Getting a Head Start

Changes to the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) framework come into effect in September 2021 and have by and large been welcomed by the Early Years sector. The aim is mainly to focus on language and literacy skills and to narrow the gap (further exaggerated by the pandemic) between children from deprived backgrounds and their peers by the time they start school.

For practitioners, the new framework removes checklists based on age, and focuses on the individual learning journey of each child according to their ability. In reality this means spending less time on iPads ticking off attainment goals and more time with each child, focusing on their individual needs. For parents across the board, this is good news.

Nappy Valley is abundant with excellent early learning options: pre-nurseries, nursery schools, independent schools, forest nurseries, childminders, playgroups, and daycares are plentiful. It can be a difficult choice, but there are some deciding factors every parent should take into consideration.

One of the most important things is to look at the overall quality of the early years learning experience. Ask about the teacher-to-pupil ratio and whether the play is structured by subject and themed to season. Structured play allows the youngest children to develop more quickly and enhances debate and engagement.
Interactive white boards are a must to develop literacy and numeracy and it is worth asking how much emphasis is placed on these core skills. Make sure that curriculum-based learning is also enhanced by plenty of fun, imaginative play.

Find a nursery that allows parents to chat to carers daily in the classroom, when details of progress or small concerns can be shared.
Try to look for schools with a September start, ideally at age two. This benefits the youngest children by ensuring that they have the same time in the nursery as the oldest in the academic year.

Source: Eaton House Schools

Happy interactive environment

Every family is unique, and parents need to look around a few providers to see which one they feel is best for their child. “We believe that every nursery should provide a ‘home from home’ environment; so that each child feels loved, well cared for and safe,” says Eveline Drut, Director at The Eveline Day Nursery Schools, a family business with over 50 years’ experience. “A nursery should be nurturing, welcoming and friendly. The manager should be warm and reassuring, confident in their knowledge about the provision, and listen to a parent’s concerns.”

Sarah Sanger, Founder and Principal at The Woodentops Nurseries where teachers set up the ‘Wonder Room’ with new discoveries for the children every day, adds, “Parents should be looking out for high levels of interaction between the teachers and the children. Are they talking to each other and laughing with each other? Are they deeply engaged in extended play together? If the answer is yes, then you can be 90% certain, just from looking around, that they have an engaging and exciting curriculum that is based around the children’s interests and next steps of development.”

For Emma Smith, who runs pre-nursery school, Tiddlywinks, from her home on Broomwood Road, it really is a home away from home. “Children have got 14 compulsory years of education in a classroom, so it’s lovely for them to start their journey in a home environment” – albeit a magical one filled with bubbles, baking and cuckoo clocks!

Emphasis on wellbeing

An Ofsted report in October 2020 found that many Early Years providers felt children had returned less confident and more anxious following the lockdown from March to June of that year. In some cases, children had also become less independent. Recognising this, they have been focusing on the personal, social and emotional development of the children.
Indeed, for children starting their Early Years’ journey in September, social restrictions are all they have experienced in their short lives. “These children will have social and communication needs,” explains Rozzy Hyslop, Principal of Marmalade Schools in south-west London, and the newly opened Marmalade Duck in Kensington. She advises parents to ask what provisions are in place to teach self- regulation and resilience. “We have a soft, cosy and safe place in each of our nurseries that the children can take themselves off to, to calm down in. We also give them tools to express their feelings and encourage them to use their ‘safety voice’ if they are not happy.”

Transitioning to school from nursery can be a challenging time. Getting it right is key to ensuring your child starts their new school positively rather than nervously.
It is a multi-step process. The first is the future form teacher or Principal meeting the child in their own nursery setting; children are more likely to be less shy and more eager to tell you all about what they enjoy doing. Step two is about welcoming the child into their new school for a settling-in day. Our annual Teddy Bears’ Picnic is hugely popular and another great opportunity for children and parents to come together.

As a parent, you can also help your child by walking past the new school and talking about it in a very positive light. Try not to use negative language such as “are you feeling nervous” and instead talk about all the exciting things they will do there. All of these steps can help ensure a really positive start to ‘big school’.

