Education Observatory

Research in Education at the University of Wolverhampton

Practice leadership for quality and equality

This case study is part of the Longitudinal Study of EYPS project.

The setting

This is a private nursery attached to a university in Brighton. It has two EYPs and the case study focuses on Chris, the only male EYP in the study, who is responsible for quality assurance and equality policy. Focusing on practice, he typically spends up to four days a week working directly with children aged 2-5. During the study, the setting’s improvement strategy centred on implementing changes associated with the Effective Early Learning Project (EEL). Above average in terms of baseline quality, the setting improved further during the study.

Being, becoming and developing as an EYP

Already highly experienced, Chris gained EYPS via the Validation Pathway in 2007. Although he does not have formal management responsibility, he oversees quality assurance and equality policy, working closely with the setting’s management team. His colleague EYP, Sarah, who undertook EYPS at the same time, is one of the setting’s two deputy managers but was on maternity leave for the latter part of the research.

Chris’s main motivation in gaining EYPS was to formalise and validate his experience and practice, as well as providing him with an opportunity to build on his experience without having to become a manager. It also raised his sense of professional status:

"The EYP affirmed what I do. My practice has to be good because of being very visible [as a male EYP], so it professionalised my role".

Having responsibility for implementing the Effective Early Learning (EEL) programme also increased his experience of, and confidence in, leading colleagues. In addition, Chris feels that his and Sarah’s professional relationship was consolidated and extended by their having undertaken EYPS together and encouraged them to focus on improving provision:

"[EYPS] had a positive influence in allowing us to review what we do as a nursery".

Figure 49.1 Highbury’s formal leadership structure

"Meeting up with other EYPs and sharing shared ideas, shared concerns... was really important."

Chris sees his role in leading practice as combining aspects of formal and informal leadership. His work with colleagues centres on supporting and mentoring them and modelling practice. He feels his intermediary position between practitioners and the setting’s management structure gives him space to influence colleagues: ‘The fact that I’m not management allows me to have an input and sometimes conversations with members of staff that I wouldn’t be able to otherwise’. Central to this is being able to work in partnership with Sarah:

"We complement each other and complement each other’s strengths. We support each other in developing other areas. We have been here longer than the EYP role has existed so we built the role of the EYP around the areas that we needed. We’ve also tried to keep it separate from the management role, so the EYP is about day-to-day practice and the manager would be about managing people and instructions."

"We actively encourage the children to have their views and input."

"The fact that I'm not management allows me to have an input and sometimes conversations with members of staff that I wouldn't be able to otherwise."

Achieving Impact

Sustained work over three years on EEL was the major improvement focus in the setting during the course of the study. Impacts from the process included developing a ‘listening to children’ policy and integrating it into the setting’s ethos and practice:

"It’s vital to improving provision and keeping provision at its best level because unless you are listening to children, you are missing out on a whole part of the picture. We could provide what we think is perfect equipment. We could provide what we think the parents would like to see, but if it’s not meeting the children’s needs or what they want and we’re not listening to them about that, that’s a third of that equation out. In fact it’s a much bigger part of the equation because it’s the children’s nursery."

EEL was implemented and evaluated through a combination of discussion and modelling practice with staff and feedback from parents. Chris also used it to refine existing processes, such as the setting’s observation procedures, in order to improve practice. This reflected his responsibility for quality and equality and the setting’s inclusive ethos:

"[EEL] is embedded in what we do. Three years ago what we really needed to change what we were doing was the peer observation of other members of staff and overcoming what previously was not quite fair, where people were worried about passing judgment or being judged and talking through those issues."

Involving Parents

Chris and his colleagues build partnerships with parents through regular consultation, encouraging them to chat informally about their children’s progress alongside more formal feedback mechanisms such as the annual survey. The local EYP network was also an invaluable source of ideas about involving and engaging parents in the setting before it ceased.

Professional network analysis

Social network analysis (SNA) was used to trace the shifts in professional networks in the setting during the study. When staff were initially asked a series of questions about who they would go to for advice and support in a range of areas in late 2010, the setting’s manager was cited most frequently. Figures 19.2 and 19.3 indicate the responses when staff in the setting were asked to whom they had gone for advice or support about the EEL work during the preceding 12 months (which was not asked in 2010). In late 2011, all but one of the staff members asked named Chris (labeled EYP on Figure 49.2) as one of up to three people they would go to. In March 2012, all of the colleagues who responded named him. This suggests that Chris’s leadership influence increased as the study progressed, particularly in relation to the EEL work, but also in areas such as offering colleagues reassurance and support about work-related issues, where his intermediary position between managers and practitioners appeared to be highly valued by his colleagues.

Figure 19.2 Sources of advice and support about the EEL project (Nov 2011)

Figure 19.3 Sources of advice and support about the EEL project (Mar 2012)

Sustaining Impact

Chris and his colleagues focus on sustaining impact by ensuring that all staff have a shared understanding of why an improvement is necessary and how to achieve it. The setting’s manager gives him time and support to do this and he draws on external support when necessary. This should be seen in the context of the setting’s philosophy of continuous improvement that Chris highlights:

"There is always vision for more. There is always a very hugely positive vision to put forward".

This philosophy is supported by the deployment of a wide range of tools and processes to audit the quality of provision and monitor the changes implemented in the setting.

Observations undertaken during the study support the setting’s emphasis on improvement. Brighton was one of the settings which maintained high levels of quality in terms of both pedagogical framing and pedagogical interactions throughout the research. In terms of pedagogical framing, its baseline scores on ECERS-R and ECERS-E were above average and improved in key areas such as activities, programme structure, literacy and diversity by the final observations.

In terms of pedagogical interactions, as Figure 19.4 indicates, averaged overall scores increased in the areas of sensitivity, autonomy, and cognitive challenge between baseline and final observations, although the autonomy score fell back a little from the interim observation. In addition, the gap between averaged scores for EYPs and non-EYP practitioners also closed in all three areas between the baseline and final visit, with greatest reduction occurring in autonomy. This suggest that Chris’s emphasis on modelling, along with improvements associated with EEL, had a positive impact on what was already a very effective setting at the beginning of the research.

Figure 19.4 PCIT scores for sensitivity, autonomy and cognitive challenge averaged for baseline, interim, and final observations