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Nursery World Awards 2014

As you may have seen in your latest issue of The Childcare Professional we took a look at a few of the winning entries on pages 44 - 45.

Keep an eye on this webpage for interviews with a selection of the Nursery World winners and finalists.

Click here to see of the full list of Nursery World Award winners.

Childminder of Year, Samantha McKenna. Southend, Essex

How did you come to be a childminder?
Samantha McKennaAt the age of seven my mum gave birth to my twin sisters and from then I knew I wanted to care for children.

At the age of 16 I ran my own babysitting service. Although I began my professional childcare career as a nanny for a lovely family in a country house in Buckinghamshire.

After the birth of my own children I became a childminder. For me, it was a natural progression to open the doors to working families and help care for other children in a warm, loving and homely environment.
How did it feel to win Nursery World Childminder of the Year?

It was an amazing feeling to be shortlisted and to be invited to the awards ceremony. The other nominees are extremely successful and incredible childminders so actually winning Childminder of the Year was something I hadn't expected in a million years.

It was a wonderful night, my PACEY Network Development officer and Early Years team from the local authority were there supporting me along with my husband. They almost had to push me on stage to receive my award when it was announced.

It was a truly inspirational night. Since then I have given radio and television interviews and have been in no less than five different newspapers! 
How important is it that you work closely in partnership with parents?

It’s imperative to work closely with parents and families of the children that I care for. As childminders we need to engage with the family as a whole to help in anyway necessary in order to support them on a daily basis.

A child's home life environment can have a direct affect on their behaviour, emotional state and learning.

By working with the parents we can help overcome any issues that may be affecting them. I have recently been conducting home visits, where I visit the family at home to observe a child in their own environment where they feel most comfortable and happy.

This is imperative when assessing a child's starting points and is a good opportunity to learn what boundaries and expectations the parents have in place so I can implement these in my setting. 
You drove a parent over 100 miles to their holiday destination after their car broke down. Could you tell us a little more about this?

By working in partnership with the families I care for we become like one big family.

Yes, I did take a family to their holiday destination and I also took my own children along for the day. (I have a very large car!) It was like one big family trip!

I don’t believe that this one good deed sets me aside from any other childminder. In my book if there's a problem; a problem shared is a problem solved and I would do it again for any of the other families I care for.

Being a childminder is not a 9am-5pm job, if there's an issue I like to help no matter if it is day or night, weekday or weekend. 
Your approach to safeguarding and wellbeing has been described as “inspirational”. What do you think makes your approach stand out/what advice could you give to other childcare professionals?  
I believe that before any learning takes place a child needs to feel happy, safe and loved in an environment supported by a person who can comfort, encourage, support and nurture.

Only when these personal, social and emotional needs are met will a child open up to learning and development.

I acknowledge children's individual requirements and tailor our weekly activities to encompass everyone.

Whilst planning our weekly routine I think it is important to allow for adhock experiences and listen to children's choices and changing interests on a day-to-day basis.

By having children's Personal, social and emotional development at the heart of my provision everything else in turn will flourish. I don’t know if this is what makes me stand out but this is what’s important to me and to the sentiment of my setting. 
How important is it to work in partnership with schools, pre-schools or nurseries?

It’s essential to a child's long term care and education to work in partnership with other settings to identify any issues a child may have and arrange early intervention from outside agencies.

We also work closely to help ease the transition from my childminding setting to nursery and nursery to school. By engaging with each other and working as a team around the child we can help them achieve the best possible outcomes for their future.

The united support of childminders, nurseries, pre-schools and schools plays a vital role at every stage of a child's development.

How has PACEY supported you so far in your career?

PACEY have been a godsend in my childcare career, whether it be using the website as point of reference; sharing best practice; completing online courses; advice at the end of a telephone or the one-to-one support provided by my PACEY development officer I wouldn't be as successful as I am today.

I find the free resources and vacancy matching service truly beneficial and love how the newsletters and magazines keep me updated with what is going on at local, national and government level.

I am currently in the process of applying to become a PACEY Volunteer.

How has winning the Childminder of the Year Award influenced your work life?

I’ve never been this busy! I have a waiting list and have been asked to keep a space for a child who hasn't even been born yet.

I’m determined to keep up-to-date with my continuous professional development, I will be adding to my foundation degree in the coming year and after that my Early Years Professional status awaits. 

In the meantime I'm doing what we normally do; making a mess at the kitchen table; kicking leaves at the park and absolutely loving it.

Outstanding Contribution Finalist, Penny Webb, Penny’s Place

How did you come to be a childminder?

Penny WebbIn 1984 I was asked if I could collect my daughter’s friend from playgroup and look after her for a couple of hours as regular arrangement. I agreed, but decided that I should become a registered childminder.

