Aspiring Leaders; can you afford to ignore this opportunity?

June O'Sullivan
Thursday, February 18, 2016

Great leadership is an essential ingredient to making an organisation, whether it’s outstanding nurseries or a successful schools. The management company ‘Bain’ completed a study in 2015 on distributed leadership in the US Charter Schools. They wanted to find the common ingredients of exceptional schools where children did well against all the odds. The clearest answer was great leadership. However, great leadership is easier said than done as leadership is complex and if it was easy we would have lots of great leaders. The power of great leadership struck me so forcible that I ended up writing three books on the subject, mostly to help me articulate what leadership looked like in action.

Leadership has many facets but the over-riding responsibility that comes with leadership is how many leaders you develop. We often fixate on the idea that leaders are great charismatic people, driving huge visions and making radical changes. While this is the case for the minority, in realty great leaders can be developed and grown with the right support, knowledge and understanding, with 80 per cent of our efforts focusing on developing staff capacity. Generally this is done through by:

  • Attracting and hiring staff
  • Implementing the nursery particular vision and pedagogical approach
  • Building a culture of high expectation
  • Facilitating staff and colleagues collaboration
  • Evaluating staff performance
  • Taking action on poor performance
  • Ensuing relevant and regular professional development for staff and self
  • Regular supervision building in feedback and support of practical
  • Think critically
  • Collaborate and communicate effectively
  • Be creative and innovative in teaching


With all these mixed together, it makes for some task. We therefore have to consider how we build systems to grow leaders to make this happen more often and in greater numbers.

Many of us in the Early Years sector are living in straitened times and London Early Years Foundation (LEYF), like every other organisation, has had to make choices about how to support staff in a way that is going to have the best outcomes for the children. Staff deserve your utmost attention and a we decided to focus on leadership above all else and therefore we developed a leadership programme. We wanted to do it in a way that would produce dramatically better outcomes for children. We also wanted it to support our recruitment strategy especially as we are keen to try and grow 50 per cent of our leaders from among the LEYF staff.

Our response was to create the Aspiring Leaders programme; a transformational and award winning leadership programme helping people transform into leaders whether they were leading pedagogical practice, teams, staff development or a whole nursery. We wanted to ensure the outcome was to develop a group of leaders with strengthened leadership capacity and who are better empowered to lead.

We designed the programme so those completing it would also acquire their ILM Level Three qualification in Leadership and Management. The programme is conducted over six full days of training and two hour tutorials. The approach focused on the personal journey to leadership and the necessary emotional intelligence needed to understand how to support others and get the best from them.

Underpinning this was a peer to peer collaborative approach with coaching and a learning set that would build many leaders in order to avoid the pitfall of having a team or a nursery built around a single extraordinary super hero leader with a high risk that everything falling apart once she/he left.

The outcome from the Aspiring Leaders programme has been very positive so far. Of the 60 successful attendees, all have been promoted including three who have become nursery managers. We also won the NMT Training and Development Award and recently had our 10th ‘Outstanding’ Ofsted while the rest of our nurseries are all ‘Good.’ This means we exceed the London and National statistics which is great for nurseries based in very poor and disadvantaged areas.

June O'Sullivan is chief executive of LEYF. This blog first appeared on the LEYF website

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