Effective leadership is a key element in delivering high-quality early years provision and is crucially important in today's climate of uncertainty and financial constraint. An early years leader has to inspire three groups of people -the children, parents and practitioners - and the key to good leadership is bringing all three together to improve quality.
The importance of good leadership was identified in 2006 in the Effective Leadership in the Early Years Sector (ELEYS) Study, an extension of the EPPE project.
'Early years leaders need to be creative to keep occupancy levels up and to meet the requirements of the EYFS and Ofsted,' says Laura Henry, managing director of the Childcare Consultancy. 'They also need to be inspirational. Good leadership skills are especially important at this time when the Early Years Foundation Stage is under review and when sustainability is a major issue.'
Until recently there was little leadership training tailored to the early years, but the advent of the EYFS and Early Years Professional Status has seen a rapid rise in courses.
Ms Henry, who tutors a Level 4 course on leadership and management, says people need to understand the difference between the role of a leader and a manager.
Early years consultant Jennie Lindon, in her book Reflective Practice and Early Years Professionalism, describes the difference. 'A manager has a role of monitoring and controlling daily practice through past experience and has knowledge of effective implementation of systems, while a leader has a role focusing on the possibilities, a vision for the future and ways to harness commitment from the team to strategic changes to practice.'
The Childcare Consultancy course is split into four days, with gaps between sessions to enable people to complete an assignment and a reflective task.
Ms Henry says, 'We look at leadership styles and delegation, self-evaluation, self-reflection, time management, team building, motivation, coaching, role modeling, working with others, and consulting with children and parents.
'The course involves leaders making peer-to-peer visits. They visit each other's nurseries and have to compile a report identifying an area of good practice linked to the EYFS, an area they consider needs improving and an area they want to adopt and take back to their setting.'
A feature of the course is long lunch breaks enabling attendees to network and share ideas and experiences. Ms Henry encourages attendees to perpetuate this after the course has finished through reflective diaries and an email blog.
She has been delivering the course through local authorities, but has recently tapped into some regional funding to be able to offer the course independently.
Cornelia Harrison of Hopes and Dreams Montessori Nursery School in London, named Nursery Manager of the Year in this year's Nursery World Awards, went on a Childcare Consultancy course this summer. She says, 'I have been on general management and leadership courses, but they were very corporate and did not fit childcare, so it was very good to go on a course tailored for the sector.
'In early years you start off working in a room and then progress to leading the room and end up as manager, and you have to learn from your mistakes. That does not necessarily make you a good manager or a good leader. It is always good to go on a course and further yourself and give yourself the time to think about what you do and whether it could be done differently.'
Ms Harrison says she enjoyed meeting people and sharing ideas and experiences. 'I enjoyed the visits to other settings. It was good to see what other people do and reflect on what we do.
'One thing I have taken back is that in one setting they had a noticeboard giving the names and photographs of the staff, which was similar to our own system. But this went further and gave a bit of background information about each staff member, such as where they come from or what their mother tongue is, and what other language they speak, which the parents find really interesting.'
THE EXPERT'S VIEW
Kathy Brodie, Early Years Professional and trainer, says, 'An effective early years leadership course should look at reflective practice, indentifying the collective vision and effective communication. It should look at how the workplace is a female-dominated environment which can be very different from a mixed working environment.
'A course should also look at factors which are specific to the sector and the challenges they pose for a leader, such as long hours, high staff turnover, and team working - not just among the practitioners in the setting but with other professionals.
'Leaders need to be equipped to handle the emotional needs of their staff. The early years can be an emotionally-demanding job, and a good leader needs to be able to see that the staff can cope with this.
'The sort of ethos a setting has is defined by the leader. The culture is heavily influenced by this person - whether there it is an open culture or a blame culture.
'Early Years Professional Status is all about leadership. It recognises that there are different styles of leadership. A reflective leader tends to be more open to the staff and realises that on some issues there are many different ways of achieving something and none of them is wrong.
'One of the assignments for people working towards EYPS is to demonstrate how they can initiate change and lead the staff team through change, which will be very valuable in the current economic climate and could prove key to a setting's sustainability.
'As time goes by, I think it is going to be the good leaders who will shine when they tackle the changes that are inevitably going to come.'
30 November - Children's Centre Leadership: Where Are We Now? led by Professor Chris Pascal in partnership with Professor Tony Bertram, directors of the Centre for Research in Early Childhood, Birmingham and held at Early Excellence, The Old School, Outane, Huddersfield. T. 01422 311314 www.earlyexcellence.com
30 November, 1 December and third day to be confirmed - three-day course Leading the Learning of the Youngest Children, an EYP development opportunity held at Pen Green Research Centre, Corby. T Nicky Millard 01536 443435, firstname.lastname@example.org www.pengreen.org
November-December - Leadership Learning days run nationwide by the National College for Leadership of Schools and Children's services for the Children's Centre Leaders Network, email@example.com www.nationalcollege.org.uk.
Qualifications including foundation and honours degrees in Early Years Leadership and EYP courses are available at universities including East Anglia, Chichester, Huddersfield, London Metropolitan, Oxford Brookes, West of England Bristol, Kingston, Gloucestershire, Chester, Derby, Bath Spa, Edge Hill, Winchester and Worcester.
Bespoke Leadership and Management training courses for the childcare sector are offered jointly by the Institute of Leadership and Management and NDNA - Levels 3 and 5 ILM qualifications for groups.
T 01484 40 70 77 www.ndna.org.uk
One-day leadership courses or longer programmes up to Level 5 led by Tracy Seed, in collaboration with the Institute of Leadership. T 07795 632878 www.tracyseedassociates.co.uk
Bespoke leadership coaching and workshops led by Tina Jefferies of the Red Space Company. T 0845 2265528 www.redspacecompany.com
Level 4 Leadership and Management training led by Laura Henry, Childcare Consultancy T 020 8689 7733 www.childcareconsult.co.uk
Leadership and management for those working in childcare, half-day course by Acorn Childcare Training. T 0845 371 0953 www.childcaretraining.co.uk
Next month: Training others.