Focus on Bath – The Norland Nannies

You may have seen some of the pupils of this College walking to and from the main premises along London Road. Wrapped up in their wool and cashmere brown coats, with their hats perched on their heads, gloves on and laced up brown shoes, they are a distinctive sight in Bath.

It’s tempting not to make comparisons with children’s film favourites Nanny McPhee or Mary Poppins. In fact there are distinct similarities in what they wear – with Julie Andrews’ hat and gloves, and Emma Thompson’s sensible shoes. However, there is more than something magical about these people. These are the impeccably trained Norland Nannies, considered the best in the business.

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These nannies expect the unexpected and are prepared for all different circumstances when it comes to Early Years childcare. Norland’s motto is “Love Never Faileth” but after you’ve read this article, probably Lord Baden Powell’s motto for the Scout and Guiding movement, “Be Prepared,” is a more fitting phrase for the hard working Norland Nannies.

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It may feel as if Norland College has been in Bath for decades. It certainly seems as if the Norland Nannies are part of the fabric of the city. However, it may surprise you to know that Norland College only moved to Bath in 2003 having previously been located at Denford Park, Berkshire, and before that, in and around London.

Their main premises today are located in what was once the home of Prince Frederick, Duke of York, second son to King George III. It is a Grade II listed building, and as with a listed building, the planning restrictions in place mean it retains its quirky nature despite its modern use. Thus, the narrow staircases and basement servant rooms still remain, but every space has been utilised efficiently and to its full potential by the college.

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The property is actually larger than it looks, with the arched cellar space used for practical activities such as nappy changing, and creating children’s activities. The College also rent office space across the road for their sewing classes, and use St Mark’s School’s kitchen for Home Economic lessons.

Norland College was the brainchild of a lady called Emily Ward in the 19th Century, who recognised the need for formally qualified nannies. Prior to this, childcare was the responsibility of “untutored” housemaids, or governesses. Ward chose to set up her training school in premises at Norland Place, London, in 1892 and soon the School became known by the moniker “Norland College”.

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Emily Ward

The location may have changed over the years, but the principles behind the training of Norland Nannies remain firmly based on the principles of Froeble. Friedrich Froeble (1782-1952) was a German educator who recognised that the first learning experiences of children can influence their own personal development both mentally and physically, as well as impacting on society as a whole.

Froeble was considered a radical, but despite opposition from his own government he set up the first kindergartens in his country which involved play, games and the natural world. His ideas soon spread with the first English kindergarten opening in London in the 1850s. Emily Ward was an advocate of Froeble’s ideas, and thus it became part of the foundation of Norland’s teachings.

Norland College believes every child is unique in its needs and capabilities and thus at the College the nannies are trained to adapt their practice in line with the family they are working for. They learn how to be prepared, to be able to adapt and be flexible, to ever changing and developing situations as their charges develop and grow.

It may interest you to know, that even in the 21st Century, Nannies are not regulated. There are no government requirements for someone to practice as a nanny and no Ofsted as you get in schools.

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Norland College is the only training institute for nannies that offers a 3 year Degree in Early Years Childcare (validated by the University of Gloucestershire). The students then complete a fourth year on a paid placement, after which the graduates are awarded with their Degree and the highly sought after Norland Diploma. The College follows the Government and NHS guidelines on Early Years Childcare closely. This is what makes Norland College so unique and outshines other organisations.

The process in becoming a Norland Nanny is certainly an experience, as I was to discover when I visited the College in March.

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If you wanted to become a Norland Nanny, you first have to apply via UCAS, and then wait to be invited for interview. There isn’t an upper age limit to becoming a Norland Nanny, and they welcome students from all over Europe. You don’t have to be from a private school or privileged background. There is about a 50/50 split in applicants and those who go on to become students.

Don’t think that becoming a Nanny is only for women, either. Men are welcome to apply, and one has even trained and become a male Norlander (the name for fully qualified Norland Nannies), so you wouldn’t be the first if you chaps out there did decide to go down the Early Years route.

According to the College, it’s good to have previous experience with young children and babies, and get as much as you can from family and friends before you even think of applying. A natural enthusiasm and willingness to work hard is also looked for in a Norland Nanny applicant.

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Once the interview has been passed and a place on the course has been offered, then the hard work begins. Unlike many Colleges or Universities, students at Norland College don’t have mornings or days off to laze in bed before lectures. They’ll be expected at College Monday to Thursday every week, 9am to 4.30pm. Friday’s are set aside for independent studies, guest lectures and independent training. When I visited on a Friday there were students arriving for a guest lecture, and others busily writing away in the Student Common Room downstairs.

As a Norland student they are also expected to take up placements for up to 6 weeks at a time regularly during their training and studies to practice what they have learnt. The students get to see many different childcare environments; from the Maternity wards of the RUH, to working in local schools, private homes and special educational needs facilities. However, at no time are they allowed to work unsupervised with children. They are of course still students. Only when they are a fully qualified Norlander can they work on their own with children.

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As well as the studies and placements, Norland trainees also learn various ways of how to engage with children through games and fun activities. They must be resourceful too – learning to sew and create things from what is in their surrounding environment. Cooking and Nutrition is another element to the Diploma where weaning, fussy eaters and special diets are discussed and advice given regarding healthy home-cooked meals.

Paediatric First Aid training is of course essential and the nannies even learn to recognise various childhood illnesses. Sign Language is an optional module the nannies can choose to take so that they can communicate with deaf children or those with learning difficulties. In their final year, the students also learn Life Saving skills at Bath Leisure Centre.

As the students can’t be left unsupervised with children, they are given their own “reality baby” to take care of for 2 days and nights, which reacts in the way a new born baby would. It cries, needs changing and feeding, and is responsive to touch; but this baby also downloads useful data that can be analysed after the 2 days have finished so the student can be assessed on his or her skills.

