Creating and developing a sustainable early years setting is not just about money, as important as that is, but requires leaders and managers to focus on all areas of the organisation.
The diversity of provision and the current financial climate means there is no single recipe for success.
Effective leadership, financial management, marketing and developing high quality provision, are all crucial and connected pieces of what might be called ‘the sustainability jigsaw’.
Effective leadership and management
Great leadership is about creating relationships with the team and inspiring them to go ‘above and beyond’ their own expectations. In order to initiate and sustain this, it is important to develop a vision. Crucial to the development of a vision is exploring organisational values, such as caring and integrity, valuing creativity and problem solving, respecting honesty and trusting each other, and committing to excellence.
Settings should aim to create a learning culture where individuals take responsibility for their development in partnership with leaders and managers. It is crucial to recognise the need to develop staff team members, so they are fully equipped to deliver the setting’s vision.
Successfully managing the finances of any business requires well-defined systems and regular reviews. Accurate and timely financial management information will inform the business, strategic and operational decision making.
For example, careful budgeting and managing cash flow will inform plans with regards to staffing, marketing and the delivery of services. By looking regularly at their current financial position settings can ensure that everything runs smoothly.
Whilst it may be thought that offering services at a low cost will drive demand, a higher fee to reflect the improved services may also make good business sense, where high quality provision is provided.
Having a sense of what other local early years settings charge, in addition to what they provide for that fee will also assist with marketing activities.
Marketing and communications
Effective marketing is an essential tool to help fill current childcare places and continue to attract new customers in the future and ultimately support a sustainable childcare business. This includes understanding market research, to provide an insight into the market, trends and customers; identifying unique selling points, to highlight what makes the service more attractive than its competitors; and creating a brand to ensure the setting is easily recognised and presented in a professional, distinctive and consistent way.
High quality provision and practice
The contributory perspectives and factors which lead to definitions of high quality early years provision are complex, but certain elements have been identified as having the greatest impact on the quality of provision.
Structural quality relates to factors that are more easily observed, measured and regulated, such as group size, staff:child ratios, staff retention, qualification levels and professional development.
Process quality captures children’s day-to-day experiences and includes the educational activities undertaken, the types of interactions between children, teachers and parents, and the way in which routine care needs are met.
Quality improvement is a continuous process embedded in everyday practice, only limited by a setting’s capacity to improve and, most importantly, by the ability of staff and management teams to reflect upon their own thoughts and actions. In doing so, settings can evaluate their provision, recognising areas for improvement and take full ownership of strategies implemented to bring about change. Quality improvement then becomes a continuous journey, fuelled by reflective practice.
Considering all of these four ‘pieces’ of the jigsaw together will support the ongoing viability of the setting.
For more valuable insights you can't afford to miss...
Leading and managing a setting is an incredibly demanding job in itself, particularly when delivering high quality services without sufficient funding. However, it is just as important for settings to work on their organisation in a strategic sense, as it is in an operational way.
New Alliance publication Operating a Viable Early Years Provision outlines the various elements of the sustainability jigsaw.
Drawing on robust management tools, it focuses on the development of a series of processes to support leaders and managers to take stock of the current position and lays out important planning steps for managers, owners, directors and trustees.
Guidance is provided on the importance of becoming a values-led organisation, improving planning and decision making, undertaking a break-even analysis, a shared vision of high quality for the setting, and much, much more!
Order Operating a Viable Early Years Provision by 30 September, quoting VIA919 and get 20% off
Nathan Archer, Early Years Alliance (Ref: A112) £13.65 members, £19.50 non-members