Teachers with tots know that balancing a career and parenthood is tough.
With that in mind one school created an on-site childcare facility - and it's a triumph, says Fiona Leney
The joke goes that at Hillview School for Girls, teachers plan their pregnancies around the availability of nursery places. That's an exaggeration, but it is fair to say that the provision of an on-site facility for staff at the Kent comprehensive has been a huge hit, with places heavily over-subscribed. Even more significant, according to Steve Bovey, headteacher, has been the impact it has had on recruitment and staff retention.
"The creche is almost the first thing that prospective staff want to see," he says.
"Even more importantly, we have teachers returning after having their second or third child who otherwise would simply have given up teaching."
Steve says that the combination of high living costs in the area and Kent's selective school system had made it extremely hard to recruit - and retain - good staff for his comprehensive. But he now finds quality staff - young, but old enough to be thinking about the importance of child care - beating a path to his door. Littleview Nursery was born four years ago, when an existing building on the edge of the school's sports field became vacant.
Steve consulted staff about what they would like to see it used for, and the resounding answer "day-care for teachers' children" came back.
The situation was made easier by the fact that Hillview already had a person qualified to run the nursery on site. Rachel Carlow, who taught Council for Awards in Childcare Health and Education courses in key stages 4 and 5 part-time, was persuaded to go full-time and combine teaching with running the daycare centre.
A committee of governors was formed to draw up the nursery's operating framework, costs and eligibility for places. Uncertainty over how popular it would be meant that places were initially offered to any teacher employed by Kent County Council.
The response was overwhelming, and Hillview has subsequently given its own teachers preference for places, as well as subsidising costs for them. "The fact that we are using our own building, and so don't pay rent, enables us to keep costs down and make a small profit, which is ploughed into the scheme," says Steve.
The school has seen a subtle change in the type of teacher it is attracting, as young professionals starting families have been drawn specifically by Hillview's childcare facilities.
One teacher travels to school, with her toddler, from Eastbourne, 30 miles away. Another drives 15 miles each way with her young children.
The latest pick-up time is 5pm, which may seem early for teachers who are grappling with preparation or marking, but, says Collette Cordner, who teaches dance and advanced skills, it's actually a positive spur to leave the classroom.
"With my first child's nursery, which would keep children longer if needed, I was always just doing 10 minutes more, then another 10, then another, and the end result was an unhappy, stressed child - and mother as well.
"With my second here, it's straight out of the door and a short walk to the nursery."
Collette's third child is due soon, and the baby will join his or her brother in Littleview as soon as she returns to work.
With the growing waiting list for places, and the ageing of the existing mobile building, the school had looked into acquiring a "cr che on a lorry" - a fully-equipped, pre-built mobile unit that can be brought into any school which has adequate outdoor space.
These are proving increasingly popular with schools which either want to offer a scheme like Hillview's to their own staff, or are looking to set up early years childcare as part of their extended schooling commitments.
Hillview discarded the idea principally because of expense - but also because it was felt that some of the intimate qualities of the nursery would be lost if it expanded.
"What is great about Littleview is the quality of the childcare," says Carol Bentley, a deputy head at Hillview, with a three-year-old daughter in the nursery. "Teachers are exacting about the childcare they expect for their children, and here staff can work happily, knowing that their children are happy.
"Rachel knows us both as parents, and as colleagues. She also knows what it is like to be a teaching parent."
Portakabin's creche-on-a-lorry system, called the Lilliput, is available across the UK. The unit is brought on site complete on the back of a lorry, between 16 and 20 weeks after the order is placed.
Size can range from a unit large enough for 26 children up to almost unlimited size, as the buildings are modular.
All internal fittings, such as child-sized toilets and basins to meet full Ofsted requirements, are fitted as standard, but external groundworks, such as electricity supply and sewage, will cost extra to install if not already there.
Costs range from pound;120,000 to pound;1.75 million, excluding delivery and VAT, but reconditioned second-hand units can also be found for about Pounds 50,000. Visit www.portakabin.co.uk for more information about the units.
Another company offering a similar service is Terrapin. Visit www.terrapin-ltd.co.uk.