Norland College at Denford Park, Hungerford

Norland College at Denford Park, Hungerford

The students learn to follow the “safer sleep for babies” guidelines of the NHS, and the Lullaby Trust , which was set up for research into Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and who publish best practice guidelines to reduce the risk of SIDS. Please go to the link for more information about their guidelines. It was interesting to hear about the “baby hotel” at Norland’s previous location, Denford Park, with the rows of children left to sleep outside in their prams (supervised of course!).

Surprisingly students are also sent on rail trips, often up to London. This not only helps with orientation skills, but they learn how to travel and entertain children on long journeys.

The students’ training moves with the times and covers all aspects of modern life. For example, online security is covered, as well as self-defence and defensive driving. Everything has a purpose though – to be totally professional whilst safeguarding children. The students will also be instructed in what to expect when they finish their course and go into employment. This includes information about salary, tax, pension and insurance; as well as contract law.

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Most of this hard work and training is performed while wearing the most distinctive part of the students’ kit – the Norland Nanny uniform. The colour of the uniform has varied over the last 120 years, but its distinctive colour ensures the nannies stand out from other uniformed staff, whether it was housemaids in the 1890s or Doctors and nurses in the 1990s. Today the colour is brown, and has been for over 70 years. Although it might not be considered to everyone’s taste it is certainly distinctively “Norland College”. Yes, even male students have to wear the brown uniform, though they somehow don’t get to wear the hat, much to the chagrin of the female trainees!

Norland Nannies, 1892

Norland Nannies, 1892

Every element of the Norland College training has been carefully considered. Even the uniform and “look” has been designed with the training and practicalities of dealing with young children and babies in mind.

Gloves are worn when outside to enable the nanny to keep his or her hands clean. When attending to their charge, the gloves would be removed. Shoes are lace-up only to ensure that they do not slip off at any time. The main uniform has ¾ length sleeves only as this prevents bacteria from building up on the sleeves and then transferring to a baby or young child when picking them up.

Norland Nannies, 2015

Norland Nannies, 2015

Students must also wear their hair off their collar, whether cut short or up in a bun and kept tidy underneath the Norland hat; this is to stop children grabbing and pulling at it, plus to prevent hair flopping into babies’ faces. There must also be minimal discreet make up, no perfume (as you don’t want either perfume or make up to be transferred on to the child), and only a pair of stud earrings are allowed (again, studs only to stop children pulling at them).

When you think about it, all these elements to the look and uniform are common sense. The continuation of the uniform is a source of pride to trainees and Norlanders. It’s what makes them stand out from the crowd. Although once qualified a Norlander doesn’t have to wear his or her uniform again, unless requested by their employer, I suspect the majority keep hold of it for “old time’s sake”!

Once qualified, a Norlander becomes part of the Alumni community and can search for employment via the Norland Agency. Norlanders can return to the College for continual professional development (CPD) days, further training, as well as social gatherings. Once a Norlander, always a Norlander, and you can be assured that they get lifelong support. In fact, the oldest Norlander (though no longer working) is Brenda Ashford, now in her 90s. She has written two fantastic books about her experiences as a nanny called “A Spoonful of Sugar” and “Tuppance for Paper and String”.

Brenda Ashford

Brenda Ashford

The other thing that sets Norland College apart from their contemporaries is their Code of Professional Conduct. Despite the press finding out about a few of those who use a Norland Nanny – such as Mick Jagger mentioning his use of them for his children in a past interview, and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge announcing that they have a Norlander employed to care for Prince George.; the college and the nannies themselves remain tightlipped. The privacy of the Norland College’s and Agency’s clients, and nannies, is paramount. The fact that there is so little information out there as to who uses a Norland Nanny is testament to its Code, and the high standard of professionalism and privacy that the College and the Norlanders practice.

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Don’t think that you have to be a Prince or Pop star to employ a Norlander though. The Norland Agency welcomes calls from any parent. Plus you don’t have to employ a Norland Nanny on a permanent basis; it can be temporary. Whether you require a nanny to cover you for a few hours or a few days, or for a one off occasional over-night stay when lack of sleep is too much, Norland Agency can assist you more than you might have first realised.

Norlanders also volunteer their time with TAMBA (Twins and Multiple Births Association) and their Helping Hands project. This is a free of charge support for those families with multiples (twins, triplets etc) who are facing crises. This support has been found to really help and relieve those parents who are unable to cope. Please press on the links above for further information about TAMBA and Helping Hands.

Norland College also now offers Early Years Consultancy and Training, so if you require consultation on best practices for young children (aged 0 to 8 years), then these are the professionals to call. Clients already include Mothercare, training product designers, buyers and in-store staff; Etihad Airways training their “Flying Nannies”, and Chartwells Independent on pastoral care for children during lunch service. There are also visits every year from international Colleges that train Early Year Professionals, including from Australia and Japan. Host families are always required for this, so do get in touch with the College if you think you can help.

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So there you have it! I hope I’ve given you a real glimpse into the world of Norland College. Behind that cool Bath stone façade is a hive of activity and learning that is turning out the best qualified Early Year Practioners in the country, right here in the heart of Bath.

We are also very pleased to announce that if any guests at The Royal Hotel require a nanny during their stay, whether for a night off so you can go to the Theatre or Spa, or during the day whilst you go shopping or to lunch, then we’re happy to recommend Norland Nannies.

Please contact the Norland Agency to arrange your very own Norland Nanny and experience the best of the best.

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 With thanks to Abby Searle and all at Norland College.
[Photographs copyright Norland College, Catherine Pitt, Western Daily Press, Parent Dish, Daily Mail, The Guardian]

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