This week we are interviewing for casual creche workers. All the applicants have attended a 10-week course on child development, first aid, and so on, and are all keen to start earning. The first three applicants are nervous but capable, and we begin to feel complacent as they go through the interview questions competently.
Pride comes before a fall. "Mrs Smith, what would you do with a child who has cut himself on a piece of glass?" "I'd give him a cuddle." "And then...
?" "I'd tell him his mum's coming." "What about the blood? Remember, he's cut himself." "I'd cuddle him until he stops crying, poor little thing."
Today's first two interviews go smoothly and we begin to relax. Our usual translator is ill and we agree, reluctantly, to allow the Spanish applicant to bring her husband in, rather than wait for the next round of interviews.
We ask a question. The woman gives a long and involved reply, her husband appears to correct her and she becomes excited and gesticulates wildly. The husband waves her to silence and turns to us, straight-faced. "She says 'yes'."
The first applicant is hard going. We try to get the best out of her and struggle on to the last question. "How would you care for a child under two?" No hesitation: "I'd put it in a basket." "You would? Would you like to add to your answer?" Great deal of thought, then: "I'd put it in a basket in a safe place." Big smile, she knows she's got this right.
We appoint 10 out of the 16 candidates. For most, this is their first job in many years, and we know from experience that some will go on to study for NVQs, even for a degree. For others? They've attended a course, made new friends and for them, too, it's a first step, albeit a smaller one.
Mary James is an early years advisory teacher in the north of England. She writes under a pseudonym