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What to look for in a Nursery

6 minutes

Here at Nursery Finders, we are frequently asked how to choose or nursery, or what is the best nursery, so we have put together a guide for our parents. 

1. OFSTED Report

A nurseries OFSTED report is always a good place to start, but never choose a nursery based on an OFSTED report alone. Firstly, an OFSTED report provides feedback on a one-day inspection, where typically, the nursery will be pulling out all of the stops and could be 3 or more years old. What was observed in the OFSTED report may not be normal practice or the practice that is still happening, especially if the report was before September 2019 when the framework for observations changed. The report will also tell you who the Nursery Manager was at the time of the inspection, if the manager has changed, experience says that the practice may have changed too, and this could be for the better as much as it could have got worse.

2. Is the nursery safe?

Safeguarding - Clearly everybody wants their child to be safe when going to a nursery, but what does safe actually mean? Well firstly, ask about Safeguarding, which is a duty that all nurseries have to protect children from harm, neglect, and abuse. If you get strong robust answers about policies and procedures this is a very good sign.

Access Control - Next, ask about how the nursery controls visitors to the nursery. Every nursery should be controlling who has access to the nursery, be it a delivery driver, an Ofsted inspector or even a parent who wants to look around the nursery. They should be asking for photo identification for anybody that enters the nursery for the first time and if this cannot be provided then the person should be declined access.

Food and dietary requirements control - Nurseries cater for children with all types of allergies and intolerance's, however, be sure to ask how they control what food your child is given and how they ensure that your child will not be given or exposed to anything they may be allergic or have an intolerance to.

Medicines -  Typically nurseries do not administer general medications such as paracetamol or Calpol. This is really important to check for your own peace of mind. Some children do require prescribed medication however and therefore the nursery will have to administer this. If your child falls into this category then it is important that you ask how they do this and how they ensure it is the correct dosage at the correct time. If your child does not require prescribed medication you should be asking how the nursery ensures your child does not get given medication by accident. Finally on medication, much like adults, children want what others are getting, so ask the nursery how they manage the situation when a child wants the medication another child is getting so they don't feel like they are missing out, the responses will tell you a lot!

Overall Safety - this is probably the hardest part for a nursery, and the hardest part to judge. Children will have accidents at nursery, they will get bumps, bruises, and grazes, it is all part of learning and growing up. That said, make sure you ask how they treat and report accidents that happen, their answers will either fill you with confidence or make you want to walk away, trust your instincts.

3. Overall Childcare and Staffing

This is the area that nurseries will vary greatly from setting to setting and it is really important that you feel confident to explore and ask questions in this area.

Staffing - All nurseries are required to meeting the staff: children ratio as defined in the early year's foundation stage statutory framework known as the EYFS. This is a legal requirement, however, staffing is always challenging in the early year's sector, and asking what the nursery does if they do not have enough staff to meet the required ratio is always a good question to ask. Asking what qualifications the nurseries staff hold and how many of their staff are unqualified or qualified below level 3 are also good questions, however, do not make snap judgments on these as some of the best childcare we have seen has been given by unqualified practitioners.

Childcare and Learning - After ensuring your child is safe, this is possibly the most important part to consider. Ask the nursery what activities your child will do and how these activities help them develop the following areas:

  1. Communication and language
  2. Physical development
  3. Personal, social and emotional development
  4. Literacy
  5. Mathematics
  6. Understanding the world
  7. Expressive arts and design


If you aren't happy with the answers given do not be afraid to ask more questions, without your child developing in the areas above they will find transitioning into primary school and further development much harder.

4. Settling In

Your child starting nursery for the first time can be a challenge for you as much as it is for them. Every nursery should be running Settling In sessions, these are sessions where you attend the nursery with your child for 1 - 2 hours at a time to allow them (and you) to get comfortable with being there and acclimatize to their new surrounds. These sessions should be determined by each child's needs, so be sure to ask how your chosen nursery operates their settling in.

5. Fees and Funding

This is the bottom of the list, and rightly so. How much you are going to pay is important, but it is the least important, after all, you are choosing who will look after the most precious part of your life. Every nursery will have their own fee structures, and typically the more sessions you commit to and the longer period of time you commit to, the more cost-effective each session becomes. Make sure you ask for an ad hoc price and a regular plan price so you can make the comparison.

Funding - All 3 to 4-year-olds in England can get 570 free hours per year. It’s usually taken as 15 hours a week for 38 weeks of the year, but you can choose to take fewer hours over more weeks, for example. Find out more here

Most working parents are entitled to 30 hours free childcare if your child is 3 or 4 years old  find out more here

For some parents there is also funding for 2 years olds, you can find out more here

Whilst many childcare providers will offer free childcare, you will often still be required to pay for meals, snacks, and consumables such as nappies, etc. In addition many providers will only offer free childcare for specific sessions, or they will require you to top-up their funding by paying for extra hours. Make sure you ask the nursery manager what is available.

6. Common Mistakes

There are lots of common mistakes people make when choosing a nursery and we want to help you avoid them.

  1. Do not be blinded by shiny brand new furniture and equipment - New equipment and resources are always appealing, however, this does not mean excellent childcare, it is important you look beyond these.
  2. Do not be put off by nurseries with small outside spaces - Many nurseries do not have the luxury of large outside spaces, but this can also be a positive. Getting children outside and exploring will be important to any nursery, if they have a big outside space then this is easier, but normally it leads to the nursery only using their own outside space. Nurseries with smaller outside spaces will often look to utilize a variety of nearby outdoor spaces, and this can mean increased variety and access to learning about a wider variety of activities and wildlife that they would not get in their own space.
  3. Bigger is not always better - Large chains of nurseries have some advantages, but they also mean they have many more companies set regulations they have to follow and this can lead to a one size fits all approach to children in the nursery. A smaller owner-run nursery may not have as much money to spend on furniture and resources but can often provide much better childcare tailored to each child they support.
  4. You get what you pay for (but ask about funding) - Nurseries are expensive, but providing good childcare is expensive for the provider and they are looking after your most precious asset. Compare what you are getting for your money and what your child's needs are, but invariably lowest price will equate to the lowest quality. That said, many parents are not aware that they may be entitled to funding for their child, make sure you ask the question.

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