4. Leadership and management in early childhood education and care centres

Leadership is key to supporting and sustaining quality in early childhood education and care (ECEC) settings and for creating a stimulating environment for both staff and children. Effective leadership establishes a set of organisational conditions that positively influence process quality, working conditions and staff engagement in continuous professional learning and growth (Melhuish et al., 2006[1]; Muijs et al., 2004[2]). Thereby, effective leadership fosters children’s learning, development and well-being (Douglass, 2019[3]). As found in Chapter 3, support from leaders can mitigate stress that may emerge from various areas of staff’s work, such as accommodating children with special needs, working with a large group of children, documenting children’s development and administrative work.

The first volume of the Starting Strong Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS Starting Strong 2018) provided a first picture of the main characteristics of leaders in ECEC settings and their views on the sector (OECD, 2019[4]),1 describing the demographic and educational background of centre leaders, as well as their perceptions of the quality of their work environment. Among others, the first volume examined sources of stress, barriers to effective leadership and centre leaders’ training for their job. Many questions, however, remain in understanding what ECEC centre leadership looks like across diverse settings and contexts.

The objective of this chapter is to learn more about leadership in ECEC centres and its relationship with a centre’s vision and culture, processes and organisation as well as staff professional learning and working conditions, all of which are in turn related to centre’s process quality. The chapter also seeks to shed light on how policy can best foster and support effective leadership. TALIS Starting Strong provides information on multiple aspects of centre leadership: the responsibilities of leaders for different decisions; the time leaders spend on different tasks; their interactions with staff and the way they view their own leadership; and how staff perceive leaders on a number of dimensions. This chapter delves into the various aspects of centre leadership and discusses how they vary both across and within countries.

Following the literature, this chapter analyses leadership in the ECEC sector along two main dimensions: the functions (or roles) and the structures of leadership (Douglass, 2017[5]). The functions of leadership refer to the various tasks within ECEC centres that require leadership, such as administration and human resource management, but also guidance and support to staff with the content of their work, such as their pedagogical practices with children. The structures of leadership relate to the way leadership is exercised, either by a formal leader in a rather hierarchical way, or by other staff or actors who can participate in decisions in a distributive or shared manner.

This chapter aims to:

  • characterise the main aspects of centre leadership in terms of responsibilities, functions and structures; analyse how they vary according to centre and leader characteristics; and examine how functions and structures relate to each other

  • analyse how centre leaders foster the professional learning and growth of staff and create supportive working conditions for them

  • analyse how different leadership functions and structures relate to staff’s sense of self-efficacy and staff practices with children and parents at the centre level

  • examine how leadership functions differ depending on the level of resources and the characteristics of the children across ECEC centres

  • discuss policy implications and policy levers to strengthen centre leadership and to make the most of centre leaders in the ECEC sector.

Leadership has many different meanings. In essence, leadership is about influencing change, relationships or actions to achieve a shared purpose or goal for an organisation or a system (Douglass, 2019[3]). While formal job profiles and requirements differ across countries, centre leaders are typically expected to manage budgets and other resources, and to promote a quality learning environment, for example by facilitating professional collaboration among staff (Figure 4.1). As part of their many functions, centre leaders typically also interact with children themselves and may take part in learning and play. Together, the different functions require a broad range of leadership skills and competencies, from an understanding of children’s learning and development to knowledge of staff and financial management.

Research defines ECEC leadership as encompassing two main broad functions: administrative and pedagogical. While administrative leadership refers, among others, to tasks related to the management of operations, strategic planning and staff management, pedagogical leadership is the leadership needed to support pedagogical processes through tasks such as promoting the implementation of curriculum and assessment, creating trusting relationships, and supporting the professional growth of staff (Douglass, 2019[3]). Long-standing research has stressed the importance of the pedagogical function, in particular (OECD, 2019[6]). However, leadership is always contingent upon the context of specific settings (Aubrey, Godfrey and Harris, 2012[7]), and more administrative and management-oriented tasks, such as building organisational routines, are at times, equally important (Liebowitz and Porter, 2019[8]; Grissom and Loeb, 2011[9]). For the ECEC sector, specifically, a study from South Africa found the quality of administrative leadership to be one of the main predictors of quality, before factors such as the child-staff ratio or staff qualifications (Biersteker et al., 2016[10]). In the United States, a study found that both pedagogical and administrative leadership are significantly correlated with the level of quality attained in ECEC centres (Dennis and O’Connor, 2013[11]).

In addition to these two functions of administrative and pedagogical leadership, this chapter also considers two other functions following the conceptual framework of TALIS Starting Strong: 1) engagement with parents; and 2) engagement with the community and partnerships with other services (Sim et al., 2019[12]). Both aspects, and the co-ordination between different actors, appear to be particularly important for leadership in the ECEC sector to maximise opportunities for all children (Muijs et al., 2004[2]).

  • Engagement with parents is a key part of process quality in ECEC centres, and has been shown to be strongly associated with children’s later academic success, socio-emotional development and adaptation in society (OECD, 2011[13]; Sylva et al., 2004[14]; Van Voorhis et al., 2013[15]). Good communication between parents and ECEC staff is critical in enhancing the knowledge of ECEC staff about the children they work with and in ensuring the continuity of learning for children at home.

  • Engagement with the community and partnerships with other services for children and their families can help provide a holistic approach to child development. Different services, such as formal ECEC providers, day care, health services and other child services, can work together to create a continuum of services that is reassuring for parents and beneficial for young children (OECD, 2011[13]). Co-operation between ECEC centres and other community services can also be fundamental for smoothing transitions between different early childhood settings and from early childhood education and care to primary school, both of which can influence children’s school trajectories and lead to future positive outcomes (OECD, 2017[16]).

Of course, these different functions are not necessarily clear cut and specific tasks related to them may overlap. For instance, both administrative and pedagogical leadership functions include tasks related to the management of staff, be it on a more administrative or more pedagogical level. Similarly, tasks for engaging parents and the community are closely linked with pedagogical and administrative leadership.

These leadership functions may be structured in different ways. One can generally distinguish between two types of structures, although there is a continuum of structures between them. Functions can be exercised by a formal centre leader alone or may be distributed among a leadership team or shared with ECEC staff. For example, staff may lead staff development activities and family engagement efforts, or support curriculum development (Douglass, 2019[3]). Leadership therefore does not necessarily reside in a formal position or the authority of a single person. Rather, leadership can be practiced by different actors and be conceptualised as an organisational quality as well (Aubrey, Godfrey and Harris, 2012[7]; Spillane, Halverson and Diamond, 2004[17]). This is often referred to as distributed, shared, collective or relational leadership, in contrast to a hierarchical structure (Douglass, 2019[3]). This chapter analyses leadership along these two main structures.

Only a few studies have rigorously evaluated the impact of leadership on ECEC quality and/or outcomes for children (for a review, see Douglass (2019[3])). These studies suggest that leadership influences a set of practices that may have a positive impact on children’s learning, development and well-being. Leadership can directly affect the quality of the interactions between staff, children and parents, for instance when leaders engage with parents in complement to the interactions between staff and parents. Leadership can also indirectly impact the quality of these interactions by supporting staff professional development, establishing a positive work climate, and creating structures to enable staff to collaborate and plan for improvement (OECD, 2018[18]; Dennis and O’Connor, 2013[11]; Lower and Cassidy, 2007[19]). Leaders may moreover have an impact on process quality through their own actions, but also by providing a range of supports for staff leadership (Sebastian, Allensworth and Huang, 2016[20]; Whalen et al., 2016[21]). These various links between leadership and process quality are studied in this chapter, as featured by the analytical framework.

To this end, different indicators have been developed for this chapter on the basis of the items available in the TALIS Starting Strong survey and questionnaire (Box 4.1).

When considering the leadership and management of ECEC centres, it is important to have an understanding of centre leaders’ responsibilities and autonomy. Leaders’ level and scope of autonomy over key dimensions of management shape the organisation and operation of their centre. At the same time, the range of tasks that centre leaders are expected to fulfil, together with the supports and resources that they have available, such as secretarial staff, also influence the kind of competencies that are required from centre leaders and centre leaders’ working conditions and effectiveness in fulfilling those tasks.

The first volume of TALIS Starting Strong highlighted the key role of centre leaders and/or other members of staff in shaping centre staffing and budgeting (OECD, 2019[4]). This section extends the analysis to consider a wider range of tasks (curriculum and policies, i.e. pedagogy, and staffing and budgeting, i.e. resources) and discusses how responsibilities are shared across actors. Leaders were asked who has significant responsibility for a number of tasks. This information is used to indicate whether centre leaders (and staff) have: full autonomy for a specific task; partial autonomy, i.e. sharing responsibilities with their governing board and/or responsible authority; or no autonomy for a task.

