Outdoor nursery group Little Forest Folk started in 2014 to give London children the opportunity to connect with nature. Since a revamp in January, website traffic has gone up by 213 per cent. The new site provides information about the nursery’s ethos, sites, staff team and what the children get up to, and has also attracted ‘fantastic staff’ to the setting. A food page hosts details of the children’s menu, cooking lessons and recipes. A ‘parents’ portal’ lets parents log in to see their children’s online learning journals. The nursery’s presence on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram is used to communicate with parents, as well as more widely.
Highly commended: Fennies Day Nurseries and Pre-Schools
Dukes and Duchesses is a private nursery in Liverpool city centre, whose community vision is to ‘extend young children’s understanding beyond their own backyard’. The nursery embraces the Reggio approach of recognising the environment as a natural resource. It has cemented its place within the community, endeavouring to teach its children about respect, diversity, challenge, resilience, tolerance, sharing and – above all – love for each other, their own and the wider community. Strong links have been made with the local Chinese community and local schools; the nursery has set up and sponsored a football team run by its parents; and staff and families work with a homelessness project.
Children at Quackers ‘wallow’, in mud, in their own learning, in the pleasure of being, thanks to the pre-school team’s transformation of a challenging site into a garden inspired by Danish provision and filled with open-ended resources. A hosepipe, sand and large loose parts, such as crates and tyres, are main features of the area, as well as a semi-covered mud kitchen, which has evolved in response to children’s requests and staff observations. Children have free-flow access all day, year round. Central to the success of this environment are the practitioners themselves, who consider both the emotional and physical environments in their planning and have a clear understanding of their role as an enabler.
Highly commended: First Steps Forest School, Birmingham
The Wendy House Day Nursery has filled a market gap for local parents who do not wish to rush their children off to school. Its two Foundation Units have significantly expanded during the last year, as parents have opted to keep their children on in this nurturing but educationally more structured environment. Importantly, The Wendy House has met the commercial challenge of retaining children once they reach state school age. It has focused on combining the warm and flexible environment of the nursery with appropriate learning. Parents enjoy the convenience and assurances they have been used to, and feel that their children are being ‘gently’ prepared for big school.
Quackers opened in 2005 as a packaway setting in a local church hall. While building up the pre-school, the team members have embraced the opportunity to improve their own qualifications - all except one are graduates, and owner Menna Godfrey is doing a PHD on mud kitchens. Parents compiled a document of quotes about the Quackers practitioners, praising the ‘well-educated and informed’ staff going ‘above and beyond’ for their children and giving them an ‘amazing start’. Commitment is such that staff all attend training in their own time, travelling to find courses that are relevant to their interests, roles in setting and skill level.
Redcliffe Children’s centre and Nursery School was praised by our judges for demonstrating food excellence through its policies and practice and its unique Food Project to engage children with food. Chef Jo is passionate about food and shares her knowledge, skills and approach within the setting and wider community. Redcliffe puts food at the heart of the centre, with delicious lunches, Food Sessions where children can explore food with all their senses, play and imagination, and regular visits to the centre’s allotment. The centre has developed an Experimental Cookery course and a training programme for its early years practitioners to train as Food Specialists.
Highly commended: Oakwood House Nursery and Forest School, Huddersfield
At Allexton Day Nursery, inclusive practice not only extends to the children and families who come through its doors, but also to the wider community. It is focused on bringing the generations together and recently took a small group of three-to-four-year-olds to enjoy a singing session at a local residential home. The outstanding private nursery supports a high number of children with wide-ranging – and in some cases, profound – special needs. Nineteen children currently attending are recognised as ‘cause for concern’ by social services. Eleven different languages are spoken by families attending. Judges acknowledged Allexton’s ‘can do’ attitude as a bench-mark for other settings.
Highly commended: Achieving Early, Achievement for All, Newbury
Judges agreed that Polbeth Nursery demonstrated excellent, evidence-based practice when it came to parent partnerships. These trusting and supportive relationships clearly have a positive impact on the wellbeing and learning of children. Parents Early Education Partnerships (PEEPs) give parents or carers the opportunity to spend time with their children in the nursery. Sessions include making dough, painting, singing or writing books together. The nursery has also become a breast-feeding friendly nursery. Parents like the range of ways they find out about how children learn, for example stay and play sessions, the nursery blog, newsletters, the Facebook page and information boards.
