Tim Hopkins from Humpty Dumpty Day Nurseries and Preschools (Humpties) in Staffordshire cares deeply about the welfare of children. That’s why he’s working hard to keep providing the best possible environment for local preschoolers.
Tim has two children of his own and is an early years trustee and governor. Tim says he is driven by “wanting to help kids to love learning” as much as he does, and to provide more support for disadvantaged young people. In fact, his company has been offering free placements to Ukrainian refugee children.
Quality early years leadership can prevent a learning gap
According to the Educational Policy Institute (2020), the disadvantage gap starts early. Children growing up in disadvantage are, on average, 4.6 months behind their peers at the end of the Early Years Foundation Stage.
The Department for Education (DfE) has recognised that high-quality early education training is essential to improve outcomes for children. That’s why, in 2022, it launched the National Professional Qualification in Early Years Leadership (NPQEYL).
Tim’s love of learning and child welfare led him to join Ambition Institute’s first cohort of the NPQEYL delivered in partnership with John Taylor Teaching School Hub.
He signed up for his own professional development and to build a deeper understanding of the early years foundation stage at Humpties.
“I don’t actually hold a formal early years qualification other than my primary education degree,” says Tim. “So the opportunity to do some extra study and to get into the thick of what early years is, as a whole, was really great.”
The training provides an evidence-based foundation for practitioners to become an expert in early years leadership and is designed to help participants develop their expertise of what high-quality early years education and care looks like. In doing so, it explores the factors that affect child development, such as the importance of a positive culture.
The training also provides practical knowledge of how to lead and manage in an early years setting, including how to create the conditions for staff and children to thrive.
Professional development with a big impact
Tim talks passionately about the training and found the content inspiring and diverse. “The material has been very carefully selected and was really enjoyable. I read everything that I could. It’s very well researched and looks at best practice within an early years setting which has been amazing.”
Like the other National Professional Qualifications (NPQs) on offer, the programme covers core subject areas including the implementation of research, culture and professional development. However, the NPQEYL also focuses on aspects of effective early education such as child development, play and early literacy.
He also says the NPQ has boosted his confidence. “In my trustee role, I’ve delivered my first live presentation for people in the early years sector since starting the programme. The NPQ gave me the confidence to do that – to know that what I say might be valuable.”
Learning to prioritise what matters
Whilst only halfway through his NPQEYL, learnings from the programme have already helped Tim make important decisions in his role as Strategic Development Manager. “Our very first module was all about implementation, which was something I had thought our teams did very well,” he says.
The NPQ referred to the planning stage of projects and making sure the right implementation team is in place. This, along with learning more about cognitive load (the amount of information our working memory can process at any one time) on the programme, sparked Tim’s decision to drop one of the two big projects earmarked to start at Humpties this year.
Instead, he focused his energies solely on the one he saw as most important – an initiative called My Happy Mind. The benefits of the project, which encourages self-discovery, are far more significant because of the time and space given to it, he says.
“I think it’s had a bigger impact on our children, their families and the staff teams than if we had tried to forge ahead with two projects,” he explains. “We were going to run another project at the same time. But then I started to learn more about cognitive load and implementation and I realised that I needed to focus my staff's efforts on one priority area at a time.”
“It meant that, for the leaders and practitioners who I hoped would take the lead with these sorts of projects, two things would have been too much for them, and they wouldn’t have been able to give it their all.”
Gaining and giving support where it’s needed
Tim says the pacing of the programme has worked well for him and he has found the workload manageable with support from his directors.
“I haven’t seen it as workload though,” he says. “I’ve seen it as something that’s been really enjoyable. I’ve been genuinely impressed with both John Taylor Teaching School Hub and Ambition Institute. I don’t think I could have wanted any more from the programme.”
He’s hopeful that the benefits will continue with other colleagues going on the programme in the future. “The impact will then be even bigger for children in our area because colleagues will find their own passions for the different modules and make their own unique explorations,” he enthuses.
The programme has also ignited Tim’s vision for where he might want to go next on his professional development journey. He’s had a strong interest in wellbeing from the outset, creating family support sessions in the nursery, employing a wellbeing manager at his company for staff and child mental health, and launching My Happy Mind. Now he’s keen to work in a more focused way with those who need support the most.
“I’ve started to look into my future development and ideally it would involve working with children who would be classified as vulnerable and their families.”
For now, backed up by his growing knowledge and understanding gained through the NPQEYL training, Tim will continue with the programme while working to make sure children and his staff benefit from these initiatives.