Having a ‘clear and ambitious vision for providing high-quality, inclusive care and education for all’ isn’t just a box to tick to keep Ofsted happy under the new Education Inspection Framework (EIF). Vision is essential to running a successful business. Body Shop founder Anita Roddick said ‘values carry the message of shared purposes, standards and conceptions what is worth … striving for; they have immense motivating power.’
Being values-led, and thus having a vision, impacts the whole of your practice – from the people you recruit to your curriculum. ‘The strongest settings have a clear vision of what they feel is right for their children,’ says early years consultant Penny Tassoni. ‘Leaders have to be very clear in their own minds what their setting is about and what they intend for the children: What does the children’s journey look like? What do we believe these children need? This is the vision.’
Settings are motivated to be values-led for a variety of reasons, notes Nathan Archer in his Early Years Alliance book Operating a Viable Early Years Provision. These range from being a moral obligation (personal integrity and community service) to organisation cohesion (bringing people together and steering future actions), creating a legacy (the organisation is bigger than the leader) and business advantage (helping to foster a reputation for high quality).
Ms Tassoni adds that the EYFS is ‘not prescriptive about the nuts and bolts of what you do’ and is instead a ‘very broad architecture’, which means that leaders can use it to build their own direction of travel. So, rather than having a ‘one size fits all approach’, it is your vision and therefore should be unique to your setting.
Pitch it right
‘Engaging for Success’, a 2009 report on how best to engage employees (see Further information), found that in organisations with both high levels of employee engagement and high levels of performance there was a ‘strategic narrative’ about the organisation. This should be:
Strategic – enabling people to understand the organisation’s purpose: where it has come from and where it is going.
Narrative with a beginning, middle and future (rather than an end) – a ‘story’ which involves employees and makes them want to be part of it.
Compelling – so that it motivates people and brings them with you as your setting adapts.
Authentic – so that it resonates with staff and they are able to ‘live it’ during their work life.
Sophie Haylock, HR consultant and nursery owner, talks of the importance of this strategic narrative for giving a direction for the nursery business and setting clear objectives for the setting and staff. Rather than developing a long spiel, she refers to this as an ‘elevator pitch’ where a nursery’s story can be told in 30 seconds in words that are ‘relatable and memorable’.
Through this pithy vision everyone in the setting should be able to understand and articulate the setting’s aims, from the established chief executive to the new nursery apprentice.
‘It has to be authentic, so don’t use clichéd buzzwords or words that sound really good if you are coming from Harvard Business School,’ she told Ceeda’s About Early Years conference. ‘Use the words that are right for you and your nursery.’
She also warns against using ‘grand statements’ that are difficult to quantify, such as that you would like to be the best nursery in your area. Instead concentrate on saying what you aim for, such as being a place which is loving and caring, provides a ‘homely’ environment or encourages learning through play.
Ms Tassoni adds that it is not acceptable for a setting to resort to saying that the children achieve well in terms of data. It is important to look at much wider opportunities and create a vision around how children’s experiences are going to be enriched; for example, if it is an urban school it may be decided to introduce Forest School sessions.
‘For some settings the challenge at senior level is to make sure that the people working directly with the children have a really tight understanding not only about the child and their development but also the aims of why they are working in the way that they are,’ says Ms Tassoni. ‘Those working directly with the children need to have a joint understanding of what they are trying to achieve. This can be supported by developing the mission and vision together. It can be very empowering and an opportunity for conversation about the why and what next – we know what we are doing and why we are doing it.’
Collaborating on the vision is positive for teambuilding and enables staff to ‘buy into’ and engage with the values. Working on it together can also greatly support staff when it comes to the enhanced level of scrutiny in practice under the EIF and articulating the reasons for what they are doing – the intent, implementation and impact (see Further information, ‘Age of reason’). An established vision also acts as a good reference point for new employees.
While creating the vision should be a team effort, actually leading the vision is down to the nursery leadership. Ms Haylock says it is important that the vision applies to all of the staff, rather than there being a ‘do what I say’ attitude.
Leaders should aim to:
- Demonstrate the values daily.
- Communicate the vision to staff, families and other stakeholders – for example, including it in the employee handbook; in job descriptions; on the nursery website.
- Include the values in discussions, such as staff appraisals and supervisions.
- Acknowledge and praise staff when they are demonstrating the values.
The process does not end once you have created a vision you are all proud of. It is important to regularly evaluate the statement, at least annually, to ensure that it continues to mirror your values. ‘Reflection is important,’ says Ms Tassoni. ‘You might intend something, such as giving children a love of books, but then you need to ask whether this is marrying up. Are children showing a love of books? Is what you are hoping to achieve happening?’
Reviewing your vision is also good to do as a team. Look at your statement, discuss each value to ensure you jointly understand what is intended by them and consider whether your practice continues to reflect these intentions. If this is not happening then discuss why not – do you need to tweak your vision or alter your practice to remain true to your setting’s beliefs and values? Further information
How to create a vision
1. Take inspiration from the visions of settings that you admire, but remember to keep yours unique to your nursery.
2. Question what you’re passionate about – your beliefs and values.
3. Consider the environment you provide.
4. Think about your demographic and what is right for your children.
5. List your setting’s strengths, including the qualities of your staff and the opportunities you offer to children and families.
6. Reflect on how you want your setting to be regarded.
7. Ultimately, prioritise what is essential to your setting.
- ‘Age of reason’, Nursery World, 17 February-1 March 2020