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Making an informed choice of nursery

Dr Irene Pollock

Casa Montessori and University of Glasgow

Choosing childcare, whether a nursery, playgroup, or childminder, can be a daunting process, particularly for first-time parents. However, the amount of recent change in the sector – such as the introduction of 1140 hours of funded childcare and the ongoing adaptations to coronavirus restrictions – mean that even parents and carers with older children may have a different experience than previously. Families, employers, and settings have all needed increased flexibility and resilience.

Practice within nurseries and other childcare settings has changed, but parents/carers still desire quality childcare in appealing and safe environments, with practitioners they can trust. The range of options has increased through the 1140 expansion, but the main choice is still between local authority nurseries (which may now be open outwith term time), private providers, and childminders. Families will need to consider their desired attendance pattern, and what places are available. Beyond this basic decision, other factors may include the location of the setting (e.g., in or near a sibling’s school, closer to home v. closer to work) and a particular pedagogical approach such as Montessori or Forest Kindergarten. Outdoor environments, whether used for all or part of the day, have provided reassurance around ventilation.

Families may wish to consider the setting’s policies around coronavirus, such as cleaning protocols, ‘settling in’ arrangements for new children, and communication around testing and positive cases. Most settings are still not allowing in-person tours due to the restrictions in place. However, settings might offer virtual tours, video overviews, or Zoom conversations with management and staff. Settings may also have increased their online presence, both on their website and via social media. Former and current families are another useful source of information, as is this Nursery Guide.

Inspection reports from Care Inspectorate and Education Scotland have previously been one of the main tools used by parents/carers in choosing a setting. Both organisations are regulatory bodies that inspect how settings are meeting the Health and Social Care Standards and providing high quality early education. There has been a recent focus on the experiences provided to children within these settings and the impact these experiences have on children’s development. Inspection reports include a ‘grade’ for the setting; for Care Inspectorate reports these are under the quality themes of care and support, environment, staffing, and management and leadership, although not all inspections will cover all four quality themes.

Education Scotland paused routine inspections in March 2020 and will not resume inspections for most early learning and childcare settings until January 2022. Practice will have changed significantly for some settings, which will be taken into account in these inspections, but will not of course be reflected in historic reports.

Care Inspectorate has also taken a proportionate approach, initially pausing inspections and then focusing on how children and families have been supported during the pandemic. While Care Inspectorate inspections have now resumed, most inspection activities are now carried out remotely, such as reviewing documentary evidence and having conversations with children, families, and staff through virtual meetings. Inspectors are limiting the amount of time that they spend within settings, and prioritising settings where there were previous requirements and recommendations to be met. These constraints mean that some settings will not have a recent inspection report from either Education Scotland or the Care Inspectorate. Given these changes to the inspection process, and the limited number of inspections being carried out, it is more important than ever that parents/carers gather information about settings from a wide range of sources.

Care Inspectors reports can be found :


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