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nursery job
by Sally-Ann Potter
Potter’s House Preschool and Forest School

There was a time a few years ago when the hardest thing about recruiting new staff was sifting through the masses of CV’s emailed to me via Indeed. I’d advertise and within 24 hours I’d have 20-30 applicants and have to scan each application to find the basics I was looking for – it was almost a full-time job just to find someone who fitted the bill. High quality staff was easier when the pickings were strong. Recently though when I’ve lost valuable staff for various reasons, I’ve found recruiting harder than ever. I have had four applicants in a month, two of which didn’t show up to an interview. It’s disheartening.

But even I find myself curious about whether I still have the same drive and passion so I can only imagine many other people in our industry have similar thoughts and feelings. It is by far the most rewarding job I’ve ever done, but often it is thankless, exhausting and the cause of lots of anxiety.

I belong to a brilliant community of practitioners online on a Facebook page called Keeping Early Years Unique, which was set up by a true genius in our field Elaine Bennett. It’s where I go for advice, inspiration and answers and I took to this forum with my concerns over recruitment to see if others were having the same trouble.

The general consensus was ‘YES’. It seems that across the board people are struggling to employ new staff or even maintain staff that were once loyal and dedicated. I had a small idea of why this was happening – a minimum wage job that requires constant and consistent attention and returns very little in the way of perks unless you count the natural immunity to illnesses your body has developed from years of being licked and coughed on by toddlers. We really do seem to have cast iron constitutions, don’t we?

The passion has somewhat dispersed in the past few years with the pressures of maintaining standards during the pandemic while not being recognised for our efforts in helping keep the country going. So many practitioners were expected to work through the pandemic continuously putting themselves at risk with very little acknowledgment at all – expected to fund and provide their own PPE and with little regard to the heightened pressure they were under. It was always going to leave people feeling a little bit unhappy.

On top of that, the anxiety driven stress surrounding Ofsted inspections heightened when the new reforms came in. The feedback from many settings was that inspections didn’t go as well as usual and ratings were lower but staff felt like they had been working harder than ever. A quote from a nursery room leader said: “It was like when you’ve spent all day cleaning and keeping house for your family while working an eight hour day from home and home schooling your children, you’ve made a delicious meal that your toddler ate happily last week and instead he spits it all on the floor and screams that he wanted something else – except he doesn’t know what.”

Throughout the pandemic children’s development has suffered in ways we couldn’t have expected – their social communication being the biggest cause for concern but I’ve also noticed a rise in children as young as two years old suffering from intense anxiety but often without the ability to process why or the vocabulary to say how they’re feeling. This seems to be as a direct result of being born into a pandemic causing untold worry to mothers who had no support from professionals and isolation from family members. It was always going to affect children massively, we just didn’t necessarily predict it early enough. With all this added concern, the job takes on a brand new meaning, the workload/mental load triples and the wage remains minimum. I get it, I really do appreciate why so many people are saying they’d rather work in a supermarket for more money and less stress.

But hold on because on the flip side of all the negativity is opportunity. If there’s one thing we know as practitioners it is that we have the potential to make the world of difference to children all over the country – and we do. The child who can’t settle, the child who finds social situations overwhelming, the child who draws his feelings instead of using language, the child who hits out, the child who needs constant reassurance – they all still go to school confident, resilient, bright and brilliant little people – because we did our job and we did it well.

“Don’t be afraid to take on big challenges. They give the best rewards.” – Spencer Christensen.

Now, does anyone want a job because I’m still looking?

For more information please contact Sally-Ann at or call 07375 379148