A few weeks ago Wave Trust in partnership with the DfE published its report Conception to Age 2 – The Age of Opportunity. I was part of the Special Interest Group that helped shape the report, along with an eclectic group of colleagues representing a variety of areas affecting babies – such as mental health, training, health visiting and psychology. I learned much from this group, chaired by the erudite and softly spoken George Hosking, CEO of Wave Trust. The full report is 135 pages long and a text book in its own right, but the shortened version designed for local busy commissioners is a useful summary with reference to all the relevant links.
There was a flurry of activity at our Central Office last week because we were interviewing for new staff. We need new staff because we have increased our capacity to accommodate more two-year-olds. The morning saw the arrival of the interview team of LEYF nursery managers and deputies expressing great hope and enthusiasm: new staff, new blood, more stability for teams and less dependence on agency staff. Hurrah!
As someone invited to sit on Professor Nutbrown’s Expert Panel, I supported the intention to have the best quality of staff in our settings. I am keen that the Level 3 is relevant and appropriate. By this I mean that anyone wanting to work with children are given a solid grounding in both child development and how children learn, so they know how to care for a child in a warm, empathetic and good-humoured way. We have long despaired about the qualification being watered down to the point where it has become too broad. As such, I welcome the opportunity to comment on the review of Level 3 qualifications.
Nonetheless, I am a pragmatic person and wondered how we would achieve this baseline quickly enough to meet the needs of the Two Year Old expansion. The outcome of our interviews last week was telling…
Three hundred hits on our advert results in 200 CVs being submitted. These are then followed up with instructions to download the information pack and complete an application form. At this point you see a big drop off: seemingly people just don’t want to write the letter (literacy, literacy, literacy). Those who do are invited to interview. Here at LEYF we call this an assessment centre, where potential staff complete a selection of activities and get to visit a nursery. The final interview pulls all this together to ensure we can both work together successfully.
The outcome is depressing and predictable. We had people who had managed to achieve their qualification within 10 weeks (and you could tell). We had recent college graduates who did not know what was meant by the EYFS. We had candidates who really struggled with spoken English. One manager said they had asked if candidates saw the position as a job or a career (don’t knows just don’t cut it). The enthusiasm began to wane throughout the day…
I chatted with our man from HR: is there not high unemployment he asked, scratching his head? There is, only the trouble with recessions is that staff sit tight, especially those in lower paid jobs (they cannot afford the risk of moving). According to the Office for National Statistics, 2012 saw a 42% drop in people leaving their jobs and the labour market at its least dynamic for 13 years.
So what shall we do? LEYF staff interviewing said they used courage (one of LEYF’s five core values) to help them in the selection process:
We will give one or two a chance for three months, during which time we will balance the risk, complete the induction and observe their impact on the children. (We think it’s a risk worth taking rather than continuing with agency staff.) We will then make a courageous choice to say ‘Goodbye’ if its not working.
Back in HR there is talk of reviewing the selection process. Maybe we will scrap the application form; does it tell us enough anyway? Yes, says Mr HR but we have to remember that any recruitment process must reassure Ofsted that it’s robust.
Does it feel like déjà vu? Remember 1997? The great ambition was to take on 100,000 new staff to expand childcare and enable people to work. Fantastic, if only it weren’t for the same problem we now face: getting enough of the right staff in place to turn the ambition into a reality. Without the power of the genie’s lamp, we can rub all we like, but we simply cannot ‘magic up’ enough good staff. As a result, twelve years later, and further stymied by a dogged recession, we appear to have made little progress.
So, here is a real task for our Minister: use the LEYF value of courage to get out there and talk the sector up!
- Make schools understand the importance of childcare as a career option
- Build childcare into the Career Guidance DNA
- Make child development a key subject on the school curriculum
- Get the Treasury to understand that Early Years training and learning needs continual funding just like that for school teachers
- Get the sector in the press for the right reasons
Children are all our responsibility from conception. Invest in this at every level of the education system, starting right here and right now.
We are all aware that the cost of childcare is too expensive for many parents. Yet the Government says it spends £7billion a year on pre-school support? What is the money being spent on? If it’s not going to parents and it certainly isn’t going to providers, then where is it?
