Nursery Chains: Profile - Onwards and upwards

Olivia McCrea-Hedley
Monday, November 17, 2014

Sarah Rotundo-Fergusson won Nursery Operations/Regional Manager of the Year at the 2014 Nursery World awards. She talks to Olivia McCrea-Hedley about her career and what inspires her.

Why did you choose a career in the early years sector?

I've always wanted to work with children, but when I was younger I wasn't sure exactly what I wanted to do. I suppose I fell into childcare when I took a role as an unqualified nursery assistant and I've never looked back. I fell in love with the job and decided to do my degree with the Open University while working at the nursery. I then went on to get my Early Years Professional Status at Kingston University.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I love the variety and the fact we're able to make a difference to young children's lives. I passionately believe in the importance of high quality early years education - if we get that right then a lot of the problems for children later down the line in school can be avoided. I also love the people element of it. Our teams are so diverse and there are so many different roles. There aren't that many jobs where one day you can be meeting a parent and really honing your customer service skills and the next day working with a regulator.

How did it feel to be named Nursery World's Nursery Operations/Regional Manager of the Year?

A bit of a blur! It was a surprise as it was lovely to be shortlisted but I don't think you ever really expect to win. I was really overwhelmed. For me, it was a nice end to my journey with the Co-operative Childcare as well.

What are you most proud of achieving during your career?

I'm proud to be helping change perception about the type of person that goes into early years. I think we all still battle against some preconceptions that the sector isn't a serious career. Proving that you can be academic and work in early years and that you can build a successful and rewarding career out of it is something I'm very proud of.

What motivates you to keep taking further steps to improve the quality of childcare?

Although the sector works together, it is still quite fragmented with lots of providers doing different things. I'm passionate about trying to pull us all together so that we have one strong, united voice, because the more co-ordinated our voice is, the more power the sector has - that's why I got involved with the Ofsted Big Conversation. The more we can work together with the likes of universities, voluntary providers and childminders, the better for the industry as a whole and the faster we'll make progress.

How do you find the time to balance your main job with setting up new initiatives and working with other organisations and charities?

It's really important to be organised and plan my time effectively. You also have to know when to say no and recognise that you can't do everything. Developing my team has also helped me to take on additional projects.

I work closely with my area managers to make sure they are able to run their parts of the business successfully. Surrounding myself with people who are strong and supportive and work well as a team has been really important in allowing me to have the time to work on other projects.

You are about to change jobs to work with Childbase Partnership. What attracted you to the new role?

I've always been really interested in Childbase as a company. I think the whole concept of having an employee-owned organisation is absolutely fascinating. Working with the Co-operative Childcare has given me an insight into a member-owned operating model, whereas Childbase has an alternative operating model. There's an opportunity to drive colleagues to be involved with every aspect of the company and I see a huge appeal with that. I'm looking forward to helping the company to keep developing and remain on top of its game.

What are your ambitions for the future?

I'm so excited to be joining Childbase in a director's role and am looking forward to getting to know the business really well. That's my immediate ambition. In the long term, I certainly want to stay within early years and I'm very keen to remain involved in initiatives I've been working on, such as the Ofsted Big Conversation.

I'm hoping to be with Childbase for many years into the future and I want to keep proving that our industry can make a difference to young children.

I also want to show that we can succeed in achieving the best of both worlds: we can run businesses that are sustainable and provide job security while maintaining a really high quality of childcare and continuing to push the boundaries of what outstanding childcare looks like.

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