As we come to the end of what can only be described as a most extraordinary year, we would like to take this opportunity to extend our heartfelt gratitude to all our families for your support and cooperation, and to reflect upon the incredible work that has happened across Storal Learning in 2020.
We appreciate just how quickly and considerately you complied with all new operating procedures that came with COVID-19. It hasn’t always been easy – especially with Government guidance often arriving very late in the day and leaving us with more open questions than answers; but our dedicated nursery leadership teams have worked tirelessly to minimise any disruption and to keep parents and staff informed and updated throughout. Special thanks to our Area Managers and to our Central Support team for the many late evening and weekend Zoom calls as we tried to get ahead of each new announcement.
Over the coming days and weeks, we anticipate having to adapt at short notice to further announcements, but we draw continued strength and hope from your kindness and support, from the rapid progress being made with the vaccine roll-out, and above all, from the inspirational positivity of our children. Seeing the joy on their faces as they reunited with their friends and educators at nursery, after the first lockdown, was incredibly heart-warming and we will continue to do our utmost to provide them with consistency of care and the nurturing learning environments they deserve.
For now, we would like to share with you just a few highlights that we’re especially proud of during 2020.
Continued focus on Wellbeing
Parents who have been with us for over a year may recall that in 2019, we signed the ‘Time to Change Pledge’ – a commitment to change the way that we, as an organisation, think and act about mental health. With the profound changes that took place this year, never has a focus on mental health been more important. Since many of our staff teams were home-bound during the first lockdown, we quickly came up with the idea of creating a Staff Wellbeing pack that included information on how to practice self-care and provided opportunities to keep their brains active and learning.
As children started to return to nursery from June onwards, their wellbeing during these confusing and unsettling times took priority and we were so proud of how resilient and confident the children were across the board. Our Employee Wellbeing Champions at each site continued to do incredible work in supporting staff wellbeing, taking part in Early Years Wellbeing week and Christmas schemes to boost staff morale and to say a big ‘thank you’ for all that their colleagues do.
Curriculum enhancements and Staff Development
At the beginning of the year, we created the role of Childcare Development Manager to adopt a research-based approach to enhance the curriculum and pedagogical practices across Storal Learning. We were thrilled to offer the position to Hannah T, who was previously Area Manager for our South East nurseries.
During the summer, we successfully introduced an accelerated version of our ‘Rising Stars’ school readiness programme to support as many children as possible as they prepared for school in September under unusual circumstances. It has been wonderful to see an increase in confidence, focus and concentration, which evidences the impact this programme has on our children as they take this big step. We are excited that 2021 brings with it two new programmes – ‘Incredible Babies’, targeted at children under two and due to be rolled out in early 2021, and ‘Terrific Twos’, currently being trialled at a few nurseries and due to be rolled out closer to Easter. Not only do these programmes give staff additional tools in which to support your child’s development, but they also provide opportunities to focus on the particular needs of the children in a way that goes above and beyond our already high-quality everyday practice.
We are also pleased to have introduced multiple new methods of providing staff training over the last year as part of our commitment to developing and upskilling our teams. Our HR and Childcare teams at Central Support developed a relationship with The Skills Network, which has given us access to a wide list of funded courses, including level 3, 4 and 5 apprenticeships, which many of our staff are already undertaking. In addition, we introduced Flick training, which includes required training programmes for all staff, incorporating priority topics such as Safeguarding and Equality & Diversity, as well as dozens of optional e-learning modules. The feedback has been terrific!
Moreover, we’re proud that we are one of the few nursery groups to have two inset days a year, dedicated to staff training and development, a chance for staff to step away from their day-to-day activities and focus on key learning areas and team development.
Diversity & Inclusion
Racial tension across the globe continued to bring to our attention the importance of open conversations about diversity and inclusion within our society and within our company this year. In June, we published a blog post – ‘Let’s talk about race’ – to address how we, as early years professionals, support the cultural identity of our children and teach them about tolerance and respect for all. We also opened-up the conversation to our staff about their own experiences and how we can better create an inclusive culture. As part of this, we will be introducing a new role focusing on inclusion at each nursery in 2021 and hope that we can continue to learn and grow in this area, ultimately doing our very best for each other and the little lives we are influencing each day.
Awards and Recognition
We are delighted that Storal Learning was recognised by daynurseries.co.uk as a Top 20 Nursery Group for the second year running. The fact that this award is based entirely on parent feedback made us all feel especially proud and grateful.
In June, we hosted our inaugural Storal Awards ceremony over Zoom – a chance to acknowledge and celebrate team members who personify our values and behaviours and act as role models. We received hundreds of submissions from both staff and parents. Congratulations to Amanda, Jodie, Cheryl, Jack and Kerry, our winners on the evening. During the ceremony, we also took time to personally thank our teams of Early Years Heroes across the country. Nursery practitioners were rightly classified as Key Workers during the first lockdown, and every Thursday evening, when we clapped for carers, we also wholeheartedly clapped for our amazing teams.
Charity, Generosity and Community initiatives
While the news has a habit of focusing on the worst in society, this period has also showcased the very best in us, with countless small acts of kindness that have melted our hearts and reminded us of the importance of compassion, selflessness and a spirit of generosity. Thank you to Cook, the food retailer where a few of our parents work, for donating a full array of delicious meals for our children and staff at Ickle Pickles to enjoy; to Morrisons for donating enough Easter Eggs to last a lifetime; to the parent at Rocking Horse who donated such a generous quantity of hand sanitizer that we were able to share our supplies with parents and the local care home which the children used to visit before the virus struck. The list goes on and what it so clearly shows is that there is goodness to be found everywhere.
During the October half term, inspired by Marcus Rashford’s campaign, our team at Willow Tree Nursery in Clacton-on-Sea prepared 100 pack lunches a day for children on Free School Meals. We strongly believe that all children deserve to eat healthy, nourishing meals every day and that there is a strong link between nutrition and a child’s development.
Finally, to all our families who would like to give a little something back this Christmas period, we encourage you to donate to our Charity of the Year – Young Minds are the UK’s leading charity fighting for children and young people’s mental health. A £15 donation supports a Parent Helpline volunteer to provide information and support to parents who are worried about their child’s mental health. A £30 donation will provide training for a Young Activist to have the skills and confidence to talk about mental health and support their peers and local community. We are sure you will agree that this is an ever more important issue. Donations can be made through our dedicated JustGiving page.
With that, we wish all our families a safe and Happy Christmas! Although it will be different this year, we hope you and your children are still able to create wonderful memories together.
Please do remember to complete the parent declaration form before nursery re-opens to help us keep nursery safe, and we look forward to seeing you in the new year!
Ash Grover & Varun Chanrai