The case for affordable childcare has been an issue for the sector for almost a decade. And so it will continue unless we have a full and frank public discussion about why we want childcare and how much we want to spend on it. If not we will continue to ricochet between dodgy policy, ill-considered commentators and ad hoc temporary debates fuelled by a columnist with a bit of clout who also has to pay nursery fees.
The £7billion of expenditure by the government makes the UK the fifth highest spending rate in the developed world on child care. I remain baffled however. If parents are paying 27% of their income on fees and providers are supplementing the nursery grants by up to 50%, then where is the £7billion being spent? The figures just don’t add up. The fact is, no one seems to know exactly what the breakdown of this fabulous figure includes. It’s certainly not funding the nursery grant, nor is it assisting with the training of staff in childcare. It does not even supplement staff salaries in the PVI sector to bring them in line with their statutory colleagues. No one in the childcare sector is a millionaire so, what are we spending £7billion on?
The reasons to support childcare in modern Britain today appear to be:
- Government (past and present) says we need to work to stay out of poverty
- To work we need access to childcare.
- Women are a critical part of the workplace and need to be supported to work with accessible childcare.
- Fewer than one in ten women of working age are staying at home to look after their children and families.
- Cost of living requires both parents to work.
- 23% of children live in a household headed by a single parent
- There is a target to reduce child poverty which involves getting people back to work
- Government has accepted the research that good quality childcare benefits all children but especially our poorest children.
- The Government has invested in universal education for 3 and 4 year olds by providing 15 hours a week and targeted childcare for 40% of two year olds from deprived areas.
- The local authority has the responsibility to manage the childcare mixed market to ensure choice and availability for parents
Apparently this costs £7billion pounds?! Here I am puzzled.
Right now to support childcare, parents and providers can access:
- Tax credits (childcare element of working tax credit)
- Employer childcare vouchers
- Nursery Grants Funding
- Two year old funding
Can this cost £7billion? I doubt it. I suspect this figure includes universal and specific welfare benefits and other associated childcare costs such as inspection and regulation from government agencies. So, to really understand why childcare costs are so high we need to unpack this £7billion figure and examine the expenditure layer by layer, through different lenses, to confirm where this money is being allocated. Is the Government willing to allow apolitical analysis into current expenditure by industry practitioners? How keen are they to disentangle the disadvantages of the current system to ensure a better and more sustainable future for our children?
Perhaps Monsieur Poirot’s skills are required in the Treasury? His little grey cells may be the only means of solving the mystery as to why childcare remains so expensive at the current indicated price tag of £7billion per year of tax payers’ hard earned money.
I have long rejected beginning the New Year with a hangover, and am even less keen to create a bunch of resolutions that rarely survive the month of January, let alone come to fruition in the long run. For me, the process seems far too negative and self-defeating, and in my experience typically short-lived.
My assumptions were pleasantly confirmed in an article in the daily oracle, otherwise known as The Metro. Apparently, 40% of people give up their resolutions within a fortnight – not surprisingly as the highest percentage of resolutions are about giving up something they like! (Food, chocolate, wine etc…). Whatever happened to my Grandmother’s favourite saying, ‘a little of what you fancy does you good’? I suppose the key word here is ‘little’.
Lack of will power is the main reason we rarely stick to resolutions, along with the fact that old habits die hard and no one copes well with change, even if it is good. At this point, I think we would do well to remember the words of Darwin, who says:
It is not the strongest of the species that survives,
nor the most intelligent that survives.
It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”
So perhaps we need a different mindset. If having the will power to break old habits is our Achilles Heel, let’s turn on it and make the whole process more successful; let’s focus on just a handful of more positive and achievable goals to start the New Year (and ones that may yet help us prepare for the triple dip recession, British winter weather, overdraft accounts after Christmas holidays, travel fare rises on public transportation, dreaded inflation, high childcare costs for parents, local authority cuts and all the rest of the doom and gloom that keeps the media smiling).
In essence, let’s do more of what we do well in the following ways:
Make work as happy a place as possible. The O2 Mobile study found that one in three of us make most of our friends at work, more than school or university.
Communicate more. Lack of communication is the top complaint of the unsatisfied employee. My suggestion? Try over-communicating a little bit. Make a list of the ways you currently engage with peers and then test which of these matter the most to your organisation. Wise men talk of seven different methods of communication. Staff and hopefully experience will soon let you know when you are sharing too much. (Save that for Reality TV).
