Early Years Podcast…what fun, I loved it!

Asked recently by Richard of EY Podcast would I like to record a session I of course said YES! Most definitely…I love an opportunity to share my thoughts on early years, training and, I suppose, life in general. In the words of a major telecommunications supplier “It’s good to talk”.

So having run through the topic spec with Richard and sorted out what tech I would need (very little it turns out, just decent headphones, with a mic and access to Skype), we agreed a date and time…unfortunately we agreed different dates and times, entirely my fault, so missed each other first time round…however us EY folk are nothing if not determined so we recently successfully recorded the session and oh what fun it was. Richard and Heather, of Astec Solutions, are knowledgeable on their topic, do their research well and perhaps most importantly are skilled, natural conversationalists. I had a ball, thoroughly enjoying the recording session and talking easily on my favourite topics, this despite our office cleaners nearly interrupting with Henry the Hoover in tow!

Have a listen, share and join the conversation…we’d love to hear your thoughts.

Susan McGhee Early Years Podcast 010

Me to you…here’s what I do (and a little hotel review too)

Let’s start by saying when I started my career in early years, many, many moons ago, I never for a second thought it would involve the kind of things it does today.

I guess my can’t keep my nose out, need to get involved attitude always meant I wouldn’t stay in my initial early year’s role as a Nursery Nurse but did I expect my job to involve hours and hours based at a desk? Loads of travel? (mainly by road, occasionally by rail and increasingly by air) …no, no, no, absolutely 100% not. If I’m honest there are days when I miss “being on the floor”, I love visiting nurseries, chatting with children and observing the way they and the staff interact with each other, the space and the resources.

But hey! I’m lucky, I still get to visit nurseries. I get to share my experience and knowledge and I get to interact with some fabulous people as I try to support our sector, doing my bit for the future of the workforce, our services and (aargh!) local and national policy.

So…what do I do?

Well here’s my “life in a day/week in the life of” story and some of my thoughts for the future.

4.40a.m. Ugh! Alarm goes off and even though I’m not a great sleeper and am often awake by this time, I immediately hit SNOOZE! I try for one snooze session but often its two, regardless I try to be up by 5a.m., pull on some sports gear and hit the treadmill, exercise bike, weights or yoga mat as I slog my undignified way through an early workout…bedhead and all.

6a.m. breakfast, laundry, quick check on social media, tidy up a bit then wake my three beautiful daughters at 7.

Daughter 1; aged 19, at equestrian college and hates getting up…needs at least four wake up calls and is invariably grumpy in the morning.

Daughter 2; 16 years old and studying for the fast approaching exam season…just like to get on with it quietly and with minimum disruption (or conversation) as she gets herself ready and heads off to school.

Daughter 3; 11 (very nearly 12) and usually awake before I start my round of morning wake up calls, catches up with last night’s snapchat, drags a brush through her hair, pulls on her uniform and organises gym, swimming or running club gear and possibly her guitar too. Then it’s usually a mum cabs trip for school drop off or on the days I’m away or out too early its Gran or Grandad to the rescue.

Next, having already ploughed through a massive amount of jobs, it’s time to head to the office or wherever else my day is taking me. Hubby, by the way, was also up at 5a.m. and off to work early so he can be back for the afternoon and evening parent cab duties…and try to fit in his own fitness session too.

Morning slot over…what does a day at BNG look like for me? Well for a start no two days are ever the same and my day’s plan can rapidly change in response to opportunities and challenges that arise. But last week saw me…

  • In our Edinburgh office at a board meeting briefing my board colleagues on quality standards, growth, targets, challenges and achievements at BNG.
  • Planning and scoping out competitive tender bids for new contract opportunities.
  • Reviewing course material with a colleague in our team.
  • Meeting with some of our key nursery group clients to discuss their ongoing training needs.
  • Supporting our teams through funding audit and awarding body verification and approval processes.
  • Telephone screening candidates for a new business development role.
  • Meeting the contract manager for one of our funding contracts to plan for the future and carrying out a business planning call with another of those funding bodies too.
  • Working on GCSE delivery challenges for apprentices in the early year’s sector across England.
  • Getting involved in Scotland’s MA Week.
  • Coming up with social media promo ideas for World Book Day.
  • Discussing procurement opportunities with a number of local authorities.
  • Chatting to some children in one of the nurseries I visited.
  • Finalising plans and flying to London for Childcare Expo where I spent all day Friday and Saturday chatting to so many hugely dedicated early year’s people that the time flew by.
  • Catching up with NEYTCO colleagues and giving a video interview about BNG

Most nights I arrive home, shattered, between 7 and 8p.m. and chill out by cooking a simple, tasty tea for myself and the family and enjoying a wee glass of wine…often followed by another session on the laptop before falling exhausted into bed. This weekend however was different as I was staying in London to take my place on our BNG stand at Childcare Expo.

