An exceptional lineup of speakers from across the early years, both nationally and internationally, has been assembled by Nursery World to deliver a vibrant, educational and inspiring mix of seminars and masterclasses. Please see the speaker biographies below, listed alphabetically by surname.

Mine Conkbayir

Mine Conkbayir is a training co-ordinator for the National Early Years Trainers and Consultants Organisation (NEYTCO), a lecturer, trainer and author in early childhood education and care. She is the author of Early Childhood Theories and Contemporary Issues and her latest book, Early Childhood and Neuroscience: Theory, Research and Implications for Practice will be published in March 2017. She is currently undertaking a PhD in early childhood education and neuroscience to further explore its application in early childhood research, policy and practice.

Janice Darkes-Sutcliffe

Based in Liverpool, Janice Darkes-Sutcliffe is an independent early years trainer and consultant with experience working in local, national and international contexts. She has 17 years’ teaching experience in both mainstream and specialist provision and from 2004 was an advisory teacher for the EYFS at Liverpool City Council, working closely with early years practitioners in schools, nurseries and children’s centres.

Janice is passionate about working with the youngest children, believing that if we get it right in the early years, then children truly can be given the best start for life! As part of her PhD studies, Janice is a practitioner researcher for the ‘BORN4LIFE’ project and has a particular interest in the role of those working with the youngest children as ‘creators of knowledge’. Janice is currently involved in several LA projects in Scotland and England and has recent teaching experience at Liverpool John Moores University.

Merle Davies MA, MSc

Merle is currently director for the Blackpool Centre for Early Child Development, leading the multi-agency Better Start initiative, led by the NSPCC in partnership with Blackpool Council and health partners. The Centre is reframing and driving systemic change across all services for birth to three-year olds and empowering communities to support and co-design this change.

Prior to this, she had strategic responsibility for Early Support for Children and Families at Blackpool Council, where her portfolio included children’s centres, adult education, youth employment and targeted youth support including specialist support for substances misuse, sexual health and offending prevention. She also led on domestic abuse and a range of multi-disciplinary services which support vulnerable families and parenting as well as innovative approaches to support children on the Edge of Care to remain safely in their homes.

Formerly the Government’s National Attendance Advisor, she led Whitehall Departments on the joint Tackling it Together initiative to reduce truancy and was also one of the Governments Regional Child Poverty Advisers.

Merle acts as an external adviser to Government Departments, most recently the Home Office Scrutiny Panel on MARAC. In a voluntary capacity she provides consultancy to, and works with, NGO Children’s Homes in Kuching, Borneo.

Merle’s background is in community education and she has worked in Scotland, England, Borneo and Germany in a variety of roles both with the voluntary sector and the statutory sector.

Lisa Dorrity

Lisa Dorrity is senior school improvement officer, EYFS Learning Strategies at School Improvement Liverpool, which she joined in 2013. Formerly, she was a deputy head teacher at a large infant school in Liverpool following several years as EYFS lead at a primary school and children’s centre in Sefton. She has experience teaching across EYFS, KS1 and KS2 and as a Nurture Group teacher. Her leadership responsibilities have included SENCo, data and assessment lead, safeguarding lead, with responsibility for behaviour and safety.

In her current role, she offers support to a variety of schools and settings that range from outstanding to inadequate. By building strong relationships with practitioners and through identifying areas of development for the city, she is able to support the Quality Improvement Team to offer training, support and briefings throughout the year.

Lisa currently sits on a number of steering groups across the city as well as working closely with Liverpool headteachers and setting managers. She has led the Quality Improvement Team through the introduction of various projects, including the Liverpool Chartered Leadership programme and Liverpool Early Years Reading Quality Mark.

Jan Dubiel

Jan Dubiel is national director at training and resources company Early Excellence, where he works as part of the team to support early years practitioners and settings in all aspects of practice and provision.

Having trained as an early years specialist, Jan worked as a nursery, Reception and Year 1 teacher in schools across the country and led teams as an early years co-ordinator. Following roles as an early years consultant and senior adviser, he was appointed by the then Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) to lead on the management of the (Early Years) Foundation Stage Profile, and had national responsibility for its implementation and moderation, developing guidance and support materials and working at a strategic level with policy makers.

Jan has developed a national and international reputation as a conference speaker, consultant and trainer and he has written widely on different aspects of Early Years pedagogy. His first book Effective Assessment in the EYFS was published by SAGE in 2014.

Anne Gladstone

Anne Gladstone is an independent consultant and a proud parent and grandparent. After helping in both her children’s playgroup and school, she trained as an infant teacher and subsequently worked in primary, further and higher education and Sure Start Children’s Centres. Now as a consultant and trainer, she has worked with colleagues in schools, nurseries, pre-schools, children’s centres and the home setting, focusing on developmentally appropriate practice and equality of opportunity. Her latest book is about embracing risk in early years practice. Anne is particularly interested in the links between early experiences of learning and its effects on both emotional well-being and achievement both in school and in adult life.