Source: The White House Prep School

Inspiring learning

The emphasis of the EYFS changes is not on reading and writing but understanding and communicating, and calls for a love
of reading. The new guidance also gives Early Learning providers the autonomy to deliver the curriculum in a way they deem appropriate for their children to prepare them for school.

Beverley Delfgou, Principal of The Kensington, Brook Green and Knightsbridge Kindergartens, advises parents to ask exactly how the curriculum is taught. “We teach literacy by using jolly phonics through songs, books, visual aids, letters and sounds delivered as a fun activity and reinforced through play. As such, most of our children will know all their numbers and letters by the time they leave, and many will start to read already.”

Ivana Earp and Beata Doody, Principals at Nightingale 1, 2, and 3 Montessori Nurseries – who recently won the International Montessori Award for their teacher training programme – add, “Parents should also ask for a walk- through of the activities children do to understand specifically how their learning is supported through encouraging dexterity, pincer grasp, recall, curiosity, and an understanding of the world around them.”

“Ask about specialist teachers,” says Sophie Dowler, Reception class teacher at Streatham & Clapham Prep School. Some providers will have specialist PE, art, drama, computing and music teachers, “and this frees up the form teachers to focus on planning high quality phonics, English and maths. We adapt our curriculum on a regular basis depending on what the children are interested in and where their strengths and weaknesses lie. We may focus on writing about fairies this week and measuring trains and rockets the next.”

Ready, steady, school

From day one, Early Years providers are preparing children for school by focusing on the seven areas of learning and development: communication and language, personal, social and emotional development, physical development, literacy, mathematics, understanding the world and expressive arts and design. The really good nurseries have been developing soft skills such as confidence, resilience, self-regulation, problem solving and independence for years, not only readying our children for school but giving them a great head start in life.

What am I entitled to?

Free nursery education

All families in England are entitled to 570 hours free childcare or early education per year, which is usually taken as 15 hours a week for 38 weeks; but you can choose to take fewer hours over more weeks at some nurseries.

Working parents of three to four-year-olds, where both parents are each earning less than £100,000 a year, are also eligible for a further 15 hours – ie a total of 30 hours – and in addition, there is the Tax-Free Childcare account, whereby the government will pay £2 for every £8 you pay your childcare provider. Find out more details and what your family would be entitled to at

Free education nursery providers

Those offering free nursery education for three- and four-year-olds include maintained nursery schools and primary school nursery classes, and private nurseries offer the 15 and some 30 free hours outlined above. Check with individual private nurseries, as many do not offer this option, and those that do may expect you to pay for wraparound hours/ extra activities and lunches, since government funding does not cover all their costs.

Maintained nurseries are council-run, usually open 9am to 3.15pm and free to all parents/carers. Many provide before and after school childcare too but generally do not offer nursery places for two-year-olds. Both public and private nursery schools must be registered with Ofsted and undergo regular inspections, although maintained nurseries have to undergo a more rigorous inspection, which is the same as primary and secondary schools receive, whereas private nurseries receive an Early Years inspection.

When to apply

The closing date for applications for nursery places in a maintained primary school for entrance in September 2021 was in February 2021. Each year follows a similar timeframe and planning ahead is essential. Visit or your local borough’s website for further details.

What is the Early Years Foundation Stage?

• The Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) is how the government and early years professionals describe the time in your child’s life between birth and five years old. This important stage helps your child get ready for school and prepares them for future learning.
• Nurseries, pre-schools, reception classes and childminders registered to deliver the EYFS must follow a legal document, the Early Years Foundation Stage Framework, developed with a number of early years staff and parents.

The EYFS Framework sets out:

• The legal welfare requirements that all those registered to look after children must follow in order to keep your child safe and promote their welfare
• The seven areas of learning and develop- ment to guide professionals’ engagement with your child’s play and activities as they learn new skills and knowledge
• Assessments that will tell you about your child’s progress through the EYFS
• The Early Learning Goals – the expected levels your child should reach at age five, usually the end of the reception year
• You are able to get information about your child’s development at any time and there are two stages (at age two and age five) when the professionals caring for your child must give you written details on their progress.

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