New NPQ framework for early years leaders: four reasons to be excited

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Date published 06 May 2022

Ambition early years expert Rebecca Curtis reflects on early years leadership provision and explores the new NPQEYL.

For too many years, early years leaders across the diverse range of settings providing education and care for children under the age of five have struggled to access high quality leadership training which is tailored specifically to the uniqueness of their role.

“...there are still a majority of early years ‘leaders,’ represented in around 30,000 pre-school settings, whose specific training needs are not currently being (collectively) met.” ELEYS (2007)

The Department for Education (DfE) has recognised the need of a national qualification for early years leaders, and as part of the reformed NPQs, they have produced one of the biggest developments to early years training we’ve seen in years – a brand new leadership framework specific to those leading in early years settings. The new National Professional Qualification in Early Years Leadership, or NPQEYL, will provide an evidence-based scaffold for practitioners to keep getting better.

We know that effective leadership is key to improved provision. We also know that that high quality early years provision plays a positive role in both raising attainment for all children, and closing the gap between outcomes for children from disadvantaged backgrounds and their peers. In fact, research by the Education Policy Institute has found that 40% of the attainment gap is already evident by the age of five, making early years settings crucial for excellent, high-quality education and care.

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At Ambition, our vision is an education system where every child can thrive no matter what their background, and to help attain this vision, we are committed to helping all educators and leaders to keep getting better. Therefore, we are delighted to be a provider of the National Professional Qualification for Early Years Leadership.

In this blog, I’ll look at four reasons to look forward to this exciting new NPQ.

1. Specific to leaders of all early years settings

This new National Professional Qualification seeks to map out what best practice means for early years leadership, in a move that takes these frameworks away from a more generic approach to leadership.

Leadership professional development has often focused on personal traits, such as the qualities of dynamic and charismatic leadership. Early years leaders have been somewhat overlooked, with previous leadership professional development focusing on what it meant to lead a school rather than early years provision. The reformed NPQs pay less attention to generic management and leadership style, and instead focus on the knowledge and skills that leaders need to tackle the persistent problems of their daily roles. The Early Years Leadership NPQ considers the knowledge and expertise needed specifically for this sector.

The programme is organised around areas of leadership that are all specific to the early years context, attending to both the specialist areas like child development, and approaches to setting improvement like professional development. This means every part of the reformed NPQs is as relevant to early years settings as possible.

The leadership areas covered by the frameworks are:

  • Culture
  • Child Development
  • Curriculum and assessment
  • Additional and special educational needs and disabilities
  • Professional development
  • Organisational management
  • Implementation
  • Working in partnership

The framework for early years leadership aligns with those for senior leadership, headship and executive leadership, whilst being early years specific. This commonality provides the ‘golden thread’ of learning by which a leader can continue developing their knowledge and expertise as they move through their career.

2. Focus on knowledge

The framework is set out as a series of ‘learn that…’ and ‘learn how to…’ statements that emphasise what knowledge and skills are most critical to early years leadership. This is to ensure early years leaders are secure in the formal knowledge that is required in early childhood care and education, such as the impact of approaches to children’s personal, social and emotional development on children’s behaviour. They also provide practical knowledge of how to lead and manage in an early years setting, such as how to create the conditions for staff and children to thrive.

If you want to learn more about why we think developing leaders’ knowledge matters, read our hidden knowledge of experts blog.

"This has the potential to reduce the inequality in education that many young people from disadvantaged backgrounds still face."

3. Breadth qualifications

The leadership NPQ frameworks are longer than their specialist counterparts, covering more areas, and addressing the complex and multi-faceted work in early years settings. Leaders require a well-rounded view of early years leadership and a clear understanding of how the different areas of early years setting leadership interact.

The breadth of areas covered by the frameworks – from ‘culture’ through to ‘organisational management’ – provides an opportunity for leaders to fill any knowledge gaps that may have arisen by following different career paths. Studying such a wide range of leadership areas is also great preparation for practitioners who may be thinking about progressing into more senior and strategic roles in the early years setting, such as nursey manager or head of Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS).

4. Drawn from a common evidence base

All of the NPQ frameworks have been developed by looking at a wide evidence base including how children develop and learn, what impacts their behaviour, and what makes effective professional development for practitioners and leaders. The NPQEYL framework was devised in conjunction with experts in the field to ensure that it meets the unique demands of providing leadership in this sector.

This common evidence base is a major part of the ‘golden thread’, which will bring a shared terminology and experience to the national conversation on leadership development for all educators. This has the potential to reduce the inequality in education that many young people from disadvantaged backgrounds still face.

If you’re an early years practitioner who is qualified at level 3 or above, and you’re a leader or aspiring leader of early years education and care for children aged between birth and five years old, find out more about Ambition’s NPQEYL here.

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Rebecca Curtis
Learning Design Fellow and former early years teacher and leader

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