The Outstanding Ofsted experts: 5 leadership and management tips

What it takes to be an effective leader and manager
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April 25, 2024
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In a rush? Here’s the quick rundown:

  • We will explore the difference between management and leadership in an Early Years setting and what effective leadership and management look like according to Ofsted
  • Our experts share the importance of commitment as a leader.
  • We talk to manager Lizzy Barlow about the value of spending time with your staff, children, and parents in your setting.
  • Another one of our expert leaders shares with us the concept of the tenth man and how to use it in staff meetings.

Stepping into a leadership and management role in the Early Years isn't for the faint of heart. It's a big responsibility, but fear not! We're here to lend a helping hand. From decision-making to fostering a positive team culture, we've got the tips you need to become an outstanding leader and manager.

We spoke to 3 'Outstanding' nursery managers and leader to provide you with valuable insights on how to improve your leadership and management skills. We want to help you achieve the Outstanding Ofsted rating in your coming inspection report you deserve.

Leadership and management are the foundation of any successful Early Years setting. Ofsted's Early Years Inspection Handbook highlights the importance of strong leadership in early education. Great leadership isn't just about steering a team - it's about inspiring, motivating, and supporting each member to reach their full potential. When leaders foster a positive and encouraging environment, it can positively impact the team's dynamic and performance.

What is leadership and management?

Before we begin with our tips let's get clear on what leadership and management is, what’s the difference between the two, and what it looks like in the Early Years.

Effective leadership begins with having a clear vision ensuring that every team member understands their role and feels valued in contributing to that vision. As a leader, it is up to you to decide on the values and goals for your setting, as well as strategic decision-making to reach those goals. Leadership extends beyond a title; it requires the ability to guide and inspire others, fostering collaboration and unity toward achieving a shared vision.

Now on to management. You can think of a manager as being the orchestra conductor, who is in charge of bringing the vision and goals of your setting to life.

As a manager, you're responsible for making sure everyone plays their part and feels supported. This means organising tasks, making decisions, ensuring resources are being used effectively, and overall ensuring everything is running smoothly. Ultimately, management is all about guiding and coordinating efforts to reach the goals of your setting.

So what’s the difference between the two?

In a nutshell, leadership takes responsibility for setting the tone, mission, and strategy, while management takes responsibility for executing and organisation. Both aspects are pivotal, and equally essential, to the success of your Early Years setting.

What effective leadership and management looks like according to Ofsted:

  • Effective leaders have a clear vision of what they are trying to achieve and are determined to give children in their settings the very best care.
  • Strong leaders identify accurately what works and what needs to change. They never lose sight of the link between the quality of the provision and its impact on children’s learning and development.
  • Effective leaders and managers build teams of well-qualified and skilled practitioners who see themselves as educators. They put regular, rigorous performance management in place, and they hold staff accountable for the quality of their teaching and children's progress.
  • In ‘Good’ and ‘Outstanding’ settings, leaders and managers tend to be proactively monitoring how a curriculum is being implemented. In other words, they prioritise a closer relationship between the ‘planned’ and ‘experienced’ curriculum.
  • Leaders and managers in 'Outstanding' schools tend to have ongoing measures in place to support the teachers' skill development.

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Ofsted’s 5 expectations for Outstanding leaders and managers:

  • Quality Assurance: Being responsible for ensuring that your setting consistently meets and maintains high-quality standards of care and education. Ofsted assesses whether leaders and managers have a clear vision for the setting’s development and can effectively implement it.
  • Compliance: Leaders and managers are expected to understand and adhere to the regulatory requirements for Early Years settings. Ofsted inspectors may check or ask if your policies and procedures are in place, up to date, and followed correctly.
  • Staff Development: Effective leadership and management support the continuous development of staff. This includes training, mentoring, and providing opportunities for professional growth. Inspectors will evaluate whether staff members are well-trained and feel motivated to provide excellent care.
  • Child Safeguarding: Safeguarding children is a top priority in Early Years settings. Leadership and management should demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of safeguarding procedures and ensure they are consistently implemented.
  • Staff workload and well-being: The well-being of your staff is paramount in ensuring that they are happy and motivated to provide high-quality care and education. An Ofsted inspector may ask what systems you have in place to manage workload effectively, provide support, and promote a healthy work-life balance for yourself and your team.

Being in charge can be challenging, there’s no doubt about it. But to truly excel, you have to be the type of leader your team can look up to and rely on.

So, what's the secret sauce for running nurseries to an Outstanding standard? Our experts shared with us some key insights that will help elevate your leadership and management skills.

5 tips for Outstanding leadership & management: insights from Ofsted experts

1. Commitment to your setting

According to Becky Pike, the key to excelling as a leader and manager lies in a profound commitment to your team and setting.

“If your leadership isn’t there then you won’t get an Outstanding rating. Unless you’re invested in everything at your nursery 100% then you’re wasting your time. You’ve got to be committed to it.”

- Becky Pike, Partner, Hollies Day Nurseries

Commitment is the backbone of effective leadership and management. When leaders are fully dedicated to their setting, they inspire trust, foster loyalty among staff, and create a positive work environment where everyone feels valued and motivated. This dedication ensures consistency and resilience, even in the face of challenges.

