Nursery World Awards 16: Individuals - Nursery Manager of the Year

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Debbie Gunn, The Natural Childcare Company, Solihull

manager

Debbie has withstood two moves of premises and overcome health issues to be crowned manager of the year. Her outstanding ability to form relationships shines through all aspects of her work. She joined the company eight years ago, with Natural Childcare Company director Tim Landreth saying, ‘It wasn’t just Debbie’s CV but her attitude and enthusiasm for providing high-quality childcare while looking after her staff that won her the job. Debbie exudes confidence, which is absorbed by staff and parents alike, allowing her to develop superb relationships.’

When the second move took place from a school site to the nursery’s current location in the Old Library in Solihull, Debbie’s role grew to encompass ensuring that parents and children were fully prepared for the move and, crucially, that the new premises were suitable and safe to move into.

Mr Landreth says, ‘This was no mean feat and as a result of Debbie’s very careful management of the whole situation, bookings continued to come in, existing children remained with us and the new premises is safe and welcoming.’

When it comes to SEN provision, Debbie excels. Multi-agency relationships, such as with the local authority inclusion team, have been carefully developed by Debbie, who also works to ensure that everything is in place for these children, from the right equipment to each child being assigned a key worker who is best able to meet their needs.

This is backed by the parent of a profoundly disabled child, who says, ‘We approached the nursery knowing that many people in our position had had difficulties with mainstream nurseries, being made to feel unwelcome and even being turned away. The response couldn’t have been more different; there was never any question of Annie not being accepted by the nursery, and every effort was made to ensure that staff were trained and prepared to deal with her needs.

‘They worked with us to ensure they had a full understanding of any issues or concerns with Annie, and assigned an experienced member of staff to be her key worker, as well as the nursery’s SENCO who works very closely with her.’

She adds, ‘At every stage she has been welcomed, included and encouraged to learn and develop far beyond our initial expectations of what she might achieve.’

Debbie, who has a professional studies degree in childcare, Early Years Professional Status, and is Montessori trained, led the setting to Outstanding status in February. She and her team were praised by Ofsted for being ‘incredibly passionate’ and, along with the leadership, for setting ‘ambitious targets’ for future improvements, such as extending outdoor provision.

‘Debbie has huge capability, strength and vision’ - Judge

Highly commended

Tracey Brett

Willows Day Nursery, Childbase Partnership

Tracey writes and leads training not just for her team and three additional nursery settings, but for parents too.

Her relationships with staff were singled out by the directors. Tracey has ensured that every member of staff has a personal development plan, with staff well-being – through regular supervision and coaching – high on her agenda, and with redecorating the staff room one of her first tasks as manager. She has also instigated a Remida area, sourced funding for the outdoor area and introduced the Leuven scales.

Liz Thomson

Hillcity Day Nursery, WMB Childcare

Liz works in a diverse area of Manchester where 80 per cent of families attending have English as a second language. For parents, she has sought advice about everything from benefits to school places.

The setting has recently accepted many children with social services referrals and additional needs, and now refugee families. The setting has become something of a ‘place of refuge’ for children and parents.

Liz is an early years teacher and has a BA in social policy. ‘I have always felt that Liz is very knowledgeable,’ says one parent.

Finalists

Rebecca Casserly, Little Green Rascals, York

Michelle Randle, Maple Leaf Day Care, Digby

Criterion

Open to any nursery manager in a full daycare or sessional setting

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