Many people think travelling for work is glamorous, believe me…it’s not! Yes I stayed at the Hilton and I know I’m lucky to be able to do that but I’d much rather have been tucked up in my own bed. This was my second stay at a Hilton in recent weeks and my third since joining their Hilton Honors programme.

Initial thoughts…well I’m a little familiar with the hotel having attended meetings there in the past but this was my first stay in this Hilton and I guess when booking a Hilton Hotel I work on the basis that it does what it says on the tin. They’re a known quantity and, although they wouldn’t be my first choice for a family break, I’m usually reasonably relaxed and manage to catch a few zzz’s in readiness for the next busy day in the world of BNG. This time not so good and I don’t think I’ll be rushing back to Hilton London, Olympia. For a start the sign on the inside of my bedroom door telling me “In the interests of safety and security please ensure your door is double locked at all times” was far from reassuring. Added to that the room had a musty, unpleasant smell and the décor had a definite 70’s vibe going on…then worst of all the wine was pretty yuck and for me that’s always the straw that’s going to break the camel’s back.

Any way moan over…I’ve covered my early career plans, where I am and what I do today and even managed to squeeze in a wee hotel review but I also promised some thoughts for the future so here goes.

Let’s start with opportunities, there are loads of them out there, more than you, I or anyone can grab onto at any one time so I’m prioritising and grasping out for those sweet spot ops that offer the most gain in the here and now. I’m mindful that opportunity doesn’t come knocking on anyone’s door and that to keep those opportunities flowing it’s necessary to get out there and find them.

I’m also working on the basis that the people you are with, the way you feel and the experiences you immerse yourself in are more important than the material things in life. I still love shopping and can’t resist when that little voice in my head says “buy the shoes Susan!” but these days those shoes are just as likely to be trainers or walking boots as they are to be high heels. I’m pushing myself to try new things and to care less what others think. Process over product as they say but that’s my EY background pushing its way back out and is a whole other blog in itself.

Finally if you’ve got this far and stuck with my ramblings, thank you. Remember I appreciate your comments and hope that you might re-visit my site soon, maybe even to read that Process over Product blog that I can feel pushing its way out even as I close this one off.

Making an exhibition of myself (and BNG)

Bags packed, display items and stand giveaways all ready to go…hi-ho, hi-ho, I’m off to Childcare Expo!!! Following last month’s successful event at the Nursery World Show we’re exhibiting our services at this weekend’s Childcare Expo event in Olympia, London. We’re looking forward to meeting lots more great early years folks, sharing news of our training solutions and even giving away a couple of fab story hampers in our free prize draw.

hampers pic

Sounds great? Yes…and of course it will be but it’s the weekend!!! Why am I, and my colleagues, giving up our valuable free time to attend a trade show??? Here’s why:

  1. We love everything early years
  2. We’ll be catching up with our wonderful friends, colleagues and peers in the sector
  3. We’re growing our business
  4. We want to hear what challenges our current and future (hopefully) clients are facing
  5. We enjoy seeing the many innovative products and services on display
  6. It’s vital that we keep our own sector knowledge current and relevant

So here’s what we’ll be doing…I’m off to Glasgow Airport to hop on a flight to Heathrow, my colleague Eliana will fly down tomorrow from Edinburgh and our Skills Consultant, Ryan, is currently loading his car in Manchester ready to drive down with all our supplies for the weekend.

Bright and early tomorrow morning we’ll be setting up our stand (F40) with our posters, brochure bags, the obligatory sweeties (who can resist a sweet treat?) and our fabulous story hampers. We’ll be laying out our prize draw entry forms and we’ll be preparing ourselves to answer questions, give advice and share information about the world of training, qualifications, CPD, e-learning and more.

We’ll be chatting with our fellow exhibitors (we’re a friendly bunchJ), getting to know the layout of the show and the times of the speakers and seminar sessions. We might even squeeze in coffee and a pastry to keep us going once the show doors open.

At 10a.m. we’ll be switching on our brightest smiles and we’ll be ready to welcome visitors to the show…we’re hoping for a busy day and we’d love the chance to say hello if you’re going to be there.

