130 career pathways spotlight: Norlander and former Principal shares her inspiring career
6 October 2022
During our 130th anniversary, we’re celebrating the variety and diversity of careers that Norlanders go on to enjoy after graduating from Norland.
After qualifying in 1974, Thirza (Set 59) enjoyed a variety of careers including working for social services, a classroom assistant and a teacher before moving on to management in education settings which led to her studying for further qualifications. 31 years after leaving Norland she returned as Principal, and during her time saw the introduction of the BA (Hons) degree – a milestone in Norland’s history and another step in raising the status of nannying and the early years profession. This degree was validated by another university. This then led to Norland being awarded its own degree awarding powers in 2019 under Principal Dr Janet Rose and Set 41 becoming the first to be awarded a Norland degree complete with our own gown, hood and coat of arms.
We spoke to Thirza about training in the 1970s, her varied career, what it meant to be Principal of the institution where she trained, and what being a Norlander means to her.
“My name is Thirza Ashelford, and I trained at Norland in Hungerford from 1972 until 1974 and was in Set 59. I was living in Devon at the time but now live a little further north in Somerset.
I was originally going to study for my NNEB (National Nursery Examination Board) at the Nursery Nurses College in Bristol on a day release basis while working in the Church of England Children’s Society children’s home. However, while I was working in Sweden on a gap year, the home closed so I needed to find a new college and Norland was top of my list! My parents and I had originally thought the cost of training would be out of reach, but I was supported through grants and charities which made it possible to fulfil my dream.
Norland training and career after qualifying
The best thing about training at Denford Park was being totally surrounded by children and having hands-on practical training for so much of our time there. Everything we learned in class was immediately put into practice either in the nursery school or the residential nurseries. The care we gave the children was always of our very best and the short term, holiday care we were able to offer was clearly enjoyed by many of the older children. We were also fortunate to be able to spend a three-month residential placement in hospitals working on the maternity and paediatric wards. This experience was amazing, and I was delighted to reintroduce maternity placements when I returned to Norland as Principal.
Having completed my probationary year (now known as the Newly Qualified Nanny year) as a nanny in London, I decided to move into the public sector and worked for Southwark Social Services at the Aylesbury Day Nursery, a 60-place nursery in the middle of the Aylesbury estate. I really enjoyed my work there, running a room of three to five-year-old children, but when my partner was offered a job in Somerset we packed up and headed for Taunton. I then spent the next five years working in Social Services nurseries in Somerset before taking time out to spend time with my own children. A few years of childminding followed before I changed course again and spent three very happy years working as a classroom assistant in a school for children with severe learning difficulties. An opportunity then arose to open and manage the County Council’s first workplace nursery, an amazing experience which I grasped with both hands.
My final career change came when I moved into teaching at our local tertiary college. During my time there, I moved from teaching to management, my final post being Senior Manager and Head of Department. There were several highlights – opening a brand-new on-site nursery which became one of the first Early Excellence Centres and then a Sure Start Centre and of course going to Buckingham Palace to receive the Queen’s Prize for the forest school which we started in such a small way but is now a national movement. The move into education meant increasing my own qualifications with a teaching certificate, postgraduate diploma and eventually a master’s degree in General Education. But this route was to lead me to the ultimate job role – Principal of Norland.
Principal of Norland
It’s very hard to describe how it felt to walk into Norland as Principal, 31 years after leaving as a newly qualified Norlander! A feeling of coming home, pride in the college and a huge sense of responsibility. I also remember walking down the stairs to the library one evening and thinking “this is my college!” and being filled with a sense of excitement at where we could take Norland next on its journey into the 21st century.
My very first year was a real baptism of fire! Before I’d been appointed, Norland had been approached by a film company who wanted to do a ‘year in the life of’ documentary about Norland. I spent my first year in post being followed around by a cameraman and producer/director. They were interesting times, but the final 12-part series was a true reflection of Norland. In the following years many students coming for interview said they had chosen Norland after viewing Nanny School.
There are many highlights I could mention, ‘Ski Nannies’ when we went out to Switzerland to run a crèche for the GP drivers’ charity 24-hour ski run. ‘Sky Nannies’ – our work with Gulf Air in Bahrain. Running a crèche in the garden at Buckingham Palace for the Queen’s birthday party. Starting the Norland choir and taking them to the Millennium Centre in Cardiff to sing at the first night of Mary Poppins. But over and above everything, my most cherished memories centre on the students and staff. I feel incredibly privileged to have worked with some truly amazing and unique people and it fills me with delight that so many still keep in touch to this day.
If I had to give advice to someone considering a leadership role in the early years, I’d say go for it! Being able to influence the education and care of young children has to be the most exciting and rewarding career there is. If leadership is your goal, then build a firm foundation for yourself, gain as much experience as possible in a wide range of settings and most importantly keep up with your studies and expand your portfolio of qualifications.
Norland's ethos and values
Norland now has a brilliant range of post qualifying study and Continuous Professional Development (CPD) events and there are staff available who can advise you on the most appropriate courses to follow. Most importantly though, follow your dreams and if an opportunity seems outside your comfort zone just give it a go – you may surprise yourself!
Norland has a long history of being the professional face of nannying, the high demand for Norlanders shows that this is even more so now. As Norlanders, we’re uniquely placed to influence the direction of early years education and care, and this is the responsibility of every Norlander. The BA Hons degree which we introduced to Norland in 2009 was an important step in raising the profile of early years professionals in both the private and public sectors and is a real stepping stone for Norlanders who want to progress with their careers into the many areas of work open to them.
Being a Norlander is part of who I am. Throughout my professional life (and as a mother and now granny!) I’ve tried to stay true to the key elements of the Norland ethos:
- respect for children and those with whom we work
- listen to and hear what children are saying
- continue to update knowledge and understanding of all areas of the early years.
Norland is a unique institution. From its founding in 1892 it’s been at the forefront of early years education. The blend of the practical and the academic – the Norland way – is not found anywhere else. Over the past 130 years, the curriculum has changed to meet the needs of children and families but has never lost its key focus of putting children at the heart of everything we do. Norland’s founding motto ‘Love Never Faileth’ means quite simply that a Norlander will never let a child down. It’s on our badge and it’s in our hearts.”