Be more visible. Consider if you can do more MBWA (Management by Walking Around). Think about how you connect with staff and find out what helps them feel engaged. Be positive and genuine. Employees want and require feedback constantly. Even the smallest feedback can generate a great response from an employee. Think about ways to show the staff you care and are listening to them.
Support more staff in their professional growth and development. As an employer, giving additional responsibility to a hard working employee can be quite rewarding for both parties. Big bonuses, pay rises, and trips aren’t in the budget but we can always afford tea and cake. Too often leaders think that if a big raise to the team is not possible then there is little point in attempting to do anything else. Training opportunities, conferences, visits or any activity that can contribute to the professional development of your team can be quite inspiring to an employee. A little creativity can go a long way.
Keep people engaged in the vision of the organisation. Many of the happiest employees work for companies where they feel there is a clear sense of direction and they know how they are contributing towards achieving the vision.
Keep a sense of humour; it will ground you in the most trying times.
And if you are already stuck with the last one, here is something that will make you chuckle: Eric Pickles’ suggestions for local authority efficiency savings Fifty ways to save is as weirdly funny as Fifty Shades of Grey (and would make a great episode of The Simpsons. LOL).
I wish you all the best for 2013!
Friday saw another fantastic LEYF Staff Conference, once again successfully managed with great aplomb. Like another Chocolate Orange segment in the continuing relationship with our Scottish colleagues, I was as ever struck at the extraordinary similitudes between Scotland and London. Even in these days of potential Scottish independence, I look forward to further cooperation, as we share, debate and enrich the whole Early Years sector.
Alice Sharp has been involved in our conferences for the past 8 years; and long may it continue, as every year she brings something extra special to the whole experience. This year Alice partnered with Paul Brannigan, lead actor from our favourite film The Angel’s Share. Paul talked movingly about his difficult upbringing in a very forthright Glaswegian way. He summed up the impact on him of his lack of home learning and the emptiness he felt as a child, when he realised there was no one who really loved or would stick up for him. He talked about the need to have an adult – any adult – reach out and put their arm around you, make you feel protected and loved. That finally happened to him when he was in prison, but it helped turn his life around. His point, so touchingly made, was that he was on a mission to get people to understand that the younger it happened, the better – especially when that warm relationship could be the very thing that helps build a child’s brain. His performance left the LEYF audience touched and emotional. Little surprise he is now Bafta nominated and shortlisted for best newcomer to British film. No cliché in this presentation though. The message was stark: Early Years practitioners have the power to contribute hugely to the child’s brain development, giving them a power boost that could see their positive synaptic connections increase from 7% to 80%.
It was the central point of our conference and the reason we want to grow. There was something magic in the room on Friday, and it’s something I hear often when people visit our nurseries. Now is the time to bottle this magic, and give more children the LEYF experience – both by filling all our nurseries to their maximum capacity and by having more LEYF nurseries across London. So look out guys, LEYF is on the march!
Every year we hold our annual LEYF conference when we celebrate our achievements over the past 12 months and present our plans for the year to come. The conference days always balance up-beat speakers with active involvement, and over the years we have formed a strong relationship with our Scottish colleagues – especially Alice Sharp of Experiential Play. This year is no exception.
Good relationships within and outside the organisation remains a constant of LEYF, and the conference definitely reflects this – starting with the venue. For the second year, we have chosen to work with Pimlico Academy, which is a perfect venue and reflects our positive relationship with the local secondary school.
Our conference this year aims to tell the story of why we want to help build a better future for London’s children, and how our model helps us achieve such an ambition. Key aspects of the LEYF model are central to the day.
To help us explore this, Alice Sharp has invited colleagues from the Scottish Islands to demonstrate their multi-generational approach, along with their exciting take on home learning. Anne Patterson, Quality Improvement Officer for Early Years and Primary, Kathleen Johnson, Head Teacher Early Years and Primary Islay and Jura, and Stephen Glenn Lee, Head Teacher of Early Years and Primary Isle of Luing and Easdale, will help inner London nurseries become the centre of their own urban villages as these have done on their small islands.
To give a small geography lesson, the islands of Islay and Jura are the most southerly of the Inner Hebrides. Both islands, though distinctly different in character, have stunning scenery, abundant wildlife, varied terrain and are famed for malt whiskies, wintering geese, miles of sandy beaches and friendly locals.
