Karen Duff provides support not just to the children in her care but also staff members and parents, especially in recent months when the setting has experienced a number of setbacks.
At the start of the year, a dedicated member of the team with whom Karen had worked for more than 15 years lost her battle with cancer. Thanks to her close relationships with staff, Karen was able to put together individual support plans, allocating time for each team member to come and talk to her.
Karen also led campaigns in aid of the member of staff’s charity, and since January has raised more than £2,000.
She is currently also supporting a staff member who has recently lost a baby, while simultaneously monitoring her own health after being recently diagnosed with diabetes.
Staff say none of this has ever affected Karen’s positive attitude and determination in the nursery, with one member of the team commenting, ‘Despite grieving herself, Karen has supported us all through this very tough time. Her door is always open to parents and staff – she is kind, warm and welcoming; offering support, signposting to other services, or just being a shoulder to cry on.’
Karen co-ordinates a large staff team of varied professional levels, meaning each requires tailored coaching and leadership. Karen adapts her time and skills to each staff member individually and provides support on a daily basis, with everyone having individual plans so staff have a clear view of which areas they can develop further.
She also provides induction sessions for staff, ensuring they feel fully confident in their roles before they are contractually due to start work. Staff attend regular evening training sessions, which Karen designs and delivers herself.
Karen leads meetings for children with additional needs and chairs safeguarding meetings for children and their families along with other professionals.
Tiny Toez started online learning journeys in early 2015 and it was Karen’s keen eye for children’s development that realised the new assessment programme was not tracking children correctly. Karen liaised with a local school to compare with the tracking it had developed and realised the nursery’s online system was automatically registering too many children as gifted and talented. Karen notified the managing director and quality improvement manager, and started to rectify the data herself. She worked with parents on their child’s starting point and put in extra hours at the setting and at home getting the data correct. Her efforts on this were specifically commended by Ofsted at the last nursery inspection.
Karen also goes the extra mile for parents at the nursery, some of whom have dyslexia and find they can read and understand letters only when written on certain colours of paper. Karen will tailor each letter to the parent on a weekly basis when sending out any correspondence or invoices, and is looking to develop the resources provided by the online learning journey program to see if there is a way this process can be adapted to work within the virtual world as well.
Joint winner - Anjali Deb-Mukherjee, LEYF House of Commons Nursery
In the words of Anjali Deb-Mukherjee’s colleague, ‘Many managers are good, but few are great. Anjali is a great manager.’
This was never more clear than in March this year, when a terrorist attack in the vicinity of the Palace of Westminster caused the LEYF nursery, situated in the House of Commons itself, to be put in lockdown.
With parents unable to collect their children, staff unable to leave at the end of the day, and children in danger of becoming very distressed, Anjali kept her team focused, and persuaded the children that they were part of an adventure with the excitement of a possible sleepover. They were given their dinner and put to bed with a story, so when their parents were finally able to pick them up at 10pm all the children were fed, watered and asleep.
Throughout the experience Anjali kept in contact with parents to keep them updated and reassure them their children were safe. The next day Anjali and her team were at the nursery at 8am determined to carry on as usual, in what one parent called ‘an incredible show of teamwork and resolve’.
June O’Sullivan, chief executive of LEYF, called Anjali’s response ‘a proud moment for the organisation’.
Anjali has been managing for more than 20 years. She managed a local community nursery and then two social enterprise nurseries, including leading the first Outstanding nursery in Westminster and then opening the first House of Commons nursery.
Her relationships with parents, who in the House of Commons setting in particular can come from all levels of society, are highly respectful and considerate, and she consistently displays her willingness to go the extra mile to ensure their needs are met in what can be a complex environment.
Anjali has been consistently praised for her confident and kind management style. Staff say she inspires them to work together as well as towards their own personal goals by encouraging and supporting each team member to look at ways to continuously develop practice, and by celebrating and showing gratitude for achievements. One team member said, ‘It is Anjali’s steadfast confidence in her team that motivates us all to always strive to be the best we can be.’
Anjali also has a reputation in the organisation for having established a ‘crèche for staff’, as her nurturing approach to professional development sees a large proportion of her team progress to senior positions in the organisation. Currently, four LEYF nursery managers are described as ‘ex-Anjali’.
The House of Commons nursery has no garden, so Anjali takes children to St James’s Park every day, no matter what the weather or circumstances. She also has a creative approach to play-led education. Natural resources and a sense of environmental responsibility have been a feature of the nursery for many years, since Anjali first introduced take-home bags of brown paper and Sellotape for fun time in the kitchen.
She also helps children succeed developmentally and educationally. One example is a child who was diagnosed with Down’s syndrome, who through continued support left the nursery at the age of two able to walk and communicate thanks to regular physiotherapy and Makaton sign-language sessions.
King’s Park Nursery, Portico Nursery Group
When, in 2014, Portico Nursery Group took over King’s Park, Nicole Politis, director of the group, recalls that Joan simply said, ‘Don’t worry, I will look after everything for you’, and describes how ‘in her loving and motherly way, Joan had all the staff and parents happy within a few months’. The nursery gained an Outstanding Ofsted rating just nine months later.
Even after 39 years in the sector, Joan says work is never a chore. King’s Park is located on an industrial estate, but Joan encourages regular visits to the local duck pond and nature walks on the estate. Joan works hard to ensure early interventions are put in place, families are given necessary support, and all SEND meetings with professionals are fully supported.
As a manager, Joan quietly gets on with her work while being professional and caring towards her team. The staff respect her mentoring and discernment and are happy to approach her with any difficulties, while Joan loves to spot potential in others and encourage them to train for the next step in their careers.
Amy Devine, Holyrood Astley, Bertram Nursery Group
Rachael Richards, The Cheshire Day Nursery@Winwick
Open to any nursery manager in a full daycare or sessional setting