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We would like to kick 2019 off by taking the opportunity to congratulate and celebrate the great leaders within our sector, no not those who make the headlines but all those ‘on the ground’ leaders we meet every day during our work. Leaders who have navigated relentlessly and successfully through the significant changes which have taken place within this sector because their raison d'être is always to put children first. Leaders who see an opportunity in every problem rather than a problem in every opportunity. Leadership in early years settings has and always will be a priority because of the link between high-calibre leaders such as those we speak of and better outcomes for young children.

Yes, the sector has gone through accelerated change but every day, we are delighted to meet leaders who face the challenges head on, recognise the deficiencies in our system, address them, advocate for change but don’t let it distract them from the ‘here and now’ and their day to day responsibility of providing the best possible learning opportunities for children. Today’s Children cannot wait for the inadequacies of our early years infrastructure to be resolved. They have one childhood.

These leaders have a genuine interest in children and drive forward, face reality but maintain positive, learn by their own mistakes and do everything they can to deliver a high-quality service within their own setting in the ‘here and now’. These professionals don’t make excuses but look to themselves on how they can make a difference to that one child who is struggling and needs an advocate, needs someone to step forward for them.

Leadership is about providing direction and exercising influence and being able to inspire others. It is about having a clear vision, thinking creatively, having a problem-solving “can-do” approach to difficulties and a commitment to partnership. More specifically in the early years sector leadership is about leading a team of people, leading learning opportunities for children and leading change and innovation.

When we lead a team of professionals, we give them a sense of purpose and a clear direction yet at the same time we give them ownership and autonomy which allows them to grow, develop and learn. For an early years’ service to flourish the leader needs to find ways to unlock the potential in each individual. Success is about being demanding, having high standards, having clear objectives but supporting each individual to meet the goals and stretching them in the process. A successful leader has confidence but is also self-critical and demonstrates that learning from mistakes is acceptable and is part of the self-development process. Leading a team of others also involves developing a culture that rewards success and develops personal accountability that is supported by collective responsibility.

Leading ‘Learning’ is the ability to inspire others by helping them reflect on their professional practice, develop a strong philosophy and belief so that they have a deep understanding of their values and how they fit with the setting’s values and commitment. The leader will make children’s learning, development and wellbeing the core focus, address children’s rights, celebrate diversity and with their team develop an ethical culture of enquiry

A strong leader leads innovation and can ‘think outside the box’. He/she can be creative and see and do things differently. He/she plans with imagination, purpose and originality and will be outcomes driven. An innovative leader is a risk taker, is willing to take that bold step or unconventional approach while others stand-by or look for reasons not to do it.

Our hope for this sector is that within the next number of years the early years infrastructure becomes worthy of the people within it. We hope that the leaders we are thinking about eventually reap the rewards of their commitment and dedication by benefiting from proper meaningful investment and remuneration that reflects their profession and values their extraordinary contribution to children’s lives.