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Considerations When Choosing a Nursery

by Dr Irene Pollock

Casa Montessori, Forth Valley College, and University of Glasgow

There is wide range of quality provision available
There is wide range of quality provision available

When it comes time to choose a nursery or other childcare provider, the wide range of quality provision available in and around Edinburgh can pose a challenge to parents and carers.  Local authority provision has diversified in recent years to offer longer sessions, year-round care, and outdoor options (either one day a week or fully Forest Kindergarten), making this provision more comparable to private settings. Another aspect of expanded options for families is that a broader range of settings, including childminders, now offer 1140 hours of funded childcare, which also covers children deferring for an additional year of nursery. 1140 hours equates to approximately 30 hours per week during term-time or 2.5 days per week year-round, although different attendance models are used in different settings. Attendance options are also based on availability and many private partner providers operate waiting lists or pools. 

Once practical considerations such as availability, location, and opening hours are taken into account, other features such as pedagogical approach or links with schools can be explored. Many settings have websites and/or social media accounts to allow prospective families to find out more information about the setting. Most settings are now able to accommodate in-person tours, although these may be limited to open days or to families being offered a place.  Word-of-mouth – and this Nursery Guide – are other useful sources of detailed information about settings. 

Inspection reports from Care Inspectorate and Education Scotland are another way for parents/carers to gain insight into how the service is performing. Both organisations are regulatory bodies that evaluate how settings are meeting the Health and Social Care Standards and providing high quality early years education. A new shared inspection framework is under development and will be rolled out in late 2024; this will apply to both independent and joint inspections. 

Recent Care Inspectorate reports use a format introduced in mid-2022 that focuses on the impact of care and learning on children’s development; it also emphasises wellbeing and children’s rights. However, many settings will not have had a recent inspection due to the backlog from coronavirus restrictions. Checking the date of the inspection report is essential as practice may have changed substantially in the interim, either positively or negatively. Care Inspectorate reports include a ‘grade’ for which quality indicators were inspected – not all quality indicators are assessed at each inspection – and a summary of these grades can be found in the Nursery Guide. The quality indicators are arranged under the topics of care, play, and learning; the setting; the staff team; the leadership; and the setting’s capacity for improvement.

It is important to look beyond these ‘grades’, however, and read through the comments.

While the setting’s Care Inspectorate and Education Scotland reports are one of the tools available to families to help them make a choice for childcare, this article has outlined some of the other key considerations. Availability of spaces may be a key deciding factor, but it is also crucial that a setting ‘feels right’ to families and aligns with their needs.  


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