Parent Info

Choosing a nursery

What to look for when choosing a nursery/pre-school

An overwhelming number of nurseries and pre-schools now provide good or outstanding care as judged by Ofsted. You have to choose the one that best suits your child’s needs and fits in with your family circumstances. It is important to make this decision having viewed several nurseries.

If it is your first experience of young children’s day care, then the first ever visit can be overwhelming. Hopefully by focusing on the following factors, you might find these first visits more informative and helpful in your decision-making.


It is the experience and skills of the staff at the nursery at all levels that will ultimately determine the quality of the nursery experience for the children. Hopefully you will have had the following experiences at your first visit:

  • You are greeted warmly. The staffing system with regard to the nursery manager, senior staff and others is explained to you. There is a noticeboard showing photographs and names and roles of the staff team.
  • The key person system is explained clearly to you. It is referred to positively as a way of supporting your child in all that they do, and to ensure that your child does not have to experience many different carers during the course of the day.
  • The nursery staff are happily engaged with the all the children in their care, having animated conversations singly and with groups of children. Staff are working with groups of children across the nursery rooms ready to give support to children in their play and learning when they need it.
  • Some staff may be standing back, observing children who are happy to be independent in their play.
  • There is enough staff to meet the needs of the children being cared for. This is evidenced by the calm atmosphere of the nursery. Staff know what they are doing and carry out their duties in a calm and unhurried way. Significantly, children’s needs are attended to promptly, e.g. a nappy needing changing, a baby who is hungry, a child who is upset for any reason and needing reassurance and a cuddle.
  • Staff speak to all the children appropriately, use their names, have eye contact when speaking directly to individual children; they use correct words, talk clearly and do not shout.
  • In the area of the nursery where the youngest babies and toddlers are cared for, it should be evident that there are more staff employed to care for their needs, for example to cater for the one-to-one feeding and nappy changing.
  • Staff explain clearly how they can support your child’s learning and development and are relaxed and confident in talking with you about this.
  • Staff are interested in what you have to say about your child, especially about any fears and concerns you might have at leaving your child for the first time.

Nurseries are sited in a variety of buildings. Some are new and purpose built, others refurbished and renovated older buildings. Whatever the age and design of the building you need to consider the following:

  • The security of the nursery is effective. All visitors including parents are admitted by a member of staff, unless parents have a security code for the external door. All visitors to the nursery, including prospective visiting parents are asked to sign a visitors’ book
  • Children have free access to all areas of their indoor and outside play and learning spaces, but are secure within the boundaries of the nursery. They cannot independently access the external doors.
  • The outside play areas are secure and equipped with age appropriate resources and include children’s access to the natural world, such as plants, trees, animal habitats and growing areas.
  • The play and learning resources engage the children’s interests. The children play with enjoyment, excitement and concentration. The range of equipment available to the children is attractive, in plentiful supply and furthers their imagination and learning by way of its design and material. Staff can explain the purpose of the children’s activities and the equipment in respect of furthering children’s learning and development.
  • The nursery rooms are well decorated, organised, and include storage for equipment and children’s personal items, as well as their work pieces. Noticeboards and displays reflect the children’s own work and are therefore diverse and show a range of skills and abilities.
  • All bathroom and toilet areas are clean and properly equipped with resources to meet children’s personal care needs.
  • There is sufficient and appropriate furniture for mealtimes for all the ages of children at the nursery, and appropriate staff support to children at such times. Information regarding meals, snacks and drinks that reflect a healthy and balanced diet is readily available.
  • A nursery has a comprehensive range of policies and procedures that underpin the way it operates. These are the blueprint for delivering the nursery’s high quality care and learning environment. They should be readily available to all.
  • These policies and procedure documents contain significant details concerning, for instance, how staff are vetted, how the nursery ensures the safety of all children and adults, what the nursery does in response to an incident or accident, the giving of any medication and much, much more.

Last, but by no means least – the children. The quality of the care delivered by a nursery is conveyed primarily by the children it cares for. The best nursery is where all children, whatever their ages and abilities, show that they are happy, engaged, relaxed and confident in the way they use the equipment, the nursery space and in the way they relate to the staff and each other.