At show close time on Day 1 we usually get a wee treat…drinks with our fellow exhibitors, lovely!

Day 2 will dawn, far quicker than we ever expected, and we’ll be off again, chatting to the many wonderful early year’s people who also give up their free time to attend the show. The days fly by…with the exception of that last hour when weary exhibitors are struggling to keep smiling, voices are starting to croak and…oh the sore toes! But show close will soon arrive then it’s time to pack up the stand, collect all our leads information, thank the organisers, say goodbye to our exhibition buddies and run, drive, fly home to our families.

Family time, a lovely Sunday…then back to business Monday morning as we follow up on information requests, get those super story hampers couriered out to their lucky winners and crack on with the research and development ideas we’ll have sourced from chatting to visitors at the show.

Hope to see you there.


Fitness, Fun n Food…my way

monkey bars

A different kind of training in today’s blog…sharing my fitness story. Enjoy, share and remember I welcome your comments too.

Spring 2015 and I’m taken with the idea of a Pretty Muddy run…a couple of glasses of wine with cousin in law (is that even a thing?) Lucy and we were set. All booked up for the Leeds Pretty Muddy event…and a weekend at a spa hotel with the hubbies ;))

Rapidly hit with a reality check I was questioning could I do it? Luckily my can do attitude (and belief that I can do anything I put my mind to ) kicked in and I decided it was time to get fit, get ready and get moving, basically get my ass in gear!

I hired a treadmill (great service from Fitness Takeaway), set myself a 10k steps a day challenge and bought some pretty pink dumbbells and a stability ball. Kit bought, determination fired up, the next challenge was fitting in time to workout. I’m a busy lady, a working mum and a businesswoman who definitely struggles to say no. My diary and to-do list are always crammed and I am 100% a “sleep when I’m dead” kind of person but where there’s a will there’s a way. I’ve always been an early waker so decided to put that time to use, no more early morning cuppa whilst playing around on social media…my mornings are now my workout time.

Alarm set for 4.40, I allow myself 1 x press on the ten minute snooze button then I’m up, pulling on my fitness gear and hitting the treadmill. I’ve now added an exercise bike and kettle bells to my collection and try to workout 5 out of the 7 days each week.

I’m sure it’s not a pretty sight…bed head and trainers style, but it works for me.

Hubby meanwhile is running ever more seriously and our three girls are all active and fitness conscious too…we’ve definitely built fitness into our everyday lives.

pretty muddy


And as for that Pretty Muddy race, well of course Lucy and I did it, got well and truly muddy then along with masses of other ladies in pink we hit the pub, still in our tutus and covered in mud for a celebratory glass (or two) of fizz.


Happily hooked on mud and obstacles I’ve since done the Tartan Warrior OCR race with Frank and Olivia and taken part in lots of their fab training days too. They certainly make you work and the obstacles are challenging but what a fab way to work out, fresh air, fun and fitness…you can’t beat it. Joda and John at Tartan Warrior are great trainers and have definitely encouraged me to try more and challenge myself.

As for food…yes we’ve cut out the rubbish but apart from that we pretty much eat what we want, when we want. We try to go for the fresh option and where there’s a choice pick the low fat version but we’re by no means strict…I couldn’t manage without a Friday treat of spicy, cheesy nachos or a yummy curry and I love a glass of wine…no surprise to anyone who knows me ;))

Less than a year since starting I’ve lost well over 2 stone, dropped 2 to 3 dress sizes and feel deprived if I miss a workout…yet if you’d told me I’d feel like this just over a year ago I’d have thought you were crazy. I’m feeling fab and enjoying life, it is after all too short not to make the most of it.

So to anyone thinking of starting their fitness journey I’d say go for it…do what suits you when it suits you. The best time to workout is the time you’ll do it and the best, most effective exercise is the one you enjoy so actually do on regular basis. It doesn’t matter how slow you go (believe me I am slow!) you’ll be lapping everyone sat on the sofa doing nothing.

A Challenging Time in Early Years

So today I have written and scoped out a stack of blog posts to tweak and publish over the next couple of weeks…I’m determined that being busy won’t become an excuse for failing to blog. I have already posted today but catching up on emails and correspondence this afternoon has fired me up to post this one…why oh why are our government creating conflicting policies that we on the front line will find incredibly hard to implement successfully…Please policy makers listen to us and work with us, we only want the best for children, families, our workforce and our country.