Highly commended: Mama Bear’s Day Nursery, Paignton
Two-year-olds attending Daisy Chain are part of a vibrant family hub, and at the heart of the local community. This has been vital to the pre-school’s success in attracting families with two-year-olds to access funded places in a deprived area of the city. With 75 funded two-year-olds on roll, its ability to provide an inclusive environment is a strength, welcoming many children who need extra support. The pre-school had to pull out all the stops to transform a dis-used Community Centre into a welcoming environment. An old store room was turned into a sensory room, with a hand-made, Mongolian yurt, to provide enclosed, cosy spaces for small group activities.
Highly commended: Red Hen Day Nursery, Lincolnshire
Kent County Council has developed a comprehensive suite of tools to support early years and childcare practitioners, including childminders and teachers, in enhancing family involvement in children’s learning. The Toolkit can be used creatively by professionals from all agencies and organisations to encourage parents to participate in their children’s holistic learning. It helps practitioners to reflect on their own practice in core areas such as ethos and inclusion, conversations and links with families to enhance learning, transitions to school and supporting ongoing attendance. A free, innovative app is provided for families which features an electric learning journey to capture photographs, annotations and special moments.
Highly commended: Chatterbox Challenge, I CAN
Take a seat, hold tight and swivel round for some fun physical exercise on Whizzy Dizzy. Designed to promote healthy activity indoors and out, Whizzy Dizzy can promote children’s co-ordination as well as developing their gross motor skills. Judges were impressed by its quality and potential for developing children’s vestibular system and core strength. They also found it ‘very engaging’ as it builds on the concept of the fairground ride of rotating teacups and concluded ‘Children will love it!’ One nursery says, ‘It has been used indoors and outside every day.
MyPod, Eden Play
Tactile Tower Collection, Play to Z
Every Child a Mover, by early years outdoors specialist Jan White, is a much-need and timely book, setting out the importance of movement in early child development, the kinds of experience that young children need and how to go about creating a culture and environment that embrace and promote movement. Accessible to all levels of practitioners, this comprehensive guide demonstrates how movement impacts every aspect of child’s health, well-being and brain development. The book has ben described as ‘a treasure trove’ of thought-provoking ideas and ‘required reading for all early years practitioners’. ‘You will be moved to move’, says one expert.
Highly commended: Reducing Educational Disadvantage: A Strategic Approach in the Early Years, Penny Tassoni, Boomsbury
With ambitions of qualifying as an early years teacher, drama graduate Laura hit the ground running at her first setting and has already made improvements. She is known for her great ‘enthusiasm, passion, and ideas’. In supporting her room leader, Laura ensures her planned activities are challenging and fun for the children. She has been carefully applying her ongoing studies at Edge Hill University to her work, adapting the EYFS to her knowledge of children’s interests. Eager to build her responsibility, she has seized opportunities at the setting, taking on the role of health and wellbeing lead coordinator.
Kate’s ‘why not’ approach, combined with a sense of fun, has forged her a ‘pivotal role’ for both colleagues and the children in her care. Since joining the team at Elsie Inglis, Kate has developed great working relationships and is considered a coach and mentor to all. She engages staff and ensures they feel valued, promoting a sense of excitement for learning across the setting, with high expectations of herself for further training, research and sharing skills with others. Colleagues report fantastic feedback from parents after Kate developed a play and learning at home project.
Gillian supports childcare settings to meet the Voluntary Food and Drink Guidelines. She also co-ordinates and acts as principal trainer for Big Cook Little Cook, a community-based family food and health programme supporting parents and their children over a six week schedule. Gillian has worked tirelessly to get this programme up and running from scratch and has managed to bring it a long way in just year, devising all programme resources and setting up the practitioner training programme, family learning programme and accreditation process. Gillian acts as a strong advocate for children’s health in Leicester and is described as helpful, informative and a pleasure to work with.
Nurturing the whole family to promote children’s happiness in an increasingly busy and stressful world, is Rebecca’s mission. Her personal touches include playing at a family’s home, providing supportive cups of tea, and the odd complimentary day or transport at times of great need. ‘These gestures create a happier, more resilient and supportive family,’ says Rebecca. Her approach is particularly valued in the deprived area she serves and she has played a role in shaping the early years education vision for Somerset County Council. She balances studying for a degree in early years and holding network meetings, with looking after two children of her own.