The Isle of Luing is 16 miles south of Oban, and 3 hours from Glasgow. A beautiful island with a strong and caring community, Luing measures some six miles long by one-and-a-half wide and lies north-south across the mouth of Loch Melfort on the Argyll coast. It is generally low lying, with a maximum height of about 300 feet, and has a population of around 200.
Easdale is a small island in Argyll on the west coast of Scotland, 16 miles south of Oban. Easdale has no cars, roads or street lamps. The island has a population of around sixty people and is the smallest permanently inhabited island of the Inner Hebrides.The World Stone Skimming Championship has taken place annually in September on Easdale since 1997.
As part of the conference we have invited Paul Brannigan of the Ken Loach film The Angel’s Share. Brannigan plays new dad Robbie who, narrowly avoiding jail, vows to turn over a new leaf when a visit to a whisky distillery inspires him and his mates to seek a way out of their hopeless lives. It was a film recommended to me by Detective Inspector John Carnochan who heads up the Scottish Violence Reduction Unit. He spoke at our Staff Conference last year and the staff were blown away by his stories. They were very touched by his story of David which, like in the film, shows what happens when the system fails a young boy from a very troubled background, and how the intergenerational cycle of poverty and deprivation is reaffirmed by the system.
Brannigan will be speaking about the importance of the home learning environment from his own personal experience, and how as a new Dad he wants to make sure he gives his son the best start in life. I suspect that, given his next film is with Scarlett Johansson, he is on target to succeed.
Paul is unusual however, and while few get to his giddy heights, he is admirable in wanting to speak up for parents who like him have had a challenging start and want to do their best for their children. Our staff conference this year will support the research which underpins the LEYF philosophy, namely that we only make an impact if we do things that create and embed cultural and social capital by changing the way parent’s help children learn at home.
At the recent summer NDNA conference, Professor Kathy Sylva revealed the findings of a research on parental engagement which she led with NDNA members (including some of our LEYF nurseries, as I am always keen to find ways to improve our parental engagement). The last piece of substantial research conducted in this area was done by Desforges and Aboucher in 2003. They had focused much more on needy parents and those parents who felt disempowered, lacked confidence and were failing to stimulate their children’s cognition and communication. These were generally parents with low aspirations for children’s future.
Since the expansion of the universal offer (which has a take–up of over 90%) and the increase of women in the work place, the range of parents coming to nursery has changed substantially. Nowadays, we have parents attending from all walks of life, and that brings with it changes in attitude and expectation. This was the very premise of this recent research, and I was keen to hear about the experiences of NDNA members across England with regards to a more modern understanding of parental engagement.
The first finding was that unlike Desforges, the largest and most powerful group of parents in this research were the well-educated, professional time poor parents. Unsurprisingly, however, the signs of satisfied and engaged parents – no matter what class, creed or social background – were feeling happy and content and able to have trust and confidence in the staff. According to the research, engaged parents have positive and reciprocal relationships, which allow open and grown-up communication, meaning parents can make suggestions for improvements but also listen to advice from staff; parents are equally willing to share information and work in partnership with the setting, are open to suggestions and remain keen to contribute.
The barriers to achieving this level of harmony focused a lot on the calibre of staff: parents were not pushing for more qualifications, but they did want staff who were mature, and with a level of emotional intelligence. They valued experience and an ability to communicate in ways that avoided jargon and unfriendly language. (Note to us all revising policies and procedures in light of the new EYFS!)
Interestingly, I think that was the point made in the Nutbrown Report; that higher level training and qualifications are more reliable ways of helping staff reach this level of competence (although, of course, only if they are taught by up to date, knowledgeable and interesting tutors).
What bothered staff was dealing with irritated or tired parents, and especially those who could not see the whole picture in the nursery and wanted action that was only self-serving. There was an acknowledgement that we needed training to improve some of the staff’s poor social skills which proves a barrier to communication. Interestingly, some of our LEYF staff recently completed the PEAL training as a baseline for understanding this critical relationship with parents; an experience that proved most worthwhile and so will now be built into the induction of all staff.
In summary, the research pointed to a number of solutions, and recommended that staff and settings:
- Are flexible. In other words, humane. Rules can be broken and chicken licken survived. Let’s not become another version of the computer says no.
