Can the Genie of the Lamp help us find the best staff in Early Years?

LEYF nursery staff trainingThere was a flurry of activity at our Central Office last week because we were interviewing for new staff. We need new staff because we have increased our capacity to accommodate more two-year-olds. The morning saw the arrival of the interview team of LEYF nursery managers and deputies expressing great hope and enthusiasm: new staff, new blood, more stability for teams and less dependence on agency staff. Hurrah!

As someone invited to sit on Professor Nutbrown’s Expert Panel, I supported the intention to have the best quality of staff in our settings. I am keen that the Level 3 is relevant and appropriate. By this I mean that anyone wanting to work with children are given a solid grounding in both child development and how children learn, so they know how to care for a child in a warm, empathetic and good-humoured way. We have long despaired about the qualification being watered down to the point where it has become too broad. As such, I welcome the opportunity to comment on the review of Level 3 qualifications.

Nonetheless, I am a pragmatic person and wondered how we would achieve this baseline quickly enough to meet the needs of the Two Year Old expansion. The outcome of our interviews last week was telling…

Three hundred hits on our advert results in 200 CVs being submitted. These are then followed up with instructions to download the information pack and complete an application form. At this point you see a big drop off: seemingly people just don’t want to write the letter (literacy, literacy, literacy). Those who do are invited to interview. Here at LEYF we call this an assessment centre, where potential staff complete a selection of activities and get to visit a nursery. The final interview pulls all this together to ensure we can both work together successfully.

The outcome is depressing and predictable. We had people who had managed to achieve their qualification within 10 weeks (and you could tell). We had recent college graduates who did not know what was meant by the EYFS. We had candidates who really struggled with spoken English. One manager said they had asked if candidates saw the position as a job or a career (don’t knows just don’t cut it). The enthusiasm began to wane throughout the day…

I chatted with our man from HR: is there not high unemployment he asked, scratching his head? There is, only the trouble with recessions is that staff sit tight, especially those in lower paid jobs (they cannot afford the risk of moving). According to the Office for National Statistics, 2012 saw a 42% drop in people leaving their jobs and the labour market at its least dynamic for 13 years.

So what shall we do? LEYF staff interviewing said they used courage (one of LEYF’s five core values) to help them in the selection process:

We will give one or two a chance for three months, during which time we will balance the risk, complete the induction and observe their impact on the children. (We think it’s a risk worth taking rather than continuing with agency staff.) We will then make a courageous choice to say ‘Goodbye’ if its not working.

Back in HR there is talk of reviewing the selection process. Maybe we will scrap the application form; does it tell us enough anyway? Yes, says Mr HR but we have to remember that any recruitment process must reassure Ofsted that it’s robust.

Does it feel like déjà vu? Remember 1997? The great ambition was to take on 100,000 new staff to expand childcare and enable people to work. Fantastic, if only it weren’t for the same problem we now face: getting enough of the right staff in place to turn the ambition into a reality. Without the power of the genie’s lamp, we can rub all we like, but we simply cannot ‘magic up’ enough good staff. As a result, twelve years later, and further stymied by a dogged recession, we appear to have made little progress.

So, here is a real task for our Minister: use the LEYF value of courage to get out there and talk the sector up!

  • Make schools understand the importance of childcare as a career option
  • Build childcare into the Career Guidance DNA
  • Make child development a key subject on the school curriculum
  • Get the Treasury to understand that Early Years training and learning needs continual funding just like that for school teachers
  • Get the sector in the press for the right reasons

Children are all our responsibility from conception. Invest in this at every level of the education system, starting right here and right now.

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  1. #1 by Nina Smith on April 2, 2013 - 3:53 pm

    great blog June as a person that was also sucessfull in the interviewing process with LEYF.It is a great place to work at and i miss it greatly.for me childcare is a career a calling a passion deep within that when you talk about it you get all excited.LEYF was all about this good staff need to have all this and willingness to learn.But it seems that people have less passion today than when i started my childcare career. It sad but true.Leyf does still rock

  2. #2 by psw260259 on April 2, 2013 - 2:05 pm

    Another thought provoking blog June. Recruitment is always difficult and I do wonder if there is a better way to establish who the ‘right’ person is,

    I think sometimes a person without the best formal qualifications, is the person with all the other skills needed but who perhaps has been let down by the education system, or had to miss out on further education for a number of reasons including financial, confidence, availability of courses and so on. but who if given the opportunity through CPD and employer support may gain those qualifications.

    I think back to my own start in caring for children – it was as a teenage mum – yes married and a planned for child but I lacked experience, confidence and qualifications – but I did have all the other skills such as a desire to ensure my child was safe, well looked after, loved, stimulated, happy and so on. When my second child came along I found my self as a parent helper in a playgroup and from there my journey began following the path of many before me – supported, encouraged and given opportunities to gain the qualifications and experiences needed. I went on to become a tutor, an assessor, a LA staff member, key volunteer for those organisations that had faith in me – and of course an Outstanding Childminder. I think that if I had had to apply for that position as a parent help via an application form and an interview my journey would have been very different.

  3. #3 by Tina Knowles on April 2, 2013 - 1:48 pm

    As someone who was successful at an LEYF interview a good few years ago (June interviewed me!), I have to say at the time the interview was a very positive experience. Although I have now moved on to pastures new, I still have very positive memories of working for LEYF, and always encourage any good practioners I meet who are looking for a new challenge to apply to LEYF.

  4. #4 by Fiona Johnson on April 2, 2013 - 12:50 pm

    So much still needs done to properly train our young people to enable them to play a vital part in child development. Working with young children isn’t an ‘easy option,’ it’s the most important and appropriate time to provide the highest quality staff – so why can’t this country achieve this?

  5. #5 by laurachildcare on April 2, 2013 - 11:14 am

    Great blog, June! Very sad but true. Links to a blog a did a while ago about qualifications.

    So much to be done within schools and training colleges to prepare our young people for work and more importantly how to apply for a job.

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