Mary Poppins? "Ghastly," huffs Betty Medd, who has a quite different picture of the thoroughly modern nanny. She is in the business of training nannies as principal of Britain's oldest and most prestigious school for them, Norland Nursery Training College in rural Berkshire.
Prince Rainier of Monaco had a Norland nanny, as did offspring of Winston Churchill and, inevitably, of Arab sheikhs. Disdaining both the Mary Poppins image of eccentricity and "sergeant major" autocratic methods, Medd believes that education and sensitivity to the individual child are the best tools for child rearing.
Many families agree. Current demand for Norland graduates all around the world exceeds supply five to one. Despite the $3,850 tuition for the 21-month program, Norland receives four times as many applicants as it can accept. Most of Medd's students come from small towns and "the kinds of families whose parents value family life and are interested in their daughters' education for a career."
Never a nanny herself, Medd decided at 5 that she was going to be a children's nurse ("I was always playing dolls and hospitals and never wanted to be anything else"). Qualifying successively as a registered nurse, midwife and health visitor and tutor, she came to Norland in 1970 at the age of 43 and began a striking series of innovations.
She increased enrollment from 85 to 146 and added a day-care unit with 64 children from working families. Another 21 children live at the school—from infants to 7-year-olds, the age group nannies generally handle. To promote "free expression" and thus "help the girls be more uninhibited with their children," Medd introduced courses in art appreciation and modern dance. Her program stresses learning through doing—"Nothing in the world is more demanding than a child," she warns. Every Norland student must spend three of her six terms living with children at the school and nine months with a family before receiving her diploma.
The role of the nanny, Medd notes, is changing. "Increasingly they are working alongside the mother instead of having sole responsibility as a mother substitute. So it has to be a compromise, with the nanny doing the best possible within her power in a given situation."
During Medd's routine 12-hour workday, she supervises Norland's staff of 45 and finds time to teach two courses. A Norland associate says, "She is patient, generous and understanding of other people's problems. She would make a problem for herself in order to be kind to someone else."
Norland students treat her with considerable respect—when Medd enters a room they rise in silence. But they can joke with her too—once they set her dinner table with bib, bottle and high chair. The children at the school call the unmarried Medd "Gran."
In turn, the ever practical principal has found that when her students leave Norland they are prepared for more than just being a nanny. "Our girls," Betty Medd says proudly, "make jolly good wives and mothers."