Based on this indicator of centre autonomy, centre leaders have considerably more influence over pedagogical tasks related to the curriculum or policy than for resource-related tasks, such as staffing or budgeting (Figure 4.2). Whereas more than 80% of centres at the pre-primary level, on average across participating countries, have full autonomy for choosing the materials/toys used or the activities that are offered to the children in their centre, this is only true for 46% of centres when it comes to appointing staff and for 35% when it comes to deciding on budget allocations within the centre. Establishing staff salaries, which is often part of wider collective bargaining agreements and processes, is the task over which centre leaders and/or other members of staff have the least influence.

Of course, there are differences between countries in the level of centre autonomy. In Denmark (with low response rates), Germany and Norway, for example, a comparatively large share of centre leaders at pre-primary level and in centres for children under age 3 share responsibilities with their provider, governing board or another authority for resource-related tasks, such as appointing or dismissing staff. In Chile and Turkey, a relatively high share of leaders report having no autonomy in some pedagogy-related tasks, such as deciding which activities are offered and which materials/toys are used (Table C.4.1.).

To get a better sense of the range of tasks leaders are responsible for, a separate indicator has been created. This indicator provides a measure of the scope of autonomy, by estimating the percentage of ECEC centres whose leaders and/or members of staff have full autonomy in the majority of tasks for resources and pedagogy. That is, the indicator shows the share of leaders with full autonomy in at least three of the four tasks related to resources and pedagogy, respectively (Figure 4.3). In terms of resource-related tasks, in Japan and Korea, at least one in two centre leaders report having full autonomy in the majority of tasks, while the same is true for about one in five centre leaders in Chile and Iceland. In terms of pedagogy-related tasks, more than 75% of pre-primary leaders in Germany, Iceland, Japan and Korea, as well as leaders of centres for children under age 3 in Germany and Norway have full autonomy in a majority of tasks. In Israel, a considerable difference can be observed between centre leaders at pre-primary level and in centres for children under age 3, which seem to have more autonomy for centre resources and pedagogy. This is likely related to split governance arrangements, as each sector is managed by a different authority.

To examine differences in levels of autonomy between publicly and privately managed centres,2 the following considers only whether centre leaders report having significant responsibility for a specific task or not, irrespective of the influence of other authorities over these tasks. This provides an aggregate measure for comparing levels of influence for centres and their leaders, which considers both full autonomy and partial autonomy. Leaders in privately managed centres report significantly higher levels of responsibility (whether alone or shared with others) for staff and budget-related tasks as well as for the admission of children to their centre (Figure 4.4). Responsibilities for choosing the materials/toys used or the activities offered to the children in their centre and for establishing monitoring plans for children’s development, well-being and learning are similar across sectors and across participating countries.

When asked about their level of dissatisfaction with their level of influence over hiring staff, with the exception of Korea, leaders of publicly managed centres reported higher levels of dissatisfaction in all countries at pre-primary level (Figure 4.5). In Denmark (with low response rates) and Norway, however, this difference is not statistically significant. There are also no statistically significant differences in centres for children under age 3 in any participating country. In Israel and Turkey, at least one in two pre-primary leaders (publicly and privately managed centres) are dissatisfied with their influence over staff recruitment. In both countries, leaders report having low levels of autonomy in this particular aspect.

Leaders in the ECEC sector are often required to take on many roles in their centres. As discussed in the analytical framework for this chapter (see Figure 4.1), this encompasses the following essential functions: administrative leadership, engagement with the community, pedagogical leadership and engagement with parents. This part of the chapter analyses how ECEC centre leaders distribute their time across these different functions, the frequency and/or extent to which they or their centres engage in related tasks and activities, and how staff perceive leaders in their exercise of these functions.

This section also discusses how the performance of the four leadership functions varies within countries according to different characteristics, some of which can be targeted by policies:

  • centre characteristics, such as geographical location, size in terms of the number of children enrolled, type of management, levels of autonomy for different decisions and inspection frequency

  • leader characteristics, such as leaders’ educational and training background and experience.

Managing, balancing and prioritising time are challenges many ECEC centre leaders face (Douglass, 2019[3]). TALIS Starting Strong surveyed centre leaders about their working time. Centre leaders’ reports about the number of hours they usually work each week in the ECEC centre provide an indication of the time they spend fulfilling their multiple functions (see Annex B for more details). Reports about the share of time they spent on different tasks, on average during the 12 months prior to the survey, give an idea of the relative weight of the different functions compared to each other, across countries.

Concerning the number of hours that centre leaders report usually working each week in the centre, at the pre-primary level, their time working ranges from 30 hours, on average, in Israel, to 44 hours in Chile and Korea. The size of centres in terms of the number of children enrolled influences working time in five countries participating in the survey. In Norway and Turkey, where the difference is the greatest, pre-primary leaders in the largest centres work six to seven hours more, on average (Table C.4.5). One needs to bear in mind, however, that centre leaders may have interpreted the question differently. For example, some may have counted professional development as part of their working time, others not.

Figure 4.6 shows centre leaders’ reports about the percentage of time they spent on different tasks, on average during the 12 months prior to the survey. Together, administrative and pedagogical leadership make up at least 50% of leader’s working time, on average, in all countries except for pre-primary leaders in Israel. In Israel, this is likely related to leaders taking on considerable responsibilities working directly with children, which represents more than half of leaders’ time in Israel. Administrative leadership takes up at least 30% of leaders’ time in all countries, again with the exception of Israel (pre-primary). In Norway (both levels of education) and Turkey, centre leaders report spending significantly more time on administration than on pedagogical leadership. In Norway, the share of time spent on administration is more than twice as high as the share of time spent on pedagogical leadership.

Pedagogical leadership makes up at least 25% of centre leaders’ time at the pre-primary level in Chile, Denmark (with low response rates), Iceland, Japan and Korea, and for centres for children under age 3 in Denmark (with low response rates) and Israel. In Germany, centre leaders at both levels of education spend more than 20% of their time on this function. The leaders of pre-primary centres in Israel and Turkey report spending the least time on pedagogical leadership.

Besides Israel, interactions with children also make up a relatively large share of leaders’ working time in Germany (30% at the pre-primary level, 27% in centres for children under age 3). By contrast, in Denmark (with low response rates), Iceland and Norway, centre leaders reported spending less time in direct interactions with children (13-17% of their working time). This reflects different conceptions of leadership roles across countries and sometimes different early childhood education sectors within countries. In some contexts, such as pre-primary centres in Israel, pedagogical work with children is an essential part of leaders’ functional role.

As explored in the first volume of TALIS Starting Strong, the average size of centres in terms of number of children enrolled varies greatly across as well as within countries, implying different demands on leaders (OECD, 2019[4]). The size of centres is also an important factor for the time centre leaders spend directly with children. In six out of nine countries at the pre-primary level, leaders of the smallest centres (i.e. the bottom quarter of the distribution of child enrolments within countries) spend a greater proportion of their time on interactions with children (Figure 4.7). The difference is particularly large in Germany and Norway. In Denmark, Israel, Japan and Turkey, the differences are not statistically significant. In Israel, the size of pre-primary centres is relatively uniform (OECD, 2019[4]), which may also explain why there are no differences in time spent on interactions with children by size. Results are similar for leaders of centres for children under age 3.

The following sections discuss variations in the time leaders spend on different functions in greater detail, the related activities that they engage in, how they perceive their own leadership in these functional areas, and how they are perceived by their staff in performing the different functions.

Administrative leadership refers to the management of operations including human resources and finance; strategic functions such as planning, goal setting and quality improvement; and may also include collaborating with community partners and systems (Moen and Granrusten, 2013[23]; Strehmel, 2016[24]).

The proportion of time leaders report spending on administrative leadership not only differs between, but also within, countries to quite an extent (Figure 4.8). When broken down for different centre characteristics, centre size seems to explain part of this variation. Leaders in the largest centres – who spend less time interacting with children, as explored in the previous section – spend more time on administration than in the smallest centres at the pre-primary level in Denmark (with low response rates), Germany, Iceland, Israel and Norway, and in centres for children under age 3 in Germany. The difference is particularly large in Denmark (with low response rates), Germany and Norway. In the case of Israel, the difference is less meaningful given that pre-primary centres vary little in the number of children enrolled.

The picture is less clear cut in terms of the type of centre management. In Iceland and Norway, pre-primary leaders in publicly managed centres report spending more time on administrative functions than leaders in privately managed centres. In Israel (centres for children under age 3) and Japan, the opposite is true. Comparing ECEC centres located in rural and urban areas, no consistent differences can be observed in this respect. Only in Korea do leaders in cities spend more time on administrative tasks.