When leaders are truly committed to their setting, they invest time, energy, and resources into nurturing its growth and success. Time invested can often be the difference between a “Good” and an “Outstanding” Ofsted rating.

Commitment to your Early Years setting as a leader can look like continuously supporting staff through development such as training, mentoring, and providing opportunities for career growth. During a settings evaluation, Ofsted inspectors consider whether staff members are well-trained and have the support to excel at their jobs.

2. Talk to Outstanding settings

Asking for help can be hard, but being a good leader requires humility and the drive to do what’s best for your team and the greater goal. Expert Lizzy Barlow suggests making use of your fellow professionals in the sector by calling a setting that has received an Outstanding rating and asking what’s worked for them.

“If you’re a setting and you’re not Outstanding, phone a setting who is. People are so happy to share their information. They’re not in it to make money or just to be the best. What matters is the children. So if you have a setting down the road who is 'Outstanding', go and ask to see how they do things.”

- Lizzy Barlow, Nursery Group Leader, Hollies Day Nurseries

Great leaders and managers are continuously seeking opportunities for improvement, whether it's through attending training sessions, seeking guidance from mentors, or asking for advice from Outstanding settings. Asking for help and utilising available resources is essential for effective leadership and management. However, it's equally important to discern what practices align with your setting's needs. Understanding your setting's unique requirements is paramount in implementing successful strategies for growth and development.

teacher sits teaching nursery children

3. Spend more time in the room

It might be time to reconsider how much time you’re spending in the rooms with the children and practitioners. Being on the floor gives you a perspective on your setting you won’t get elsewhere.

“If you’re in the room, you’ve got no choice but to be engaged because the children will climb on you. And if you can show that you can be silly and play and have a laugh, the staff can be silly and play too.”

- Becky Pike, Partner, Hollies Day Nurseries

Leaders and managers are faced with decisions every day that directly affect the experiences of staff, children, and families. While it's tempting to enact changes based on the intentions of your mission and evaluate their impact from a distance, true understanding comes from having first-hand experience. Just as children learn best through hands-on experiences, adults benefit from seeing changes in action.

Without firsthand experiences of planned changes, you risk disengagement from the process and your team. Sometimes the best way to understand what your setting needs is to get down on the children's level, get a bit messy, and truly experience the effectiveness of your setting from their perspective. It's hard to implement strategies that will work for your team when you're not present.

As a leader or manager, you often feel your time stretched in every direction. Making time to be present with your staff, children, and parents is important. It will help you feel more confident when making decisions for your setting. This will likely lead to more successful and beneficial outcomes.

how to be Outstanding The Ofsted inspection guide

How to be Outstanding: The Ofsted Inspection Guide

Renewed and updated for 2023: Get ideas, tips, and advice on what it takes to be outstanding from Early Years managers and Ofsted’s Phil Minns and Wendy Ratcliff.

Download now

‍4. Are you approachable?

How often do your staff feel comfortable approaching you with their thoughts, concerns, and suggestions? Being approachable is key to fostering a positive environment in your setting.

Open communication is essential for receiving honest feedback and making meaningful improvements. If you notice any confusion among your staff, it may be a sign that communication could be improved. Take the time to assess your communication methods and tailor them to best suit the needs of your team.

Remember, every team is unique, so finding the right approach for yours is crucial.

“Being open and approachable is the most important thing as a leader so that you can have that open communication with your staff team. You need to be able to have difficult conversations but you won’t get the confidence to do that if you don’t spend time educating yourself so that your team trusts your judgment.”

- Catherine Walker, Childcare Manager, Priesthills Nursery

As a leader or manager, you may benefit from having a regular time when your staff knows your door is open for a cup of tea and a chat outside of scheduled meeting times.

This time should feel informal and without an agenda to create a safe and open environment for your staff to voice any of their concerns and possible sensitive topics. It is important for your staff to know that you are not only available to them at specific hours, but also if something comes up, you will do your best to make time for them.

5. The tenth man concept

Want an actionable piece of advice that you can try out tomorrow? Becky Pike suggests using the tenth man concept to become a better leader.

The tenth man is essentially when a group of 10 people is involved in making a decision, and the tenth person is assigned the role of playing devil's advocate to see a different perspective. At any staff meeting, if everybody agrees on something, then it’s somebody’s designated job to disagree.

“Funnily enough, that argument can often win out, because being able to take a completely different view of something can often come up with the best answers. We call that the tenth man. I think it came from a film! It’s just a great way of questioning stuff.”

- Becky Pike, Partner, Hollies Day Nurseries

Overall, incorporating the tenth-man concept into staff meetings can be a valuable tool for promoting critical thinking, fostering innovation, enhancing decision-making, and building team cohesion at your setting.

Found some helpful tips? Well, we’ve got some good news. You can now download the full guide Be Outstanding: The Ofsted Inspection Guide for free, with 12 different sections covering every area of your Ofsted inspection. Time to get the outstanding result that you deserve.

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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.

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