The Foundation Stage induction process can be supported by existing staff in your setting, as demonstrated at Nottingham University’s Day Nursery

This article focuses on the staff members who will support the process of induction: the inductor who will pass on information and the mentor who will provide personal support. The views of Sue Mellors, who leads Nottingham University’s Day Nursery, are summarised within this article. Sue delegates the various aspects of support for new members of the workforce.

Inductions are carried out by immediate line managers, who in turn raise any concerns with the establishment manager

  • Mentoring is carried out by any person chosen by the new staff member, on the basis of being someone that they can relate to
  • Coaching is undertaken by staff who have completed their own probationary period, and is delegated by the unit manager
  • Appraisals are carried out by the immediate line managers
  • Probationary period reviews are undertaken by the establishment manager

If yours is a smaller team then you should aim at least to involve two team members – one should be given the role of carrying out the induction, and another person should be identified as a mentor for the new member of staff. It is important to keep these two roles separate.

The inductor’s role is to

  • Inform the new member of staff about the daily routines for staff and children.
  • Make the new member of staff aware of all the relevant policies, hand over copies and talk through anything which is vital, such as health and safety or child protection.
  • Hand over copies of the curriculum, the planning, and assessment procedures, and ensure that the new person understands her part in delivering all of this. 
  • Inform the new member of staff about the management systems, who will be her line manager, the appraisal process, opportunities for professional development within the setting.

The mentor is there to

  • Build relationships.
  • Offer support.
  • Help the new member of staff to understand the culture of the organisation, and to understand the formal and informal structures of the setting.
  • Assist in developing personal and professional networks.
  • Support the new member of staff in understanding their role and the expectations about their performance.

The mentor undertake these responsibilities by:

  • Offering personal support to the new member of staff. This could be as simple as inviting her to sit with you during a break.
  • Offering professional support. Through discussion the mentor can find out where the new member of staff is, in terms of current skills and knowledge, her experience so far, what skills she needs to acquire to meet the demands of this particular job, and how she plans to develop over the medium term. Together they will prepare a plan which will eventually feed into the ongoing staff development programmes that you provide. Always remember that different individuals will require different levels of support and this will need to be agreed with the mentor at the start of the relationship.
  • Responding to questions. The new member of staff may need practical advice, or may want to query some routine that is well-established but with which she has problems. Or she may want you to explain something more clearly because she didn’t understand it when it was first explained to her. By knowing who to go to with these queries the new member of staff won’t have to feel embarrassed about asking ‘Where do you keep this…’ or ‘How do I use this…’ at frequent intervals. It also means that other staff aren’t distracted from their duties.

The mentor has a role to play during the induction period but her role will continue beyond this time. Plan to maintain the role for about year, but expect it to fade away earlier than this as the new member of staff becomes an established member of the team and develops other support systems.

Choosing the right person for the job

It is important that you think carefully about who takes on either of these roles. Your choice will obviously depend on:

  •  the staffing profile at this time
  • the levels of experience and expertise held by your current staff members
  • trust: you need to be able to trust the person to give out the right messages and support for your setting.

The inductor needs to have a broad knowledge of the rules and routines of your setting. She needs to be able to pass on information and delegate tasks. She needs to have authority and to be seen to be authoritative, and will therefore be a senior member of staff. If you have a lot of staff who work in teams, then you may want to delegate this responsibility to the team leaders. As a team leader you will have confidence in that person’s knowledge about the setting and its needs, and know that she has the skills to manage people. As part of your ongoing staff development programme you could be supporting other members of staff to acquire people these skills in anticipation of them taking on this role at some later date.

The mentor can be a younger or less experienced person, as long as she has completed any probationary period within your setting and that you know she will give the right messages to the new staff member. What is most important for this role is that she has good interpersonal skills, as her role will be one of support. As a manager you will have been observing your staff at work and in their dealings with their fellow professional. You will know those who have the potential to take on the role of mentor.

For each of these roles you need to know that the people you choose will carry them out to your satisfaction and to the benefit of the setting, the existing staff and above all, of the children.

