Applying for an Academic Fellowship with Senedd Research was for me, a really obvious thing to do.
As a social policy researcher, I am motivated by research that creates meaningful change. Any opportunity to strengthen links between research, policy and practice needs to be taken, especially the opportunity to directly address the people who decide, develop and scrutinise public policy.
With a PhD in Social Policy I’ve held a number of posts at Bangor University working on a broad range of research projects - from volunteering to kidney dialysis - but my primary interest has always been in early childhood education and care (ECEC). It’s what might be called an ‘emerging field’ where over the last 30 years or so it has been subject to increasing interest from policy-makers and researchers.
While this is generally positive, as with many new policy areas it has often developed in a piecemeal, and uncoordinated way. For a number of years I have been studying the impact of this and the growing international evidence showing that an integrated approach to the separate policy areas of ‘early education’ and ‘childcare’ can have significant benefits for children, families and society.
Before applying for the Academic Fellowship I was fortunate enough to be awarded an ECRC Impact Acceleration Grant to further my work in this field and with a third-sector partner, organised a Wales policy symposium on ECEC in 2018. This offered a great opportunity for representatives from across the field to examine research evidence and engage in some frank discussion. By the end of the Symposium a number of broad positions were agreed upon that it was felt should shape an integrated approach to ECEC policy in Wales.
With research evidence and a mandate from stakeholders, you can see how the opportunity presented by an Academic Fellowship to inform Assembly Members directly was too good to miss. Fortunately ECEC was identified as a priority area in the call and I was successful in my application.
After negotiations between my institution and Senedd Research around funding were complete, the Fellowship started with an induction seminar in February 2019. This involved a day in Cardiff with the other new Fellows, a previous Fellow and members of the Senedd Research team. It was a really useful day where the structure of Senedd Research was explained and detailed information on how it supports Members and individual Committees was provided.
This was really important for me as my Fellowship plans were linked directly to the work of the Children, Young People and Education Committee (CYPE). The day finished with a meeting with Siân Thomas, who leads on supporting the CYPE Committee and was to be my contact and mentor within Senedd Research. Siân was brilliant throughout – having some good existing knowledge of ECEC and fully behind my proposal to produce a series of reports on ECEC for Assembly Members.
Having agreed the broad scope I had further correspondence and meetings with Siân and other members of the research team where a detailed plan was put together for a series of three research papers over a six month period. I was also introduced to the Clerk of the CYPE Committee and discussed how the papers might be timed to fit in with the work of the CYPE Committee to gain maximum impact.
My first research paper (‘Early Childhood and Care in Wales: an introduction' (PDF, 1134KB)) was published in May 2019. Senedd Research provided a template for the paper and some really helpful advice on tone and style tailored to an audience of Assembly Members with wide portfolios and limited time to read and process information.
Distilling complex concepts and research findings without abandoning academic rigour was probably the greatest challenge of the Fellowship, but Senedd Research were really helpful in editing and proofing. A particularly useful initiative by Siân was to ask a colleague with no expertise in the area to read a draft and provide lay comments.
My second research paper ('Early Childhood Education and Care: Quality Matters' (PDF, 875KB)) was published in July, and the third ('Early Childhood Education and Care: Policy Development' (PDF, 1500KB)), late in September 2019. This final paper was timed to precede a session of the CYPE Committee where I was invited by the Chair to present an overview of my research, respond to questions from Committee Members and give my opinion on areas of Welsh Government ECEC policy that might need scrutiny.
For a social policy researcher, such an opportunity doesn’t get more exciting – being able to present my research directly to decision-makers, to discuss with them the consequences of particular policy actions and hopefully shape future policy direction is ‘impact’ personified. The ability to reach a wider public audience through Senedd Research publications was also a considerable benefit.
Since completing my Assembly Fellowship, Welsh Government have announced a major change in policy direction towards an integrated approach to ECEC and I have been asked by the Chair to provide further support to the CYPE Committee in their continuing scrutiny of the area.
Article by Dr David Dallimore, Bangor University