x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Vigilance needed to ensure Doha mall fire never happens again

Nurseries' best response to the Villaggio Mall fire is to make sure the tragedy is never repeated, says one of the UK's most respected authorities in nursery quality.

Purnima Tanukum, the chief executive UK's National Day Nurseries Association, says the best response to the Villaggio Mall fire is to make sure the tragedy is never repeated. Pawan Singh / The National
Purnima Tanukum, the chief executive UK's National Day Nurseries Association, says the best response to the Villaggio Mall fire is to make sure the tragedy is never repeated. Pawan Singh / The National

ABU DHABI // Nurseries’ best response to the Villaggio Mall fire is to take all steps to ensure such a tragedy is never repeated, according to one of the UK’s most respected authorities on nursery quality.

“Wherever you go, unfortunately, incidents, however rare they may be, they always hit the news and your heart goes out to those families and their relations,” Purnima Tanuku says.

“Sometimes things happen, freak accidents or nature or whatever it is. The more prepared we are the better. The most important thing we can do is make sure that systems and processes are in place.”

Ms Tanuku gave a talk this month to dozens of nursery staff in Dubai who wanted advice on improving the standard of care.

Honoured by the UK’s Queen Elizabeth in 2011 for services to families, she often appears on national television and is a familiar face in the British parliament, where she spends time lobbying and advising on childcare issues.

She is also chief executive of the UK’s National Day Nurseries Association, a national charity and membership association which has recently agreed to offer its skills to centres in the UAE.

Working with the local organisation, Quality Matters 4 Children, NDNA will provide training, inspections and accreditation of nurseries that meet the same standards as those in the UK.

Not only will this help parents to decide where to send their child, it should also improve the standards throughout the nursery ?industry.

“The most important thing is they get unannounced and unexpected inspections,” Ms Tanuku says. “If a nursery is delivering quality care there is nothing for them to worry about.

“We have invested a great deal into this scheme and what we will not do here is dilute the standards. We are not trying to transport something here, but to see what suits the culture and environment in this country, bearing in mind it is still at the early stages and the sector is ?growing fast.”

Her talk attracted dozens of nursery owners, managers and staff, clearly demonstrating a desire to improve quality across the sector.

Maria Reynolds, head teacher of The Little Discoverers nursery, says nurseries had tried to make significant improvements in recent years – especially after the Doha fire.

“There is definitely improvements, nurseries have stepped up by themselves,” she says.

“When I started back in 2005 there was no fire drills at the nursery I worked at, but in the time I was there there was an initiative by the owners to do regular fire drills, and teach the children about fire safety.”

One of the issues with nurseries in Dubai, she says, is the multiple agencies that are involved in regulating and licensing – including the Dubai Municipality, Knowledge and Human Development Authority, the Civil Defence and the Ministry of Social Affairs.

This can often make understanding the rules and regulations more complicated.

“Consistency with the different organisations can sometimes be an issue for us, but this is improving. ?Recently groups like Quality Matters 4 Children and Arabian Child have given nurseries a platform where we can go and do professional development. Before that there was nothing.”

Diane Hocknell, of Quality Matters 4 Children, agreed that the level of transparency and clarity in regard to regulations wasn’t as?advanced as in other countries where the industry is much more established.

“The industry has become increasingly competitive as it has grown and this can make it harder for staff to come together and exchange?information, discuss challenges facing the sector and share good practice, ” she says.

After the event with NDNA, Ms Hocknell, who moved to Dubai five years ago after setting up and managing a number of nurseries in the UK, has been approached by various centres who want to take part in regular meetings and events to discuss issues such as inclusion and safeguarding, in a effort to share best practices.

munderwood@thenational.ae