Conversations on quality: how systemic leadership has taken root

Come join the conversation on LinkedIn where Mine Conkbayir (whose book I recently reviewed here) has asked practitioners “what do you think is needed to make Early Years education and care, truly ‘outstanding’?”This is an excellent question because the answers given by professionals give such a wonderful insight to their positionality: their value stances and their own professional contexts. Someone whose day job is supporting looked after children through the transition to settlement in adoptive families will have an entirely different perspective to that of a school teacher whose pupils are preparing for assessments.

As always, I could not resist a discussion on quality:

Kate Oakley: I think the part of the outstanding grading (as Ofsted is the “sole arbiter of quality” for the purposes of this) that stands out to me is that outstanding practice is worthy of dissemination. That says to me that staff and setting are making such a positive impact on the lives of their children, the lives of their families, that it is worth sharing with other settings – a ripple effect. Staff are the key resource, they need to truly be and feel professional (when they are treated as autonomous professionals by their managers, respected by their community and their personal professional development is as invested in as a doctor’s). Staff need to understand the theoretical frameworks that their actions fit in to, to be critically analytical in their approach to utilising new approaches or research, to be bold enough to champion how every child and every cohort is different – and to know that adaptive and truly inclusive practice doesn’t mean you didn’t get it right the first time, it means you want to get it right every time for every child.

The idea of systemic leadership and inter-setting support was the driving force behind setting up the grass-roots Early Years Seminar series last autumn and addresses some of the key themes found within the small-scale research project preceding it (“Professionalism and Development Activities within the Norfolk Early Years Sector” – Sheffield University, 2017). Research participants (diverse cohort, teaching 0-8 in different settings) explored the barriers to CPD and their professional interests and needs within interviews last summer. Key themes were:

  • a lack of funding or financial barriers to accessing continuous professional development (linked to time cost)
  • a lack of awareness or skills in critical analysis – either their own or colleagues within their workplaces (also linked to reliability of information)
  • a lack of mentoring or coaching opportunities within the sector (linked to competition issues if based within a private setting)
  • negative experiences of prior training – poor delivery and a lack of opportunities to reflect, question and understand relevance to own setting
  • a lack of training which addresses own identified CPD needs or areas of interest (linked to reduced public sector funding which has limited the variety of training available).

Initial feedback analysis suggests the seminar programme is meeting all of the areas found above, but has identified further areas to focus upon – particularly in the delivery of practical teaching activities and theoretical thought experiments. The programme is encouraging me to be reflexive in the way that systemic leadership is provided as well as considering what I can offer my sector colleagues as a skill trade. The second phase of the Early Years Seminars is due to commence in the summer term. Dates, topics and speakers will be announced via this blog.

Please feel free to comment with questions (or requests/suggestions) regarding the content or practicalities of the programme.

I am continuing to research systemic leadership and practice development in Norfolk via my MA dissertation (due summer 2018) through the medium of film and practice coaching techniques. If you work in a setting in the Norwich area and would welcome some free CPD in the form of research project participation – please contact me.


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