Career Talk: Sarah Yates, Senior Area Manager, The Old Station Nursery
Tell me about your career so far.
I didn’t go the traditional NVQ route – I went to sixth form and did languages: French, Spanish, English Literature. And then I realised, I was doing what I was good at but not necessarily what I really enjoyed or could see myself doing full-time.
I’d always been the one that had the children swarmed round at family parties – I enjoyed that nurturing side and being the one that looked after everybody. So I went to Wolverhampton University and did a combined degree in Early Childhood Studies and Special Needs and Inclusion Studies, which has always been a real passion of mine.
I worked full-time in childcare throughout, and towards the end of uni, I was sharing the manager’s role of the nursery. I couldn’t get enough experience, and I think it really benefited my degree.
I then went into nannying to try something different, but I missed the nursery environment. So I joined Sandhills as a deputy manager, then manager. I became an area manager just one month before The Old Station Nursery [OSN] took over in 2019.
Did you always see yourself becoming a manager?
I never envisaged myself being a career person; I just wanted to be happy, have a family, be settled. I’ve now had two children and still managed to achieve a ‘Good’ and two ‘Outstandings’ [from Ofsted] during my time as a nursery manager.
Are you pleased with how your career has gone?
It’s all been quite successful, I’ve enjoyed every minute of it and I’m really enjoying what I do now. I genuinely can’t see myself finding anything else that I’m so excited by.
How does being part of a big nursery group like OSN compare to a small one like Sandhills?
OSN has opened my eyes to what else there is in the sector; there are so many more opportunities to learn from so many more different people. Joining OSN, so many people come from so many different ways of life and career paths, and it’s been really lovely to learn.
Has your degree been useful in helping you get where you are?
My degree is now not counted as ‘full and relevant’ on the government qualification checker. Despite the three years of university, or the two years at college if you’ve done a health and social qualification, these qualifications are not always classed as ‘full and relevant’ – so you’d be counted as an unqualified practitioner, which is disheartening.
But there are ways for you to do other qualifications. I did a postgrad with Sandhills: the EYPS – now EYTS – which is what qualifies me to be counted in ratio.
I’m always keen to speak to people who think they can’t work in childcare because their qualification isn’t ‘full and relevant’ – there are options! And with the recruitment crisis, we’re learning to be much more open-minded.
Who inspires you in your career?
Joining OSN has been really inspiring and we have some phenomenal leaders in the group who set a great example of what is achievable – we are incredibly lucky to have Sarah Steel as our CEO.
But it really is the Nursery Managers and their teams who inspire me the most; getting to witness their growth and success always pushes me to support them in the best way that I can and to self-reflect and develop in my own role.
What does being an Area Manager involve?
A bit of everything! Our general role is to drive success and make sure our managers and settings are reaching their potential. We also work closely with our quality team, who do audits to make sure our teams are successful, our families are happy, and the children’s needs are being met.
We’re here as an extra layer of support for managers; we visit regularly and make sure they receive the help they need. And we’re a layer between all the other departments in the company, making sure everyone is working together.
What’s the best thing about being an area manager?
I really enjoy the mentoring and supporting side – and I love the variety. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know more nurseries; my 11 but others as well. I enjoy being a part of something bigger.
And what are the challenges?
Our biggest challenge at the moment has got to be the staffing difficulties the sector is experiencing. I think we’re a good employer, but everyone is fighting for qualified practitioners.
Why do you think that is and what do you think could help?
When you’re in the sector, it is so rewarding, but we are underpaid, undervalued and underfunded. We’re not seen as part of the education or the social sector; we sit in between. With what Princess Kate is doing [the ‘Shaping Us’ campaign for early childhood], I hope that will help the government to recognise how important the early years is.
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