This is an exciting time of year at London Early Years Foundation (LEYF). There’s the annual Summer conference where 800 LEYF employees will listen to keynote speeches at the London Hilton Metropole and go on to enjoy an evening of wine, pizza and music at one of LEYF’s lovely nurseries. Room leader Usma Hussain thanks her lucky stars that she’s back to the job she loves – and climbing up the career ladder as well.
Last September, Usma, 27, left LEYF to become a teaching assistant, a decision which she regretted just four weeks into the job.
‘I thought the grass was greener,’ she admits. ‘I’d been a nursery pracitioner at LEYF for seven years – it was my first job after qualifying with my Level 3. But when I applied for a room leader position and didn’t get it, I hastily looked elsewhere.
'Although I now know I made the wrong career choice, it taught me a valuable lesson. I realised that the way LEYF nurture and support their staff and provide on-going training and support to help them progress in their career – not to mention the amazing perks – is the exception rather than the rule.’
GROWING WITH LEYF
Usma was really happy when she secured another role after three months back at LEYF as a room leader in the baby room at the group's new Barking Riverside nursery on the Essex border. This is a role in which she’s using some leadership skills she has studied during in-house LEYF training which will stand her in good stead in her goal to become a nursery manager.
‘Working with babies is the most amazing job and I feel totally supported by LEYF to progress my career,’ she says. ‘It’s the little touches which make us feel special, like receiving a bar of chocolate for being staff member of the month. I also have my own LEYF mentor who helps me to identify my next training opportunity though the LEYF Academy. This is available to all LEYF permanent nursery staff, to help us build our careers.’
Usma has just completed an Aspiring Leaders Level 3 Management Course, for which she was released one day a month. She is able to put this into practice on a daily basis as she manages two members of staff in the baby room and mentors them. She also needs to lead by example, by setting up interesting provocations and activities for the children.
‘I’m also gaining experience by leading staff meetings and I’m the next person in charge when the manager and deputy manager are absent,’ she explains.
As well as the training opportunities and the culture within the organisation to progress your career, the benefits package was ‘another compelling reason to return', Usma confesses. ‘Not only do we get a seven percent employer contribution towards our pension but also the pay and conditions are above the national average within the sector, and we get paid overtime.
‘The gym discount and annual travel loan are useful for those living in and around London and we get up to 25 days annual leave plus bank holidays and an additional three days over the Christmas period when our nursery is closed. Another amazing benefit is the 50 percent off childcare costs,’ she adds.
The benefits of working for a large organisation – particularly a non-profit-making one where the profits are reinvested back into the company – are that staff get the opportunity to build their skills through training and to progress to new roles within the organisation. In fact, LEYF aims to promote 50 per cent of their leaders from within.
‘With 39 nurseries across London, there are always vacancies, and movement across our nurseries is accepted’, explains Saudaa Nadat, senior nursery manager at Barking Riverside, who has worked her way up from Level 3 nursery practitioner to senior nursery manager within the 11 years that she’s been with LEYF.
The organisation also has a team of 139 bank staff on their books and they are ‘integral to our running of the nursery’, offers Saudaa. She continues, ‘Flexible working allows nursery practitioners to continue career development if they are unable to commit to a full time, permanent role. In the previous nursery that I ran – The Conservatoire, in Blackheath, south London - we had 15 full time and eight bank staff. One of our regular bank staff was a university student who worked for us two days a week and during the holidays. Others were parents who worked school hours or had another part-time job.'
The beauty of being bank staff is that candidates can pick and choose their hours; they can work one week and not the next and fit work around other commitments. The interview process is the same as for permanent members of staff – they require two references and a DBS check - and they are allocated a main nursery but can work at other nurseries if there are no hours at their main nursery. Bank staff don’t have to be qualified but they must have some form of childcare experience.
‘We don’t just look at their childcare knowledge,’ explains Saudaa. ‘We look at their qualities, for example, if they are kind and nurturing and understand children’s needs. At LEYF, bank staff are treated as LEYF members of staff – they get support with observation, planning and activities. They are very valuable members of the team because sometimes, if we are over ratio, it gives teachers time to do some paperwork or put up a display or focus on a child with SEN.’
LEYF wants to hear from Level 2, Level 3 and above permanent staff, or bank staff who want to #GROWwithLEYF.