Home education Modern Mary Poppins: inside the elite's nanny college – photo essay

Modern Mary Poppins: inside the elite's nanny college – photo essay


Norland nannies have become a global status symbol: from the British royal family to George Clooney, the wealthy elite snap up the export of a single British school in Bath, for their children’s care, development and education. The students are dressed in modestly updated uniforms from the one donned by their 1892 counterparts, but the people who wear the uniforms today are considerably different.

At the prestigious Norland College in Bath, students follow a demanding programme that balances tradition and modernity in order to become the nannies of exception to the elite.

Students during lunchtime at Norland College.

Students taking a cooking lesson.

Emily Ward founded Norland in 1892 after recognising the need for early years childcare to be more structured, child-centred, loving and nurturing. Before the introduction of formal training at Norland, many children would be cared for by housemaids before going to school.

Portrait of Emily Ward in the entrance hall of Norland College in Bath, UK.

Ward was an astute businesswoman and an educational pioneer in childcare training. Teaching at Norland was adapted from the founding principles of Friedrich Fröbel, the German educationist best known as the originator of the “kindergarten system”.

Old Postcards from archive of Norland College.

The handwritten pages of Norland’s archive, some of them on very fragile paper, contain personal insights into Ward’s life in the founding days of the college at its original site at Norland Place, London. A black, leather-bound A5 notebook contains more than 120 pages of first-hand accounts of the early college, or the Norland Institute as it was then known. The diary is also full of newspaper cuttings, invitations and documents carefully secured to the page by Ward, giving a unique insight into the times.

Students sitting at desks in class with Apple computers

A sewing lesson held by Kate Jaeger, sewing lecturer

Like modern-day Mary Poppins in their immaculate uniforms, Norland students learn to be confident and resilient. The uniform is still a strong part of the tradition. In the same way that a professional nurse would be expected to wear a uniform, Norland students are expected to wear theirs with pride, and to adhere to the strict uniform guidelines.

Students in uniform in front of Norland College in Bath, UK.

Charles Lanzani in uniform at Norland College.

From cooking and nutrition, to sewing and hairdressing, to theatre courses and self-defence, to lectures on sleep, neuroscience and child psychology … the students learn how to play in the great outdoors, and how to drive in adverse conditions in order to keep their charges safe from the paparazzi and other potential dangers. The question of the child’s safety is just as important as their development, especially when it comes to wealthy or high-profile families who may find themselves at increased risk.

Today’s Norland nanny commits to their course at 18, perhaps tempted by the higher wages paid in compensation for the dedication and isolation that can come with private service. The college carefully selects students – middle-class Generation Zs, with men now breaking the uniformity of the once all-female ranks.

Students on their way to a class

The long-established organisation is adapting to the modern-day demands of the rich and famous: skid-pan and physical defence training features alongside the cooking, sewing and child psychology classes you might expect.

Students take part in a workshop turning sticks and threads into play/art

  • Outdoor activities, such as turning sticks and threads into play objects, rope play and making fires are part of students’ learning

A group of students attends a forest camp activity at Hidden Woods, a woodland activity centre in 80 acres of ancient woodland just a stone’s throw from Bath.

Student from Norland College playing with a rope and using it as swing.

Learning to make a fire

These young Norland students wear a traditional uniform complete with tweed coat or jacket and pay £45,000 for their four-year training programme, which includes personal and cybersecurity training from former military intelligence officers. No tattoos or piercings, alcohol or drugs, varnish or flashy jewellery, loose hair, chewing gum, or fast food is allowed. The students are role models for children and all must sign the Norland code of professional responsibilities. After three years in college they have a fourth year being assessed as a probationary nanny before they can use the title “Norland nanny”.

Students from Norland College in Castle Combe during a skidpan activity in a racing circuit.

  • Castle Combe racing circuit offers skidpan activities, which prepares the would-be nannies to become skilled drivers and control, contain and avoid skids

Students from Norland College in Castle Combe during a skidpan activity in a racing circuit.

Students from Norland College in Castle Combe during a skidpan activity in a racing circuit.

Despite the rigour, Norland has seen significant growth in recent years, doubling its intake and attracting a more diverse student body through its widening participation commitment and bursary provision. While only 100 new students are admitted each year, the college in 2019 celebrated its first two male nannies to hold both a degree and diploma, and 11 men are training to join the ranks of what was once a strictly female role.

Charles Lanzani (third year student - on left) and Jordon Murray (second year student - on right) inside a classroom at Norland College in Bath, UK.

  • Lanzani, left, and Jordon Murray, a second-year student, are among 11 men training to be nannies at the college

The nanny market is booming in the UK. For those paying the high fees to access Norland’s world-famous training, the salary rewards provide a true investment return. Fully qualified Norlanders, as graduates are known, have an average starting annual starting salary of £40,660, and the college’s in-house agency gets about six job inquiries for every Norlander.

Portrait of students posing in front of Norland College


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