In 15 years as area manager at the Portico Group of seven settings, Sarah Fillinghamhas worked alongside one of the group directors to ensure the nurseries remain fully compliant and has helped to achieve five Ofsted Outstanding outcomes.
Sarah focuses on day-to-day operations and the EYFS agenda, working closely with managers and their teams to ensure policies and procedures are working efficiently, encouraging effective time management through prudent use of technology and revised planning procedures, and helping managers to be pro-active and meet deadlines. Sarah also works with managers to ensure occupancy levels are optimised by using appropriate marketing.
Sarah therefore has a comprehensive and detailed understanding of each nursery’s targets and plans, and her work schedule is flexible so she can support each setting as required. This enables her to facilitate collaboration among managers, and gauge training needs first-hand.
All of Sarah’s work is underpinned by being visible and ‘hands on’ in the nurseries, communicating with children and staff, as well as keeping up to date with industry-wide initiatives and changes.
Sarah spends 50 per cent of her time in the room observing practice. When she visits each setting, all the children know her name and always give her a warm welcome, and she regularly spends hours talking and listening to the children.
She gives feedback to staff in a thoughtful and constructive manner, helping them become even better practitioners.
Sarah is currently working on staff well-being strategies to further motivate her teams and to ensure the low staff attrition rates in the group continue. She is passionate about empowering her team to learn, develop and try new things, irrespective of their role.
Recently, Sarah looked at the planning used for children’s profiles. She listened to staff concerns about spending too much time out of the room with paperwork, and attended training and researched paperless and electronic forms of planning. After months of research and pilots, she has implemented a new form of planning for the whole group, and for the first time in several years the results of the staff questionnaire did not make any mention of not spending enough time with the children.
Sarah’s role also requires her to keep abreast of new ideas, research and updates within the sector, which she does with diligence and aplomb. She keeps up to date with all things early years through articles and email updates, attending training courses and as a prolific Tweeter (@sarahfilportico).
Last year she undertook the National Professional Qualification for Senior Leadership to help raise outcomes for children in Maths and Understanding the World, and to close the attainment gap between the prime and specific areas of the Early Years Foundation Stage across each age group within the nursery settings.
The course further developed Sarah’s leadership skills, improved interaction with staff and procedures across the nursery group, and has embedded a culture of continuous reflective practice in the workplace.
Projects that Sarah undertook as part of her studies continue to improve practice at Portico in the long term. A key aspect of her course was to improve planning processes, which she then rolled out across the group. Sarah provided evening introduction workshops and continued to offer support through emotional well-being audits.
Additionally, she set up online learning stories and iConnect introduction workshops at all settings, improving the communication between home and nursery.
One nursery owner comments, ‘If Sarah was my area manager, I would never let her out of the building!’
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Open to senior employees of nursery groups working across some or all of the company’s settings