The survey also allows analysing the ways in which different levels of autonomy for centre leaders influence how they exercise their functions. While higher levels of autonomy in resource-related tasks could be expected to be associated with a larger share of time spent on administrative tasks, overall this does not seem to be supported by the results of the survey. When comparing leaders who have full autonomy in a majority of resource-related tasks with those who do not, there are no statistically significant differences in the proportion of time spent on administration. It may be that ECEC centre leaders not only have autonomy in resource-related areas, but also the necessary supports to fulfil those tasks. Looking at autonomy for hiring and budgeting specifically, and comparing leaders without autonomy with those who share decision making, only in Denmark (both levels of education, with low response rates) and Israel (centres for children under age 3) are there consistent results. Here, leaders who share decision making spend more time on administrative leadership than leaders who have no autonomy in these tasks (Table C.4.9).

In terms of leader characteristics, the distribution of leaders’ working time varies little depending on their educational qualifications. Chile and Iceland are the only two countries where leaders with higher qualifications spend more time on administrative leadership. The focus of training generally also does not seem to have much of an influence. In Norway (centres for children under age 3), leaders trained in administration report spending more time on administrative tasks. In Korea and Norway, pre-primary leaders whose initial education included a course focused on early childhood, which represents the large majority of leaders in both countries, spent less time on administrative leadership than leaders whose education did not have such a focus. In Israel (centres for children under age 3), this is the case for centre leaders trained in pedagogical leadership. In Chile, male ECEC centre leaders (who represent 23% of the country’s ECEC centre leaders, although they are largely concentrated in schools offering early childhood education),3 report spending more time on administrative leadership than female leaders (Table C.4.8).

As analysed in the first volume of TALIS Starting Strong, administrative workload features among the most important sources of work-related stress for leaders (OECD, 2019[4]). At least one in two pre-primary leaders report that too much administrative work causes them “quite a bit” or “a lot” of stress in Chile, Denmark (with low response rates), Germany, Israel, Japan, Korea and Norway. In Denmark (with low response rates) and Germany, the same is the case for centres for children under age 3, while in Israel and Norway, administrative work seems to be of greater concern to leaders at pre-primary level than in centres for children under age 3 (Table C.4.10). It is therefore important to understand how leaders can be supported in fulfilling their administrative responsibilities, together with their other functions.

Administrative leadership also includes tasks and responsibilities related to staff management. TALIS Starting Strong asks staff about their perception of their centre’s leaders on a number of dimensions. As also discussed in Chapter 3, ECEC staff have an overall positive view of their centre leaders. This is also true for staff’s perspective on the quality of the human resource management of their centre leaders. Between 30% and 50% of ECEC centre staff in pre-primary education “strongly agree” that their centre leader ensures that “staff performance is managed effectively” in Chile, Denmark (with low response rates), Germany, Iceland, Korea, Norway and Turkey, as well as in centres for children under age 3 in Denmark (with low response rates), Germany and Norway. Agreement is particularly strong in Israel (at least 70%), which may be partly explained by the close contact between staff and leaders, who themselves work with children as an important part of their role. Similar proportions of staff in countries “strongly agree” with the statement that “the centre leader has professional relationships with staff” (Table C.4.11).

Different centre characteristics, such as centre size, may influence how performance is managed within ECEC centres, by creating different conditions for establishing a climate of trust and openness to feedback and criticism among staff and leaders (Ho, Lee and Teng, 2016[25]). As the survey shows, in Turkey, staff in the largest centres within the country are more likely to “strongly agree” that performance is managed effectively than staff in the smallest centres. This is also the case in pre-primary centres in Israel, although the size of centres differs little within the country, so the distinction is less meaningful. In Germany, the opposite is true at both levels of education, and staff in the smallest centres are more likely to report strong agreement that performance is managed effectively. In Chile, there are differences by centre location, with staff working in centres located in rural areas reporting lower levels of agreement regarding effective performance management than staff working in urban areas (Table C.4.12).

Establishing effective links with the community and partnerships with other child- and family-oriented services is another key function of leadership in ECEC settings, which cuts across leaders’ administrative and pedagogical functions. For example, Ang (2012[26]) found that cross-disciplinary collaboration was a key domain of leadership practice in her study of ECEC leaders in England. Leaders reported that establishing community cross-agency collaborations and partnerships were an important and often challenging dimension of their role in supporting children and their families.

When asked about their centre’s engagement in different activities related to partnerships with other services, leaders indicated communication with staff and/or leaders from other ECEC centres as their most frequent activity, on average across pre-primary education, followed by consultations with child development specialists (Figure 4.9). In turn, collaboration with health-related services is quite common on a “monthly” and “less than monthly” basis. A relatively high share of leaders report communicating “daily” with primary school teachers. This is, however, largely driven by leaders’ responses in Turkey (Table C.4.13). As analysed in the first volume of TALIS Starting Strong, a large share of ECEC centres in Turkey is co-located with primary schools (OECD, 2019, p. 143[4]). It may thus be less of a surprise that 38% of leaders in Turkey report communication with primary teachers on a daily basis. Indeed, on average across pre-primary education, 25% of pre-primary leaders still report that their centre “never” communicates with primary school teachers. About 20% of pre-primary leaders report that their centre “never” co-operates with social services, although this differs widely across countries, from 5% or less of pre-primary leaders in Denmark (with low response rates), Germany and Norway to more than 50% in Israel (Table C.4.13).

ECEC centre leaders were not only asked about the frequency with which their centre collaborates with other child- or family-related services, but also about their centre’s engagement with its community more broadly, for example by working with the neighbourhood or by organising excursions. As the data show, outdoor excursions occur most frequently on average across countries, although there is again considerable variation in all aspects across countries (Table C.4.14). This section turns to leaders’ reports about centre engagement with the neighbourhood in greater detail.

The share of leaders reporting that their centre works with the local neighbourhood “quite a bit” or “a lot” varies from about 33% of leaders in Germany and Norway at both levels of education to almost 70% in pre-primary education in Korea and Turkey (Figure 4.10). The extent of neighbourhood engagement also appears to differ within countries. While rural communities are often considered to provide tight-knit communities on which educational institutions can build their mission, they may also lack some of the community resources available to urban areas (Echazarra and Radinger, 2019[27]; Graham and Underwood, 2012[28]). In terms of ECEC centres’ work with neighbourhoods, leaders in rural areas report stronger levels of engagement than their urban peers at the pre-primary level in Denmark (with low response rates), Israel and Japan, and in centres for children under age 3 in Israel and Norway. Neighbourhood engagement also differs by centre size in pre-primary education in Denmark (with low response rates) and Turkey, and in centres for children under age 3 in Germany and Israel. Chile is the only country with differences between publicly and privately managed centres, with leaders of publicly managed centres reporting higher levels of engagement with the local neighbourhood than leaders of privately managed centres.

In terms of leader characteristics, training in administration seems to be an important factor, with a positive association in three countries at pre-primary level: Iceland, Israel and Norway. Levels of community engagement do not generally differ whether ECEC centre leaders received training in early childhood or pedagogical leadership or have acquired higher levels of qualification (Figure 4.10).

Pedagogical leadership is the leadership needed to support teaching and learning. This function includes creating trusting relationships with and among staff, supporting staff professional development, promoting the implementation of curriculum and assessment, and structuring the work environment to support all of these aspects (Cheung et al., 2018[29]; Whalen et al., 2016[21]; Eskelinen and Hujala, 2015[30]).

A study of ECEC leaders in Finland, Japan and Singapore found that leaders across these three countries considered pedagogical leadership and human resources management to be the two most important tasks for ECEC leaders (Hujala et al., 2016[31]). Yet leaders in all three countries agreed that finding the time to adequately engage in both of these core tasks was difficult due to multiple other demands, although the nature of these competing demands varied somewhat across the three countries (Douglass, 2019[3]).

ECEC centre leaders’ time allocated to pedagogical leadership varies both across and within countries (also see Figure 4.6). Among centre characteristics, centre size seems again to be an important factor. Leaders in larger centres not only seem to spend more time on administrative leadership tasks, but also on pedagogical leadership. At least this is the case in pre-primary education in Chile, Germany and Turkey, and in centres for children under age 3 in Norway. For other centre characteristics, such as location and type of management, no consistent differences can be observed (Table C.4.16).