- Communicate in many ways. There is a theory that to ensure we embed the message we need to use seven means of communication (diaries, posters, letters, texts, e-mails, etc…) It might remove the constant whine “I put a notice on the door but they never read anything…”
- Do not under-estimate the power of good staff management, beginning with a robust induction process and then having supervision, appraisals and training as a continual activity.
- Develop some assertiveness training to teach staff how to behave in a way that increases their confidence. Let’s avoid either the shrinking violet or the cocky madam.
- Be creative when it comes to emotional intelligence, finding as many ways as possible (such as coaching and mentoring) to help staff form, secure and manage relationships with parents. This will also benefit relationship with staff and improve the workplace.
- Check policies and procedures are robust and clear, but perhaps most importantly help strengthen the relationship with parents. (Don’t just use them as a rule book.)
- Use your website as an information tool so in the quiet of the night parents can log in and read about key childhood issues, from toilet training to language acquisition. (Things that matter and can really benefit the child’s happiness and development.)
- Think carefully about ways parents can engage, whether through management committees or parents forums. (Although a small note of caution here, as poorly managed forums can be a nightmare.)
Ultimately, if we are to get the important role of local nurseries out into the wide world, then parents are our best advocates. And so we need parents who are confident and empowered, along with staff who are secure about why and how they help parents balance high aspirations for their children with the importance of celebrating childhood.
I am very pleased to be able to represent LEYF as a member of Professor Cathy Nutbrown’s Expert Panel. The Panel is examining the standard and range of qualifications for those working in Early Years settings. It’s a hot topic and one that needs calm, rational and measured consideration. It’s also an issue that powerfully demonstrates that rhetoric and good intentions don’t always translate well into practice, and no solution will be perfect. And it further requires a steady and pragmatic hand which Cathy certainly has.
Before anyone gets excited about being called an expert, the actual reality of being on a panel is that you are expected to do some work and research an issue or two. At the last meeting, I agreed to examine the question of whether it is necessary for those entering the profession to have a grade C in GCSE Maths and English. In order to do it justice, I sought some support from my friend Sue, who put her considerable research skills to good use finding out whether or not having these grades leads to better teaching of the subjects, higher thinking skills and greater ability to apply abstract concepts in a range of situations. I also needed to know that if having a Grade C was essential, could we get everyone up to that standard through Continuing Professional Development (CPD), and would it create barriers to potential apprentices, trainees and other staff from diverse communities.
What we found was that although research from OECD and EPPE tells us that higher qualified staff offer a more reliable predictor of better quality – with a more positive impact on children’s future learning and development as a result – there is little data to securely support the correlation between the levels of formal qualifications in literacy and numeracy among Early Years practitioners and children’s achievements. The best we could find was the Millennium Cohort Study which stressed the links between quality of provision in a setting, the level of qualifications of the staff and the Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale (ECERS) analysed by subject, concluding that…
Continued priority needs to be given to strengthening the non-graduate early years workforce, who continue to make up the majority of staff. All practitioners need to have a clear grasp of how children’s understanding of mathematics develops; they need to be comfortable with mathematical language and able to support children’s play as outlined in the previous section on effective mathematical pedagogy.” Milleniun Cohort Study
The most interesting findings emphasised something our tutor for Key Skills previously said, namely how the psychological barrier people have created about Maths is often the greater hurdle to them getting a grade C. I recently saw this in action among a group of otherwise experienced LEYF staff who needed to get a grade C in Maths as part of their degrees; the level of anxiety this generated, despite us providing specialist workshops, was such that even a chocolate fest could not reduce the waves of panic in the room. (Not even the promise of our favourite Curly Wurly!) The lack of enthusiasm for Maths, often acquired from poor teaching, creates a self perpetuating cycle which flies in the face of the Williams Review(DCSF 2008a) which found that…
One of the distinctive features that support high quality mathematical learning includes practitioners’ enthusiasm for, understanding of, and confidence in, mathematics.” Williams Review
For those of us running nursery businesses, the lack of mathematical confidence has greater implications, given the need to grasp Maths in action through an ability to understand and manage occupancy, staff deployment, pricing and basic income and expenditure; all critical skills needed to keep the business going. (Sadly, I have seen far too many nurseries slip into disaster because of the manager’s inability to read the numbers.) And I know this statement will send Hitchcock shivers down the spines of some LEYF staff, in fact I’m sure most would much rather sit through the Director’s Cut of Psycho in a dark room on their own than do the books.
