With the increasing choice, competition and pressure inherent in the London and UK nursery system, Sabine Hook is able to provide invaluable advice on how to lay stable foundations for your child’s educational future.

It is a shock for many new parents to discover that the pressure of education choices often starts almost immediately after the birth of your son or daughter. If you are a new parent, you should not wait too long before making your choice of nursery or Early Years provision; in London, for example, applications to popular nurseries are often made within three months of birth and, in some extreme situations, within three months of pregnancy! The wealth of nurseries that are now available and the process of registrations can often induce panic in even the most confident and calm of parents.

It is now commonly acknowledged that Early Years education choices are as crucial as those made at primary and secondary school level.  It is during the ages of 2-5 that the foundations of independence, confidence and the readiness to learn are installed in children, and it is these qualities that are assessed at 4+. As the UK Government’s Department for Education says, “Children develop quickly in the early years and a child’s experiences between birth and age five have a major impact on their future life chances.” Indeed, if you are contemplating joining the competitive world of private London day schools – where children as young as three are being evaluated for school places – then finding an excellent nursery is essential in laying secure foundations for your child’s educational future.

But how can parents assess the right nursery fit for their newborn baby knowing nothing (or next to nothing) of their personalities, interests or needs? Thankfully, I am able to provide some general rules that are vital to bear in mind when helping your child make those crucial first educational steps.

1) Keep the Nursery Local

It is important to choose a nursery within walking distance of your home, as the fresh air and calm morning routine will increase your child’s concentration levels for the rest of the day.

2) Ofsted Ratings

Only ever select nurseries with a minimum of a ‘Good’ or preferably an ‘Outstanding’ Ofsted rating. Anything less than this is not acceptable. Any areas cited as “Needing to Improve” on the Ofsted report should provide the basis for further questioning on your visit.

3) Think Beyond Nursery

This is the time to also consider pre-prep and prep school choices, as registrations to popular and oversubscribed schools will often need to be completed before the age of two. If you have a strong liking for a certain school that has nursery provision, than you should try to ‘get in’ early to avoid unnecessary upheaval and disappointment.

4) Visit the Nursery

Some very over-subscribed nurseries only allow visits a year before entry, or after already paying a registration fee, but this is clearly a crucial step in the selection process. The wide range of nursery provision – in terms of ethos, teaching styles and organisation – allows you to develop a clear idea of what environment will best suit your unique child.

5) Outdoor Environments

It is essential that pre-school children are given access to an outside area and regular gross motor activities, such as ball skills, dance or PE. Whilst viewing a nursery, make sure you ask how often children use outside provision and how long they spend outside during a typical session. The best nurseries will ensure children have a chance to learn and play outside everyday for a minimum of 30 minutes, and preferably more.

6) ‘Afternoon-Only’ Places

It is common that first-time parents are offered ‘afternoon-only’ sessions as the morning places are often reserved for siblings, but don’t let an ‘afternoon-only’ place put you off your favourite nursery. You might be worried about disruption to nap times and afternoon routines but the reality is that children will adapt quickly to these afternoon sessions with some careful preparation. For example, gradually bringing forward and shortening nap times can ensure a seamless school transition.

7) Assessment is Key

All nurseries are obliged to keep detailed and frequent observations of all the children in attendance and should, therefore, be able to show you examples of their assessment on your visits, if requested. High quality assessment is integral to outstanding teaching and the best nurseries also offer parents the opportunity to add to the records with their own ongoing observations, thereby ensuring an accurate and fully-rounded perception of the child.

Despite these general points to consider when making your choice of nursery, you must remember that the most important factor is, of course, your child. It is impossible to accurately predict what kind of learner your child will be at 2-and-a-half, so selecting a range of nursery schools should give your son or daughter the best chance of getting a good fit.  Try not to select five identical Montessori nurseries or limit yourself only to nurseries attached to schools, as you might find the style of learning is completely inappropriate for your son or daughter. If you have, for example, an active boy who needs to learn through movement, then a well-equipped and frequently used outside environment will be a must. If your daughter, for example, is already showing high levels of concentration and an interest in letters, then make sure you choose the nursery that will continue to extend her learning and provide stimulating and challenging activities. This might involve bringing forward phonics teaching in an age-appropriate way, or ensuring that there are regular reading books going home.

Balancing these vital elements in your choice of nursery will provide the best possible chance for successful, stimulating and happy Early Years education, and crucially will provide the perfect foundations for your child to progress confidently on to their first pre-prep or junior school.

I and the rest of the team at Holland Park Tuition & Education Consultants are able to offer further bespoke advice and support on what is on offer locally to you and how to plan your child’s educational route beyond Early Years: from nursery, through pre-prep, prep and secondary school, to university and beyond. We can offer a full or partial nursery search service, including: consultation, assessment, nursery search & report, administration liaison, full strategic educational roadmaps, and pre-school preparation.

Sabine Hook is the Early Years & Nursery Lead Consultant at Holland Park Tuition & Education Consultants. Having gained her PGCE qualification in primary school teaching from the IOE in London, Sabine has fostered strong personal and professional relationships with the most popular nurseries and pre-schools in central and west London and, as a result, she is best placed to find the perfect nursery or school for your child