Besides the time allocation to pedagogical leadership during the 12 months prior to the survey, TALIS Starting Strong also provides insights on the frequency with which leaders report engaging in different pedagogical leadership tasks (Figure 4.11). Observing staff practices and interactions with children; providing feedback based on observations; and collaborating with staff to improve how children play together are the three most frequent activities on a “daily” and “weekly” basis, followed by leaders taking actions to ensure that staff feel responsible for children’s development, well-being and learning. As might be expected, defining a vision for the centre and making changes to centre structures and/or practices occur less frequently. More than 10% of leaders, on average, report never making changes in centre structures and/or practices based on monitoring and evaluation, and the percentage of leaders reporting this to be the case is particularly high in Germany (both levels of education) and Japan.

A scale of pedagogical leadership (“leader support for pedagogical learning”) based on a selection of these items makes it possible to examine the extent to which leaders’ engagement in these activities differs across and within countries according to centre and leader characteristics (for more details on the scale, see Box 4.1). Leaders’ support for pedagogical learning differs considerably within countries, as shown by the difference among leaders in the top and bottom quartiles in the scale (Table C.4.18).

Analysing how the level of pedagogical autonomy for centre leaders is related to their pedagogical leadership reveals no consistent association across countries. Different levels of autonomy in establishing plans for children’s development, well-being and learning seem to be related to leaders’ engagement in pedagogical leadership tasks in Denmark (with low response rates), Germany and Turkey. In Denmark (with low response rates) and Turkey, no autonomy for this task, compared to at least partial autonomy, is associated with lower values in the scale of leader support for pedagogical learning in pre-primary education. At the same time, full autonomy for this task, again compared to partial autonomy, is related to less engagement in pedagogical leadership in Germany (centres for children under age 3) and Turkey. This highlights the role that different actors may play in shared decision-making arrangements (Table C.4.19).

TALIS Starting Strong also asked centre leaders about the frequency of inspections in different dimensions, such as process quality or finances (also see Chapter 3 and OECD (2019[4])). The relationship between inspections and centre leaders’ engagement in pedagogical leadership can be mediated by a range of factors, such as the extent of formative feedback that the process provides. Nevertheless, the frequency of inspections of process quality seems to be associated with the level of engagement in pedagogical leadership activities in ECEC centres in some countries. In Germany, Japan, Norway and Turkey, leaders at the pre-primary level who reported that their ECEC centre is “never” evaluated or only “less than once every year” reported engaging less in their pedagogical leadership function relative to those leaders who reported that inspections take place “once every year”. This is also the case for leaders of centres for children under age 3 in Denmark (with low response rates) and Norway. Conversely, pre-primary leaders in Chile, Israel and Japan show higher levels of pedagogical leadership when inspections take place “more than once every year”, again compared to leaders whose centres are evaluated once a year only (Table C.4.20).

While the analyses do not allow strong conclusions to be drawn, taken together with the results on autonomy, it appears that giving ECEC centre leaders some responsibilities for specific pedagogical tasks, such as the monitoring of children’s development and learning, and ensuring support and accountability through regular evaluations may strengthen centre leaders’ engagement in their pedagogical function.

In terms of leader characteristics, the content of leaders’ training seems to be important for their engagement in pedagogical leadership, be it by developing the necessary skills and competencies or by raising awareness of the importance of this part of their work (Table 4.1). In Israel and Korea at the pre-primary level, as well as in Germany for centres for children under age 3, leaders whose training included pedagogical leadership engage more frequently in pedagogical leadership tasks (as measured by the scale of leader support for pedagogical learning). In Japan, Korea and Turkey, the same is true for training on early childhood. Leaders’ level of qualification is not associated with differences in pedagogical leadership, while leaders’ experience is positively related to leaders’ engagement in pedagogical tasks at the pre-primary level in Denmark (with low response rates) and in Germany in centres for children under age 3.

The survey also asked ECEC centre leaders whether it is part of their responsibility to plan for professional development activities for staff. In Germany and Israel, pre-primary leaders who answered yes to this question also reported more engagement in different pedagogical leadership tasks than those who perceived that this was not part of their responsibilities (Table C.4.18). In both countries, a comparatively low share of leaders reported being responsible for staff development, and particularly so in the publicly managed sector (Table C.4.21).

Some research suggests that gender and gender stereotypes affect leadership practices (Hard and Jónsdóttir, 2013[32]). TALIS Starting Strong provides some insights on this. In Germany, Korea and Turkey, female leaders in pre-primary education engage more often in pedagogical leadership tasks, although the share of male leaders is very low in Germany (Table 4.1). This is somewhat different to other leadership functions, where fewer differences can be observed by leaders’ gender.

Analysing staff’s perceptions of the leadership in their ECEC centres, and comparing them to those of leaders, provides insights into the effectiveness of pedagogical leadership. Asked about pedagogical leadership in their ECEC centres, staff again express relatively high levels of agreement that their centre leaders are effective in this function (Figure 4.12). In all countries participating in the survey, at least 85% of staff “agree” or “strongly agree” with statements like “the centre leader has a clear vision for this centre”, “the centre leader encourages co-operation among staff to develop new ideas in their practices” or “the centre leader ensures that staff feel responsible for the children’s development, well-being and learning”.

Developing a common vision for the ECEC centre and ensuring that staff work together to put that vision into practice and achieve common goals are important dimensions of pedagogical leadership (Siraj-Blatchford and Manni, 2007[33]). The extent to which goals and knowledge are shared across an organisation and to which there is mutual respect, something which the management literature refers to as relational co-ordination, is related with organisational outcomes such as staff retention and well-being as well as organisational quality and improvement (Douglass, 2019[3]; Gittell, Seidner and Wimbush, 2010[34]).

TALIS Starting Strong asks leaders about the extent to which they believe staff understand the centre’s goals and succeed in implementing them. In this respect, staff are clearly more likely to perceive that their centre leader has a clear vision when working in centres where leaders report that staff understand the centre’s goals “a lot”, and even more so in centres where leaders report that staff succeed “a lot” in implementing those goals (Figure 4.13). For instance, in Germany at the pre-primary level and in Norway at both levels of education, staff working in centres where leaders report that staff succeed in implementing the centre’s goals “a lot” were more than twice as likely to “strongly agree” that their centre leader has a clear vision as staff in centres where leaders do not report such effective implementation. In Iceland, Israel and Turkey, pre-primary staff are between 35% and 50% more likely to do so. Overall, results suggest a notable concordance between staff’s and leaders’ perceptions about the extent to which leaders succeed in setting clear goals for children’s development, well-being and learning at the centre level, especially in Germany and Norway.

Looking at other aspects of pedagogical leadership, such as centre leaders encouraging collaboration or ensuring that staff feel responsible for children’s learning and development, a greater extent of leader engagement in this function (as measured by the respective scale) is related to more positive staff perceptions of pedagogical leadership in some respects. In Chile and Norway, pre-primary leaders’ stronger engagement in pedagogical leadership seems to be particularly associated with more positive staff perceptions. In Chile, a positive relation can be observed in all dimensions, while in Norway, staff are 26-30% more likely to “strongly agree” that their leader has a clear vision and that their leader encourages co-operation among staff to develop new ideas with higher values in the scale (Table C.4.24).

Centre leaders have an important role to play in shaping expectations for the centre’s engagement with parents or guardians, so that they are involved in the learning and development of their children. Centre leaders can make creating a welcoming culture that values different family structures a high priority and ensure that parents are informed of what is happening in the playgroups. They can also help establish practices that seek feedback from parents about their children’s experience and involve parents in decisions related to their children (Bloom and Abel, 2015[35]). Yet, little empirical research has examined how leaders support centre efforts to build partnerships with families and how this is associated with process quality (Douglass, 2019[3]).

Among the specific functions of ECEC centre leadership (see Figure 4.1), interactions with parents or guardians tend to make up the smallest share of centre leaders’ working time, with the exception of pre-primary education in Israel and Turkey, where leaders spend slightly more time on engagement with parents than on pedagogical leadership (see Figure 4.6).

TALIS Starting Strong asks centre leaders about the way in which ECEC centres communicate with parents (Figure 4.14). Two types of activities are considered: informal communication (e.g. informal conversations on children’s development) and formal communication (e.g. attending parent-staff meetings). As can be expected, informal communication seems to take place to a greater extent on a “daily” or “weekly” basis, whereas formal communication seems to take place more on a “monthly” or “less than monthly” basis. Engagement with parents, however, differs quite significantly across countries. In Chile and Japan, for example, a considerable share of centres engages “daily” or “weekly” with parents on an informal basis, but centres also communicate more formally with parents quite frequently. In Denmark (both levels of education, with low response rates), Iceland and Norway (both levels of education), large shares of centres also communicate with parents informally every day, but formal forms of engagement are much less frequent. Further insights on staff’s and leaders’ perspectives on centre engagement with parents, such as the concrete activities offered to parents or guardians, or the ease with which they can get in touch with ECEC staff, are provided in the first volume of TALIS Starting Strong (OECD, 2019[4]).