But if we see our job in Early Years as being the educators of the youngest children, and therefore needing to inculcate in them positive attitudes about Maths and literacy (especially Maths), then we have to look at the bigger picture and the costs to society. The CBI Education and Skills Survey 2011 reported that employers found widespread weaknesses in the core skills of their employees, with almost half reporting problems with literacy and numeracy. KPMG estimates that the cost to the public purse each year from failure to master basic numeracy skills is up to £2.4 billion.
So what to do? Luckily I am not Cathy Nutbrown, and my task was to merely present ideas and information, whilst Cathy gets to analyse and draw a conclusion. Still, she is ably assisted by our Civil Servants, who I am sure have all the relevant C grades. In the meantime, I suggest we all ensure we have regular planned Maths activities, lots of Maths in the routine and that we practise our timetables while we do our Pilates. If all fruit fails then watch Dara O Briain’s School of Hard Sums (formerly called ‘Dara O Briain’s University of Practical Mathematics’) where humour and numbers mix. Why not? Have a laugh, do a sum!
My Grandmother always said that a little of what you fancy does you good. Sadly, according to recent medical press, we are all too often unable to stop at a little and these days consume far too much of what we fancy. As a result, we are fast becoming one of the most overweight nations in the world, with all the health issues that accompany such obesity. Every week it seems there is a new report about the damaging effect of some familiar sugar laden food – the most recent being a link made between aggressive behaviour and fizzy drinks, and their tendency to heighten the risk of heart disease.
Of course, Children are particularly at risk, and given that prevention is better than a cure, I began to look at how nurseries might do their part to educate children and families about food by serving the best. Interestingly, despite all the TV coverage gained by Jamie Oliver with his admirable campaign to rid our schools of turkey twisslers, he rarely focused on the chefs and cooks actually preparing and serving the foods (aside from Nora, his trusty dinner lady). No effort was made to look into the qualifications available for chefs, which could be used to up the ante and go some way to ensuring and embedding high quality procurement, preparation, presentation and delivery of food to children, while also informing staff and parents of what makes healthy eating.
The history of chefs and cooks in both nurseries and schools tells a random tale, from those simply helping out as an interested parent to an agency chef from a local restaurant. Either way, most nursery staff will tell you that having a good chef – one who likes cooking for children and is both interested and motivated – is a joy and sadly not as commonplace as we would like!
When I began my research, what I soon found (though on a smaller scale) was not dissimilar to what Professor Cathy Nutbrown found about Early Years qualifications: a myriad of organically developed courses of varied quality with no core set of standards. The situation for chefs was worse inasmuch as there were generic qualifications which taught the basics, but no effort made to develop anything that would apply their knowledge to cooking specifically for children. CPD courses tended to focus on health and safety, food safety and manual handling – which though relevant did not lead to better teas and sauces or greater motivation and knowledge about what children love to eat.
Driven by this baffling discovery, I searched out individuals with similar interests and found a group of nutritionists, dieticians and others passionate to improve the food experience for small children. (At this point, the School Food Trust was focused unsurprisingly on schools, so Early Years had not been given any attention at all – despite national fears about obesity and heart disease amongst the young as a direct result of their awful diet.)
When I then surveyed the sector – including colleagues in Wales and Scotland – to see if there was any interest in a qualification for chefs in Early Years, the overwhelmingly positive response that came back led me to dip my toe into the deep and mysterious waters of national standards and qualifications development. And quite frankly, given the complexity of process and language, I am amazed so many qualifications exist! Fortunately for me, People 1st (the skills sector for hospitality) and City and Guilds fully understood what I was after and so supported my efforts – especially useful, since my learning curve included regular viewing of Master Chef, Saturday Kitchen and Two Hairy Bikers. (I liked these most of all, particularly as they could rustle up a good curry by the side of the road – no Curly Wurly breakfasts for them!)
On Monday, 19 March (tomorrow, as I write this), we hope to take the final step on the long ladder of getting approval of the draft National Standards in order to formulate a set of Level 3 Qualifications in Professional Cooking for Early Years Chefs. We will present the key elements of a qualification to employers and will be sharing the same premise as Professor Nutbrown, namely that employers must be able to tell what skills and knowledge they can expect when employing someone with that qualification. It will include everything from basic knife skills to a real understanding of child nutrition.