Anyone who knows me will know I’m passionate about training, qualifications, workforce sustainability and our fabulous early year’s sector. I’ve been involved in the sector for nearly 30 years and I’ve worked in local authority, voluntary and private sectors so I have a really broad range of experience

I believe that we all have a responsibility to speak up, get involved and work together for the good of our sector and I’m privileged to be able to do that as part of my role at BNG. I’m a member of NEYTCO, the National Early Years Trainers and Consultants Organisation for NW England and I’m becoming involved in getting NEYTCO established in Scotland. I’m Part of Trailblazer group for early year’s apprenticeships and I have been NMT Nursery Top 20 listed in 2014 and 2015. I’m a co-opted member of the National Day Nurseries policy committee in Scotland. I contribute to trade press and am on the editorial board for NMT Magazine.

I’m happy to share my views and happy to muck in and do what’s needed to support our sector. I also know there are loads of wonderfully experienced professionals in our sector, dedicated to driving up quality and ensuring every child and every family gets the best possible experience in the early years.

I know that lots of these people are, like me, happy to give of their precious time and their valuable experience to support the decision makers in our country. To guide our policy makers and to ensure that the policies set are realistic and achievable…that goals can be met and outcomes for children and families are the best they can be.

work together

Why then are we still finding ourselves with conflicting policies, goals that work against each other and almost insurmountable challenges to overcome? Why are we, as private and even voluntary sector settings subsidising government policy?

Let’s consider the admirable aims of our governments:

  • 30 hours free childcare
  • National living wage
  • GCSE requirements

All laudable goals but surely in order to meet them we need communication, shared aims and consideration to be given to what the sector, those experts that are willing to give their advice for free, say are the necessary stepping stones to success.

Yes 30 hours free childcare would be a great thing to offer (of course we have to remember not all families will want this but that’s a whole other blog). To make the 30 hours offer work we need fair funding rates to be paid to providers. At the moment many providers are already underpaid on the 15 hour deal meaning they effectively subsidise the government in offering this. We now know the pilot areas for the September 2016 roll out of the 30 hour offer but as yet we don’t have the detail on the funding rates. How can we expect the business people running nurseries in these areas to plan and understand the impact if this information is not available.

Providers have long been trying to engage with the government on this but are still underpaid and lacking information.

The increased hours will of course result in a need for more staff, but are we creating an environment where entrants to the workforce are encouraged and supported? Where qualifications and training are accessible and affordable…Oh no, instead and despite the advice of our sector professionals, we are applying GCSE requirements and making the funding world ever more restricted and complicated. Of course we all understand the drive to raise attainment and to support literacy and maths at the earliest opportunity through a highly qualified workforce but surely it would have made sense to first look at the GCSEs and get them fit for purpose. Equivalencies that were formally accepted and that are accepted in many other sectors and establishments are no longer acceptable for the early year’s workforce. These challenges around qualifications, school age attainments and funding are resulting in a dramatic drop in entrants to the sector just at the very time when to achieve the government’s own targets we need an increased workforce. I’ve got those Maths and English qualifications but they’re not helping me to make sense of this one! It’s time the policy makers listened too and truly worked in partnership with the experts offering them advice or our sector will be facing a giant workforce sustainability crisis.

Talking of that workforce we’ve also got the impending wage increase of the living wage. I’m totally behind this and believe our workforce deserve to be well paid for the fantastic and oh so important job they are doing but realistically it is going to be a challenge for many nursery businesses.

Faced with underfunding and restrictions on access to funding from local authorities, increased hours, fewer staff and the need to find a budget for contributing to training costs, many nurseries will struggle to pay this. Resulting in the closure of some businesses, reduction in number of child places available and the failure of the 30 hours offer as there aren’t enough places available.

So my message to all in government is please, please listen to us, work with us and together lets create a strong, sustainable early year’s sector, let’s all work towards a shared goal of high quality, affordable, accessible places available to all families who want them. Let’s make working in early years a highly regarded, well paid career with ongoing career development and training opportunities.

Remember please that acronym for a TEAM, Together Everyone Achieves More. Says it all!


Training matters but why? and how do we make the most of it?

Training matters…we all know it does, but do we know why and are we maximising the impact of any training we are purchasing and/or participating in?

Those are the questions I explored with the live theatre audience during my recent Nursery World Show presentation. I’ve turned the content of that presentation into a blog to share, remember to post your thoughts and any questions in the comments section.

So, training…you know it’s important but do you understand why?

