Footprints Learning for Life Nursery

A Message from Lord Pickles and Lord Blunkett, followed by Footprints Learning for Life Nursery's best practice article

The ability to listen and learn from one another has always been vital in parliament, in business and in most aspects of daily life. But at this particular moment in time, as national and global events continue to reiterate, it is uncommonly crucial that we forge new channels of communication and reinforce existing ones. The following article from Footprints Learning for Life Nursery is an attempt to do just that. We would welcome your thoughts on this or any other Parliamentary Review article.

Blunkett signature Rt Hon The Lord David Blunkett
Pickles signature Rt Hon The Lord Eric Pickles

Owner and Manager
Learning through play
Footprints Learning for Life Ltd is a nursery school based
in Hartlepool that focuses on providing every child with
an equal opportunity for a great start in life, regardless of
circumstances. Founded in 2006, they believe that one size does
not fit all, and they cater for individual requirements irrespective
of need, culture, race, gender and abilities. Owner and Manager
Sharon Birch expands.
I founded Footprints after a 20-year career in the police service. As a mother of
three children born within five years, I knew what a busy family needed in terms
of childcare. My husband was a service police officer and we spent years juggling
childcare with shift work and school hours. It was difficult, and the system was
inflexible. My children were not able to attend school nursery ahead of reception
due to this inflexibility and we took up their Free Nursery Entitlement. It worked
well for us as a family, but I believe parents should have choice. Rigid systems are
not compatible with families today.
I took on my children’s old nursery when it was due for closure and, with a personal
investment, turned it into Footprints Learning for Life. Twelve staff and 55 children
returned to the nursery after the takeover. The first thing I did was devise a ten-year
plan that aimed for Footprints to become financially viable, to have a reputation that
other providers aspired towards and to gain an “outstanding” rating from Ofsted.
In 2016, we achieved our goals, but we had a difficult journey on the way. I was
new to the business and had never employed anyone, but I knew the sort of
childcare I wished to provide. It was hard to break the mould, but, even today, we
are one of few nurseries in the UK that provide these services.
»Owner and Manager:
»Incorporated in 2006
»Based in Hartlepool, County
»Services: Full and wraparound
childcare with a fully-inclusive
transport service
»No. of employees: 35
»Provides childcare from birth
to 15 years
Footprints Learning
for Life Nursery
Highlighting best practice
I enrolled Footprints in the Investors
in People programme and we have
learned a lot, achieving the standard
in 2008 and Gold IIP in 2010. Happy
staff make happy children, which
makes happy parents who can carry
on their day knowing their children
are well cared for. We employ staff
at the start and the end of their
careers, and everyone in between. We
have apprentices, students on work
placements, nursery nurses, teachers,
cooks and drivers, of both sexes. We
have low staff turnover and believe
in giving staff proper contracts, with
only three bank staff on zero-hour
contracts. They have the same benefits
and entitlements as contracted staff,
and everyone works very well as a
team, irrespective of job role.
We invest in staff training and
appreciate that everyone works very
hard for their wage. We embrace
opportunities and encourage students
with additional needs and those who
have been marginalised due to their
circumstances. We also employ staff
that are returning to work after a long
break. Although we can’t increase
wages, I give staff other benefits, such
as paying for a health therapist to
give treatments, recognition awards
at every staff meeting, a Christmas
event, high-street vouchers and a
subscription to a scheme that offers
perks to employees. In 2012, we won
a UK Nursery World Award for team
development and we achieved our
“outstanding” Ofsted rating in 2016.
Our income is low in comparison to
our geographical area, because our
prices are half what our rivals charge,
and we have the same overheads.
Profits are minimal and there is no
spare cash, but thankfully we have
a good working relationship with
the local authority who ensure that
payments for the two, three and
four-year funded places are completed
promptly. Payments from parents,
many of whom are in receipt of
benefits or are on a low income, are
often late, which can also cause cash-
flow difficulties.
Igniting children’s
We have low
staff turnover
and believe in
giving staff
contracts, with
only three
bank staff on
Hartlepool is an area with high
deprivation and poverty, and we care
for around 180 children a week from
a variety of family environments.
As a result, many cannot afford
additional services, so we provide
all meals through our grants and
funding. We do not charge for extras,
other than transport, and we provide
healthy menus, in line with early years
guidance from the government. We
cater for cultural needs and cook all
foods on our premises with fresh,
locally sourced produce. We work with
many local businesses and actively
support the charities Changing Futures
NE and Miles for Men.
Families and childcare
We offer a range of services –
breakfast, after-school, holiday club,
half and full day care, late evenings
and Saturdays – depending on
demand. We also open on bank
holidays, aside from those over the
Christmas period. Every child receives
breakfast, a two-course lunch, a
two-course dinner and two snacks
throughout the day.
Busy families often need to be in two
or more places at once, and working
patterns and school schedules are
often not compatible. Footprints offers
flexible childcare sessions for shift
workers, as well as term-time-only
places for teachers and those that need
it. We offer a fully inclusive transport
service across town, which is tough
to schedule but is complemented by
staff who also work flexibly. We have
a fleet of four vehicles, operated by
qualified, experienced drivers, nursery
nurse escorts and relevant insurance.
This service fosters good relationships
with the primary schools across the
town, enabling positive transitions for
children preparing for school.
Our parents currently favour social
media as a means of communication.
We are in the process of developing
an app for parents to book and pay
for sessions, and we have also gone
online with a new system that enables
parents to view their child’s learning
and development journal.
The future
We are always looking to enhance our
nursery and grow the business within
our tight financial constraints. We are
innovative and embrace change in a
sector that has strict regulations. My
vision for the future is to continue
giving the families of Hartlepool quality
childcare fit for purpose. I would love
to offer children up to the age of
seven the opportunity to continue their
education with us, as we know that
not all are ready for the formal school
system. Our emphasis is learning
through play and discovery in a variety
of different environments, in a variety
of different ways.
We are
innovative and
change in a
sector that has
Taking risks and