Leadership can occur at multiple levels of an organisation, and may involve formal leaders in hierarchical power structures and/or distributed leadership structures in which different actors demonstrate and engage in leadership. While parents and children can also be involved in centre decision making, this section focuses on the involvement of staff specifically. Research on distributed leadership in educational contexts shows that the leadership of administrators and staff may each play an important, distinctive, yet interdependent role when it comes to improving quality (Wenner and Campbell, 2016[36]; Sebastian, Allensworth and Huang, 2016[20]). Moreover, staff autonomy over their working environment is an important factor for staff well-being and effectiveness (OECD, 2019[4]; 2019[6]). Nevertheless, distributed leadership also places demands on staff time and may therefore be a source of stress. Distributing leadership, thus, needs to be accompanied by support from leaders, so that staff can participate in shaping the centre’s processes and organisation and take on related tasks without this being a source of stress (see Chapter 3).

When asked about their views on the extent to which leadership is distributed within centres, a large majority of leaders consider that their ECEC centre offers opportunities for staff involvement in decision making and a culture of shared responsibility. Nevertheless, in some countries, centre leaders also “strongly agree” with the statement that they take the important decisions on their own. This is particularly the case in Chile, Iceland, Israel (for both levels of education) and Japan (Table C.4.26). In some contexts, this may stem from the fact that leaders ultimately hold the formal responsibility for taking decisions and remain accountable for their leadership and management.

Asking leaders about sensitive issues such as the extent to which they involve staff in centre decision making can result in respondents answering in a way that will be viewed favourably by others because of desirability pressure. Since TALIS Starting Strong also asked staff about their perceptions of distributed leadership, the survey provides an opportunity to partly overcome this bias by comparing staff and leader perceptions of distributed leadership. The data reveal that distributed leadership is not widespread in all countries and views of staff and leaders are not always aligned. In all countries except Israel (both levels of education), a lower share of staff than leaders agree that leadership is distributed in their centre (Figure 4.15). While more than 90% of staff “agree” or “strongly agree” that leadership is distributed in Israel (both levels of education) and Turkey, less than 80% of pre-primary staff do so in Chile, Japan and Norway. In the latter three countries, the difference between staff’s and leaders’ perceptions is particularly great (more than 20 percentage points). Within countries, staff perceptions of distributed leadership vary little depending on leader characteristics such as gender or level of education (Table C.4.28). Further differences within countries in the extent to which staff feel that the centre provides opportunities for getting involved are analysed in Chapter 3 as part of the analysis of staff’s control over decisions.

Data from the school sector from TALIS 2018 suggest a connection between a collegial school culture and leadership committed to improving teacher instruction. Principals who involve staff, parents and students in school decisions and have a school culture of collaboration and shared responsibility were more likely to report that they take action to support co-operation among teachers, that teachers take responsibility for improving their teaching and that they feel responsible for students’ learning (OECD, 2020[37]). A cross-sectional study examining the relationship between pedagogical leadership (which the authors refer to as learning-centred leadership), teacher agency and teacher leadership in primary and secondary education in Turkey similarly points to a relationship between pedagogical and distributed leadership. The study suggests that school principals’ engagement in practices such as building a learning vision, providing learning support and managing the learning programme is related to teachers’ contributions to school improvement through their own leadership and through their feeling of ownership and engagement in school change (Bellibaş, Gümüş and Kılınç, 2020[38]).

TALIS Starting Strong provides an opportunity to examine the association between distributed leadership and pedagogical leadership in early childhood education and care. In other words, is there any relation between the extent to which ECEC leaders involve their staff in centre decision making and the extent to which ECEC leaders support pedagogical learning among their staff?

One perspective into this question emerges from the association between leaders’ own perception about distributed leadership in their centres and their level of support for pedagogical tasks. Results from a regression model that predicts values of the leader scale of support for pedagogical learning based on leaders’ views about opportunities for staff to participate in centre decisions are reported Figure 4.16. As the figure shows, in six countries, pre-primary leaders who “strongly agree” that their centre provides staff with opportunities to actively participate in decision making also show stronger levels of pedagogical leadership relative to leaders who only “agree” with the statement. Pre-primary leaders who “disagree” or “strongly disagree” with the statement about distributed leadership have statistically significant lower values in the scale of leader support for pedagogical learning in four countries, again relative to those who “agree” with the statement. Results are similar for leaders’ agreement whether their centre has a culture of shared responsibility (Table C.4.29). This suggests that, from the point of view of ECEC centre leaders, distributed leadership and pedagogical leadership are not only compatible, but tend to go hand in hand.

Another way of examining this question is to look at the distribution of staff who “strongly agree” that their centre leader encourages all staff to have a say in important decisions depending on the strength of their leaders’ pedagogical leadership. That is, one can compare the proportion of staff with a strong perception of distributed leadership within centres whose leaders are in the top quarter of the distribution for the scale of leader support for pedagogical learning with the share of staff with a similar perception whose leaders are in the bottom quarter of the distribution in the scale.

Based on this measure, leaders whose staff report strong distributed leadership are generally not necessarily more likely to be in the top of the distribution for leader support for pedagogical learning. Only in Chile a positive association emerges between distributed leadership, as reported by staff, and centre leaders’ engagement in pedagogical leadership (Table C.4.30). A separate regression model predicting values of the scale of leader support for pedagogical learning based on staff perceptions of distributed leadership paints a similar picture (Table C.4.29).

In sum, these results illustrate the various patterns of leadership. In a number of countries, leaders who report a distributed approach to leadership also report greater engagement to support their staff in pedagogical tasks, while the opposite is true in some other countries. From the perspective of staff, however, the relationship is less clear cut, and both centre leaders who lead in a more hierarchical way and those who structure their leadership more horizontally can be engaged in pedagogical leadership.

This section examines how centre leadership may foster a collaborative professional environment and help create supportive working conditions for staff (Figure 4.1). The research literature highlights that centre leaders may help staff improve by observing their practices with children, providing them with feedback based on their observations, and creating a culture of shared trust and collaboration (Douglass, 2019[3]). Through their practices, centre leaders may also help attract, motivate and retain staff in the centre. For the school sector, for example, empirical studies from the United States suggest that effective leaders may help reduce teacher turnover and strategically retain high-performing staff (Kraft, Marinell and Shen-Wei Yee, 2016[39]).

As highlighted in Chapter 2, collaboration among staff is a powerful form of professional learning. More broadly, through collaboration, children may benefit from the combined skills and experiences of all staff rather than the unique strengths and personal limitations of an individual staff member. Collaboration within educational institutions can ensure that staff co-ordinate their efforts and are more knowledgeable about the learning, development, and social and emotional needs of their children (OECD, 2019[6]). How, then, can leadership best support such collaboration among staff? Is there any relationship between centre leaders’ engagement in functions such as pedagogical leadership, on the one hand, and staff collaborating with each other around their children’s needs, on the other?

Analyses of TALIS Starting Strong data suggest that leaders who strongly engage in their pedagogical function, as perceived by staff, may indeed be more effective in facilitating collaboration among staff at the centre level. Staff who “strongly agree” with statements about different aspects of pedagogical leadership tend to collaborate to a greater extent with their peers, as measured by a scale of staff engagement in collaborative practices (see Annex B), relative to staff who only “agree” (Figure 4.17). For instance, in seven out of nine countries, pre-primary staff engagement in collaborative practices is significantly higher for staff who “strongly agree”, rather than just “agree”, that their centre leader encourages co-operation among staff to develop new ideas in their practices. In a similar number of countries, staff who perceive a lack of encouragement to collaborate on the part of their leader tend to engage less often in collaboration. Similar relationships can be observed for other aspects of pedagogical leadership, such as leaders ensuring that staff feel responsible for the children’s development or for improving their practice.

Staff who perceive leadership as being distributed in their centres also tend to collaborate more with their colleagues (Figure 4.18). As described above in the section on leadership structures, across participating countries, large shares of both centre leaders and staff agree that staff have opportunities to participate in centre decision making. A way of extending this analysis is to compare levels of professional collaboration among staff and leaders who deviate from this “normative” view about distributed leadership in their centres.

At the pre-primary level, staff engagement in collaborative practices is significantly higher for staff who “strongly agree” that their centre leader encourages all staff to have a say in important decisions, relative to staff who merely “agree” with the same statement, in six out of nine countries. Moreover, staff who perceive a lack of space (“disagree” or “strongly disagree”) to express their opinions about these important decisions tend in turn to engage less often in collaboration with peers, compared to staff who have a more positive view (“agree”) about the level of distributed leadership. Results are similar for countries participating in the staff survey and leaders in centres for children under age 3. Leaders’ perspectives on distributed leadership within their centre corroborate these findings (Table C.4.32). While TALIS Starting Strong data cannot support causal claims, this suggests that staff collaborative practices are more prevalent in centres with more horizontal forms of leadership than in centres with more top-down leadership approaches.