Jacqui Hardie

Dr Jacqui Hardie is an independent consultant and a local authority adviser. She works with providers to improve outcomes for children and delivers EYFS training.

Jacqui has worked in schools, managed local authority teams and worked nationally with both the National Strategies and 4Children. She was one of the authors of the National Strategies Mark Making Matters guidance and the 4Children/DfE What To Expect, When? parents’ guide.

Cath Hunter

Cath Hunter has over 35 years’ experience of working with children and families in a variety of childcare settings, schools, colleges and universities. Cath works as a play therapist, trainer and therapeutic consultant in several primary schools in the North West, working with children aged three to 11, parents and school staff. She has also contributed articles to Nursery World.

She is author of a three-part series of books entitled Understanding and Managing Children’s Behaviour through Group Work: A child-centred programme, covering ages 3-5, 5-7 and 7 – 11.

Gill Jones

Gill Jones is one of Her Majesty’s Inspectors and joined Ofsted in 2007, leading inspections of schools and children’s centres. She is the Deputy Director for Early Education Policy, introducing the early years common inspection framework and responsible for the Early Years Annual Reports.

Before joining Ofsted Gill was a Consultant Leader for the National College, training new and aspiring headteachers and school improvement partners. She was the headteacher of two primary schools, during which time she set up out of school provision and holiday clubs including day-care for under-fives. She subsequently became a senior inspector for Wirral LA, with responsibility for primary education.

Gill has held a number of roles in Ofsted, including Senior HMI in the East of England and Principal Officer for the inspection policy of maintained primary schools.

Professor Ferre Laevers

Professor Ferre Laevers is a world-renowned researcher based at the University of Leuven, where in 1976 he launched the project Experiential Education (EXE), influenced by the work of Carl Rogers and Jean Piaget. In 1991, along with Chris Pascal and Tony Bertram, he co-founded the European Early Childhood Education Research Association.

Through practice-oriented research, development and dissemination, EXE has become an influential educational movement with a significant international impact, inspiring early years practitioners, teacher trainers and researchers around the globe. Its conciseness, accessibility and relevance for all levels of education explains its success. EXE provides a framework for professional development of practitioners that transcends any curriculum or educational model because it focuses on the essence: helping educators and teachers to take the perspective of the learner.

Liz Ludden

Liz Ludden is an early years teacher and mum to four girls. She taught in both mainstream and SEN provision for nine years before opening Dukes and Duchesses Nursery in Liverpool’s city centre. She is passionate about quality in early years and the role of the family and believes that all children have a right to high-quality provision in their early years, supported by well-trained and enthusiastic staff.

As well as leading teaching and learning in the nursery, Liz works as an associate tutor at Edge Hill University teaching on the early years teacher programme and supporting trainees in schools on initial teacher training.

Liz is a forest school practitioner and has led many members of her team to gain degrees, early years teacher status and forest school leader qualifications. She and her team have worked with the local authority to support local nurseries judged as requiring improvement by Ofsted.

In 2015, the Nursery won the Nursery World Team Development Award and received a highly commended accolade in the Enabling Environment category. In 2016, the Nursery won the Community Support Award and were highly commended in the Nursery of the Year category. Team member Laura Maguire also won the Nursery World EYP/EY teacher of the year award.

Liz is currently involved as a lead practitioner in the Born4Life Project in Liverpool.

Prof Padraic Monaghan and the LuCiD language research centre

Padraic Monaghan is Professor of Cognition in the Department of Psychology at Lancaster University and co-director of the ESRC International Centre for Language and Communicative Development (LuCiD). His lab group conducts research on language acquisition, reading and sleep.

LuCiD is a five-year ESRC-funded research project working to transform our understanding of how children learn to communicate with language. The LuCiD team includes over 60 researchers and students from Lancaster University, the University of Liverpool and the University of Manchester. They are supported by colleagues in Europe, the US and Australia.

The team is communicating its findings and shaping nursery practice through the LuCiD Centre website (www.lucid.ac.uk), and talks and articles, including six-part C&L series for Nursery World. You can keep up to date with latest news and events by signing up to their newsletter: www.lucid.ac.uk/sign-up/ . Researchers are currently working to discover how children learn to talk, and are working with health and education practitioners and policy makers on how to create language-enriched environments for children in the early years.

Anne O’Connor

Anne is an independent early years consultant, trainer and writer contributing regularly to Nursery World on a range of topics. She is a longstanding Associate Trainer with Early Education and co-founder of Primed for Life Training Associates (www.primedforlife.co.uk) offering consultation and training on several aspects of early years pedagogy.

