Fylde student Meghan Fearn bids to become the modern day Mary Poppins

PUBLISHED: 00:00 31 January 2014

Meghan on a carousel to show off the new uniform

Meghan on a carousel to show off the new uniform

© SWNS Group

Few students would endure the strict regime required to become the 21st century’s answer to Mary Poppins. Roger Borrell reports

The old uniforms, on the left, barely changed for 70 yearsThe old uniforms, on the left, barely changed for 70 years

Imagine telling a group of students they were required to wear a uniform to every lecture along with white gloves, a felt bonnet and the sort of brown lace-ups that make sensible shoes seem border-line frivolous.

Welcome to Meghan Fearn’s world, one where late nights and hours lying in bed are definitely not on the curriculum. The 18-year-old from Poulton-le-Fylde is training to be the 21st century’s answer to Mary Poppins.

The spoonful of sugar that helps this hard work and discipline go down is the knowledge that one day she will be part of an elite band of almost exclusively female nannies who will be Norland nurses.

They are the crème de la crème of nannies, famous the world over with a qualification that opens the door on jobs with the children of royalty, celebrities, the super-rich and the aristocracy.

A Mary Poppins pose complete with brolly and rooftopsA Mary Poppins pose complete with brolly and rooftops

Meghan, who went to Rossall and Arnold Schools before sixth form college in Blackpool, had always wanted to work with children. ‘But I didn’t know anything about Norland nannies until I saw something on the television news,’ she says.

After reading up on the subject she put offers of university places on hold while she made a pitch for a coveted course at the college, which is based in Bath.

‘I was lucky enough to be one of the 62 students – only one of them is male – to get in. My parents were pleased. They think this sort of life suits me better than being in a huge university where you can get lost. Here, we are a small group who all get on really well together.’

Norland was set up in the 1890s and was the first school to teach childcare, basing itself on the German kindergarten system. Today, the course lasts for three years and it involves a degree along with a diploma. Students also go out on six weeks of placements.

‘We have to be able to cook healthy meals for children and we also learn self-defence. You could be working for the very rich and famous so you need to be able to protect the baby.’

Meghan is completing her first year. ‘It’s not the usual student life. The hours are quite long – 9am to 4.30pm, but we get Fridays off for private study.’

However, the learning process doesn’t always stop when the clock reaches 4.30pm. ‘We have virtual babies,’ says Meghan. These are basically high-tech dolls, programmed to behave a lot like the real thing.

‘We take them home for a few days and they are programmed to need feeding and changing and wake through the night. They are quite sensitive so you have to treat them just like real babies. An accidental tap on the head will register.

‘You must give them all of the care and attention a real baby needs. It’s demanding but it helps to prepare us for what will be a demanding job. You really have to like children to be a nanny.’

Norland nannies will earn good salaries, commanding well in excess of £20,000 when they go onto the jobs market. ‘It is quite a well paid job but the rewards can depend on the family and whether you live in or out. But from what I understand, there seem to be more jobs than there are nannies.’

Meghan hopes to travel the world during her career. ‘I want to concentrate on being a nanny for quite a few years and I’d love the chance to work abroad. But, long term, I’d like to have my own nursery.’

When she’s not studying for her BA in early years development and the Norland diploma, Meghan enjoys sport, especially hockey, swimming and tennis. She is also going for a Duke of Edinburgh award.

‘I’m really enjoying the course, but it is strict. You must wear your uniform and you find when you are out and about in town people are watching you. Believe it or not, there have been cases of people ringing the college to report students who they have spotted in the street without their gloves on. We are expected to maintain a high standard.’

Nannies who know best

Meghan Fearn was one of the students asked to model the newly designed uniforms for the Norland nannies in a Mary Poppins-themed photo shoot. It’s the first major uniform change for 70 years and college principal Liz Hunt believes the new style is more comfortable and practical while presenting a more modern image.

The college has been running for 120 years and Bath has been home for the last decade. It is a not-for-profit college with an annual tuition fee for students starting the BA (Hons) in Early Years Development and Learning (Norland) degree of £12,750.

It’s not cheap but the college is at the forefront of the childcare training. Alongside child development and food nutrition, other aspects of the Norland degree course include advanced driving skills with skid-pan training and self-defence including lessons in Tae Kwon-Do for those students looking to work in high profile roles. Inevitably, dealing with the paparazzi is also a subject covered.

Liz Hunt said: ‘Meghan has settled in tremendously well. We are always overwhelmed with applications to study at Norland and Meghan has done incredibly well so far. She has also been lucky enough to be one of the first students to wear the new uniform.’

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