Highly commended: Sharon Froggatt, Little Frogs, Licolnshire
Although he has only been in the job three years, Chris has had a huge impact on this group of nine nurseries. Passionate about encouraging more men to work in childcare, Chris’s determination has led to a 500 per cent rise in the male workforce across the group. His other achievements include increasing staff retention through measures including staff happiness surveys, more training opportunities, and a company annual ‘Superstar’ awards event. Chris encourages staff to use their skills, experiences and abilities to find better ways of working. Occupancy has also risen under his watch to 90 per cent across all sites.
Laura joined Dukes and Duchesses as a 16-year-old apprentice. Keen to develop her skills and knowledge she gained an Early Years degree at Edgehill University and became an Early Years Professional in 2012, the first member of her family to gain a degree. After 12 years, she is now a deputy manager, SENCO and student mentor. The nursery is in a deprived area of Liverpool but Laura ensures that no child is excluded because of their background. She has also supported children in difficult circumstances, providing consistency and support. Laura’s practice is exemplary – observed at the nursery’s last Ofsted inspection, her teaching was described as ‘inspirational’.
Highly commended: Sarah Fillingham, Portico Day Nurseries
Debbie has withstood two moves of premises and overcome health issues to be crowned manager of the year. Her outstanding ability to form relationships shines through all aspects of her work. When it comes to SEN provision, Debbie excels. Multi-agency relationships have been carefully developed by Debbie, who also works to ensure that everything is in place for children. Debbie, who has a Professional Studies degree in Childcare, Early Years Professional Status, and is Montessori trained, led the setting to an outstanding rated Ofsted inspection in February. She was praised by judges for her ‘huge capability, strength and vision’.
Tracey Brett, Willows Day Nusery, Childbase Partnership
Liz Thomson, Hillcity Day Nursery, WMB Bildcare, Manchester
As a ‘one in a million’ manager of this rural charity pre-school, Rachel led a committee which saved it from closure, and secured a move from church rooms to purpose-built premises on school grounds. Known for her ‘tireless dedication’ to her work over two decades, the ‘brilliant and loved’ sector leader also runs wraparound care and holiday clubs, provides support to other settings under Somerset County Council’s peer-to-peer support scheme, and represents the ‘voice of early years providers’ across the county. A request for testimonials in support of Rachel’s nomination was circulated, and a deluge of messages followed from parents, children, staff and businesses.
Highly commended: Tricia Pritchard, Voice the Union
Highly commended: Carterhatch Infant School, London
‘We love Quackers!’ was the unanimous verdict of parents who supported its nomination for this award. The pre-school aims to provide a home-from-home environment for children. Walk into Quackers at any point and you will see children who are active and engaged, supervised and safe. Children are given the emotional space to be themselves and pursue activities which suit their interests and mood. The atmosphere is calm and purposeful, underpinned by a tangible sense of warmth. Judges praised the pre-school’s ‘forward thinking practice’, and one parent says, ‘Quackers is able to tap into each child’s creativity, whatever stage they are at.’
This family-run business celebrated its silver anniversary last year with the opening of nursery number five. All Mulberry Bush nurseries have outstanding grades. The group combines the benefits of a family business with the professionalism, investment and innovation found in larger organisations. Mulberry Bush’s reputation ensures that its nurseries maintain 97-100 per cent occupancy most of the year, on the back of word-of-mouth recommendations. A big advantage of the settings’ close proximity is career progression for staff. Twelve of the group’s 13 managers have been promoted from within the group. Judges praised the clear focus on quality and the group’s outstanding work with children with special needs as ‘thoroughly inspirational’.
Atelier’s staff team demonstrates a shared vision and commitment to their enlightened approach, which is grounded in warm and respectful relationships and provides supportive continuity for children. The settling-in period for the wide range of families involved continues as long as necessary; The key person relationship is sustained consistently throughout children’s time at nursery. The adults are based in specific spaces, including the outdoor area, which are richly resourced. This enables free flow between all parts of the nursery and enables children of different ages to explore and work together. Two supernumerary artists are working in depth with groups of children, and make a powerful contribution to the beautiful and informative display.
Highly commended: Dukes and Duchesses, Liverpool