It is stressful being an early years provider, but spark will give you the control back, so all adults involved can strive for outstanding EYFS practice in order to get everything right, ultimately for every child at this time of rapid brain development.
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It is stressful being an early years provider, but spark will give you the control back, so all adults involved can strive for outstanding EYFS practice in order to get everything right, ultimately for every child at this time of rapid brain development.

She gets it! Four outstanding settings, over 50 staff, plus all the challenges…

She has lived the experiences you probably have in your early years business right now. 

What is most important, is that she has minimised them so life becomes easier or eradicated them altogether for total peace of mind.  She should sleep well at night, but doesn’t, as she wants to make things better and better. Especially for nursery and pre-school owners. So, there is always some thinking going on to improve things further.

Continually evolving

Several times through her career, Catherine paid out thousands of pounds on software that didn’t meet the needs of her business.  These software packages were underutilised by her employees.  They appeared to be the right choice at the time but they lacked functionality or were too difficult to operate and the data hard to decipher.  And so, spark was born.

spark encompasses the sector’s ongoing difficulties. It supports the daily roles of management, room leaders, practitioners and parents, ultimately for each child during this time of rapid brain development.

Catherine began her nationally award-winning ‘outstanding’ nursery business in 1985. 

Newspaper clippings featuring Catherine Lyon

And lived through…
Economic recessions, staff attitudes, lack of literacy skills, keeping things updated, knowing what is going on, lack of practitioner knowledge, need of accurate information, knowing where training is needed, staff bitching, complicated paperwork… scroll to the end of the page to see the full 160 item list.

… so she probably understands your frustrations more than anyone else!

Catherine found solutions to systemise and bring a level of consistency to enable the daily practice to be smoother and improve standards.

While doing this her life became easier. The fundamentals that supported her business and the children were established.  Any deviance from the standards she expected could be monitored and interventions introduced.  She had more control.

This knowledge is what she wishes to impart to those who opt-in to the spark community. 

“It isn’t just about software”, Catherine says, “we support settings with as much support that they require around using spark.  Although we cannot guarantee it, for obvious reasons, all our customers have gained or maintained a good or outstanding EYFS.  I am very proud of them and of course, it gives spark a bit of kudos!”

spark offers everything required for you to run an outstanding EYFS setting.  It can be used as an integrated complete package also encompassing other software, such as, accountancy software.  Alternatively, spark enables settings to purchase separate modules.  These modules link up together or are used alongside current systems the business owner wishes to keep.

The full list of challenges Catherine faced as an owner and manager in the early years:

Meetings with MPs
Enabling everyone to have proper breaks
Getting the best value for money
Job descriptions > generic job descriptions
Parents collecting late
Unprofessional behaviour of staff
Parents parking in front of neighbours’ driveways
Finding a big enough examination room
Snow – taking staff home
Staff who have bad backs
Staying professional
Seeding the grass (Again!)
Displays half hanging from boards
Staff member onto ‘garden leave’
Fighting for planning
Dead goldfish
Liaison with local schools
Keeping things updated
Dead plants making a bad impression
Preparing for national accreditations
Staying sane
All kinds of staff attitudes
Excluding ill children
Organising training for providers across Essex
Planning applications
Maintaining the ‘dress code’
Lack of places for current parents’ wanting more time
Parents’ unrealistic expectations
Creating Maths and Literacy Packs for home use
NDNA Quality Counts – quality assurance work
Being the agony aunt
Staff stealing from another
Creating nurseries from scratch
Mass sickness
Lunch is late
Sickness bugs
Social Media updates
Information not recorded
Potential ‘home-less’ provider
Finding staff using the loo to booze on the quiet
Snow – do I have to come to work
Supporting colleagues running their own provision
Toy and resource maintenance
Standards not kept
Biting behaviour
Building plans too big for the plot
Parents causing trouble
Performance indicators
New recruit not turning up
Consultancy work for other settings
Lack of emphasis on induction
Smelly humans: personal hygiene AND sticking of smoke
Entering local and national awards
Hearing about bad behaviour of staff on bus going home in uniform
Keeping personally up to date with research, laws, policies…
Talking with Lado
Mice! (Again!)
Malicious complaint – Here’s Ofsted again!
Repeated escapes of the hamster
Front door falling off in the snow
Arranging staff training (individual, team, nursery/group)
Establishing a CACHE Training and Assessment Centre
Poor communications
Huge overdrafts at various times
Making enough space for desired number of children
Trips to hospital
Finding the creativity to maximise floor space for ratios
Re-designing domestic buildings
Substance for supervision meetings
6 am-7.30 am ‘Off Sick’ calls to arrange cover
Loan provider
Keeping one eye permanently on the cashflow
Nursery cleanliness concerns
Becoming Vice Chair of NSPCC Business Group
Organising regular staff shifts
Ofsted inspection work
Continually risk assessing
Staff Walking out
Necessity of first impressions
Invitations to showcase job/skills
Irate staff complaining
Stealing from the nurseries
Absent staff from pre-arranged meetings
Power cut over weekend – freezers down
Freezer turned off by mistake
Lack of practitioner knowledge
Inconvenience of doing a cash and carry run
Paper towels down the toilet again
Sending ill children home
Responding to the negatives in parent questionnaires
Assuming the role of chief dish washer and toilet cleaner
Liaising with external professionals
Parents settling in – support
DBS – taking too long
Staff bitching
Parents not using seat belts
Economic recessions
Knowing what’s good, not so good or terrible
Running out of chicken food
Getting to grips on how to grow your own team
Judging local awards
Marketing strategies
Parent evening presentations
Surprise inspections
Talking with Social Care
Not abiding to set communication channels
Meetings with local councilors
Trying to fill empty places
Lack of staff in a blizzard but all the children turn up
Not using the ordering system
Poor literacy skills within the team
Abusive parents
Complicated paperwork
Outside wall knocked down by a car – again!
Designing new nursery buildings
Need of accurate information
No heating
Strategies to maintain standards
Nursery presentation issues
Blocked drains
Staff not working full notice
Organising networking meeting with other providers
Lack of people to interview
Staff grievances
Picker Uppers’ not on the approved list
Knowing where training is needed
Heating and/or lights left on
Environmental Health turn up – always inconvenient!
Safeguarding concerns
Team Members ready for promotion but no prospect
Tortoise lost, again
No paper towels!
Neighbour complaints
Charity/Car Boot shopping
Parent complaints
Safeguarding referrals
Retaining practitioners
Catching the parent who is trying to avoid you
Chair of children events
Organising parent trips (2 large coaches!)
Writing policies
Staff inability to read between the lines
Learning the dos and don’ts of social media
Parents you need to turn up to Parents’ Evenings… don’t
Ongoing maintenance issues
Attending case-reviews (all kinds)
Short staffed
Team Support – SEND, Behaviour, Challenging Parents
Washing/drying machines not put on
Finding the best resources to meet objectives
Being the van driver of equipment to local events for creches
Knowing what is going on
Child with broken leg
Front door in disrepair leaving a bad impression
Reviewing policies
Accidents – children and staff
Overdue fees

sparkearlyyears outstanding eyfs management software