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Ice skater to senior area manager: Co-operative Childcare employee reveals how fate led to a career change

Article By: Ellie Spanswick, News Editor

Clare Robson is a senior area manager at The Co-operative Childcare, with more than 16 years experience working in the childcare sector.

However during her childhood she lived and breathed ice-skating in the hope that one day she would become an ice-skating star. Sadly her local ice rink closed and the travelling became too much and she was forced to have a rethink.

She explained to why she chose to pursue a career in childcare after her ice-skating dreams came to a sudden halt.

How did you end up pursuing a career in childcare?

I started ice skating at the age of 10 and when I left school I took part in a Youth Training Scheme (YTS). When my training finished, I thought a career in childcare might be for me, and I decided to enrol at college to complete a crèche worker course, complete with qualifications in British sign language and deaf awareness.

While I was at college studying childcare, I used to get paid for ice skating alongside my studies. So I was training every day and judging until I was in my early 20s when my local ice rink was closed down. Unfortunately, the travelling was becoming too much alongside my day job so I had to stop training and judging as I wanted to pursue my career in childcare.

This led to my first role as a crèche worker in 1999, but I was unfortunately made redundant three years later. By then, I knew that childcare was definitely what I wanted to do.

How did you go about getting back into childcare after redundancy?

I found a way back in when I was appointed deputy manager for a private nursery in Gosforth, Newcastle.

This gave me a lot of experience in leadership, and when I was head-hunted to set up a new nursery for a community-based company in Sunderland, I really enjoyed the challenge of setting up all the policies and procedures, the equipment, the layout of the environment and the recruitment from scratch.

When I took charge of the nursery, I was keen to improve the quality of the care we offered, and this led to us becoming the first nursery in Newcastle to gain the Investors in Children accreditation. That was an achievement I was really proud of, and it played a big part in my promotion to senior nursery manager. This meant a lot more responsibility and meant I had a bigger role in supporting other nurseries.

The takeover of the nursery by The Co-operative Childcare in 2012 meant that I had a big role to play in supporting the transitional process. Again, I enjoyed the challenge of being involved in the management and planning side of things, so I was pleased to be promoted to my current role of area manager in September 2013.

What does your role require you to do?

There are five nurseries which report directly to me, including three in Newcastle, one in Manchester and another in Leeds and I also support other area managers, so I travel around the country.

My role varies on a day-to-day basis and could involve me visiting settings, doing an audit, attending meetings, training, attending conferences.

It’s a really varied role, which means that I’m supporting the Sunrise group of nurseries, working on the Connect Implementation team and delivering presentations at conferences.

I was co-chair of the Ofsted Big Conversation and I am chair of the NDNA North East branch, which gives me a chance to build relationships with the authorities and to be seen as the childcare provider of their choice for any new potential nurseries, so it’s a real variety and every day is different.

I have the Early Years Professional Status, a BA in Early Childhood Studies and a Foundation Degree in Early Years Care and Education. I also have qualifications in British Sign Language (BSL) and have completed deaf awareness training but don’t get to use my BSL training a lot now. I used to use it a lot more when I was working in the nursery to communicate with children and parents with hearing impairments.

What do you enjoy most and least about your role?

I love the variety of things I get to do as part of the job and helping others and advising them and seeing them achieve their goals at the end, and every day is really different so there is no chance to get bored. I tend to visit my areas at least once a month but I support a variety of different settings so travel a lot.

I love my job and although I really enjoyed being a nursery manager, I was ready for a new challenge.

What do you find is the most challenging thing about working in the sector?

There are always lots of changes in legislation and requirements in the early years, both from the Government and Ofsted.

For instance, when you’ve got all of your staff trained to meet the current requirements and you think you’re in a good position things change again. It can be quite frustrating not knowing what the Government wants or what they’re going to do about the 30-hours entitlement and the hourly rate as it's all still undecided, it is hard to plan for the future.

What advice would you give to someone looking to pursue a career in childcare?

Being an all-rounder is important, you need good communication skills, you need to be solution-focused and have good common sense to be able to analyse a situation and advise on the best solution.

It’s really rewarding and though it is hard work, it's so rewarding seeing both children and families thrive and you can work with some really great people as well.

It’s great to see happy and engaged children interacting with each other. I work with some really lovely people and it’s so rewarding to see them do well and achieve.

I really enjoy what I’m doing, you get the chance to learn something new all the time and there are plenty of new experiences coming your way.

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