Attending training brings fresh skills into the nursery team, helps generate new ideas and sometimes even new revenue streams. Training inspires staff to achieve more.

It can improve quality of provision as best practice is shared and a deeper understanding of the theory behind why we do the things we do helps us to value those tasks and the impact they have on the quality of our service.

Underpinning knowledge is enhanced and the links to regulations become clearer….often we have to participate to meet regulatory requirements but good training is never just a “had to do it”, rather it is a true learning process with a measurable benefit beyond ticking a box…after all nobody wants to be just a box ticker.

Providing training also gives accountability, remember we cannot hold anyone responsible for failing at a task if we haven’t trained them in how to do it in the first place.

It makes our teams feel valued, invested in and respected…and let’s face it we could all do with some of that.

Where appropriate it should be fun and even the toughest of training topics should leave learners feeling they have participated in a rewarding experience.

It helps to strengthen and re-iterate shared goals, we set them together (or we should have) so working on them together is a great way to strengthen our commitment to meeting them.

So you know it’s important, you’re committed to doing it but argh! You’re faced with so many options…how do you know which to choose? How do you understand what your staff need? Who should attend and why? Who should pay? Where and when will the training be held?

Let’s look at some of the options…

DIY: Can be excellent, can be hard work….remember it doesn’t have to be the manager that does it, do any of team have skills to share?

Training Providers: there are some fab trainers and training organisations out there, take references, consider using members of sector groups, think about the location…your place or theirs?, what about the cost? And remember…always ask can the training be tailored to your specific needs.

Local Authority training sessions: As we all know budget cuts mean access to training through our local authorities is now very limited…if it’s still available to you and your team grab it while you can.

Full team events: Always consider do all staff need the same training? Could a group event be shared with other local provisions? Could a couple of team members attend an open event then cascade the training to the broader team?

Annual training plans: these can be for the full setting and/or for individual team members and are useful to help you stay focussed.

E-learning: this can be really effective, it limits the impact on time out of centre, can track and record training, it’s growing in availability and increasingly people are turning to on-line courses to support a blended training approach…after all some of what we do doesn’t have to be face to face and if we can keep precious time for the courses that really benefit from face to face delivery by utilising e-courses where possible it can be an effective way to meet training goals.

Mentoring: this is a great way to bring on less experienced team members in a supportive manner, it values people’s skills and in a caring workforce such as this there are many naturally great mentors.

CPD: Wikipedia definition…Continuing professional development or continuing professional education is the means by which people maintain their knowledge and skills related to their professional lives…vitally important for all of us.

Qualifications: think about what your staff need? What do they already have? Consider a matrix of qualifications for your setting.

The reality of course is not likely to be any one of these options but is more likely to be a blended approach incorporating some face to face, some cascaded learning, some self-driven learning (researching theory, trade press, events etc.), full team events and some online courses.

We’ve looked at the options so now let’s look at the decision making process.

Lots of things to consider and we’ll look at each one individually but remember it is a process. Collins dictionary defines a process as “a series of actions that produce a change or development”. It is not a snap decision, generally not a solo decision (unless it’s just for you for your personal goals) and it’s not an acceptance of what is given to you by others with no involvement from you.

Let’s start with your team.

We can all be guilty of deciding for our teams but to gain maximum engagement should be involving the team in identifying their own areas for development…most people have pretty good understanding of what they are good at and the areas in which they need further support.

Your team need to be confident that they can come to you or their line manager and ask for support, training and advice, they need to feel valued and respected as an important part of the team and to play a part in creating a cycle of ongoing reflection, review and improvement.

A great way to start this is by asking them, regularly and in a non-judgemental way:

Do they have the skills and knowledge they need to do their job well?

Do they have any training needs?

Are there any areas they want to develop in and what do they need to achieve their goals?

How do their goals contribute to those of the broader room, setting and business?

If you are the team member then don’t be afraid to speak up, talk to your manager about the training you believe you need. Be prepared…tell them why you think you or the team should do that particular training, what benefits it will bring and how and where you can do it. Be pro-active…be the difference in your own career, the success of your nursery setting and the outcomes for the children you care for.

learning stylesNow let’s consider the different learning styles in your team.

Every team will have different learning styles but in nurseries as in life it takes all sorts and a team with a broad range of skills, interests, learning styles and character attributes but with a shared goal and willingness to work together is a formidable thing.

Get to know your staff’s differing learning styles, ask them, observe them, include it in their personal development plans…then value and respect the differences and tailor professional development to have maximum impact for your team.

