Career Talk: Jordan Tully, Head of Operations, Ashbourne Day Nurseries
Tell us about your career so far
I started my childcare journey working for a nursery called Park View, a small family-owned setting, where I did my Level 3 through an apprenticeship, so I got on-the-job experience with children while learning.
After that I started to consider if this was what I wanted right now – so I looked at my options, and applied for a job as a children’s representative at the travel company TUI. I oversaw the childcare aspect of a resort where people went on holiday – so the nannying, the kids’ clubs, the entertainment. I did it in Ibiza, in mainland Spain, in Portugal and in the French Alps – it was really, really good.
Eventually I decided, I can’t be a rep forever, I need to come home and get a ‘real job’! So I applied to be a nursery manager at Ashbourne, and I’ve been here for four years now.
How old were you when you started your first job at Park View?
I left school at 16 – I started Year 12 but realised I’m not what I would refer to as ‘academically smart’ – I’m more practical. But I didn’t know what I wanted to do yet, so I followed the normal conventions of school, sixth-form, university – and that’s what I thought I was going to do. Then I realised, I’m not going to do as well as I could by learning this way – I need a way that works for me and that I can excel in. And I found that through the Level 3 apprenticeship.
You see it often in childcare – we’re not office people; we work in a nursery because we’re that type of person, so you find a lot of people excel in this career who have done apprenticeships or on-the-job learning, because we like to get our hands dirty.
Tell us about your progression at Ashbourne
When I came in as a nursery manager, I evolved the setting – we had just taken it on as a doer-upper and there were welfare requirements. We got a ‘good’ in the first nine months, closed all the welfare requirements, and made it operationally successful.
After that, I became a senior manager where I oversaw two settings and made them operationally successful as well, then I was given a cluster manager role – that’s Ashbourne’s version of an area manager. It’s not a wide area – we have nurseries close together so they can support sister settings.
I did that role for about a year, and then as the nursery group started to grow, I became our head of operations.
And tell us more about working abroad with TUI – that sounds brilliant
I think it’s really good to be aware of where a childcare qualification can take you – particularly with the recent recruitment struggles, and people not wanting to join the sector because they think they can’t go anywhere with it. I wasn’t even aware that this qualification could take me to an overseas destination.
One of my area managers did something similar to me; he got his qualification, wasn’t sure what he wanted to do, and went and became an au pair in Australia. So it opens up doors for you to gain life experience while using that qualification – and it can take you places you don’t think about.
You can earn quite a good wage if you work your way up in a group – it’s not about being a practitioner forever; there are different career progressions. So this qualification that, to some people, is to be a glorified babysitter, can actually take you into compliance, operations, marketing, integration, project management – lots of different avenues.
What does being Head of Operations involve?
My role is to make sure settings are providing high quality childcare while being profitable enough to be sustainable.
It’s making sure we’re compliant, our staffing costs are reasonable, that our fees are in line with what we’re providing, and making sure the funding is allocated properly so we can provide high quality care for vulnerable children too.
My job is also about forward planning, because as we integrate new nurseries, it includes things like planning for staffing, enabling environments, Ofsted registrations, and implementing new systems across the business. I also spend time providing training to managers, meeting with the finance team, and sitting with the senior team to ensure we’re profitable and, first and foremost, achieving high quality childcare.
What’s the best thing about being in operations?
It’s establishing the level of support that’s required. We don’t call ourselves a head office; we call ourselves a support office and support functions. We’ve all got different experiences in life and in childcare, so it’s about putting that together to provide the best support for the nurseries.
And what challenges do you face in your role?
Every day is unpredictable. We work with children, with people – we’re not a product that’s guaranteed to be the same today as it was yesterday. Children come from different walks of life and we have different challenges in different areas, but it’s about being able to work through them.
Did you always see yourself taking this route?
No – I got my qualification, but I thought childcare would only allow me to be a practitioner, and I didn’t know if I wanted that. Then I explored my options and looked at other people within the sector that have done well, and thought actually, that’s what I want to do.
What do you think we need to do to support more men in childcare?
Social media is so important in every sector, and we need to use it to share our childcare stories – from the people who work in the nurseries, to those who have used their qualification to do other things and then come back to the sector, to the people who have worked their way up.
These children need people from all walks of life, of all different genders. I’m proud to say that at Ashbourne, we work hard on this – the statistics are that 3% of people in early years are men, but at one of Ashbourne’s nurseries we have 40% men.
It's also about thinking about how we can tailor a role to attract different people; we have people coming in as physical activity specialists, for example.
Who inspires you in your career?
It sounds cheesy, but as I was growing up, my grandparents owned their own nursery, which is why I thought about early years. And as I’ve gone through my career, different people and managers have inspired me – like my director now, Sarah Blyth, who very much teaches the difference between being a manager and being a leader. You shouldn’t be scared of your bosses; it should be collaborative.
What’s your advice to nursery managers who would like to progress up the ranks in their career?
It’s important to speak to your line leaders, or other senior people, and find out how they did it. There are so many different routes, and some aren’t what you’d expect. For example, some settings find first-hand experience more important than a Level 5 in leadership and management, but some would like to see a nice shiny degree.
So work out what other people have done, think about what would work best for you, and apply that to your way of working. And reach out to people!
But no matter how hard you work and how much you progress throughout your career, never lose sight of why you started: the children should be your first and last thought.
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