Rageena Tahir, EYFS Lead at Fennies Nurseries, explains why we must raise the profile of the early years sector…
Practitioners embark on a career in early years because they’re passionate about working with children and understand the difference they can make to their lives. When staff join with that passion, they immediately have an incredible way of reaching children, engaging them and helping them flourish. Even those who may be inexperienced quickly realise the lasting positive impact they can have on young learners.
It’s no doubt demanding and stressful at times, but at Fennies Nurseries we see staff work through this, putting the children first and finding a learning opportunity for the children and themselves in every moment.
They build close bonds with all the children and families they work with and that is what keeps them so committed to their role. Most have been a part of the child’s life for the best part of four years. We have had a flurry of pre-school graduation ceremonies recently and it’s easy to see that bond when staff well up as they say their goodbyes. They truly care.
Unfortunately, there is still a lack of social recognition around the sector, which affects how valued early years staff feel. A child’s experiences during the first five years of their life are crucial for their wellbeing, learning and development. This has slowly, yet increasingly, been under the spotlight in recent years, which has marginally helped, but it’s not nearly enough.
Government needs to focus more on early years and, until that changes, we run the risk of skilled staff leaving the sector, which will have a huge impact on the level of care and education that children receive.
Employers are very aware of the issues around recognition in the early years, and many are continuously implementing their own strategies to ensure workloads and pressures are being managed internally and that staff feel valued, remain motivated and feel a sense of accomplishment in their role.
This also extends to providing information to families and the wider public on all aspects of early years to raise awareness of the importance of the sector on their children’s lives.
Of course, staff are our biggest asset and we have to ensure that they remain motivated in their role. At Fennies, most of our initiatives have come directly from the staff body themselves, based on their suggestions:
This summer, we ran ‘Bringing Early Years Together’ events, including BBQs, drinks and prizes, as our way of saying ‘thank you’ to our staff. We extended the invite to other local nurseries and practitioners, supporting them to share experiences and meet new people.
My advice to early years management teams is to, first and foremost, remember that the small things count just as much as the big initiatives: saying hello and asking how staff are in the morning before they start work; checking in with them during the day; acknowledging and appreciating what they’re doing; and saying thank you at the end of a day. These small things are so impactful.
Get to know your staff individually and do things that are meaningful to them. General strategies are great, but the value that a member of staff feels when you’ve done something that is specifically tailored to their likes is immeasurable.
Value and motivation don’t always come from appreciation initiatives. Staff need ‘stretch and challenge’ as much as children do in order to remain engaged in their job role. Regular meetings to discuss performance, training and career progression are also crucial.
It’s also important that decision makers take into consideration the views of staff teams working directly with children. These views can inform initiatives based on current real-life, hands-on experience and challenges.
Early years careers need to be better understood and appreciated, and attractive to highly skilled professionals so that we can keep providing high-quality care and education to children during those crucial first years.
Rageena Tahir is the Head of EYFS at Fennies Nurseries.