I’m sure you all know about the differing learning styles listed so won’t go into detail on them but in quick summary;

Visual learners: generally think in terms of pictures. Like to see things written down in a handout, text or on the overhead. They find maps, graphs, charts, and other visual learning tools to be extremely effective and they remember things best by seeing something.

Auditory learners: generally learn best by listening. They typically like to learn through lectures, discussions, and reading aloud. Their memory works best through hearing things or speaking them aloud.

Kinaesthetic learners: learn best through moving, touching, feeling, and experiencing.

Read-write learners: enjoy reading, they like to read to themselves rather than being read to, they take notes and will look things up in a dictionaries and reference books.

Remember most people will be a bit of a mixture but will be predominantly one of these styles and you need to ensure the training you provide meets the differing learning styles.

A training needs analysis is a great way to learn more about the training needs in your team. It sounds complicated but put simply it is an investigation into the training requirements of your team. It helps find the best balance of skills and abilities and creates a framework for managers and staff to work towards.

When carrying out training needs analysis you need to look at what skills are needed to run your business. Consider if your existing team have the required skills and knowledge and identify any gaps. Of course you will find lots of skills and qualifications are in place but you will also find gaps and perhaps find out more about the personal goals of your team.

Carrying out a training needs analysis involves the use of job specifications, regulatory standards information, interviews with team members, surveys, quizzes and patience. It is useful to create a simple matrix to cross reference skills and qualifications needed with those already in place…this can be for each individual or at team overview level. Templates are available but might be better to create one to match specific needs of your setting.

BNG can help and offer advice as will many training providers across the sector.

time money Budget and time are likely to be key considerations in your decision making process.

Never something we like discussing but we need to be upfront and acknowledge that they can create barriers to training. You should consider

  • How much?


Pricing varies hugely across the sector, training is a pretty fragmented industry with a range of provider types including colleges, training providers, consultancies, and coaches. Do your research, don’t be afraid to ask about funding options, payments plans and discounts. Be creative…do all of the team need to attend or can some attend then cascade the learning? Can you share the training and the cost with a neighbouring setting? Can you offer to be a host venue for a training provider in return for a few free places on a group course? Remember though your training provider is a professional and will have worked hard to create the training course and materials and as with anything in life there is an element of you get what you pay for.

  • Who pays?


I would generally use the yardstick…will the business benefit? If yes then the business should generally pay. If no…ask yourself why are you doing the training anyway? Of course it is frustrating to pay for training for a member of your team then lose them as their new skills or qualifications make employing them an attractive proposition for your competitors. You could use a training agreement to reduce the impact of this where the employee agrees to stay for an agreed period of time after the training investment and if they leave before this time is up they pay back a percentage of the training cost.

  • Are there any funding options out there?


Yes for qualifications there are but not so much for professional development courses…ask your training provider as they may know of opportunities for funding.

  • When will the training take place? And what implications will it have on maintaining ratios?


Well you are running a busy nursery so of course releasing staff during operational hours can be a nightmare and can have implications on ratios…how do you continue to meet them, cost of backfill etc. Could you allow a limited number of staff to have time out of the setting during the day? What about evenings? Or weekends? You need to consider that the team will be tired after work of an evening and time will be limited to around 3 hours. Saturday training sessions eat into staff’s personal time and it’s a lot to ask of your team but sometimes it’s the only way.

  • What about payroll and toil time?


Do you pay staff for hours spent attending training or give them toil time? Well of course it depends on what is in your contracts but remember your staff will be gaining skills and qualifications from attending the training so this one is down to a bit of negotiation and give and take. Perhaps if your staff members each have an individual training plan in place you could agree to pay for a set percentage of it or perhaps you pay for regulatory required courses but not all courses…very much down to the individual setting and there is no definitive answer but speak to your staff or if you’re the staff member speak to your employer and don’t let this become a barrier to attending training.

Now consider attitude and personality.

Some similarities to what we discussed around learning styles but this one focusses on the attitudes and personalities within your team. If you have a team member who is adamant they are not giving up time at weekends to attend training there is absolutely no point booking them on a Saturday course without first addressing the reasons they say they cannot do this.

Similarly if you have a shy and retiring staff team member you would be wasting their time and your money sending them on a course from which you expected them to cascade knowledge to the entire team…it’s just not going to happen. Consider if you could send two people so they could share the task of cascading their new knowledge and skills…don’t rule out that shy person but try to support them to be able to participate in a way they are comfortable with.

