Some heads of early education centres have excessive large areas to manage – Renewing early childhood education and care takes time
In recent years, early childhood education and care (ECEC) has seen major legislative amendments and curriculum updates. As new objectives have been set for early childhood education and care, some of the practices in ECEC centres and family day care have changed. ECEC management plays a key role in successfully mainstreaming reforms in the daily life of ECEC units.
The Finnish Education Evaluation Centre (FINEEC) has evaluated the management structures and management of Finnish early childhood education and care as well as the process of updating local ECEC curricula and their introduction in units.
FINEEC will published two ECEC evaluation reports on 31 October 2023:
- Work of the head of early education centre: Management areas, deputy management structures, and expectations placed on the head's work
- Implementation of local ECEC curricula at early education centres and in family day care
Data for the evaluation of ECEC management were collected from heads of municipal and private early education centres by means of a survey and group interviews. In a survey addressed to early education centre heads, 1,429 responses were received from 245 municipalities in Mainland Finland, whereas 54 heads of early education centres from 41 municipalities participated in group interviews. Data for evaluating the implementation of local ECEC curricula was collected by addressing surveys to heads of early education centres working in municipal and private units as well as early education centre staff and family day care providers. Responses were received from 334 heads of early education centres, 1,847 staff members and 642 family day care providers.
Heads of early education centres find some of the areas they manage too large
The evaluation examining ECEC management discovered that some heads of early education centres found their management areas excessively large. Heads who managed a large number of staff and several different units were more likely to say that they struggled to cope with their management area. The evaluation results indicate that the working hours of heads of large ECEC units were mainly spent on day-to-day management, shift planning and finding substitutes.
“As the working hours of the heads of large ECEC units are mainly spent on the day-to-day management of multiple units, less attention is paid to many other areas of the head's tasks. These areas include long-term development of pedagogy and maintaining an operating culture that supports high-quality early childhood education and care in ECEC centres”, says Julia Kuusiholma-Linnamäki, Senior Evaluation Advisor.
The evaluation found that attempts have often been made to resolve the issues in the management of large ECEC units by assigning some of the head's tasks to deputy or assistant heads of different units. Management by deputy or assistant heads should be a support structure for the early education centre head’s work, not a means of solving the challenges posed by large management areas. The evaluation found that pedagogical and HR management were emphasised in deputy heads’ tasks in units. However, most deputy heads mainly work with child groups, and not enough time has been allocated to management tasks.
“Early childhood education and care has recently seen significant legislative amendments and curriculum updates. The evaluation indicates that heads managing large content areas do not have an opportunity to provide their personnel with the kind of support they would need when faced with changing objectives of early childhood education and care and challenges related to personnel availability”, Kuusiholma-Linnamäki stresses.
Heads of early education centres are expected to have strong competence that combines expertise in ECEC pedagogy and management. In addition to limiting their task areas, the heads should be supported in building their expertise by means of systematic initial education and staff training.
Renewing ECEC takes time and joint discussions
The evaluation focusing on ECEC curriculum updates found that the reform brought about by a legislative amendment relating to support for children has got well underway in many early education centres and family day care providers. In addition to delivering support for children, the amendments concerned stronger emphasis on inclusion in the underlying values of early childhood education and care. The importance of inclusive early childhood education and care (ECEC in which every child can participate) was already emphasised in earlier documents guiding early childhood education and care. However, the concept of inclusion remains unclear for the staff.
“The work community's understanding of the objectives, contents and practices of early childhood education and care is of primary importance for maintaining ECEC quality. Joint discussions must be conducted on the updated objectives of the work. However, the respondents stated in the evaluation that the changes were carried through over an unnecessarily short period of time. Mainstreaming the new objectives in daily activities takes time”, emphasises Lassi Kannel, Senior Evaluation Advisor at FINEEC.
According to the participating respondents, the principles of inclusive ECEC are realised well in practice in most units. However, the evaluation found that delivering worldview education and getting to know the cultural backgrounds of children attending a child group created challenges. The evaluation findings indicate that it is important to pay attention to the delivery of worldview education and diversity themes in a child group’s activities and in the provision of initial education and staff training. Supporting the competence of ECEC staff is about broader competence management in ECEC:
“Coordination of competence management should cover all levels of early childhood education and care, starting with national decision-making. Possibilities for participating in training should be secured for all ECEC staff members, ensuring that participation in training and improving their competence are a natural part of the work”, Kannel stresses.
The evaluation findings will be published at a webinar organised by FINEEC on Tuesday, 31 October at 12:00–15:30.
- Kuusiholma-Linnamäki, J., Sarkkinen, T., Vlasov, J., Fonsén, E., Heikkinen, S., Hjelt, H., Lahtinen, J., Lohi, N., Mäkelä, M. & Siippainen, A. 2023. Work of the head of early education centre: Management areas, deputy management structures, and expectations placed on the head's work. Finnish Education Evaluation Centre FINEEC. Publications 29/2023.
- Kannel, L., Kuusiholma-Linnamäki, J., Harju-Luukkainen, H., Heiskanen, N., Kulmala, V. & Kuusisto, A. 2023. Implementation of local ECEC curricula at early education centres and in family daycare. Finnish Education Evaluation Centre FINEEC. Publications 28/2023.
Senior Evaluation Advisor
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