Education Observatory

Research in Education at the University of Wolverhampton

EYPS CASE STUDY 2: Islington
The lone practice leader

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

The setting

This is a small, voluntary setting for children aged over three in a deprived part of Islington in London. Carrol, its only EYP, joined the setting as manager in 2009 with the objective of expanding the setting and improving its provision. She focused initially on improving curriculum planning and the learning environment. As a result, the setting, which was below average in terms of quality scores at the beginning of the study, had improved significantly by the end of the research.

Being, becoming and developing as an EYP

Carrol is the setting’s manager and only EYP, having gained EYPS in 2007 via the Validation pathway. She is highly experienced, having worked with children under 5 for over 21 years with children under 5 years old. She was appointed as manager in 2009 explicitly because she had EYPS in order to expand the setting and improve its practice and provision.

Carrol described EYPS as ‘the backbone of what I have become’ because it had validated her knowledge and experience and supported her in the changes she had made in the setting.

"The EYP for me, was the backbone I what I have become within my career."

Figure 22.1 Islington’s formal leadership structure

As well as improving key procedural elements of the setting such as planning and the learning environment, Carrol models a commitment to improvement and learning which has had an effect on both children and staff in the setting.

She began a Masters in educational leadership and management during the course of the research which has itself begun to raise the aspirations of her colleagues through her emphasis on constantly improving and renewing her skills:

‘Because they can see that I pushing for more education [for myself], they are encouraged to do so as well. I am not just pushing them, I am pushing myself too’.

Initially, Carrol’s approach to leading improvement was initially fairly directive, as she had been explicitly recruited to improve provision quickly as ‘the core of the setting’. However, as she had made improvements to the learning environment and planning processes in particular, she was able to delegate more responsibility for areas such as behaviour management and ICT.

"I'm here to support everybody in the nursery where the children are concerned."

Achieving Impact

During the study, the setting focused in particular on improving curriculum planning, working with an advisory teacher on ‘evaluation, observation, planning and the paperwork that goes with it and how we can link everything together, including the environment, to enable children to have access to all the toys.’ Alongside a commitment to making learning ‘fun’, this was supported by a systematic approach to monitoring improvements, particularly in relation to staff interactions with children:

‘It’s very rigid because I want to make sure that children are being interacted with and monitored regularly. Any issues lacking in practice will come up in meetings and [we will] discuss them and make sure that staff carry on interacting with children.’

However, she was also careful to give her colleagues space to recognise what they wanted to improve and develop in their practice:

‘I allow them to make mistakes. [...] As I watch things, they may come to me and say “So and so isn’t working that way”, so I say: “Have you done this? Have you done that?” “No, we have been doing what we were doing before”. So I say, “Exactly, this is why it doesn’t work and I have to allow you to see that it doesn’t work in order for you to understand what I am giving you, the way I am pushing you forward.”’

Her practice leadership was also supported by an emphasis on assessing practice both formally and informally and drawing on both in-house and external CPD:

‘We had a staff meeting and I talked about the development of the environment and I did a whole PowerPoint presentation to the staff [and] helped them to do some little exercises and activities within that. [...] Also I send my staff on various courses to implement and to ensure that the curriculum plan is stable and is firmly embedded in the whole nursery for the children’s welfare.’

Professional network analysis

Social network analysis (SNA) was undertaken to trace the shifts in professional networks in the setting during the research. Figures 22.2 and 22.3 indicate the responses when staff were asked to name up to three people to whom they were most likely to go for reassurance and support about work-related issues. The responses underline the fact that Islington is a fairly small, close-knit setting, with all practitioners naming Carrol as a source of support when they were first asked in late 2010 (Figure 22.2). This remained the case a year later, during which period Carrol had also begun to distribute responsibility more extensively among the staff, which is reflected in the increasing centrality of other staff, alongside Carrol, in Figure 22.3.

Figure 22.2 Sources of reassurance and support about work-related issues (November 2010)

Figure 22.3 Sources of reassurance and support about work-related issues (November 2011)

Involving Parents

Carrol’s work with parents focused on improving their understanding of provision in the setting: ‘as a manager, what I try to do is bring parents in line with how we do things’. However, this partnership with parents was founded on sharing information and both managing and challenging their expectations:

‘This change in curriculum planning impacted just on staff not parents. There are tensions, but the thing is, once the child reaches the age of three parents are expecting the child to know at least how to hold a pen and to even start writing or [be] able to count from 1-20. Or if you send the children with homework, they would appreciate that but they are just three or four years old. They are expecting eight year-old development from these children.’

Sustaining Impact

During the study, the setting’s main focus was on improving pedagogical framing by re-working their curriculum planning to follow children’s interests more using the EYFS to increase child-initiated activities:

'Each child has a focus each week. The activities are set around the children’s interest so there is an indirect impact on children as result of making staff more focused on children’s interests. [The staff] prefer it this way. They said to me “I am not going back to the old one, this one is easy, you can see what we are doing and we can see what everyone else is doing.”

Figure 22.4 Changes in listening and talking sub-scales on ITERS-R observations (Islington)

At the beginning of the study the setting was rated satisfactory by Ofsted. By the end it was rated outstanding. This judgement is supported by the fact that the setting showed some of the most significant increases in observed process quality, from one of the lowest starting points.

Thus, the assessment of quality using ITERS-R originally produced the second lowest average score for the learning environment and moved to just below the mean for all settings by the end of the study, having shown the greatest improvement of any settings. There was particular progress in listening and talking, one of the subscales previous research has associated with positive impacts on children’s outcomes (see Figure 19.4).

Figure 22.5 PCIT scores for sensitivity autonomy and cognitive challenge averaged for baseline, interim and final observations (Islington)

Islington was also one of only three settings to have shown educationally significant in terms of both pedagogical framing and interactions with children. As Figure 22.5 indicates, practitioner-child interaction tool (PCIT) observations also improved significantly, again from a low base, in the areas of sensitivity and cognitive challenge but showed no increase in autonomy. However, the gap between the EYP’s and practitioners’ scores widened during the study, with the EYP outscoring practitioners by 1 point in each of these areas at the final visit. This gap was even greater in the area of sustained shared thinking, supporting the suggestion that there was still progress to be made in embedding the EYP’s improved practice in the setting as a whole.