Improve your early years practice
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During my years as an ‘Outstanding’ OFSTED registered childminder and then nursery and preschool director and manager, I found time and time again that working holistically in all aspects of the setting, in a considered and thorough way, always yields the highest outcomes.
In this article, I will be sharing useful highlights on how early years leaders and practitioners can work to really achieve the outcomes required, as set out by Ofsted below.
When considering the vision for your setting, keep in mind the following notes from the Early Years OFSTED Inspection Handbook Feb 22:
15: "Inspectors will consider the extent to which leaders have designed an ambitious and well-sequenced curriculum. When considering the impact of the curriculum, inspectors will have due regard to any loss of learning the pandemic may have caused. However, inspectors will consider what the provider is doing to address any disruption to learning to ensure that children are well prepared for their next stage of education."
181: "The choice of teaching methods is a decision for providers, within the confines of the EYFS. Alongside any specialist education provided, it is important that children have access to a highly ambitious, broad and rich curriculum.”
What does ‘an ambitions curriculum’ mean in practice, in a setting, and how can we achieve this in an outstanding way?
In effect, our curriculum content is the EYFS (Sept 21), but what all successful providers and practitioners know, is that it is the way in which children learn, and the approach and delivery of the curriculum, that enables children to develop in the most effective ways.
An integral part of that process is the way we make children feel and the learning opportunities we facilitate through the environments we create.
Through considered resources, atmospheres, and relationships, we can create an emotional and physical safe haven, where children are then able to have the best possible experiences of early education. This is the central task of the Early Years leader.
The vision of the setting and the chosen ethos and/or methodology is, of course, the choice of the provider. However, you must still consider:
This balancing act of values, principles, and methodology lies at the heart of successful early education delivery and is integral to the success of the setting.
In order to successfully achieve this, and to ensure our pedagogy is effective and evidence-able, we need to stay relevant, compliant, and inspiring. And, we must ensure that this translates well into the work of the setting’s practitioners - this is a tall order and not always easy!
Working holistically, we can reflect on how the working and communication ‘culture’ of our setting enables time and space (both physically and metaphorically) for leaders to be able to develop their understanding and practice. This can take place through effective supervision or coaching and mentoring. It also requires an attitude to learning that is, in part, curated by the environment of the setting.
I spent a lot of time rereading and thinking about the overarching principles of the EYFS and thinking about the vision for my setting and ensuring they were fully in harmony with each other - that they complemented each other in theory and in practice.
I also needed to make sure the vision was not too complex, and something families could understand and would want to be part of. A setting’s vision is a culture - a culture that a child is part of their own Early Years development. It’s important, and also amazing, to be able to be part of child development in this way.
Therefore, my vision for the children on their Early Years journey IS my setting’s vision.
Cascading the vision through the setting
A common issue that comes up for settings is that often the pedagogical understanding does not always flow well from the vision of managers or directors through to the practice and outcomes in the settings they lead in. This in turn can impact the quality of the education experience of children.
As educators, I’m sure we all agree that learning is two-way. Effective communication is at the heart of all healthy organisations, and we need to remain considered and reflective in order to communicate well with those around us.
As such, it is essential for success that leaders consistently and authentically assess if they are:
And in turn, if this is translated well into their curriculum, through the understanding (and ultimately into the experiences) of the children and families at the setting.
Ensuring that understanding of the vision of your setting is truly understood and that the theory is being translated into tangible action requires that you have a whole setting or “systemic” approach. This can be difficult to manage at first and requires ongoing maintenance to remain successful.
During my time as a director and manager of a busy nursery & preschool, I found that using simple and effective communication tools such as the Famly Newsfeed, enabled me to consistently break down the ethos, curriculum and pedagogy of the setting into manageable chunks. This meant I could effectively close the gap between my vision of the curriculum (as a leader) and practitioner delivery. And, of course, the ultimate outcome for the child.
Practitioners are then able to take in this information when they have time and when they are in the right head space to receive information like this. They can reflect on it and message any questions directly from the childcare room when they feel inspired and curious.
Other online communication tools can be very useful in continuous professional development for Early Years Leaders by consistently collating genuine feedback, in order to reflect on and inform future strategy and decisions. This can be carried out as a poll on the Newsfeed, for example, or via email surveys - as long as the information acquired is authentic and put to good use.
Focusing on specific areas of the curriculum in team meetings can be useful. These discussions can be elevated in terms of team engagement and focus, by practitioners presenting on the different areas related to their roles in this way, we are all learning by doing, workshopping together how we can actively and consistently put theory into practice, whilst finding solutions to tricky spots along the way.
Most people learn by ‘doing’, so the shortcut to meaningful engagement with this type of practitioner CPD (continuous professional development) is for childcare staff to take turns to share difficulties that come up and then role-play solutions. This is a fun way for the whole team to offer support and feedback - a problem shared is a problem halved.
Team activities, like the ones mentioned, are also a very revealing way to gauge staff morale, engagement, knowledge, and in turn the training needs of your team. It can also illuminate the effectiveness of the working environment at your setting.
It’s also useful to close the gap a little on the inevitable division between those that are working directly with the children and those in leadership and support role. These meetings are a time to come together and remember that we are all one team, working in different ways toward the same goal-, to effectively meet the educational and welfare needs of the children in our care.
Another way for meaningful CPD to take place, and be as useful as possible for your setting, is to have weekly ‘reflection’ meetings in the childcare rooms. These can be led by a different team member each week, to reflect on and go over any issues, workshopping them together. This is also a good opportunity to return to:
The closer we can come to working in this shared holistic mentality, the closer we can come to consistently building on and improving our delivery of the curriculum in our setting.
Our pedagogy and curriculum, just like our children and staff, should be enabled to thrive through shared understanding and commitment to an overarching value system.
Please note: here at Famly we love sharing creative activities for you to try with the children at your setting, but you know them best. Take the time to consider adaptions you might need to make so these activities are accessible and developmentally appropriate for the children you work with. Just as you ordinarily would, conduct risk assessments for your children and your setting before undertaking new activities, and ensure you and your staff are following your own health and safety guidelines.