Years Foundation (LEYF) is one of the UK’s largest and most successful charitable social enterprises, operating 42 award-winning nurseries in some of London’s most disadvantaged areas –  with 32% of its children on a funded-only nursery place.

Many of the LEYF nurseries – of which 59% are Ofsted ‘Outstanding’ compared to a national average of 22% – include a mix of children from different socioeconomic backgrounds. This is proven to have a positive effect on the development of all children, but particularly those from poorer backgrounds. Where possible, LEYF employs local staff and recruits apprentices, which brings an economic benefit to disadvantaged communities.

To find out more about The London Early Years Foundation, visit their website or find them on Facebook or Twitter. 

In Episode 2 of our ‘Ask the Expert’ series, we welcome June O’Sullivan – CEO of the London Early Years Foundation.  We learn about the challenges the sector is currently facing, how LEYF plans to overcome them – from a CEO’s perspective – and her wishes for the sector this academic year.

If you’d like to take part in our ‘Ask the Expert’ video series, please contact our marketing team via marketing@connectchildcare.com.