On the other hand if you have a really confident staff member, or someone with a particular skill you could consider asking them to share it with your team, in house training of the DIY variety can be a great success. The team are all comfortable with each other so are likely to be more confident in speaking up and getting involved…no making a fool of themselves in front of a stranger. In early years we’re all happy to do all sorts of things with the children as our witnesses but many of us clam up in front of adults we don’t know. Asking a member of the team to deliver training in this way is also a real confidence boost for their ego, a great way to show that you respect and value them and their skills.

If you are the team member asked to attend a course that you either don’t want to attend or are nervous of attending share your concerns with your manager and try to reach a solution…you don’t want to miss out on valuable training opportunities and they need you to keep you knowledge up to date and to take part in professional development.

If you are the team member asked to deliver an in house training session…go you! Enjoy, share your skills and knowledge and be proud that your talents have been noticed.

Finally remember the blended approach…does it need to be a face to face, classroom session or could it be an online course? What’s going to be the most effective solution for you and your team?

Use your network.

Everyone here today has a network of peers in this sector…some of us have more connections than others but we all have connections and we can use this valuable resource in many ways when planning training.

Planning to use a trainer or training company? Ask your peers in the sector, your neighbouring nurseries etc. if they have used them? What were they like?

Get together and agree training topics you all need and share the cost.

If you have a particular skill or talent, could you offer training to others on a reciprocal basis…agree what each of you can offer and train your teams together.

Yes we’re are in many ways competitors but we are all in this game for the same reason…to provide high quality, fun, safe and caring early year’s experiences for the children and families at our setting and collaboration can be a great asset in achieving your goals around training.

Choice made…time to make the most of it.

So you’ve taken all the right steps to choose your training…now time to make the most of the opportunity you have invested in.

Know where you are starting from…what do you and your team know today…how can you build on that?

Review individual training needs, incorporate this in your staff supervision, if you are the staff member ask your employer if you can discuss your training needs…remember be prepared with the reasons why you need the training you are requesting and what the benefits will be. If you’re asking your employer to cover the cost of the training think about how you can extend the learning benefits to the wider team…cascading information through in house training.

Have a shared goal and make sure everyone knows it…work with your team to set aims and values for the setting…your training investment should support these aims and values. Make sure you and your team have clear understanding of what success in achieving your goal will look like.

Get involved…whether you are the staff member or the employer, get involved, speak up…if you see a training need or are aware of a great training opportunity…share, speak, take part in it together and have fun. Training can be great team building…go for it.

Talk to the trainer, ask them to help tailor the training…are you facing a particular issue in your setting? If so can they incorporate it in your training? Remember bespoke course creation is expensive but skilled trainers can generally reflect your challenges and make their training courses “real” for your team.

Make sure the training is contextual and relevant…provide information for the employee about why the new skills or knowledge is necessary. Be sure everyone understands the link between the training and their job. The impact of the training will be greatly increased if the people taking part see the link between the training and the achievement of their and the nursery’s goals.

If you have been asked by your employer to attend training and you can’t understand why…then ask. Remember the training will be far more relevant to you if you know why you are doing it and what you hope to gain.

Good to go?

So you’ve booked the training, decided who is participating, you know your starting points, goals and success criteria. You’ve agreed clear plans with the training provider and taken all the pre-event steps you can to ensure things go well…you’re done, yes? Well actually no…the next thing to keep in mind is:

Be prepared…if you or your staff are attending an outdoor learning course make sure you’ve got the appropriate clothing and footwear. Remember that old adage…about there being no such thing as inappropriate weather and if you’re training outside in the wet, get your wellies on.

If it’s an online course, check that any participants have the I.T equipment they will need and know how to log on and access the course.

If there is reading to be done before attending then make sure everyone has the notes and time to read them.

Go into it with an open mind and a willingness to get involved…in training as in life we get out what we put in so go for it.

After the training reflect and review…how did it go?

Were the team engaged and actively participating? Was it fun? Have you/they learnt anything new? What, of the things you learnt, will you apply to your daily practice?

In the words of Wikipedia; Reflective practice is the capacity to reflect on action so as to engage in a process of continuous learning. A key rationale for reflective practice is that experience alone does not necessarily lead to learning; deliberate reflection on experience is essential.

So take the time to think, use your original goals and consider did the training meet them, have you achieved what you set out to and can you see any impact on daily practice.

