Rebuilding Your Staff Team, Part 1 - Welcome back

Jo Caswell
Tuesday, July 28, 2020

As well as meeting the needs of children, how can settings ensure staff are properly looked after during their return to business as ‘normal’, asks Jo Caswell

Managing an early years setting has always been complex and challenging. However, in the current climate, the pressures placed on leaders are even greater as we try to negotiate these unprecedented times.

As settings start to reopen, leaders have extensive new guidance to adhere to and plan for changes never seen before in the early years. Children returning to settings and reuniting with their friends and staff is lovely to see. But behind all the smiling faces and new ways of playing, leaders have the challenging task of rebuilding their teams and re-motivating their workforce.

Many early years staff will have continued to work throughout the lockdown period, providing a vital role in supporting key-worker families and vulnerable children. At the same time, an equally high number of staff will have been furloughed when settings closed in March. I know of some settings where a small team of staff continued working throughout lockdown while others were on furlough. Leaders must now merge their teams and begin their journey towards the new ‘normality’.


Creating continuity

The importance of emotional well-being, in children and adults, cannot be underestimated. Some staff may feel very anxious in leaving the security of their homes and their families and returning to work after so many weeks in lockdown.

Leaders will need to reassess the individual needs of every staff member.

What, if anything, has changed for each person? Has he/she been directly affected by the virus? What strategies may need to be put in place to support individuals? One-to-one discussions and team meetings can be used to help identify what help, if anything, is needed. This is a valuable time to reflect on staff well-being and re-assess what each person needs (see case study).

Despite the many challenges involved in managing the reopening of settings, some important lessons have been learnt from those who have remained open throughout lockdown.

Managers have reported to me that staff have quickly adapted to the new ways of working. The ‘social bubbles’ they have adopted reinforce the importance of the key-person system. In line with guidance, small groups of children now stay with consistent adults to minimise the spread of infection across the setting.

Staff say this has reminded them of the importance of continuity for children. During this time, the attachment between children and staff has become closer and staff have reported how much better they have got to know the children they look after. The daily routine is more settled as a consistent staff member takes full responsibility for the care needs of every child in their ‘bubble’.

This model is one which works well. As an increasing number of children return to settings, the effectiveness of a setting’s key-person system will be tested. Staffing rotas and the deployment of staff must focus on prioritising children’s emotional well-being. Leaders should take account of Elinor Goldschmied’s attachment theory. Ensuring the emotional security of children has never been more important in these changing, unfamiliar times.

Time for positive changes

Take some time to reflect on how the routine in your setting used to run. Staff have told me that before they sometimes did not have time to talk to all their key children each day as they were deployed to other duties. Staffing rotas are important as they ensure the smooth running of a setting. But let us use this time to think how we can successfully combine a well-organised routine while still prioritising children’s emotional well-being. Now might be a good time for some positive changes.

At present, the role of a leader has never been more important. Staff look to senior staff for guidance and support. Following lockdown, new routines will have to be implemented, changing previous ways of working. Some staff may find this challenging. A manager who is seen actively adopting these routines and leading by example instils confidence in their team.

Parents need reassuring that settings have taken relevant action and a visible, friendly manager’s presence each day is imperative in regaining parents’ confidence in leaving their children. Talk to parents about what changes are being implemented, and why, so they fully understand them too.

Safeguarding children is always our top priority. Following lockdown, assessing the needs of children has never been greater. Staff need to quickly evaluate any changes in a child’s personal circumstances. The power of observation is vital here. What is a child’s behaviour demonstrating? How has a child’s demeanour changed? Leaders need to ensure that all staff are confident in assessing whether a child is vulnerable. Team meetings are often used to discuss safeguarding issues, but how relevant and effective are these?

Now is a crucial time to make sure every staff member is astute in quickly picking up on any signs that may indicate a child is vulnerable and take prompt action in line with the setting’s safeguarding policies. Make sure all staff know these policies and fully adhere to their responsibilities. There will be more about the training and development of staff in the next article in this series.

Although the present climate is very unsettling, we can all use this time as a valuable opportunity for reflection. Managers play a crucial role in making settings run smoothly and ensuring high quality. Now is a perfect time to revisit policies and reflect on whether they are relevant. Do they cover changes that are now needed and how will staff understand them? Keeping teams motivated and ‘on board’ with change can be challenging, but use these opportunities to remind staff of the valuable part they play in keeping children safe, supporting families’ economic well-being and ensuring children benefit from the highest quality care to prepare them for future learning.


Jane is the manager of a 50-place day nursery in Surrey. She is also the appointed mental health first-aider. During the lockdown period, Jane has been reviewing the nursery’s policies and procedures.

While before lockdown an agenda item was included in every team meeting about emotional well-being, Jane recognises that more needs to be done daily to assess staff welfare. Since opening, she has completed a one-to-one meeting with every staff member to fully understand their personal circumstances. In addition, she wanted to ensure there were always clear lines of communication with her team to identify any changes in staff well-being.

In the kitchen area, she has created a ‘worry board’. This enables staff to talk about how they are feeling and share any worries they have. Jane identified that some staff were less confident than others in discussing their concerns, so she also created a ‘Please contact me’ text system. Jane reports the take-up rate for this has been incredibly positive.

Staff discreetly alert Jane to any worries they have, and confidential discussions can then take place. Jane has noted that staff use the ‘worry board’ to share more collective concerns, such as managing the new infection control measures and keeping children safe within the nursery. Staff morale has significantly improved since she implemented these measures. They report they feel reassured that some of their general worries and anxieties are also shared by others, and a collective approach is adopted towards allaying concerns.

Jo Caswell is a former senior manager with Ofsted. She has over 30 years experience in early years and is the director of JLC Early Years Consultancy.

Part 2 of her series, in our September issue, will focus on training and development

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