Arrange time to talk individually with those who are going to be inductors or mentors. Find out their views on the ethos, the values and the attitudes you promote. Are they in line with your vision for the setting? Do they support this vision? Will they promote it to the new member of staff?  Do they understand that they should raise any part that they want to challenge with you first and not behind your back? Do they fully understand all of the routines, carry them out themselves and will they be able to pass this on to the new member of staff? Anyone taking on either of these roles must be prepared to give out your message and not undermine the leadership of the setting in any way.

Training for mentors

The best time to carry out this training is before you need the person to be carrying out the role. During any interview between you and the potential mentors as part of your staff development or appraisal programme, raise the issue of becoming a mentor, what that will entail in respect of training and of commitment. Find out if the person:

  • is interested in considering this role, or even keen to do it
  • has done it before in a previous setting and if so what level of expertise she has
  • is a confident and able practitioner
  • is open-minded and receptive
  • is a good communicator
  • has, or could develop strong interpersonal skills.

Have a rolling programme of training which will offer the skills of mentoring, so that you have a ready supply of mentors. If every new member of staff can have their own mentor this will spread the load for your existing staff members, will open up opportunities for advancement for more members of your existing staff, and will allow true professional friendships to develop.

The training will include developing interpersonal skills; these will include developing the ability to listen meaningfully to another person, without interrupting, without assuming you know the answer before they have given you the whole picture, and the ability to draw people out, by showing that you can be trusted, you care about them and you will treat their worries and concerns with respect.

You will also need to be certain that the mentor and the inductor are familiar with the National Occupational Standards in Childcare Learning and Development (CLLD) and the Common Core of Knowledge and Skills, as these will guide the professional development needs of the new member of staff. They will also form the focus for observations of the new member of staff when dealing with children and their parents or carers. Observing colleagues and feeding back to them is another skill that will need to be in place and for which the prospective mentor may need some training.

The mentor’s role and responsibilities

At the Nottingham University Day Nursery, they appoint mentors whose role is friend, counsellor, guide, role model, advocate, support provider and more.

The extent of the mentor’s role and the limits you want to place on it, should be clearly defined and agreed by you and the mentor. These should be detailed and incorporated within the person’s job description. Any additional training should be agreed and included in the person’s appraisal programme.

Decide whether the mentor will be involved in observing the new member of staff in a formal capacity: if there are problems, the mentor might be needed to support the new member of staff after she has had some negative feedback. Friendships can develop between the mentor and the new member of staff which would make it difficult to be objective, and a third party might be more appropriate for this task.

If there are concerns about the new member of staff – professionally or personally – what part will the mentor play? Will she attempt to deal with the problem? Who will she go to, to raise any concerns? At what point will she do this? Will she tell the new member of staff that she is going to do this? Will the mentor herself need additional support from the management team during such an incident?

The mentor may need to suggest more expert help – does she know what is available, and from whom, and how to contact this person? Have clear guidelines on this, as professional protocol may determine that only certain experts are used, are available to your setting, or may only be referred to by senior members of staff.

How much time will be planned for the mentor to offer support? Will she need time away from the children during the sessions, and if so who will cover her? Will she have to arrange a specific number of meetings with the new member of staff as a starting point?

Will she have to keep any records and who will they be for? Any matters which were raised in confidence should remain confidential unless there was a risk to the health, safety and welfare of the children.

Mentors perform an invaluable function that ultimately ensures that any issues, concerns, queries or problems are identified early and can be dealt with quickly. At a time when new staff are feeling more vulnerable, this is a great way to retain staff and ensure that each person feels valued and listened to.

Effective mentors

  • Respect the new member of staff
  • Give time to listen and respond
  • Explore and respond to perceived and real needs
  • Show empathy and understanding
  • Maintain professionalism
  • Are aware of available additional resources and support if needed
  • Are trustworthy, confidential
  • Are honest but caring
  • Recognise their own influence on the new member of staff
  • Are prepared to undergo additional training to refine and develop their skills in this role