These include attachment and wellbeing, transitions, equalities and diversity as well as physical development. As an experienced adoptive parent, Anne also provides support for schools and settings working with adoptive families and children in care. Her latest book, co-written with Anna Daly, is Understanding Physical Development in the Early Years: Linking bodies and minds (Routledge).

Esther O’Connor

Esther O’Connor is early years phase leader at Hopping Hill Primary School, in Northampton, and has a keen interest in blogging as a means of engaging parents and supporting children’s language skills, to ensure that students from disadvantaged families have the best possible start to education.

The focus of her team’s work has been language skills, creating a language-rich environment and the early identification of speech, language and communication needs, as well as parental and family engagement. This has included a blogging project to promote family engagement and the use of family support workers. Esther and her team have high expectations of all learners and the school’s early years provision, which has 79 children in nursery and 60 in reception, was recently rated as Outstanding. To read her blogs, visit: https://hoppinghillnursery.wordpress.com/ and https://foundationstagehoppinghill.wordpress.com/

Linda Pound

Linda Pound is an early years consultant and maths specialist. She has worked in three universities and was an LEA inspector responsible for the early years for almost ten years. In addition, she has been head of a nursery school and deputy head of a primary school.

In her current role as an education consultant, she provides training for early years practitioners around the country and beyond. Linda writes extensively for a range of audiences, including Nursery World, on a variety of topics related to early childhood care and education. She has written a number of books on mathematics and is particularly interested in the aspects of learning which underpin mathematical thinking and understanding in the long term. Her books include Teaching Maths Creatively and Thinking and Learning About Mathematics in the Early Years, part of the Open University Press series Essential Guides for Early Years Practitioners.

Suzanne Scott

Suzanne Scott is owner and manager of Sandfield Natural Play Centre in Knowsley, Merseyside. The nursery is celebrating ten years of adventures and achievements: it was crowned NDNA UK Nursery of The Year 2011, has won numerous national awards, and has developed a Natural Play philosophy and approach to learning outdoors with inspirational mentor and early years outdoor specialist Jan White.

The Nursery has also has been judged ‘Outstanding’ in all areas twice by Ofsted, which described it as ‘an inspirational outside play space’ where ‘children are curious, creative, highly motivated and confident learners.’

Suzanne has travelled far and wide to seek best practice and, in turn, has hosted inspiring study visits for UK and international visitors.

Jennifer Staunton

Jennifer Staunton is quality improvement officer, EYFS Learning Strategies, at School Improvement Liverpool, where she has led and developed many training events and projects, among them, Liverpool Early Years SENCo Award and Building A Bridge of Books.

Since qualifying as a nursery nurse in 1997, she has gained other professional qualifications, achieved Early Years Teacher Status and more recently been employed as a senior lecturer at a University.

Her earlier roles, in children’s centres and PVI and maintained settings, included SENCo, designated safeguarding officer, family learning co-ordinator and nursery manager. She has also had experience of planning, developing and leading provision for two-year-olds within a school setting, which was judged Outstanding in all areas in January 2014.

Penny Tassoni

Penny Tassoni is a leading author, trainer and consultant in the early years sector. Amongst her many publications is a wide variety of early education and childcare textbooks and a best-selling series of handbooks, including Penny Tassoni’s Practical EYFS Handbook and Getting It Right for Two-year-olds: A Penny Tassoni Handbook. Her other titles include Child Development: 6 to 16 years, and Planning Play and the Early Years, co-written with Karen Hucker. She has undertaken extensive training and consultancy work across the UK and internationally.

Ann Thompson

Ann Thompson is teacher and early year consultant at Sandfield Natural Play Centre, Knowsley, where she is working alongside owner Suzanne Scott and outdoor play specialist Jan White to implement a natural play approach to outdoor learning. In March this year, Sandfield was rated Outstanding in all areas of provision by Ofsted.

As part of her work there, she supports staff and undergraduates on placement from Edge Hill University, as well as organising study days for visiting students from Chester University, international visitors and practitioners from schools and nursery settings.

She is also currently working with a number of settings to audit their outdoor environments, support self-evaluation and share ideas to improve learning and development. Her interests include developing ideas for the creative use of picture books, the use of natural materials as open-ended play resources and photography projects for young children to enhance their learning experiences outdoors.

Tom Weaver

Tom Weaver is programme lead for BA Early Years Education (QTS) and senior lecturer in early years maths at the University of Northampton.

He worked as a teacher in early years settings for 13 years and now works closely with pre-school settings and schools to develop effective mathematics practice. He has published a number of articles in the early years sector on Talk for Writing, early mathematics and Japanese pre-school practice, and recently led a workshop at the National Association of Mathematics Advisors (NAMA) national conference. His main research interest is the teaching of early mathematics and particularly the mindset that successful young mathematicians adopt.