This article was sponsored by Footprints Learning for Life Nursery. The Parliamentary Review is wholly funded by the representatives who write for it. The publication in which this article originally appeared contained the following foreword from The Rt Hon Theresa May MP.

The Rt Hon Theresa May MP's Foreword For The Parliamentary Review

By The Rt Hon Theresa May MP

This foreword from the then Prime Minister appeared in the 2018/19 Parliamentary Review.

British politics provides ample material for analysis in the pages of The Parliamentary Review. For Her Majesty’s Government, our task in the year ahead is clear: to achieve the best Brexit deal for Britain and to carry on our work to build a more prosperous and united country – one that truly works for everyone. 

The right Brexit deal will not be sufficient on its own to secure a more prosperous future for Britain. We also need to ensure that our economy is ready for what tomorrow will bring. Our Modern Industrial Strategy is our plan to do that. It means Government stepping up to secure the foundations of our productivity: providing an education system that delivers the skills our economy needs, improving school standards and transforming technical education; delivering infrastructure for growth; ensuring people have the homes they need in the places they want to live. It is all about taking action for the long-term that will pay dividends in the future.

But it also goes beyond that. Government, the private sector and academia working together as strategic partners achieve far more than we could separately. That is why we have set an ambitious goal of lifting UK public and private research and development investment to 2.4 per cent of GDP by 2027. It is why we are developing four Grand Challenges, the big drivers of social and economic change in the world today: harnessing artificial intelligence and the data revolution; leading in changes to the future of mobility; meeting the challenges of our ageing society; and driving ahead the revolution in clean growth. By focusing our efforts on making the most of these areas of enormous potential, we can develop new exports, grow new industries and create more good jobs in every part of our country.

Years of hard work and sacrifice from the British people have got our deficit down by over three quarters. We are building on this success by taking a balanced approach to public spending. We are continuing to deal with our debts, so that our economy can remain strong and we can protect people’s jobs, and at the same time we are investing in vital public services, like our NHS. We have set out plans to increase NHS funding annually by an average by 3.4 percent in real terms: that is £394 million a week more. In return, the NHS will produce a ten-year plan, led by doctors and nurses, to eliminate waste and improve patient care.

I believe that Britain can look to the future with confidence. We are leaving the EU and setting a new course for prosperity as a global trading nation. We have a Modern Industrial Strategy that is strengthening the foundations of our economy and helping us to seize the opportunities of the future. We are investing in the public services we all rely on and helping them to grow and improve. Building on our country’s great strengths – our world-class universities and researchers, our excellent services sector, our cutting edge manufacturers, our vibrant creative industries, our dedicated public servants – we can look towards a new decade that is ripe with possibility. The government I lead is doing all it can to make that brighter future a reality for everyone in our country. 

British politics provides ample material for analysis in the pages of The Parliamentary Review 
The Rt Hon Theresa May MP
Prime Minister