NMT Training Magazine – Climbing the Ladder

Hungry Caterpillars Director, Olivia Foley has recently had an article published in the training section of the NMT magazine. This is what she had to say about some of the recent training opportunities Hungry Caterpillars is able to offer it’s staff;


At Hungry Caterpillars, we have always had a strong commitment to training and developing our team. For the past 20 years, we have delivered five whole company, in-house training days each year, and we have seen the impact of these on upskilling staff and outcomes for children. On top of that, there is a wealth of additional training and development opportunities such as forest school, an online training portal, professional conferences and networks as well as access to external training.

Taking it further
But, for some time, we have felt we needed to offer more in terms of in-house leadership training. A moment that stands out for me was getting an email from one of our soon-to-qualify apprentices telling me how much she loved working for Hungry Caterpillars, thanking me for the opportunities to train and develop and underlining how she would love to continue to grow and develop within the company. Around the same time, I also had two team members apply for progression roles that had become vacant. Unfortunately, neither was quite ready, but I was, again, touched by their ambition, passion and clarity about their aspirations. We have always had a firm commitment to internal promotion and development, but nothing formal in house to prepare them for leadership roles. I made a promise to myself there and then that we would provide support for our team to become our future leaders and managers.

The planning stage
If we really wanted to harness the ambition shown by our staff, we needed to develop a programme that built a bridge between the roles of practitioner and leader and manager. We also needed a course for those new to leadership. So, after several months of planning, meetings with various training providers as well as with my senior team, 2019 saw the launch of our Future and Developing Leaders programme, which will ensure we grow our senior talent from within.

Course content
We devised the content to incorporate various elements we see as key. Delivery of the programme is through a combination of external trainers, early years specialists and our senior leadership team.

Topics include:

Leadership and Management
ILM Level 3 – Leadership and Management
The Leader in Me
High Performing Teams
Coaching & Mentoring Your Team
Developing Staff Performance
Speaking in Public – rising to the challenge
Early Years specific courses
Preparing for Ofsted
Dealing with Complaints Effectively
Developing Strong Partnerships
Designated Safeguarding Lead

‘The Caterpillar Way’ courses
Customer Service – sensational show rounds
How We Observe, Plan and Support Children’s Development
In-house software packages
Manager’s Task Schedule – How to do the ‘business bit’
Choosing Your Training Partners.

We chose ESB Training to deliver the leadership and management elements of the programme, because they clearly understood what we aimed to achieve – plus there were great recommendations. If your course is to be a success, it’s important to choose a trainer who shares your values and vision, and Rosie, the director of ESB, was completely on the same page as us. ESB could already offer key elements such as the opportunity to get a recognised qualification, while reflective tasks were built into their leadership programme. As she said: “When Olivia and I sat down to discuss the future and developing-leaders programme, I was impressed with the vision she had for creating a culture of strong and effective leadership within Hungry Caterpillars. It has been a great pleasure to design and deliver this year-long bespoke programme, which gives all participants the opportunity to develop a full range of leadership skills. It’s a fantastic example of strategic investment in leadership which will lead to huge benefits for the team, parents and, importantly, the children.”

Recruiting candidates
Candidates for the course are nominated by their line manager – they can nominate themselves, but they all have to fill in an application form. This captures why they are applying for the course, what they hope to gain and where they hope to be professionally in the future. In addition, they sign up to our company training agreement, which acknowledges our investment in them, as we really wanted to get a measure of each individual’s commitment to the course before offering a place. We cap the annual intake so places are limited, but those who are unsuccessful have the opportunity to apply the following year. In our first year, we offered 12 places with great confidence.

A solid foundation
Each candidate is allocated a mentor, who is usually their line manager, but might be a director or member of the senior team. The mentor’s job is to meet with the candidate after each session to get feedback on how they are doing, support them with their reflective task and generally keep them on track. Both the mentor and the candidate attend an induction session, which outlines the overall programme content, the role of the mentor and our expectations of both.

Reflective tasks
A reflective task is set after each session and is key to the programme. This is to ensure that students get first-hand experience of the skills they have learnt and that they have the time to reflect after each session. They then feedback their experience of the reflective task to the group at the next session, which provides another opportunity for them to develop self-confidence and consolidate the skills learnt – and, of course, it is an opportunity to do a presentation in front of a group of their peers.

Feedback so far
Despite the fact that we are only halfway through the first year of the programme, feedback has been truly positive. “The course has allowed me to reflect on my approach to my role, staff team and parents. I have been able to use strategies learnt to deal with different situations with a positive outcome.” Chloe Moses, deputy manager “I have learnt that knowing your staff individually is a high priority in order to get the best out of them. Being aware of individuals’ readiness levels is supporting me to guide them to achieve what is required of them.” Chelsey Gilder, nursery manager “Since starting the course, my confidence has grown massively. I have learnt lots about myself and
I’m managing my room and team more effectively,” Mollie Bradshaw, deputy room leader.

Celebrating success
The programme has been planned to run over a 12-month period (January to December), and we shall celebrate their success with a graduation ceremony at our annual team awards day in December this year. Hopefully, this will inspire 2020’s cohort to apply for a place in the next programme, and we will see the benefits of the skills learnt in our future senior teams. There is no doubt that, as we work through our first year, we will tweak and develop the programme, learning as we go. But that is as it should be – being flexible and adapting to change is, after all, something we are great at in early years.

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