Staff working conditions and well-being are important to attract and retain a high-quality ECEC workforce and for the quality of ECEC provision (see Chapter 3). Autonomy and independence are important aspects of this, influencing staff satisfaction and retention. In one study of ECEC workers in Australia, for example, staff with a greater degree of influence and those working in settings with a flatter organisational structure often reported a stronger intention to stay in the job (McDonald, Thorpe and Irvine, 2018[40]).

From TALIS Starting Strong, a clearly positive association emerges when looking at the relationship between different dimensions of centre leadership, such as the development of distributed leadership structures, and different indicators of staff satisfaction. Compared to staff who perceive fewer opportunities for participating in centre decisions, staff who “strongly agree” that the centre leader encourages all staff to have a say in important decisions are at least twice as likely to report that they enjoy working at their centre, to recommend their centre as a good place to work or to be satisfied with their job overall (Figure 4.19). In all countries except Korea, the relationship is strongest for staff recommending their centre as a good place to work, and the relationship is weakest for overall job satisfaction. This likely reflects that general satisfaction with the job is influenced to a greater extent by other aspects of staff working conditions, such as salaries and other terms of employment (see Chapter 3).

This section examines another pathway through which ECEC centre leaders influence process quality, which is more directly through their influence on staff attitudes and behaviours as well as staff practices with children and parents.

Centre leaders set a vision for their centre and work together with staff, parents and the community to achieve common goals, most notably to promote children’s learning, development and well-being. The main avenue for this is the pedagogical work and support that centre leaders provide for their staff, which can foster process quality and quality interactions between staff and children by influencing both staff attitudes and behaviours.

Self-efficacy refers to the beliefs that staff have about their capacity to plan and implement specific instructional and care practices and to promote children’s development, learning and well-being (see Chapters 2 and 3). While more remains to be understood about the relation between staff’s sense of self-efficacy and the quality of staff’s actual practices in the ECEC sector, the following examines how centre leaders may influence staff’s confidence about their ability to work with the children in their care. TALIS Starting Strong provides information on staff’s sense of self-efficacy in specific areas of work as well as an aggregate scale of staff self-efficacy in supporting child development (see Annex B). Variation in both of these measures can be examined in relation to staff’s perceptions of their leaders’ engagement in different aspects of pedagogical leadership.

Regression analyses using the self-efficacy scale show that staff’s confidence in their ability to promote child development, learning and well-being is positively and consistently associated with strong pedagogical leadership, as perceived by staff, in all countries participating in the survey. This holds true for the different dimensions of pedagogical leadership on which staff were surveyed, such as leaders setting a clear vision or ensuring staff feel responsible for children’s development (Table C.4.34).

The survey also allows a more granular analysis of the relationship between different dimensions of pedagogical leadership and staff sense of self-efficacy in individual areas of work. Similar to the self-efficacy scale, consistent positive associations are observed with pre-primary staff confidence in their ability to work across a number of areas in Chile, Denmark (with low response rates), Germany, Iceland, Israel, Korea, Norway and Turkey, and with staff confidence in centres for children under age 3 in Germany, Israel and Norway. For instance, across countries, staff are about twice as likely to report a strong sense of self-efficacy for adapting their work to individual child needs when they “strongly agree”, rather than just “agree”, “disagree” or “strongly disagree”, that their centre leader ensures that staff feel responsible for children’s development, well-being and learning (Table C.4.35).

Besides staff’s sense of self-efficacy, a positive and consistent association is also observed between leaders’ engagement in pedagogical leadership activities and staff’s actual reported practices with children at the centre level. For instance, staff’s perception that leaders succeed (“strongly agree”) in ensuring that staff feel responsible for their children’s learning and development or in ensuring that staff take responsibility for improving their practices bears a positive association with staff’s use of practices for facilitating children’s literacy development at the centre level in all countries except Denmark (centres for children under age 3, with low response rates). A negative perception (“disagree” or “strongly disagree”) of the centre leader’s role in these dimensions is associated with a less frequent use of these practices at the centre level. Analyses for other staff practices at centre level, such as facilitating prosocial behaviour or emotional development, yield similar results (Table C.4.36).

Parental engagement is an essential aspect of process quality in ECEC settings, and constitutes an important part of ECEC centre leaders’ and staff’s roles. How, then, are leaders’ actions and practices related to staff’s engagement with parents? TALIS Starting Strong asked staff how well statements such as “parents or guardians can get in touch with staff easily” or “parents or guardians are informed about daily activities on a regular basis” describe how they engage parents or guardians at the centre (“not at all”, “somewhat”, “well”, “very well”), and a scale of staff facilitating parent/guardian engagement at the centre level was constructed (see Annex B). Variation in this scale can be examined in relation to different aspects of pedagogical leadership that may have an association with staff’s parental engagement, such as setting a vision for the centre or ensuring that staff feel responsible for children’s development and learning.

As the analyses carried out for this report show, ECEC centre leaders may be able to shape the institutional conditions and cultures that facilitate parental engagement at the centre level. For instance, compared to staff who only “agree” that the centre leader has a clear vision for the centre, staff who “strongly agree” report that their centres provide greater engagement opportunities for parents or guardians across the nine countries participating in the survey. Results are similar for staff’s reports about their centre leader ensuring that staff feel responsible for the children's development, well-being and learning (Table C.4.37).

The first volume of TALIS Starting Strong described the educational background of ECEC centre leaders as well their perceptions of the quality of their work environment (OECD, 2019[4]). The following sections focus in particular on strategies to develop leadership through continuing professional development as well as leaders’ working conditions and job satisfaction.

Leaders from different countries report various professional development needs (Table 4.2). Knowledge and understanding of current national/local policies on ECEC represent an important need for professional development in countries, particularly at the pre-primary level, as indicated by the lighter shadings in the table which describe the most frequently cited professional development needs within countries. This seems to be in line with leaders’ reports that changing regulations constitute a considerable source of stress (see OECD (2019[4])), and may have implications for the formulation of policies and how they reach ECEC centres. In Chile, for example, knowledge of current policies is by far the most important area of need. Slightly less than a third of ECEC centre leaders in the country report high levels of need in this regard, something that is likely related to the introduction of a new curriculum framework in 2018.

Knowledge and understanding of new developments in leadership research, the use of data for improving quality and the design of centre goals represent further priorities for leader development as identified by leaders themselves. Issues such as promoting equity and diversity, collaborating with primary schools or working together with parents do not seem to constitute a particular development need. While leaders in some countries, such as Iceland and Norway, have relatively clear priorities for professional development, leaders in other countries report high needs for further development across the different areas, notably in Japan and Korea.

When it comes to barriers to centre leaders’ participation in professional development, leaders in many countries perceive time resources to be an important hurdle (Table 4.3). A lack of staff to compensate for leaders’ absence or conflicts with the leaders’ work schedule rank as the number one barrier in six out of nine countries at pre-primary level and in two out of four countries in centres for children under age 3. A lack of incentives seems to be of concern to pre-primary leaders in Chile and Korea and to leaders at both levels of education in Israel. In terms of supply of professional development activities, the cost of participation appears to be a particular issue in Chile as indicated by the lighter shadings in the table, but also to leaders in Denmark (with low response rates), Germany and Norway (pre-primary and centres for children under age 3). In the latter three countries, high costs are among the two most important barriers to professional development. Pre-requisites to participation in professional development seem adequate overall, with the exception of Korea. The relevance of professional development on offer appears to be of least concern to leaders in Norway (pre-primary education and centres for children under age 3).

In terms of the type of professional development that leaders participate in, in-person courses and seminars, conferences, and professional networks appear to be the most common training formats. About one in two centre leaders, on average across countries participating in the survey for pre-primary education, reported having participated in a formal peer and/or self-observation and coaching arrangement over the 12 months prior to the survey. Similarly, more than one in two centre leaders at this level of education reported having participated in an observation visit to another ECEC centre. This is somewhat different from centres for children under age 3, where slightly fewer leaders reported having participated in both of these formats, on average across countries. Peer observation and coaching is particularly common in Korea, while professional networks seem to be well-established in both pre-primary centres and centres for children under age 3 in Denmark (with low response rates) and Norway (Table C.4.40).

