Nursery World Webinar - Quality first

Charlotte Goddard
Monday, December 21, 2020

Nursery World’s webinar, ‘Early years qualifications and training: Ensuring quality’, in partnership with WMC Training, explored the increasing need for high-quality training and development in the early years, asking how employers and training providers can work together to navigate a shifting landscape. Chair of the panel Charlotte Goddard reports on the discussion

Monkey Puzzle Day Nurseries has a ‘progression pathway’ for staff
Monkey Puzzle Day Nurseries has a ‘progression pathway’ for staff

In early years, the one thing that is consistent is change. New developments in qualifications, such as the move towards employer-friendly, standards-based Level 2 and 3 apprenticeships, are running alongside changes in the EYFS, in the Ofsted inspection process and, of course, the changes imposed upon settings by the pandemic. ‘The bar keeps being raised and our expectations keep going up,’ said Tracy Walker, quality and compliance manager at WMC Training.

EMPLOYER INVOLVEMENT IN TRAINING

Nursery World’s panel of experts agreed that close relationships between training providers and employers have never been more important. With the pressure on settings to recruit and retain staff – 45 per cent of respondents to our webinar poll said they had problems retaining staff – there is a commercial imperative for settings to partner with training providers, as well as a need to drive quality within the setting.

‘It is absolutely fundamental employers support training in the nurseries,’ observed Richard Blunden, group managing director at Monkey Puzzle Day Nurseries. ‘If you look at exit polls for staff leaving nurseries, the biggest factor for staff leaving was about lack of progression.’

Ms Walker spoke of the importance of a three-way relationship between provider, employer and learner. ‘Early years is so individual, and every setting is different,’ she said. ‘There is no one size fits all, so it is about working out what that individual setting needs.’

A positive partnership can result in benefits to the whole setting, not merely to individual learners, she said. ‘We know that for effective training to happen, then it needs to happen across a team. If you train someone in isolation, it has far less impact.’

She described numerous situations in which learning and resources provided to one member of staff were cascaded throughout the nursery, to the benefit of all.

Progression pathway

Louise Hayes, owner of First Friends day nursery group, described how she supports staff to progress in their careers by encouraging them to identify the training they are interested in pursuing, whether that is baby massage or Forest School leadership. ‘I feel we keep our staff, because each staff member has a training plan, and we will do everything we can to ensure that they’re happy in the workplace, and that they can see their potential staying with First Friends,’ she said.

A progression pathway is also important for Monkey Puzzle Day Nurseries, which is creating a nursery manager development programme. ‘We want members of staff at all different levels to be able to aspire to different roles, and to understand what they need to do to get to a nursery manager level, and what that means,’ explained Mr Blunden.

Requests for training at Levels 5, 6 and 7 are becoming increasingly commonplace, revealed Ms Walker. However, it is also important to ensure a strong foundation with quality training at entry level. ‘What we don’t want is a wobbly wall that then is likely to fall down when things become a little tricky, or when we are building on top of it,’ she said.

Apprenticeships

The new standards-based apprenticeships at Level 2 and 3 were designed with input from employers to raise quality, with end-point assessments carried out by independent assessors. ‘The end-point assessment is viewed positively by the sector as a way of increasing confidence in qualifications and raising the standard with that independent verification,’ said Ms Walker.

The qualification also allows the student to achieve different grades, up to a distinction, rather than simply a pass or fail. ‘That gives us the opportunity to really stretch and challenge some of our learners and push them up to that top level in order for them to progress,’ she said. ‘It focuses the sector on quality.’

The Government is encouraging businesses to sign up apprentices, with additional payments of up to £2,000 for those hired between August 2020 and the end of January 2021. Ms Hayes said while these incentives were welcome, First Friends would have continued to take on apprentices without the extra funding.

‘They are a great asset to the team,’ she said, citing the ability of an employer to ensure apprentices are steeped in the vision, values and pedagogy of a setting right from the start. However, she warned settings against taking on too many apprentices. ‘It’s an investment of time, especially for the managers and their mentor.’

Impact of Covid

For some settings, the lockdown period provided an opportunity for staff to take advantage of furlough and engage with training. ‘We have seen some learners who have shot up in progress because they were furloughed and were able to engage with their assessor much more frequently,’ said Ms Walker. The number of apprentices signing up increased during that period, she revealed.

‘Crisis is an accelerant, the sector is innovative, and we find ways to do things differently,’ commented Mr Blunden. At Monkey Puzzle, the majority of training pre-Covid took place at the head office, but now it is taking place in bubbles within nursery settings, which is more efficient, he said.

However, the pandemic has also restricted access to training. Six out of ten of respondents to the Nursery World webinar poll said Covid-19 had had a negative impact on training, with only 19 per cent reporting a positive impact, and 21 per cent seeing no impact at all.

‘I know my staff miss that face-to-face training,’ said Ms Hayes. ‘We’ve missed visiting other nursery settings – we feel that it’s so important to share practices, and unfortunately we can’t do that at the moment.’ In the meantime, First Friends is using a closed staff Facebook page to share ideas, and is using staff meetings for training purposes.

Funding issues

The biggest barrier to quality training is lack of funds. More than seven in ten (71 per cent) of poll respondents said budget cuts had made it more difficult to source local-authority-funded training.

Online training is often cheaper, and has exploded over lockdown. But while it has a place and purpose, it also comes with a red flag, said Ms Walker. ‘We advocate online for certain training courses, but you must follow it up,’ she explained. ‘Depth of learning is only going to come through reflection, through discussion, through trying out different things and making that difference.’

Quality training can make all the difference when it comes to an Ofsted inspection. ‘If you can turn to an inspector and say as a setting or as a room, we have done this training and this is how it has been delivered, this has been the learning, this has been the impact on the children, then you are starting to tick your boxes,’ explained Ms Walker. ‘However, nothing should ever be done just for Ofsted. Everything we do should be for the children and families we are supporting and for the personal development of our practitioners.’

Meet the WMC Training panellist…

WMC Training is proud to have sponsored and delivered this webinar. We have helped more than 3,000 professionals gain nationally recognised childcare and management qualifications. We are passionate about the role of high-quality training and development to drive skills and knowledge within the childcare sector.

Tracy Walker, who was on the webinar panel, is our quality and compliance manager. Tracy oversees ten tutor assessors, driving the quality of our teaching and learning to ensure our students and employers get the very best from us as a Government-funded training provider.

Tracy’s background is wide and accomplished, and ranges from being a private nanny, nursery manager, children’s centre leader and early years advisor to an Ofsted inspector. Tracy and her team of tutor assessors believe in helping you create a workforce that understands the importance of the early years, has a passion to make a difference to the lives of children and families, and is skilled in enabling every child to meet their full potential.

If you would like more information about accessing 95 per cent funding for your staff training and development, or if you think you have what it takes to be a WMC tutor assessor, we would love to hear from you. Call us on 0800 644 6877 for a free prospectus.

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