Measure the impact…your measurement technique will vary according to the training topic but you should be able to see a real and lasting impact on your setting, yourself and your team.

Was it sticky? Measuring the impact of your training is a vital part in understanding if it has worked for you, measurement informs future purchasing and helps plans next steps. Measurement records feed into development plans and can provide great regulatory evidence. You should measure: Engagement; Learning; Transfer of learning to daily practice and Impact on service

It’s good to have a template to record expectations and goals pre training as well as a means of recording how well the training met your expectations, what you will take from the training into your daily practice and what the next steps for you are.

It’s also good to look at the impact a few months after the training, are the things you learnt still evident in your work place. If the training was in response to issues in the workplace have those issues now been resolved? Are you seeing improved outcomes in your provision?

You can also rate the training provider, the materials used and venue….all useful information to have at hand when planning future training opportunities.

Record it…evidence matters.

As we all know only too well we are a highly regulated industry so it makes sense to record and keep evidence of training that has taken place, the reasons it was chosen and the outcome of the training.

It can help to keep a simple matrix showing all staff and their record of training as well as keeping individual records for each person. These records can be kept in paper files or on secure online platforms…just be mindful of data protection.

Individual staff members should take responsibility for their own training records…it’s all about ownership and accountability, training is something to be valued and it is important that our workforce is proud of its commitment to training.

Remember it’s a continuous cycle of improvement.

You need to regularly update training records, review your training needs analysis and keep checking that those benefits are still evident in your daily practice.

Training is not a one off activity it’s an ongoing process and there are always next steps needed so take the time, using the methods discussed today, to identify those next steps and go for it.

Thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts on training…why not share your thoughts with a comment.

thank you

A half day’s notice…what’s your view?

nmt notice for improvement

This article was first published in NMT Magazine, July/ August 2015.

Half a day, twelve hours, an afternoon…time enough to make a difference? Time for underperforming settings to stage set quality? Time for mayhem and hysteria? Or just time to get yourself and your team ready, arrange your paperwork and make sure your key players are on duty. However you see it from September our early year’s settings will be getting a half day notice for inspections from our regulators at Ofsted.

The Early Years Inspection Handbook September 15, available from: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/early-years-inspection-handbook-from-september-2015, says; “The setting will normally receive a telephone call at or just after midday on the working day before the start of the inspection…The telephone call is the first opportunity to initiate a professional relationship between the inspector and the provider or their representative.” Hmm, forgive me my scepticism, but from a personal view, I’ll believe it when I see it! I have no doubt the calls will be made but remain far from convinced they will be the beginning of a professional relationship between inspector and provider. Instead I suspect the outcome will vary hugely from setting to setting, that there will be instances where it works well but on the flip side there will be many occasions where managers and teams are sent into a tailspin, where sticking plaster is used in abundance in an attempt to cover up problems and where the experience the inspector sees on the day is far from the norm.

Scepticism aside I can see why providers think the notice period is a good thing, after all other sectors get it so why shouldn’t early years? I understand that argument but still my inner practitioner, mum and early years addict says why do we need notice? Surely our services should be providing quality early years experiences just because it’s the right thing to do, it should be the norm but then so should fair and reasonable inspection. Inspectors need to be skilled, have high expectations and be realistic. Things are improving; Ofsted are working with providers and with Ofsted Big Conversation groups around the country but figures from their own annual report to March last year show that two thirds of complaints about inspections came from early years providers. In my mind that suggests there’s still a problem and until that problem is resolved of course providers will want every opportunity to take back a little control, control that many I have spoken to think that pre inspection notice helps give them.

I’m also tempted to say inspection should be more frequent, once every three to four years isn’t enough. In Scotland, where Bertram operate twenty two nurseries, inspection is unannounced, annual and far more reflective of the true service levels provided in our nurseries. Perhaps if there wasn’t the fear of having to sit with an inspection outcome for so long we might be more comfortable with no notice, we might build relationships with inspectors and our teams might be less fearful as inspection becomes a part of the regular quality assurance process.

Rant aside how will we handle the notice call as a group? Well I’ve spoken with our operations team and like most providers we’re taking each case on its own merits, allowing our managers to consider how their teams will react and to choose whether or not to tell them. We’ll gather together the evidence requested, perhaps reschedule any planned maintenance and use the time to ensure the setting is seen at its best. We’ll also continue to work with Ofsted in pilot projects and through the Big Conversation movement and we’ll get on with the day job of caring for the children and families using our nurseries.