Staffing in Nurseries: What to look for

Choosing a nursery is incredibly tough, however as well as the feel, there are a number of metrics you can look at - including recommended teacher to pupil ratios...
Staffing in Nurseries: What to look for
By David Westley
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Thankfully it would seem that the days of Early Years Education and Childcare being seen as merely “babysitting” are long gone. These days, parents understand that the staff to whom we entrust our precious offspring are vital to their happy and safe experience of nursery life. 

Working parents own careers rely heavily on childcare that their children love to attend. No one wants early morning “I NO WANT school” tantrums before a long day in the office! 

So who exactly are these superheroes? What personality traits and qualifications does a good nursery worker need? Relevant qualifications, warmth and mammoth reserves of patience… not too much to ask?

All over the world, governments have sought to raise standards and make professional the Early Years industry, raising qualification requirements and formalising and improving staff to child ratios.

In the UAE, our unique society presents nursery employers with an unusual workforce pool with both many upsides and challenges. Here we look at the issues and see how they might impact your child’s life at nursery.


Staff Ratios and Qualification Requirements

A large number of nurseries in the UAE adhere to the EYFS (the English Early Years Foundation Stage curriculum) which has qualification and staff ratio requirement in line with many other national curriculums. It sets out staff: child ratio and qualification requirements as follows:

For children under the age of two:
• A minimum ratio of 1 member of staff for 3 children
• One member of staff must hold a “level 3” qualification (the most up to date of which is known as the “Early Years Educator” qualification; half of the other staff must hold a “level 2” qualification (for example an NVQ level 2 in Childcare)

For children aged 2:
• A minimum ratio of one member of staff for every 4 children
• One member of staff must hold a “level 3” qualification; half of the other staff must hold a “level 2” qualification

For children age 3+
• If the lead member of staff is a degree qualified teacher or Early Years professional, a ratio of 1 member of staff for 13 children. If not, a ratio of 1 member of staff for every eight children.
• One member of staff must hold a “level 3” qualification; half of the other staff must hold a “level 2” qualification

As admirable as these requirements are, it is unlikely that any parent will find a UAE nursery that has been able to recruit staff to 100% fulfil the qualification requirements – mostly due to the smaller workforce here and the prohibitive cost of bringing appropriately qualified staff from overseas.

That said, the staff to child ratios remain incredibly important, and there are many ways in which nurseries can bring unqualified staff up to standard.

We at WSA recommend that parents look to the EYFS ratios as a minimum – every parent knows how difficult managing their own little people can be – imagine the responsibility of caring for a class full of marauding two-year-olds!


What to look for in nursery staff – from management to classroom assistant

A good nursery starts with highly qualified and engaged management.

Look for enthusiastic, organised managers holding a degree in teaching or Early Years Education.

A good manager sets the tone and creates the personality of a nursery so they should definitely be on board with the ethos and values of the organisation. Managers should be supported by an efficient administration and accounting team to ensure the smooth running of back office functions. A manager swamped in admin will be one unable to manage the care of your child!

It goes without saying that every member of staff who comes into contact with your child must love working with children. Nursery workers must have a natural warmth along with the strength of personality and resilience to deal calmly with what is often an incredibly demanding and stressful role. Communication is key here, so look for natural communicators at ease with adults and children alike.

Parents should look for nurseries which offer all their staff a programme of continuous professional development – especially in the areas of hygiene, first aid and safety. Every member of staff should have biannual paediatric first aid training leading to an appropriate qualification.

Lastly, we recommend enrolling your child in a nursery which employs a full time, qualified nurse. Young children are especially susceptible to sickness and first aid emergencies. More than that, a qualified nurse will monitor hygiene and safety throughout the nursery.


International Staff – a question of languages

Children in the UAE are immersed in different cultures and languages from an early age. We at WSA feel this is one of the many distinct advantages of raising a child as an expat.

However, parents may be concerned at their child being exposed to adults without fluency in their child’s first language. The modelling of good grammar and broad vocabularies by adults is a very important element of language learning and must be a priority at nursery.

Staff members should be encouraged to use English (or the predominant language of the nursery) at all times – even when communicating amongst themselves.

Staff with poor language skills should be offered help and guidance by management to ensure that the children in their care do not pick up poor grammar or incorrect use of words.

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