Nurseries are having a hard time. With a government drive to increase the number of child places, staff shortages and changes in policy, they are having to balance higher expectations with more limited resources so it is no wonder that nursery staff feel under pressure and that so many are leaving the profession.
We were invited in to work with Hart Hill Nursery School in Luton which Ofsted praised saying: ‘Children make good progress in all the areas of learning and some make outstanding progress.’ They were concerned about the impact of a forthcoming reorganisation on their staff. In the past, they might have called in an adviser from the local authority or even a management consultant, but nursery owners are now more aware that they have a duty of care to assess the risk of work-related stress.
At Hart Hill we worked with the headteacher, deputy headteacher, teaching staff, the SENCo, teaching assistants and lunchtime supervisors and still go to the nursery once a month. Together we developed an ambitious agenda:
- improving staff confidence and self-esteem
- helping staff to recognise and manage stress
- creating healthier relationships at school and home
- managing anxiety and depression
- developing assertiveness skills
- developing problem-solving skills
- making use of mindfulness
Some people just wanted one session; others needed ongoing support. One worker was affected by safeguarding training which uncovered buried memories. Some needed help to be more assertive or to feel it was permissible to delegate tasks to others and not see it as a sign of weakness. As mental health practitioners, we could help staff to find new ways of managing their relationships with colleagues, senior leaders and their own families. One manager told us: ‘It has helped me to recognise my stress levels and how to recognise when situations need to be dealt with rather than letting problems build up.’
Sometimes we helped workers manage their own expectations. Many lacked confidence. They had been in caring roles all their professional life and were used to looking after others but needed to learn how to look after themselves too. A nursery worker told us: ‘Each session was super. I came out with a clearer head and a better sense of wellbeing, just for having the conversation.’
The work we have done together at Hart Hill Nursery School has destigmatised mental health support. Now, staff will seek help quite openly and the strategies they learn spill over into home life and relationships outside of work. One told us: ”I was hesitant to partake as the sessions took me away from class and children’s learning but as the weeks went by it was great to embrace the moment and have time to talk and share solutions to problems together without being pressured or rushed. It has also impacted in a good way at home. My wellbeing has increased, therefore I am better equipped and ready to work and support my team and child in the workplace.’
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