The types of professional development that leaders participate in tend to be the same irrespective of level of experience. However, there are some differences between experienced leaders (defined as those with more than three years of experience as an ECEC centre leader) and novice leaders (those with three years or less of leadership experience) (see Annex B for more details). Experienced leaders at pre-primary level are more likely to report participating in in-person courses and seminars as well as in research conferences, on average across countries. Novice leaders, on the other hand, report higher levels of participation in qualification programmes, which may be related to the need to fulfil the necessary qualification requirements for the job (Table C.4.40).

Leaders’ leadership practices are influenced by many factors, one of which may be participation in different forms of professional learning and development. While mentoring and coaching may be more effective forms of professional learning (also see Chapter 2), research on the relation between different forms of leadership development and leadership practices and centre and staff outcomes is still limited and inconclusive. Compare, for example, the positive effects found for a mentoring programme for early childhood leaders in Canada on programme quality (Ressler et al., 2016[41]) and the mixed effects found for different development programmes for primary school leaders in the United States (Herrmann et al., 2019[42]; Jacob et al., 2015[43]).

TALIS Starting Strong provides an opportunity to examine whether leaders’ engagement in their leadership functions differ with their participation in a specific mode of professional development. In six out of nine countries at pre-primary level, and two out of four for centres for children under age 3, leaders who report having participated in peer observations or coaching report stronger levels of engagement in pedagogical leadership as measured by the scale of leader support for pedagogical learning, and compared to leaders who had not done so (Figure 4.20). Participation in induction or mentoring and online courses or seminars are also associated with higher levels of engagement in pedagogical leadership in a number of countries. This provides some pointers to potentially more effective forms of development, but it could also be that ECEC centre leaders who engage more in pedagogical leadership tend to participate to a greater extent in these forms of professional learning. Courses or seminars attended in person, the most common form of professional development on average across countries at pre-primary level, is not associated with higher values in the pedagogical leadership scale in any of the participating countries.

TALIS Starting Strong asks ECEC centre leaders about their satisfaction with their job and working conditions. While leaders are highly satisfied overall with their jobs, they report relatively low levels of satisfaction with their salaries, in particular in Germany and Israel (pre-primary education and centres for children under age 3), Iceland, and Japan (Figure 4.21). Levels of satisfaction with remuneration are, however, higher in Chile, Norway (both levels of education) and Turkey, with 50% or more of leaders “agreeing” or “strongly agreeing” that they are satisfied with their salary. In Japan, Korea and Turkey, centre leaders are less satisfied with their other contract/employment conditions, compared to the other countries. In all countries, leaders report that they highly enjoy working at their current ECEC centres, which may be an indication for a good match between leaders and their centres.

Results from the first volume of TALIS Starting Strong show that leaders are generally satisfied with the support they receive from staff at their centres as well as the support received by parents or guardians (OECD, 2019[4]). Centre leaders, however, differ considerably across and within countries in the extent to which they report needing more support from their responsible authority. In Japan and Korea, almost 90% of centre leaders “agree” or “strongly agree” that they require more support. In Chile, almost 74% of leaders report the same level of agreement. By contrast, in Denmark (with low response rates) and Norway, less than 35% of leaders in both pre-primary education and centres for children under age 3 state that they need more support from authorities, and the vast majority of leaders express agreement rather than strong agreement (Table C.4.43).

Given the potential of early childhood education and care to equalise opportunities in life (Johnson and Jackson, 2019[44]), it seems essential that all ECEC centres have the leadership required to provide a high-quality environment for children to learn and develop. This section explores key aspects of centre leaders’ leadership functions and how they differ in relation to two sets of equity characteristics: 1) children’s characteristics in terms of socio-economic status and language spoken at home; and 2) centre characteristics in terms of human and material resources and neighbourhood safety (see Annex B).

As highlighted in the chapter’s analytical framework (Figure 4.1), administrative and pedagogical leadership constitute essential functions of ECEC centre leaders. Looking at centre leaders’ administrative function, differences in the levels of human resources appear to be associated with the time leaders spend on this part of their role. Leaders in centres with low levels of human resources, as perceived by leaders, spend more time on administration than leaders in centres with high levels of human resources in Denmark (with low response rates) and Korea at the pre-primary level, and in Germany and Israel in centres for children under age 3 (Table C.4.44).

The resources available to centres and centre leaders also seem to be associated with pedagogical leadership practices, as perceived by staff, at least in some countries. Notably, pre-primary staff in Denmark (with low response rates) and Iceland in centres with low levels of human resources are less likely to “strongly agree” that their centre leader encourages co-operation among staff to develop new ideas in their practices. In Turkey, by contrast, staff in centres with low levels of human resources are more likely to report strong agreement with statements like “the centre leader ensures that staff take responsibility for improving their practice”. Other aspects of pedagogical leadership appear related to shortages in material resources. In Chile and Germany, staff in pre-primary centres with low levels of material resources are less likely to “strongly agree” with statements such as “the leader has a clear vision for the centre” (Table C.4.45).

These results could be interpreted in different ways. For instance, it may be that leaders who report engaging less in their pedagogical role also pay less attention to equipping their centre with pedagogical materials and are less successful in ensuring the ECEC centre is adequately staffed. Or it may be that centres with material and human resource shortages make it more difficult for leaders to engage in pedagogical leadership. In Germany and Israel, pre-primary staff in centres whose leaders “disagree” or “strongly disagree” that there are places where children can play safely report to a greater extent that their leaders ensure that staff feel responsible for the children’s development and well-being (Table C.4.45).

Looking at differences in staff perceptions of the quality of pedagogical leadership by the composition of centres in terms of children’s socio-economic or linguistic background, there are no consistent associations and levels of agreement are similar overall. In Israel, staff in centres for children under age 3 with a higher share of children from socio-economically disadvantaged homes are more likely to “strongly agree” that their centre leader ensures that staff feel responsible for the children's development, well-being and learning. In Germany, staff in pre-primary centres with a higher share of children whose first language is different from the language(s) used in the centre report lower levels of agreement with statements such as their centre leader ensures that staff take responsibility for improving their practice. Since levels of agreement among staff are relatively high overall across countries, these results suggest that more disadvantaged centres have similar conditions to provide a quality environment for children, at least in terms of leadership (Table C.4.46).

Engagement with parents is a key part of process quality in ECEC centres, so another function of leadership worth revisiting from an equity perspective. As discussed in the section on leadership functions, ECEC centre leaders were asked about the frequency with which their centre engages in formal and informal communication with parents or guardians. Further analysis of the data show that the extent of engagement with parents does not seem to differ much between centres serving children and families of different backgrounds. Considering general practices of formal and informal engagement with parents (see Figure 4.14), the following considers differences concerning “daily”, “weekly” or “monthly” communication for formal engagements, and “daily” or “weekly” communication for informal engagement with parents.

Looking at the extent of centres’ informal communication with parents or guardians, Iceland is the only country with statistically significant differences between centres of different socio-economic composition. Centres with a higher share of children from disadvantaged homes communicate more frequently than centres with a lower share of children from disadvantaged homes, although levels of communication in those centres are still relatively high (Table C.4.47). The extent of centres’ formal communication with parents, for example in the form of parent-staff meetings, differs again only in a few countries, namely in Israel (pre-primary) (by children’s socio-economic composition), and Chile and Norway (centres for children under age 3) (both by children’s language background). In all of these cases, centres with a larger share of children from disadvantaged homes or whose first language is different from the language(s) used in the centre report communicating more frequently with parents than centres with a lower share of children with these backgrounds (Table C.4.48).

The availability of human resources is associated with the level of informal communication in Israel in both pre-primary centres and centres for children under age 3, and in pre-primary centres in Japan. In both countries, centres with low levels of human resources report less of this type of engagement with parents. A shortage in material resources is related with higher levels of informal communication with parents in pre-primary education in Iceland and in centres for children under age 3 in Germany (Table C.4.49).

While the survey was carried out prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, the closure of ECEC centres in countries around the world has required particular responses from centre leaders and staff to keep contact with parents and support them in their care for and education of their children. As the data from the survey suggest, ECEC centres and their leaders and staff in only a few countries already invested in reaching out to parents who may be harder to reach, and not all centres were equally equipped for doing so. A number of countries participating in the survey sought to support ECEC centres as part of their response to the pandemic to ensure educational continuity for children and support parents and children at home, even though the impact of these initiatives remains to be evaluated (Box 4.2).

This chapter presented findings from TALIS Starting Strong about ECEC centre leaders’ leadership and management of their institutions. It analysed the scope of centres and leaders to shape the use of their resources and the design of their curriculum and policies, examined how centre leaders engage in their different leadership functions, and how they structure their leadership. The chapter also analysed the ways in which centre leaders’ practices relate to staff working conditions and professional learning as well as to staff’s self-efficacy beliefs and use of pedagogical practices in the centre. Leaders’ professional development and working conditions were also assessed.

