Spotlight on Ashlea Sexton, Toad Hall Felcott Road
Ashlea has been in childcare since 2008 and is currently nursery manager at one of Toad Hall Group’s 11 nurseries.
What would you do if you didn’t work in EYFS?
Originally, I started off studying fashion for a year – and actually that’s how I got into childcare, because I realised how much I hated fashion! But if I didn’t do childcare, in all honesty it would probably be something to do with animals – and then I wouldn’t have to have a herd at home.
What has your career looked like so far?
My first nursery was an independent nursery, then I worked at Bright Horizons, and now I’m at Toad Hall. I did my Level 3 after leaving fashion and then did a foundation degree: a Level 5 in childcare and education – I was working 40 hours a week and going to uni in the evening. I was pretty tired, but I was young!
How do you find being a manager?
I absolutely love it; I think you get into childcare because you’ve got a passion for children and you want to deliver excellence. It’s been tough over recent years with the staffing crisis and COVID, but you just love your job – love being with the children, love your staff.
It’s lovely to watch my staff develop into room leaders and nursery nurses and those amazing things they bring to the table – and knowing you’ve been a part of that.
How do you cope with the workload and the responsibility?
I think it all comes down to having a good team. I might be the manager, but if I haven’t got the team behind me, I’ve got nothing. Having good room leaders, nursery nurses, even apprentices – I wouldn’t be able to do my job without them. It takes a village to raise a child and that’s what we’ve got here.
How do you manage your day and keep focused on one task, when you’re being pulled in different directions?
I think it’s about having the ability to prioritise. We all know you walk in with a plan, and by nine o’clock that plan has gone out the window. But it’s about knowing the things that can wait and the things that can’t wait – obviously when it comes to the safety and care of children, you put that first.
And it’s knowing who you can share responsibilities with. If you need to test your fire alarms that day, but a parent is in the room with you, is there a health and safety coordinator you can lean on to do it? It’s finding strengths in the team and utilising those.
What is your favourite thing about your job?
That’s a hard question – there’s a lot to enjoy! For me, it’s about knowing that I’ve made a difference to the children. I cry at the graduation watching them go off – I get about three words into my speech and I’m crying my eyes out. They become part of your family.
But it’s also about knowing I’ve made a difference to the staff as well – watching them grow through the ranks. I’ve got a member of staff here who started as a modern apprentice, and she’s now one of our room leaders and absolutely flourishing. I was there once, and if someone hadn’t given me the chance, I wouldn’t be where I am today, so hopefully I’ll be that person for them.
What have you learned in your time working in the early years?
I’ve learned a lot about myself as a person; I’m a lot more resilient than I give myself credit for. And I’m more of an open person than I once was when I was 20. I’m more open-minded, more accepting of differences. I’m so intrigued by different cultures and nationalities and religions; when someone new comes to the nursery, I’m like, tell me about it, I want to learn. And I think that makes you grow as a person.
What is your favourite mid-shift snack?
I actually ate this earlier! I love rice cakes with dairy lea on them – it’s got that perfect amount of crunch and you’ve got the savoury aspect. But if the girls are going to Tesco’s, I will also ask them to bring me back a bag of chilli heatwave Doritos.
What would be your message to nursery managers across the UK reading this?
Just remember, no matter how hard your day is, you’re doing an amazing job. Don’t be hard on yourself if you haven’t achieved what you wanted to that day – a skill we’ve acquired as nursery managers is to be resilient, so remember that and don’t beat yourself up. You’ve got an awesome team, you’ve got an awesome set of children, and every day is a new day.
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