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

April 2nd 2013

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.