Inside The Training School For Real Life 'Mary Poppins' Nannies

In its 126-year history, Norland College has become an iconic name in the UK, with clients ranging from celebrities to the Royal Family.

It's the famous training school for nannies -- but these aren't your standard baby-sitters.

Established in London 1892, Norland College was considered the first educational establishment to offer childcare training. Today it's still one of the most elite colleges in the UK, with only 100 young nannies graduating each year.

'Norlanders', as they refer to themselves, undergo a rigorous four-year program in which they learn everything from how to feed children to self-defence training and skid-pan driving.

"We do get likened to Mary Poppins a bit," recent graduate Philippa Fitzherbert told 10 daily.

"In some ways, we are very similar."

Fitzherbert left Norland College in 2017 and has now been working for a family with three young children aged six, four and two.

Philippa (right) with two of her best friends. Image: Supplied.

Fitzherbert always travels with her own 'nanny bag' filled with clothes, nappies, food and games for the children -- which she says is what often gets her likened to the famous storybook nanny.

"But we are worlds apart from Mary Poppins in the real-life day-to-day," she said.

"I get up at 7am and I finish at 7pm and it's 100 miles an hour and there are so many different things -- and I can't fly with an umbrella".

Norland Principal Dr Janet Rose said while there is no evidence that Mary Poppins was inspired by Norland College, there are similarities.

"Amongst many traits, Norland Nannies need to be loving, kind, honest, creative, responsible and organised," Rose told 10 daily.

Fitzherbert always knew she wanted to work with children and was deciding whether to go into teaching or nannying while studying in South Australia, when she first learned of Norland.

She's now fully qualified and lives with the family full-time, assisting with everything from taking the children to school and after-school activities and caring for them while their parents are away.

Image: Norland College

Fitzherbert spends at least 60 hours a week with the children and also sees them on weekends.

"Actually one of the most rewarding things of my job was when I fully graduated, the children had never seen me in my uniform," she recalled.

"The children and both my bosses came to my graduation and watched me graduate with all my friends"

"And the children were so proud ... they were like 'it's our Mary Poppins!'".

The distinctive uniform -- brown dress, tights, brown shoes and cap, make Norlanders particularly well-known around the UK.

Their iconic uniform is an important part of the history of the college, after they were first introduced to distinguish Norland graduates as professionals within households, Rose explained.

The uniform hit the global spotlight several years ago, after the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's nanny -- Norland graduate, Maria Teresa Turrion Borrallo -- wore the outfit on public occasions.

Nanny Borrallo. Image: Getty

Although Norlanders don't have to wear the uniform while working, it's worn every day during study.

While talk of self-defence driving and taekwondo have long been linked to the Norland training program, Fitzherbert said one of the most memorable challenges came in her final year of study when students were given a virtual baby to take care.

READ MORE: The Nannies Employed By The Royal Family Are Like Mary Poppins Come To Life

The plastic doll was programmed to wake up when it needed feeding or a nappy change at any point between 5pm and 9am. It had three distinct crying sounds, and students had to determine which cry was linked to which action needed.

Students were then marked on how well and how quickly they handled the babies.

"So suddenly at 3am when the baby starts screaming for a nappy change or something it was like 'oh my gosh this is really happening'."

Fitzherbert said it was both challenging and eye-opening, recalling getting a few inquisitive looks when her plastic baby started crying in the middle of a store.

Rose said all students gain additional skills and experience that go beyond the general academic and practical curriculum including, self-defence, security and cyber-security, emotion coaching and skid pan driving.

"These value-added classes are an integral but small overall part of Norland’s rigorous training programme," Rose said.

"It aims to equip students with the skills and experience necessary to deal professionally with any challenge they might face while ensuring the health, safety and wellbeing of the children in their care."

Now more than a year into her career, Fitzherbert said she is grateful for the training she received at Norland, and said she can still turn and ask for help from the college and its large network of nanny graduates.

"It's very busy but that's what I wanted when I left Norland," she said.

"I wanted a very busy family when your days go quick anyway, but it's just much more rewarding when you see the outcome of it."

Since it was first established, Norland College has seen over 4,000 students graduate.

Late last year two young men became the first male graduates, marking an important milestone for the institution.

Image: Norland College

Norland takes pride in ensuring their graduates can deal with any challenge "the modern world might throw at them", Rose said.

"Demand from families for qualified Norlanders has outstripped supply throughout Norland’s history."

While there's no word yet on whether Prince Harry and Meghan Markle will also hire a Norland nanny for their soon-to-be first born, they could very well follow in the footsteps of the Cambridges.

Featured Image: Supplied (Norland College).