At the very least, I sincerely hope this single step will be one more to help professionalise a growing industry which exists to provide a support service to children and their families, and in so doing will show yet another critical added value we have to offer society.
Apparently recent research called Lessons for leaders from the people who Matter undertaken by Harris Interactive found that employees from across the globe think that one third of their bosses are ineffective, lack empathy and have poor leadership skills. What’s more, it states that employees would rather suffer a bad hangover, do housework or look at their credit card bill than sit through a performance discussion with their boss. Why? Because such a meeting will leave them with a big dent in their personal self-esteem.
The research also reported how employees would double their performance if they were working for their ‘best ever’ boss; scary statistics were quoted such as how an increase in motivation can go from 11% to 98% and high performance from 5% to 94% if employees had a really good boss.
Naturally enough, some employees (45%) said they could do a better job than their boss but they did not want to be a manager. (Too much stress, responsibility and pressure.) At the same time, 2 out every 5 employees left because of their manager. What really grieved these employees was managers failing to ask for ideas and input, limited work-related conversations and insufficient feedback on their performance leading to poor employee engagement.
In another quite separate report, the attributes of those leaders who consider themselves ‘truly gifted’ (despite being at the helm of failing companies) were identified as:
- They see themselves and their companies as dominating their environments, not simply responding to developments in those environments;
- They identify so completely with the company that there is no clear boundary between their personal interests and corporate interests;
- They seem to have all the answers, often dazzling people with the speed and decisiveness with which they can deal with challenging issues;
- They make sure that everyone is 100% behind them, ruthlessly eliminating anyone who might undermine their efforts;
- They are consummate company spokespersons, often devoting the largest portion of their efforts to managing and developing the company image;
- They treat intimidatingly difficult obstacles as temporary impediments to be removed or overcome;
- They never hesitate to return to the strategies and tactics that made them and their companies successful in the first.
Right! So how do we act on all of this to make sure everyone is happy at work, successful and performing to the best of their abilities?
As someone who wrote a book on leadership in 2009, as an attempt to understand its complexities, I have a great deal of sympathy for those brave souls who decided to go for management jobs. This in part is why we are always looking for ways to improve leadership at LEYF, from the perspectives of both managers and staff. And the issue is even more crucial when you consider the children at the mercy of our abilities everyday. (Well led Early Years settings lead to better outcomes for all children, hence our ambition to build a better future for London’s children.)
Either way, such research is always a good wake-up call (like when the mystery shopper comes calling). And so finding it makes the fact we are putting real effort into getting leadership right at LEYF even more reassuring – with a plan to roll out improved performance management systems to help managers lead and motivate their staff, whilst also trying hard to improve communication.
Of course, as a boss, I have sympathy with leaders and managers: it is a tough job, and quite a different one to being a nursery officer or teacher. So I am keen to move away from the traditional vertical approach to promotion, which often means staying on long enough to end up managing the setting by default. This is simply the wrong approach, since being a manager is a completely different job. Luckily for me, our managers respond well to the challenge of how to lead the fabulous LEYF curriculum, while running their nursery as a social enterprise. It’s a tough call.
I think our plan for LEYF leadership teams is the only way to go. Being a leader at the top of a pyramid is a lonely place, listening to the groaning of the Pharaoh ghosts trapped in their sarcophagus and with no one to talk to (not even Harrison Ford). As a CEO, I know this and I am grateful to have a supportive team who can be kind and helpful, but who also love to bring me back to reality. (Well, they try anyway!)
In my optimistic way, I would take a punt that leadership and management is much more successful at LEYF than this report would suggest. But at the same time, we can only keep it good if we keep our eye on the ball – keep engaging with staff and remember how easy it is for them to begin to feel disengaged.
For those who know me, it won’t surprise you to know that I obsess about LEYF all the time, as I want to ensure we give the highest and best quality to our children, staff and parents. For me, thinking, talking, listening, researching and praising are the watchwords of LEYF leadership. No one wants staff to leave because they dislike their managers. Instead, I want to make sure any LEYF staff that do leave retain warm and positive memories of their time with us, and so continue to promote what we do as they become the next leaders in their field.
(For those of you looking for further reading on the subject of happiness, you may find this report from the Young Foundation worth a look.)