EYFS training part 6: Key person - Understanding how to give 'professional love'

Boost your knowledge of the key person role, says Mary Evans.

When David Norman attended an early years key person training course, he found himself being encouraged to think back to his own childhood and talk about happiness. 'The starting point of any training session is so important,' says Mr Norman, assistant head of Bemerton Children's Centre, Islington. 'We talked about what attachment actually is and what it is to be a happy person.'

He attended a course run by Hand on Heart Training's Lizzie Chittleboro and Chris Blanshard, who devised it when they saw the disparity of provision among practitioners. In some cases there was a lack of understanding of the significance of the key person. They say the aspects which practitioners find most challenging vary depending on the setting. However, common themes include:

  • Lack of understanding of the significance and theory behind the role of the key person.
  • The implications for rotas/staffing/resources/support that are ignored or seen as less important.

Ms Chittleboro believes that understanding attachment theory, pioneered by John Bowlby and elaborated on by Mary Ainsworth, is crucial. 'During the course we tease out the significance of attachment theory. It is often like finding the missing piece of the jigsaw for practitioners as they begin to see how this understanding can directly affect the role of the key person and their daily practice,' she says. 'It also has implications for managers attending the training, as they see how to support their staff in the implementation of this role.'

Ms Blanshard says the concept of the key person was introduced by Elinor Goldschmied, based on her concern for the emotional well-being of babies and young children in daycare settings. 'Her concept was to allow warm attachments to develop between staff and children in the setting.

'If children are emotionally secure they will be comfortable and feel safe enough to explore and learn. Ainsworth's "Strange Situation" experiment recognised how a young child performed more successfully when they felt safe and secure with an adult. When the recognised adult had left, the child became distressed and unable to relax. A child who is relaxed will have a more positive disposition to learn.'

Mr Norman says the course also has a practical element as it looks at how social and emotional development can be nurtured through positive relationships and enabling environments. 'The trainers brought along resources such as treasure baskets and books and showed us how they could be used to enable the children to become comfortable with the person working with them. We have since developed a resource library so, for example, if someone is working with a child whose grandparent is very unwell, they can borrow a book on that topic to read with their key child.'



Kathy Brodie, Early Years Professional and trainer, says, 'People come into childcare because they want to work with children, and taking on a key person role increases the feeling of job satisfaction.

'The term "key person" underlines that it is a personal rather than a working relationship. "Key worker" sounds like "social worker" or someone in admin.

'On the EYFS forums, managers say the key person system reduces staff absence - practitioners do not want to let their key children and families down.'

Ms Brodie says key person training is essentially about the social and emotional development of babies and young children. 'The role changes as children develop. With the youngest children it is a personal relationship because intimate care is required. As the child develops it becomes more of a mentoring role, and you are encouraging the child's independence; the child knows if they look over their shoulder there is someone there to catch them.

'Marion Dowling talks about "professional love" - you can be very close to a child and be professional. If you are running an EYFS key person course there is a difference between childminders, PVI settings and schools. For childminders, being a key person and having close contact with the child and family is part and parcel of the job. In a daycare or sessional setting you have to work a bit harder to get to know the family. Some settings have a buddy arrangement to cover for sickness and holidays. In reception classes you often have the teacher as key person for all 30 children, as parents will want to raise concerns with the teacher and not a teaching assistant.'

Ms Brodie says a key person course should underline the duty the practitioner has in safeguarding the child and look at how to build relationships with children's families.

'A key person needs to be friendly with parents but not necessarily friends. I have come across practitioners who can be a bit sniffy about parents who work long hours, five days a week and question why they have children. I will explain it is not their place to make judgements about parents. They have to accept the parents' values. The role is about understanding parents' point of view.'

Ms Brodie says managers as well as their staff can benefit from training. 'The key person is responsible for intimate care of babies and the youngest children so the rota for nappy changing should not be one person on Monday and another the next day,' she says. 'The carer has to be somebody the child knows and trusts. The key person should be someone who can tune in to the child.'


24 and 25 June

Starting from Positive Relationships - A Focus on Guiding Young Children's Behaviour from Birth to Three Years: developing sustained relationships between early years practitioners and individual children and their families, through the key person system. Led by Jennie Lindon and held at Early Excellence, The Old School, Outane, Huddersfield. Tel. 01422 311314 www.earlyexcellence.com


  • Attachment and the Key Person Led by Chris Blanshard and Lizzie Chittleboro of Hand on Heart EYFS Training, West Sussex, at venues/dates to suit clients. Tel. 07881684879 or 07791 791161 www.handonheart.co.uk
  • Who is my Key Person? Held by the Childcare Consultancy at venues/dates to suit clients.Tel. 020 8689 7733 www.childcareconsult.co.uk
  • Unlocking the role of the Key Person in the EYFS and Identifying the Skills and Knowledge required to be an effective Key Person. Courses led by Yvonne Batson-Wright of Training Designs at venues/dates to suit clients. Course can be three or six hours in length, to suit the needs of the setting. Group workshops also available. Tel. 0845 643 4231 or 07917 095 967 www.trainingdesigns.com
  • What is a key person? Led by Sheona de Quincey of Discovery Training Services. Based in Carlisle but courses are offered at venues/dates nationwide to suit clients, for individuals or a group of up to 20.Tel. 016977 46709 or 07594 341725

- Further information

Five-part guide, Key People, by Anne O'Connor, Nursery World 2008, www.nurseryworld.co.uk/go/keypeople/

Five-part guide to attachment, by Anne O'Connor, Nursery World 2007-08, www.nurseryworld.co.uk/go/attachment/

Next month: Partnership working with parents

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