Spotlight on Louise Kent, Kids Inc Chingford
Louise has been in leadership for 14 years, having become a nursery manager aged just 23. She manages 25 staff at Kids Inc’s 73-place Chingford setting.
Did you always know you were going to work in nurseries?
This is something I’ve wanted to do from as early as I can remember. I don’t know if it was necessarily nurseries, but I’ve always wanted to work with children. Even in secondary school, when people weren’t sure what they wanted to do, I knew I was going to college to get my childcare qualification.
I did my diploma at college and loved that, then started my career with a small independent nursery as a room leader – and I was there for 17 years. I worked my way up to senior nursery nurse, then head of a department, then maternity deputy cover, then deputy, and then manager.
How did your career progress after that?
After I had my first child, I went back to work, but I knew I wanted something different – although I didn’t quite know what it was. And that’s when I found Kids Inc – and I’ve fallen in love with it. I’ve been here four years, but it’s like I’ve been here forever – coming from an independent nursery to a bigger company, because you have that network, it’s taught me so much and really developed me as a manager.
Is working for a big chain different to managing a small independent nursery?
It’s a huge difference. In the independent company, we did everything. We did children’s registrations, fees, finance, funding – whereas at Kids Inc, we’ve got a whole support office that does all of that for us. For me, that’s a positive: you get to focus on your nursery, your children, your families, your team.
How do you feel about the way childcare is perceived in society?
I don’t think even people who want to go into nursery work necessarily understand what actually goes on within the job. It’s so much more than that stereotype of playing with children; you are setting the foundations of children’s learning.
Learning is lifelong, no matter what career you choose, and what we’re setting for children now is their approach and their take on learning. If we get it right now, they’ve got it right for life.
What are you most proud of during your time as a manager?
First of all, the age that I became a manager at, but equally the journey I’ve been on. I completed my foundation degree and had two children while working full-time as a manager.
Another thing is how I’ve evolved from where I was to where I am now. I used to second-guess myself or be too emotional, but now I know to celebrate what you’ve got and be proud of the journey that you’re on with your team.
Before Chingford, I worked at Kids Inc’s nurseries at South Woodford and Beehive Lane. At Beehive Lane they’d had an Ofsted Requires Improvement, and I got them through COVID and to their next inspection. I moved to Chingford two or three months before the inspection, but Beehive Lane got a very strong Good with elements of Outstanding; and that was my work. I was proud of that.
Do you think the government should relax the ratios of staff to children?
No. Even with the ratios now, children are unpredictable – all humans are. If you’re working in a baby room on a ratio of 1:3 and all three babies are having a bad day, how are you going to give them the love and attention and care they need?
If you relax the ratios, it will open up harder times for staff when they’ve already got a lot of responsibility on a daily basis, looking after people’s most precious things in the world.
How do you look after staff wellbeing in the nursery?
I have an open-door policy, and I make sure that I check in with any staff that I know are struggling or vulnerable. But you have to make sure it’s genuine – don’t ask while you’re still typing away; down your tools and have even just a 10-minute chat with a cup of tea.
And sometimes a ‘thank you’ at the end of the day can mean the most to people, if they’ve had a particularly hard afternoon or are feeling tired. It makes them feel noticed and appreciated.
What is your favourite mid-shift snack?
I tend to snack on an oaty biscuit and a cup of tea – and you have to dunk!
What would be your message to nursery managers across the UK reading this?
You’re doing a great job: keep going! And remember who you’re doing it for. It’s for those little people who can change a bad day into a good day with one comment or action that will make you belly-laugh and remind you why you’re doing this job.
What would you like to ask other nursery managers?
I’m always interested in why people went into childcare. For me, it’s always what I wanted to do – but why have other people gone into it?
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