Dr. Irene Pollock, Edinburgh Montessori Arts School and University of Glasgow
When you are choosing a nursery for your child, what do you look for? Do you need longer hours? Do you want an outdoor kindergarten? Do you want to be able to walk to the setting? Is it important to you that your child attends a setting that has achieved scores of 6 – excellent – in their most recent Care Inspectorate report?
Edinburgh and the Lothians have such a wide range of nurseries that it can be difficult to narrow these down. It is easy to be overwhelmed by the amount of information available – the Nursery Guide is a great place to start! Care Inspectorate grades can be used as a quick and easy method to compare settings. While this can be effective, it is important that the grades are used as only one of the sources of information about a setting. At the least, parents should read the full inspection report, looking in particular at the following: the year of the report, the narrative provided by the inspectors, and any comments from staff, parents, or children. Only around 5% of settings receive a 6, for exceptional practice, although around 40% receive a very good or excellent for every theme.
Nursery settings are regulated by both the Care Inspectorate, who look at the quality of care (including health and safety) provided by the setting, and Education Scotland (HMIE), who are more focused on how children are experiencing the curriculum. Care Inspectorate usually visit a setting every other year. More recent inspection reports (since July 2016) are shorter than previous reports, with a focus on the outcomes for children. Most services are not inspected by Care Inspectorate against all four quality themes (care and support, environment, staffing, and management and leadership) at each inspection, so it may be useful also to look at historical reports. These can also indicate the general trend of ratings over time, and whether the nursery takes sufficient action to address any requirements or recommendations.
Nurseries are required to adhere to a wide range of policies and guidelines. Some of these are dictated by the Scottish Government at a national level, while others may be council policies (if the setting is in partnership to provide funded places). Nurseries are encouraged to self-evaluate, using the document How Good is Our Early Learning and Childcare, and should be able to speak about their plans for improvement. Nurseries should also be able to provide evidence of how they support all areas of children’s learning.
It is important to consider what elements of a setting are most important to your child and your family. In addition to the inspection reports, parents can gain information through speaking to current and former parents and from the setting’s website. However, the best way to find out whether a nursery would be a good fit for your child is to schedule a visit. A visit allows you to see how the space is set up, speak to the manager and possibly room staff, and perhaps observe children. Going to a visit prepared with some questions will let you find out what you want to know about the care provided, which may not be addressed in an inspection report. In addition, practice in nursery settings changes frequently as they are striving to improve, and staff will be able to give you the most up-to-date information. Staff should also be able to answer your questions, leaving you feeling confident. Your child will be spending a significant amount of time in the setting, and you know what will suit your child best.