In 2004 I de-registered as I was employed as a Children Come First Network Coordinator for Worcestershire local authority, which included a three-year funded post working part-time for NCMA.

In 2010 I took the decision to re-register as a childminder, for personal and professional reasons.

How did it feel to be nominated for the Outstanding Contribution Award?

I was surprised that so many people, from different parts of my professional life, wanted to support my nomination, these included parents (past and present) of the children that I childminded, childminding colleagues from all over the country, lead people from many organisations and my campaigning colleagues.

I was humbled and honoured that they all said such lovely things about me. I will never forget the support given and have created a folder with all the supporting statements in it, as a keepsake.

How important is it that professionals in the childcare sector work together to support each other?

I think it is essential. In the past, there have been divides created between different early years sectors, different organisations, support networks and even local authority areas.

In my opinion everyone needs to work together on the things that concern us all. We all want to ensure the children are safeguarded and provided with the opportunities to enjoy their early years and to build the foundations of learning. This is so that they can reach not only their full potential but also become healthy, happy, well rounded individuals.

I am a firm believer in everyone supporting each other, but also in being able to disagree on some aspects and have different individual or organisational focuses.

I think that one of my main personal achievements is that I work in partnership with so many within the early years sector.

Some have questioned how I can be a member of and be involved with so many different organisations without there being a conflict of interest or danger of breaking confidentiality by inappropriate sharing of organisational information.

This has never been an issue to me, I think that may be because of my personal ethos and track record of supporting all and maintaining confidentiality. I am honest and transparent about my intentions, so that individuals and organisations trust me and therefore enable effective partnership working.

You’re now a foster carer as well as a childminder. How have you found this new role?

I am finding that childminding and fostering work really well together, and that there are benefits to both my foster child and my childminded children. It surprises me that so many childminders who want to become foster carers face barriers in doing so from those who approve foster carers.

My skills developed as a childminder, and in particular my knowledge of child development and experiences of caring for other people’s children in my own home are now underpinning my development as a foster carer.

Of course there are differences between the two roles, and as a foster carer I need to develop some additional skills and knowledge, but like childminding it is just a case of continued professional development.

Like childminding, as a foster carer there are days when all goes well and days that are challenging, but overall the rewards in supporting a child are huge.

What are your ambitions for your future and the future of childcare professionals?

Oh gosh what a big question!

For me personally it will be to finally gain my degree. I have recently discovered that I have dyslexia and dyspraxia, which at my age has been a shock. It explains a lot and anyone who reads my blog will know that I have difficulties with ‘words’ despite the amount of reading and writing that I do every day. I am hoping that once support is put in place, not only will the academic work for my degree become easier, but I will be able to do even more sharing of information and partnership working, as hopefully it won’t take me so long to do these things.

I am currently considering my future; I may write more articles and maybe even a book! I am also considering doing more training or becoming a consultant.

I would love to be in a position to do more campaigning and attend more meetings and so on, but like most people I need to balance the things I do as a volunteer with the things that I am paid for, so that the bills get paid.

As to the future of childcare professionals, the next few years are going to be challenging and I fear constantly changing, as government policies change.

One thing I would really like to see is early years education being taken out of the hands of ministers, and instead a non-political group made up of early years professionals.

Ideally experts within the field and hands on practitioners, because I think that even experts in the field forget what it is like to do the hands on job. I would like this early years group to be part of a bigger group that covered all areas of education and with a similar set up to the early years group, so that effective joined up thinking could be achieved.

Finally, I would like to see the early years sector come together more and to have the confidence collectively to not only challenge policy that is not in the best interest of children, but to collectively refuse to implement any such policy.

How has PACEY supported you in your career?

PACEY is of course just one of the organisations that I am a member of, and it is hard to separate the interwoven personal and professional development that has taken place over many years.

I would not be the person that I am now if I had not been a member of PACEY (and before that NCMA) because my involvement as a volunteer and short period as a member of staff, plus my role as a CCF Network Coordinator.

The training and support that I have received since I joined NCMA back in 1984 has not only given me knowledge and understanding, but has also helped develop my self-confidence.

These days, I guess I am slightly different from many members because of my partnership with PACEY through my campaigning, and from that perspective I really value the support I receive at a personal level, and the quick response to my queries about campaign issues.

So, without PACEY and NCMA before that, I would not have had my successful career as a registered childminder; I would not be the campaigner that I am; and I would not have so many colleagues and friends who I have got to know through over the years.

Directly and indirectly PACEY has had a huge impact on my career and on me as a person.


