130 career pathways spotlight: Norlander Helen shares her career in leadership
7 December 2022
As part of Norland’s 130th year celebrations, we are showcasing the dynamic and varied careers open to fully qualified graduates.
After graduating from Norland in 1987, Helen’s career trajectory has been varied and exciting, including setting up her own day nursery, teaching Key Stage 2 and becoming a Year 4 Lead. Helen’s passion for continued professional development has led her to become Head of Start Well, Strategic Lead Early Years at Bolton Council, where she is “responsible for improving educational outcomes for children by the end of their reception year”. We spoke to her about how her Norland training laid the foundations for such an inspiring career.
Helen began her Norland training in 1987 as part of Set 1 (the 100th cohort of Norland students) at the idyllic Denford Park, Hungerford. Just like today, students learned child development theory, but were also able to witness individual child development milestones through practical experience in Denford Park’s private nursery. “The number of practical placements I experienced meant I had complete confidence working with children from birth to 10 years of age; developing a sound understanding of key developmental milestones in the early years,” she says. This holistic approach – which still underpins Norland training today – “has been my firm foundation from which I’ve built my career in the early years.”
Unlike today, Norland did not then offer a degree to its students. They gained the prestigious Norland diploma when their training was complete. Helen chose to pursue an early years degree after her Norland course. However, “I very soon realised that I had covered the majority of the curriculum at Norland, so changed to do primary education.” Having earned the title of Norland Nanny, Helen was able to fund her degree studies by working as a Norland maternity nurse during the university holidays.
Putting her new degree to good use, Helen taught Key Stage 2. Rapidly, due in part to the discipline and knowledge gained through the Norland diploma, she became a Year 4 Lead. However, “after three years, I wanted to get back into the early years,” Helen admits. “So, I set up my own day nursery, which is one of the most rewarding things I’ve done in my career. I modelled my nursery on what I had seen and experienced at Denford Park. A real opportunity to put my training into practice!”
Reflecting on her training, Helen believes “Norland sets the bar high without compromising. I did not realise how much my training would set me apart until I worked in a role with other nursery nurses. It was clear that my Norland training imparted knowledge but also helped with my confidence.” Norland training guides its students to understand the needs of children psychologically and physically, so Norland caregivers have a holistic understanding of their development. This knowledge is evident when observed, which led Helen to be asked to lead a team of NNEB (National Nursery Examination Board) staff.
This brought Helen to her current role as Strategic Lead for the Early Years at Bolton Council. “It is an incredibly diverse job. To improve children’s educational outcomes and in early years, but it also links to health outcomes and welfare indicators.”
In Helen’s day-to-day role, she works with “educators, headteachers, health leads across maternity and public health nursing, oversees Family Hubs and the continuing development of these across the local authority.” The variations in Helen’s role, working with so many different groups and childcare settings, is no doubt informed by the multitude of placements undertaken during her Norland training – from nurseries to maternity wards, Helen was provided with experience of them all.
Helen believes that the “discipline of observation, really knowing and understanding child development” is “top of my list” as the most important aspect of her Norland training that enabled her to succeed in her career. As well as “enjoying what you do and continuously trying your best.” In fact, “it is key” that Norland students see themselves as early years pioneers and leaders. “We know the importance of the early years and how pivotal it is, we need to share our skills to lead, change and influence early education policy.”
Helen is all too aware that in our current political and economic climate, the early years education sector is facing significant challenges. She urges Norlanders and students alike to combine their knowledge and strive for leadership roles. The way to begin is to “get experience in a variety of roles” and continue with professional development offered through the Norland Agency.