Interview with Kids Allowed's Jennie Johnson

Childcare Conversations

Interview with Kids Allowed’s Jennie Johnson

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As founder and CEO of Kids Allowed, Jennie Johnson freely admits she feels truly fortunate to have an influential role which allows her to shape the delivery of high-quality nursery care in the North West. Since its launch in 2003, the phenomenal growth of Kids Allowed speaks volumes for Jennie’s commitment, her deep understanding of the childcare industry, and her ability to translate this into a successful, well-balanced business enterprise highly valued by the communities it serves. In an inspirational childcare conversation packed with clarity and professional insight, Jennie Johnson talks with First Discoverers about training, qualifications, childcare specialists, Ofsted and a good deal more.

“We are on a mission to do something really special”

Like many other childcare professionals, Jennie’s first involvement with the sector was a matter of practical necessity: “I couldn’t find childcare I was happy with when I needed it for my own children, so I decided to do it myself.”

Clearly, Jennie’s DIY childcare was a resounding success, giving her the confidence to establish Kids Allowed, and in turn providing other parents with the quality of care she herself had been seeking. Listening to Jennie describing her present role, her clarity of focus is readily apparent:

“I see my role as creating an environment where talented childcare professionals are empowered to deliver an amazing experience to the children and families in our care. I spend a lot of time looking and listening, to ensure what we are doing is best practice. I lead the pedagogical approach at Kids Allowed and support the team to deliver the vision.”

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And as Jennie goes on to explain, both she and her Kids Allowed teams believe that achieving high standards is more about the journey than the goals:

“We are on a mission to do something really special, but for me, it is never done, no matter how well it is going. We can always be doing better – to constantly strive for the pursuit of excellence keeps me buzzing and gives me my highest highs and my lowest lows.”

“A play-based approach, putting children at the centre of their own learning”

Jennie is equally clear about how children at Kids Allowed will learn and develop: “Children are learning all day every day, we are giving them exposure to lots of learning opportunities.” She is ‘comfortable with the aims of Early Learning goals’ – as long as these are not ‘hot-housed’. In essence, Kids Allowed advocates a ‘play-based approach which puts children at the centre of their own learning.’

“I love watching the children come in with big smiles on their faces”

Whilst parents obviously recognise and appreciate quality nursery provision, one primary function of early years care is of course to ensure its multitude of smaller consumers are also fully on board. This, Jennie feels, is just about the most pleasant task her job entails:

“I love watching the children come in in the morning, excited to be here with big smiles on their faces, and then love watching them play and learn. It is also great to get thank you letters, from our teams and parents about how we have made such a difference to them.”

“Only the best is good enough for children”

For Jennie and her Kids Allowed teams, childcare professionals who really want to make the grade in this environment must possess certain qualities – ‘energy, passion, compassion, empathy, fun and a deep knowledge of how children develop at this stage of their lives’ – and also be prepared to continuously develop their expertise.

The Kids Allowed group place great emphasis on professional training and development to underpin standards and provide opportunities for secure growth. They also have an apprentice scheme for the same purpose, and as Jennie spells out, acquiring and developing high calibre people is an essential, if occasionally demanding, part of the process:

“Childcare is very labour intensive, we have getting on for 400 colleagues, [so] people and performance will always be a challenge. We have high expectations of our colleagues and dealing with the small minority that may be underperforming is often tough, but we owe it to the children in our care not to ignore it. Burying your head in the sand may be easier than tackling things, but when only the best is good enough for the children, then people issues must be dealt with.”


Special Educational Needs in the Early Years – Download Free eBook

Special Educational Needs in the Early Years


Ofsted and unintended consequences …

Any discussion of standards naturally touches on qualifications too. Here, Jennie is quick to point out one unintended consequence of the present drive for industry standards and certification:

“I would remove the requirement for Maths and English GCSE to gain qualifications in childcare – it is stopping some fabulous people entering our sector. And whilst I agree with the ambition of it, while 50% of young people leave school without the qualification, why write them all off to our sector? The secondary school system is [presently] failing these young people, but in the past, we have been able to select those with the right attitude and values and give them a rewarding career and qualification.”

In common with others in the industry, Jennie is also somewhat uneasy about elements of the present inspection process, saying:

“I would do the whole Ofsted thing very differently. I see the need for regulation to stop rogue providers, but I don’t think the organisation is capable of consistently applying the judgements. I would set a higher bar with a Pass/Fail type approach.”

“Find a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life!”

Totally committed to offering parents and children high-quality care, Jennie is similarly focused and realistic in the practical, common-sense advice she offers anyone seriously considering a childcare career:

“Try it first if you can; do some work experience; see if you really like it. A lot of people think they want a career in childcare but don’t really understand what it is.”

However, for those who find such a trial run only leaves them keen to find out even more, Jennie has some warm words of inspiration:

“If you really have a passion for supporting and helping young children, then go for it – it is extremely rewarding. Find a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life!”

Jennie Johnson was born and until very recently still lived in Salford. She was educated at a Salford Comprehensive and left school at 16. Having spent most of her time before Kids Allowed in IT, Jennie always had a flair for sales and marketing. On the birth of her second child and with her first child about to start school, the prospect of returning to a full time career with the lack of quality services available that addressed both the different needs of her school aged child and her nursery aged child, the seed for Kids Allowed was sown. Kids Allowed was incorporated in May 2003, with a vision to deliver a step change in the provision of highest quality childcare. Kids Allowed opened its first Centre in September 2005 and now has five centres and more than 350 employees. Kids Allowed offers a range of services under one roof designed to support the complex demands of modern family life. Jennie is often asked to speak at childcare and entrepreneurship events. She has an infectious enthusiasm and passion for childcare and topics related to team development and motivation and is always happy to share her experiences with those considering starting their own business.

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