Nursery of the Year, Manor House Nursery School, Margate


Interview with Clair Stevens, Director

How did it feel to win the Nursery of the Year Award? Manor House Nursery School Margate

It was an incredible honour to win the Nursery of the Year Award particularly when shortlisted with other nurseries whose work and principles truly demonstrates the importance of the work we do in the Early Years.  Winning this award more than anything validates the significance we place on the use of the outdoors; whether it is in the woodland, the beach or out in our community.


Manor House has been commended for providing high-quality care to children in a deprived area.  How important is it to ensure quality childcare is available for disadvantaged children?

Working in central Margate within an area of deprivation it is critical to view the child in terms of Bronfrenbrenner’s ecological model; ‘a child’s development is best understood within the cultural context of that child’s family and community.’ As such we focus on the three prime areas of development, using the community and surroundings to facilitate and motivate interest and learning. It is imperative to young children’s development that we as professionals not only recognise parents and families as the child’s first and most important educator, but to work alongside them to enhance their own knowledge of child development. High-quality education is based first and foremost on strong reciprocal relationships that offer children and their parents trust and security. An important aspect of our work is related to engaging parents in recognising the importance of play and meaningful conversation. This focus on talking and listening to young children is particularly important in an area of deprivation such as ours.


How do you work collaboratively with other professionals and agencies?

Since opening in 2008, the nursery has worked in partnership with a number of local children’s centres. Various projects have been run collaboratively including Saturday forest school or beach school sessions that focused on engaging dads and children in play without toys. These sessions incorporated activities such as den building, bug hunts, forest trails, using tools and cooking on fires. Additionally, these sessions enabled parents to recognise the importance of playing together in natural spaces with resources that more often than not were free. The most important thing here was parents recognising their own contribution of ‘time’ as critical to their child’s engagement. These sessions were particularly well attended and documented by the children’s centres as the most successful activity for reaching dads in the neighbourhood.

Additionally, the nursery has a full-time SENCO who works across the age ranges with children and families who may require support. She has been in post since the nursery opened and as such has built strong relationships with families, agencies, support groups and local schools. Being out of ratio enables her to attend meetings, accompany children and families to assessments, make home visits and liaise with other professionals who may be required to support a child’s progression.


What advice would you give other childcare professionals for engaging parents in children’s learning?

In order to engage parents in their child’s learning it is important to be non-judgemental. In the recent ‘State of the Nation’ report (Oct 2014) it called for more ‘excellent parents’ in order to ensure children were ‘school ready by age five’. I’m not sure how one would define an excellent parent or whether I was ever close to this with my own six children. However, as childcare professionals I feel it is imperative that we work closely with parents in order to convey important messages in terms of child development. I have yet to meet a parent who genuinely did not want the best for their child; many simply do not understand the important part they play. Working in the early years puts us in the position of building the strongest foundations for all future development; as such we must strive to reach out to the parents who use our services in order to facilitate a more universal understanding of healthy patterns for life.


Manor House employs eight male staff. How does it benefit the children to have both male and female positive role models?

The ethos of the nursery has always been to provide children with strong role models that included a mix of both males and females. We are lucky to have eight different male staff who bring a range of different experiences to their work. It is important that as a setting we demonstrate to children that men can be just as caring and sensitive as females and that the outdoors, with the mud and tools is equally utilised by female staff.  For example, the most qualified forest school leader, who came to the setting after working in retail management for 20 years, also has a passion for cooking. He often initiates activities both inside the nursery and around the camp fire, trialling new ways of cooking. Another male practitioner leads music across the setting and uses his own interest and talent in playing a range of instruments to engage children. This interest extends to his running a music group for parents and children together on a Saturday morning.


There is also an emphasis on outdoor space at Manor House. Tell us more about your involvement with forest schools

When we opened the nursery in 2008 we spent a great deal of time searching for premises that offered children access all year round to outdoor spaces, in addition to the parkland, woods and beaches close by. Drawing on the work of the pioneering McMillian sisters our ethos was always to provide interesting spaces both indoor and out that provoked children’s natural curiosity and exploration. All of the downstairs rooms are provided with free flow curtains so access to the gardens can be maintained throughout the year. This includes the baby room where babies can crawl, run or sleep outdoors on a covered veranda.

In terms of the forest school aspect of our work, we initially trained two level three practitioners who lead, planned and supported the groups of children utilising the local woodland close to the nursery setting. More recently, further staff members have attended a weekend of bush craft training and all preschool staff now take part in regular forest school sessions. One member of staff has now completed level four of the forest school training and as such is able to train others to Open College Network (OCN) accreditation. The nursery has now acquired several acres of private woodland nearby that includes a log cabin, wigwam, cooking circle and small farm with 10 chickens, pigs and two goats. Sessions at forest school are run termly for six weeks per class and parents are welcomed to join the children on the last two weeks of each term.  The experiences at forest school not only support children’s physical development, but build confidence, self-esteem and resilience. Practitioners also report a marked difference in children’s speech and ability to concentrate after several sessions at forest school. The freedom, autonomy and trust given to children here develop strong relationships, team work and negotiation.