These findings point to different areas that policy may address to make the most of ECEC centre leaders and ensure they are in a good position to guide the work of staff and shape centre environments for children to learn and develop:

  1. 1. Support centre leaders in fulfilling their multiple functions, by providing them with the necessary resources and quality working conditions, as well as support from staff.

  2. 2. Support the professional learning of centre leaders, by investing in new models of leadership development and facilitating continuous professional development.

  3. 3. Promote the engagement of ECEC centre leaders in planning and facilitating professional development for their staff, for example by involving leaders in assessing skills needs in their centres. These issues are discussed in more detail in Chapter 2.

  4. 4. Facilitate leadership among staff, by defining clearer pathways for career progression and arranging working time so staff can get involved without this creating a burden on them. This may include creating a leadership pipeline through staff development and defining clearer pathways for career progression. These issues are discussed in Chapters 2 and 3.

The first two policy pointers are discussed below.

The leadership of ECEC centres entails a variety of functions and responsibilities (see Figure 4.1). Leaders need a clear understanding of their role in order to best fulfil their diverse responsibilities. Leadership preparation and development have an important role to play in this by setting expectations and helping centre leaders to develop the necessary skills to fulfil the many demands on their role. Strong pedagogical leadership may help support staff feeling confident in their ability to foster children’s learning and development and to support the use of specific practices within the centre. While leadership practices need to be adjusted to the needs of specific centre contexts, leading the pedagogical work of ECEC centres should thus make up a considerable part of ECEC centre leadership in practice. ECEC centre leaders could be made more clearly responsible for setting the conditions for staff’s professional development or for monitoring children’s learning and development to ensure that they focus on these responsibilities as part of their role. Regular external evaluations that provide formative feedback to centre leaders on pedagogical aspects may also be a tool for fostering pedagogical leadership.

The size of centres has been demonstrated to be an important factor influencing the way centre leaders spend their time, be it on interactions with children (see Figure 4.7), administrative tasks (see Figure 4.8) or pedagogical leadership. In some countries, the size of centres also appears to influence the overall time leaders report working at the centre. Larger centres may thus require different supports and leadership structures to enable centre leaders to fulfil their many roles and ensure the smooth operation of centres. Similarly, leadership practices seem to be associated with the resources available to centres, be they in the form of materials and space or staff. While the direction of this association cannot be determined from the analyses carried out here, ensuring that the allocation of material and human resources responds to the specific needs and challenges of each ECEC centre seems an important condition for effective administrative and pedagogical centre leadership.

Indeed, when asked whether they need more support from their local, municipality/regional, state or national/federal authorities, leaders of centres with low levels of human or material resources are consistently more likely to “agree” or “strongly agree” (Figure 4.22).

Distributed leadership structures may help centre leaders to fulfil their different functions and strengthen the quality of leadership in ECEC centres overall. For instance, staff members within the centre may take on leadership for different aspects, such as mentoring colleagues or engaging with parents. Some countries participating in the survey have created specific middle leadership roles in this respect or various leadership positions with differentiated roles (Box 4.3). Keski-Rauska et al. (2016[45]) describe a model of shared leadership from a municipality in Finland through which leaders work in pairs to strengthen both pedagogical and administrative leadership, the necessary conditions this requires, and the challenges involved. While staff leadership may support leaders in their role (see Figure 4.16), the chapter has also shown that a more horizontal distribution of leadership is associated with greater levels of collaboration among staff (see Figure 4.18) and with higher levels of staff satisfaction and well-being (see Figure 4.19).

Too much administrative work, such as filling out forms, represents a significant source of stress for large shares of centre leaders in many countries participating in the survey. Policy may thus need to pay greater attention to how to relieve the administrative burden on leaders, for instance through investments in data management systems or the availability of administrative support.

While centre leaders are satisfied overall with their jobs, they would benefit from greater recognition of the importance of their work (see Chapter 3 on raising the status of the ECEC profession). This includes a review of remuneration and contract conditions, with which centre leaders report being less satisfied (see Figure 4.21). Data from OECD Education at a Glance provide another perspective on salary levels across OECD and partner countries with available data (Figure 4.23). As the figure shows, in a number of countries, opportunities for leaders to progress in the salary scale are very limited (e.g. Finland, Poland and Turkey). In other countries, such as Chile, Colombia and England in the United Kingdom, however, the maximum salaries of school leaders differ significantly from minimum salaries, which may help attract and retain staff in centre leadership roles. In these countries, maximum salaries are more than twice as high as minimum salaries. The figure also provides a comparison of leaders’ salaries with those of teachers. In a number of countries, such as France or Greece, remuneration between both roles does not differ considerably, potentially making leadership positions less attractive.

Table 4.4 shows the levels of decision making for setting pre-primary school leaders’ salaries and the way compensation is structured in countries participating in TALIS Starting Strong. This gives an idea of avenues for making compensation more competitive (e.g. compared to other types of staff). While salaries are the result of collective bargaining processes in Iceland and Norway, they are centrally set in Chile, Israel, Korea and Turkey. In Japan, salaries are determined locally. In three countries, a separate salary scale is in place for leaders, while in another three countries, leaders receive a specific allowance in addition to their teacher salary.

Preparing ECEC centre leaders effectively for their different functions and roles, and providing them with opportunities to further develop their skills according to their needs, is a further important step to ensure high-quality leadership in administrative, pedagogical and other functional areas.

As analyses in this chapter suggest, while the levels of qualification generally do not seem associated with leadership practices (see Table 4.1), the content of initial training and education for centre leaders may help emphasise specific leadership functions over others. In some countries, leaders whose education and training included a course on early childhood reported spending less time on administration. In other countries, leaders trained in early childhood or pedagogical leadership reported spending more time on their pedagogical leadership function than those not trained in these areas (see Table 4.1).

Given the importance of pedagogical leadership for process quality, leaders should have opportunities to learn about issues related to pedagogical leadership, such as the observation of staff practices with children, effective feedback based on observations and collaborative culture, as well as early childhood development, as part of their preparation and continuing professional development. As highlighted in Chapter 2, there seem to be benefits for broad training of staff, that is ambitious curricula for initial preparation and in-service training that cover a range of thematic areas and the possibility for in-service training to update knowledge and skills in areas covered as part of pre-service training.

Concerning in-service training, responses from centre leaders suggest that more traditional forms of training, such as courses and conferences, are more widespread than models that involve observation of leadership practices and learning among peers. This is also evident from some research from national contexts. In Germany, for example, short courses of up to 3 days made up 91% of provision according to a survey, while quality circles or team supervision made up only 20-33% (Beher and Walter, 2010[47]). However, while formats such as peer observation and mentoring are associated with stronger engagement in pedagogical leadership, this is not the case for more traditional forms of training. This suggests ECEC centre leaders may benefit from different forms of professional learning, although more still needs to be understood about effective leadership development. Box 4.4 provides some examples of practices of leadership development in countries participating in the survey.

Moreover, leadership development does not seem to differentiate sufficiently between the needs of novice and experienced leaders. For instance, the share of novice leaders taking part in induction or mentoring activities does not differ from that of experienced leaders, although arguably, novice leaders may benefit the most from such activities as they take on a leadership role. Time resources represent an important barrier to leaders’ participation in professional learning (see Table 4.3). To enable leaders to participate in professional development, policy should consider ways to create time in leaders’ schedules for engaging in continuous learning. Where costs or incentives appear to hinder ECEC centre leaders from engaging in professional learning, policy may review existing financing mechanisms and how participation can become more attractive to centre leaders.

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Notes

← 1. Centre leaders are defined as those individuals with the most responsibility for the administrative, managerial and pedagogical leadership in their ECEC centre. In smaller centres, centre leaders might also spend part of their time working with children (Sim et al., 2019[12]).

← 2. A publicly managed centre is a centre whose leader reported that it is managed by a public education authority, government agency or municipality. A privately managed centre is a centre whose leader reported that it is managed by a non-governmental institution (e.g. a church, synagogue or mosque; a trade union; a business; or any other private institution or person). Privately managed centres may be publicly subsidised or not. For more details, see Box 5.1 in the first volume of TALIS Starting Strong 2018 (OECD, 2019, p. 188[4]).

← 3. Based on national data provided by the Ministry of Education of Chile, in 2019, all of the country’s 3 521 leaders of early childhood centres for children under age 3 were female. In pre-schools and schools for children aged 4-6, 3 366 or 36% of the country’s 9 341 leaders were male, 5 975 or 64% were female.

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