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Early Years Leadership in Challenging Times

Written By Dr. Sarah Rogers

I believe being a leader in the early years has always been the best job in the education sector. For me, it’s the most rewarding to see how we can make a difference as we watch young children grow and develop. The delight of working with young children reminds us of the awe and wonder of the world every day. No two days are the same, and we always learn from the children around us.  However, it’s not for the faint-hearted. Long hours, year-round care, and undervalued within the education sector in terms of pay and status, leading an early years team is certainly not to be seen as an easy option. To be successful as an early years leader, practitioners need to have a passion and a belief in the essential nature of the education they enable young children to have, to underpin their knowledge and expertise in early years which is vital to promoting the best outcomes for every child.

This past year has of course been particularly challenging across the world. Perhaps one of the hardest things has been how the pandemic has forced early years practitioners to work in a way they knew wasn’t most beneficial to young children. The best early years enabling environments allow children the freedom to choose, the liberty to move around, investigate the world, ask questions and satisfy their curiosity by trying and testing in a hands-on way. Being with knowledgeable adults who can respond to their needs, supporting and scaffolding their learning within trusting relationships, has always allowed children to have the best early learning experiences. When asked ‘ what is it like for a child in this setting?’ the confident knowledgeable leader knows that they have enabled their staff to provide the best learning environment, and the answer to that question reflects their values and beliefs about the nature of best early years practice. The last year it has been much more challenging for all early years practitioners but especially for leaders as they try to support children, families and staff while providing an environment that has been restricted by the need to be Covid secure.

The past year has meant great change for us all, but I also think it has shown the resilience of the early years and the necessity of  knowledgeable adults and a supportive team. Historically, early years settings have had the most flexible educational frameworks; we have always had more space to use our professional knowledge if we choose to use it and put what we know is right for children at the forefront of our practice. I think that this year has shown just how great the early years has been at adapting to the pandemic conditions while keeping the child at the centre of everything we do. I have heard of many innovative practices that have developed as a response to the changing conditions to support children’s emotional and physical development. But this is nothing new. Effective early years leadership has always been proactive and supportive of adapting practice to  meet children’s needs.

This can only be achieved by a professionally trained workforce who get the support and recognition they deserve. In all of this, the positive news is the greater appreciation from parents and recognition from the wider society that good early years provision is not just necessary for children’s wellbeing and learning but also for families, especially mothers, if they are to be able to access the workforce. Now is the time to reflect on the changes and challenges and move forward in a positive way. Forced change makes us innovators and I think the best early years leaders recognize that. The most effective leaders have always recognized the need for qualified knowledgeable staff who have the tools and confidence to adapt their practice.  Effective early years leaders share their vision, articulating it through what they do and enabling their staff to do so too, supporting children and their families to build firm foundations for the future. We must all invest in the future of good early years provision. Now is the time for early years leaders to share their values and beliefs about best practices by ensuring that they have a qualified workforce to put these values and beliefs into practice. Leaders must work together as we settle into a new normal, to ensure that all educators are trained and supported throughout their career, and that early years is a career that is valued and supported by all, at all times, not just in times of extreme challenges.

Dr. Sarah Rogers is the founder, owner and CEO of Quest, the leading NCFE/CACHE centre in the Middle East for courses for early years teachers and teaching assistants. She is an expert in early years best practice and promotes the need for quality training to enable educators to provide the best outcomes for all young children. Long and short courses are held in Dubai and online. For further information visit or contact Pam at