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Longitudinal Study of Early Years Professional Status: An Exploration of Progress, Leadership and Impact

Longitudinal Study of Early Years Professional Status: An Exploration of Progress, Leadership and Impact


Highbury: Establishing practice leadership at all levels

The Setting

This case study focuses on a voluntary setting in a large five-storey Victorian house in Highbury in London. It has around 60 children on roll and 24 members of staff, three of whom are EYPs. The children are separated by age on different floors of the building and only a small number have learning difficulties or spoke English as an additional language.

Noelle is EYP and lead practitioner at Highbury and has over 20 years’ experience of working with children under five. She was the only EYP in the setting during the course of the study but two of her colleagues have since gained EYPS.

Being, becoming and developing as an EYP



Along with the setting’s manager, Noelle’s role was changed to ‘lead practitioner’ when she gained EYPS. This signalled an explicit move away from occupying a management role towards working on a more equal basis with practitioners:

‘We work closely together, we are both lead practitioners, we do lots of training together, we support each other on a daily basis. I would describe my leadership and [Noelle’s] leadership as equal.’ (Lead practitioner)

Noelle’s primary focus is on leading with staff and children in the setting, whereas her fellow lead practitioner oversees families joining the nursery. Noelle leads training and mentors colleagues, as well as working directly with children and maintaining and updating policies. She and her role have developed since undertaking EYPS, which made her better equipped both to identify the need for improvement and to implement change: ‘[EYPS] gave me that professional confidence to go forward with what we wanted to do as a setting’. She also feels that EYPS had improved her repertoire of strategies for working differently and ‘made a huge difference to being able to support colleagues’.


Figure 49.1 Highbury’s formal leadership structure

Click image to view the Highbury organisational structure

Leading Improvement



Noelle and her colleague lead practitioner share leadership of the setting. They work hard to develop strategies to ensure that staff and all those involved in the setting have a shared and clear expectation of the type of provision they are trying to develop and the values that underpin it, as she stated:

‘We do a lot with vision. [...] We invite staff to come along and hear what we say to parents so that they know what our practice is about, which is one tiny way of doing that. We have staff who have been here for a long time and they are fully on board and they believe that in the same way we do with passion.’

They also place a strong emphasis on professional development, mixing internal provision with external training and using a range of high involvement professional development processes. Noelle is clear about the importance of leading practice through mentoring her colleagues:

‘Mentoring and coaching is a huge part of what I do now, leading practice and having a really good knowledge of the EYFS, encouraging staff to use it as much as possible on a day to day basis and to help [them] with their planning and evaluation and stuff. [...] We need to give new staff lots of good role modelling, lots of workshops to get them hopefully to see the values that we have.’


As a leader you need to be informing the staff - this is why the interactions with children have to be so good and at their level Image of practitioners When the staff learned how to do peer observations positively and professionally it worked really well. They felt very empowered


Achieving Impact



During the course of the study, the empowerment of room leaders was the main focus of improvement in the setting. This was both a response to the problem of high staff turnover and intended to encourage room leaders to take on more responsibility for improving the quality of provision and adopting a more consistent approach to practice leadership. In Noelle’s words, ‘it’s about staff reflecting on what their roles are about’. To support the emergent practice leadership of the room leaders, Noelle developed a series of leadership workshops for them that she ran in-house but which were informed by leadership training she and the other lead practitioner had attended. The workshops emphasised the importance of reflecting and working on existing problems: ‘[We] felt it is important that room leaders feel confident within their rooms and are able to lead the room, rather than manage it, and get everyone on board.’