What is your approach to continuous professional development at the nursery?

I strongly believe in leading by example, therefore in terms of professional development I endeavour to lead others to seek out further training whenever the opportunity arises. As a mature student myself, I undertook my Foundation Degree and BA Hons in Early Years and gained the status of Early Years Professional in 2007. The setting now has a number of staff who are either undertaking FD programmes of study or BA Early Childhood studies. This results in strong teams of staff who have a rich theoretical perspective of child development on which to base their practice.


Have things changed for Manor House since winning the Nursery of the Year Award?

Very little has changed since winning the award, parents and families are rightly proud of the accolade and staff continue to go above and beyond their job role to provide the best care possible. The award gives staff the confidence in the work we do and demonstrates that the words written in the Acland Report (1908) remain as important today as they were 100 years ago:

‘teachers for younger infants should be selected with scrupulous care - they should study the physical and mental development of childhood, have a sympathetic and motherly instinct and a bright and vigorous personality’


Outstanding Contribution, Sally Forster, Lead Practitioner and Deputy Manager, Kidzone Cranwell


How did you come to work in the childcare profession? Sally Forster

After leaving the RAF to have my first child in 1985 I became a full-time mother for five years.  I then accompanied my husband on a posting to Germany and it was whilst I was there that I started helping at the local play group.  Working with children was not a career I had envisaged, but I quickly realised that I had a passion for it.  On return to the UK, I continued to seek employment within the sector and over the following years I gained the qualifications I needed to enhance and develop my career.


How did it feel to win the Nursery World Outstanding Contribution Award?

I felt both surprised and thrilled at winning the award.  My nomination for the category had been done in secret without my knowledge and it was only when I was shortlisted that I became aware of the effort of others in putting my name forward.  This in itself was very humbling; the fact that colleagues felt that I deserved to be nominated and had put the time and effort into making the nomination was rewarding in itself.  Although this was an individual award, I know it was only achievable with the commitment of the staff here at Kidzone to embrace and support my vision.


Parents who work in the military have praised you for your support and you’re described as being “a major influence in bringing quality childcare to the local RAF community”. How do you feel you have achieved this?

I have a long association with the RAF; well over 35 years, and this has given me a unique understanding of the needs of military families and their children.  I am able to appreciate how military life impacts on all family members, particularly during detachments by parents and the impact this can have on the children within our care.  The quality childcare I have helped to deliver provides a safe and secure environment that remains a constant within the lives of the children and provides surety to the parents at times of upheaval.     


You’re described as a “leading force in professional team development”. What role does continuous professional development play at Kidzone?

The upskilling of staff is a constant priority and staff are continually encouraged, and part funded to undertake Higher Education (HE) courses.  We consider a higher qualified workforce as imperative if we wish to continue to strive for greater quality childcare.  The continual flow of staff undertaking foundation degrees is, I feel, testimony to the ethos of self-improvement that we promote at Kidzone.  Training courses continue to be accessed by all staff; either to meet the needs of the organisation or to develop the individual staff member, utilising annual appraisals and supervision meetings to highlight training needs across the setting.


Your role has progressed to Lead Practitioner and Deputy Manager. What are your ambitions for your career and for Kidzone in the future?

I am already utilising my skills in the wider early years sector.  I am currently working with Lincolnshire’s Birth to Five Service to support managers on the ‘Getting to Good’ programme and working with Bishop Grosseteste University College to assess candidates on their Early Years Teacher PGCE programme.  Working within the wider sector is an avenue of my career I intent to pursue, whilst remaining at Kidzone to push forward new ideas and initiatives and support other staff members in their chosen pathways.


How important is it that professionals in the childcare sector work together to support children?

Effective multi agency working is imperative if the quality of care received by individual children (and their families) is not to be detrimental to their wellbeing.  Sharing of good practice and knowledge across the sector improves the understanding of all those involved in a child’s life and helps them to support the families in a cohesive and professional way.


Kidzone offers free early years education (EYE) places.  How does this support families in the local area?

The EYE is accessed by a range of families within the local community, from full-time working parents, to children who only access the funded sessions.  Our priority here is to provide childcare for military personnel, but we are constantly aware of the importance of all children being able to access the funded sessions; to provide quality education and promote school readiness attitudes and aptitudes to learning and life.  This is particularly important for those children who experience frequent transitions.


How has winning the Outstanding Contribution Award influenced your work life?

My work life has continued much as before, but the achievement has had a positive uplifting effect on the whole team.  I feel that we have all shared in the success and this has inspired us to seek new challenges and drive forward the quality childcare we know we deliver.