Professional network analysis

During the study, social network analysis (SNA) was undertaken to trace the shifts in professional networks in the setting. Figures 49.2 and 49.3 indicate the responses when staff in the setting were asked whose advice or support had substantively changed how they developed children’s learning in the preceding 12 months. When they were first asked this question in late 2010 (Figure 49.2), the overwhelming proportion of staff who responded indicated that they went to either Noelle or the other lead practitioner (or both). As Figure 49.3 reveals, responses to the same question a year later were much more evenly distributed among staff in the setting, following its emphasis on empowering room leaders. Two of the room leaders (RL1 and RL2) and the setting’s coordinator, had become much more central sources of advice and support for their colleagues by this point. Further SNA analysis undertaken towards the end of the study indicated that this development had been maintained.


Figure 49.2 Sources of advice or support re developing children’s learning (Nov 2010)

LS49 (Highbury): Whose advice or support has substantively changed how you develop children’s learning in the last 12 months? (Nov 2010)

Figure 49.3 Sources of advice or support re developing children’s learning (Nov 2011)

LS49 (Highbury): Whose advice or support has substantively changed how you develop children’s learning in the last 12 months? (Nov 2011)

During the study, social network analysis (SNA) was undertaken to trace the shifts in professional networks in the setting. Figures 49.2 and 49.3 indicate the responses when staff in the setting were asked whose advice or support had substantively changed how they developed children’s learning in the preceding 12 months. When they were first asked this question in late 2010 (Figure 49.2), the overwhelming proportion of staff who responded indicated that they went to either Noelle or the other lead practitioner (or both). As Figure 49.3 reveals, responses to the same question a year later were much more evenly distributed among staff in the setting, following its emphasis on empowering room leaders. Two of the room leaders (RL1 and RL2) and the setting’s coordinator, had become much more central sources of advice and support for their colleagues by this point. Further SNA analysis undertaken towards the end of the study indicated that this development had been maintained.



Sustaining Impact

The professional network data collected suggested that several staff members were becoming more central to supportive networks giving advice to other staff as the study progressed. This indicated that the emphasis on empowering room leaders was effective. These networks overlapped with the formal leadership structures and revealed the extent to which Noelle’s practice leadership role had been accepted by the room leaders and other staff. This changed whom staff sought out for support and was underlined by the fact that, by the end of the study, most room leaders tended to discuss practice in their room or with other room leaders before they went to either of the lead practitioners, as Noelle emphasised: ‘Initially new staff would come to me or [the manager] but now they don’t come as much. Now they go to any of the room leaders for advice’.

At the same time, improvements were found in the overall quality of provision in the setting. In terms of the observations undertaken in the study in relation to process quality, Highbury improved the most dramatically of all the settings. Its baseline ECERS-R score (5.5), used to assess pedagogical framing in the setting, went from below the mean for all the settings to above average (6.8). It was one of three settings in the case study sample to show educationally significant improvements in terms of both framing pedagogies (ECERS- R) and interactional quality (PCIT) See final report p. 54. It also had the highest PCIT improvement score of all the settings, moving from being below average to clear indications of a significant improvement in all areas (see Figure 49.4).


Figure 49.4 PCIT scores for sensitivity autonomy and cognitive challenge averaged for baseline, interim and final observations (Highbury)

PCIT scores for sensitivity, autonomy and cognitive challenge averaged for baseline, interim and final observations

Instances of sustained shared thinking increased significantly from the baseline to the final observation for both the EYP and practitioners (from an average of 6 overall to 26.7 overall).

Large increases were also to be found on key elements of the ECERS- E observations, as Figure 49.5 indicates.

Figure 49.5 ECERS-E trends for literacy (L) mathematics (M) and diversity (D) for baseline, interim and final observations (Highbury)

Figure 49.5 ECERS-E trends for literacy (L) mathematics (M) and diversity (D) for baseline, interim and final observations (Highbury)

Asked to summarise the overall effect of becoming an EYP, Noelle was clear that ‘EYPS has had a positive impact on the whole setting’, linking it to the fact that ‘we’ve made constant improvements through self-reflection, self-evaluation’. She also felt that the fact that two further staff members gained EYPS after the formal conclusion of the study was a positive outcome and would help support future developments at Highbury.


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