Outdoor nursery group Little Forest Folk wins this category for the second year running. Its website is responsive, current, relevant and easy to use, giving information to current and prospective parents about its settings, ethos and staff team, as well as recipes and ‘vision’ blogs. Weekly news updates from the nurseries are particularly popular, with one post generating more than 10,000 views. Little Forest Folk uses social media, including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, to share photos, videos and blogs, and advertise new settings and staff vacancies. One parent says of the Facebook photos – ‘it really is so inspiring to see children and educators enjoying nature every day’.
Norland College was first approached by the Twins and Multiple Births Association in 2012 to provide support for a father of newborn triplets whose wife had died. Volunteer Norland Nannies were quick to offer help. Since then, Helping Hands, Supporting Families in Crisis has worked with nearly 300 multiple birth children, whose families face physical, logistical, mental, emotional and financial challenges. Norland College trains both volunteer and paid practitioners who are matched with families. The project is a lifeline for the families, and one practitioner says, ‘supporting these families is changing my life; it is exceptionally rewarding’.
Dandelion Education has created an outdoor nursery in which children of all ages and abilities can flourish and develop as resilient, critical thinkers – with practitioners and children themselves doing much of the development work, including a theatre, music area, book shelves and mud kitchen. There are no toys – the children use the environment to make whatever props they need for their play, and the setting acquired natural materials such as logs, tree trunks, and willow whips. A variety of trees to climb offer adventure, challenge, satisfaction and achievement for all, with risk-taking central to Dandelion’s approach. Children with SEND have made excellent progress.
Highly commended: Gigglers Day Nursery, Bolton
Fireflies Nursery opened in January 2017, after a two-year refurbishment of a historic, 90-year-old fire station, and was three-quarters full within four months. As well as a well-thought out layout, the nursery has a large outdoor play area with natural resources and a baby sensory garden. A diverse staff team, including a qualified teacher and qualified sports trainer, works with parents from many different backgrounds. Due to a lack of provision in the area, the council team has supported Fireflies to provide free places for 26 disadvantaged two-year-olds. It also supports more children with SEN than any other local settings, having formed close bonds with the inclusion support team.
In August 2015, Cranley Nursery acquired its fourth setting in Edinburgh, an ailing nursery that had been issued with an improvement notice by the Care Inspectorate. A strong team would be fundamental to the reversal of this setting’s fortunes and seamless, speedy integration into the group. All retained and new staff underwent a rigorous interview and a thorough induction. A comprehensive training programme ensured that staff possessed the knowledge, skills and attitude needed. Thorough evaluation is now in place, staff are promoted from within and turnover has been minimal. 16 months later, a new inspection found the nursery ‘very good’ in all aspects.
Highly commended: Honey Pot Nurseries, Liverpool
The kitchen is at the heart of the Mulberry Bush nursery and central to its caring ethos. It has direct access to the toddler and pre-school rooms, and children enjoy watching cook Carol prepare meals. Nutrition is embedded into everyday practice, from the way staff plan menus, procure food and manage dietary requirements to staff training and children’s activities. Food is sourced from the local butcher, fishmonger and greengrocer, with Carol creating healthy meals full of flavour and colourful ingredients. The Mulberry Bush has created multiple enabling environments for children to learn about and experience the whole food supply chain.
Highly commended: Kids Planet Greenbank Park, Liverpool
At Elmscot Nursery, every child is treated as an individual from the moment they attend their first settling-in session. Their developmental stages are carefully observed by their key worker and an on-entry assessment forms the basis for all future planning. Based on robust tracking systems, practitioners are able to identify any areas of learning and development that may require additional support. The setting SENDCO works to create individualised and targeted plans and is also the speech and language champion of the entire Elmscot Group. The nursery currently looks after five children with additional educational needs, and has developed strong relationships with external professionals such as speech and language therapists, physiotherapists and sensory support services.
Midlothian Sure Start runs six family learning centres for children pre-birth to age three for the local authority, with a vision for all Midlothian children to build the foundations for a happy childhood that serves them a lifetime. All course and groups are free. The charity wanted to be more Dad inclusive, so set up its Dads2b course on practical and emotional aspects of birth and infant care, which can be followed by ‘Being a Dad’ and ‘Dynamic Dads’ courses. A Good Start is open to all parents and focuses on early brain development, attachment theory and baby massage. Courses have reduced parents’ isolation, and improved their self-esteem and confidence.
In response to high levels of child obesity across the borough of Newham, Outdoors and Active was a council-funded project aimed at promoting a better understanding of the importance of physicality in the developing child in order to improve health and well-being. The project explored high quality physicality, how to plan for it and what outdoor spaces can offer, to make practitioners, parents and children more active as well as more aware of the wide range of outdoor resources available in Newham. Children are calmer, more focused and able to concentrate for longer periods of time, and there is now less illness and more imaginative play going on.
Highly commended: Dandelion Education - Feel well, Think well, Learn well, Norfolk
Little Forest Folk is London’s first full time forest nursery, opened with the aim of creating a world in which children are inspired by nature to live a simple and naturally healthy lifestyle. Children climb trees, run on uneven ground, dig holes, search for insects, laugh, talk and collaborate whilst learning compassion for the world and respect for nature and each other. The fitness levels of children at the nursery improve within weeks of joining. One parent said, ‘Little Forest Folk answered our prayers. What really excites me is how my kids’ brains will develop differently as a result of this experience. It will really shape who they will become.’
Highly commended: Dandelion Education - Feel well, Think well, Learn well, Norfolk
Places to Play incorporates two complementary publications which have been a big hit with practitioners across Hertfordshire. They offer a user-friendly, accessible guide to providing – and evaluating – a first class learning environment for every three-to-five-year-old in the setting. Information is easy to read, with lists of specific resources recommended for each area. Photos show resources, storage, displays and ideas for maximising learning and engagement Since the launch of the publications last October, more than 500 copies of the guidance books and more than 400 of the audits have been purchased and used across the county and beyond.
Flick learning was established with the aim of turning must-do training into effective, engaging and enjoyable e-learning. The so-called 'Netflix of e-learning' works by offering one subscription fee payable each month for access to the company's entire collection of courses, which currently covers 40 different topics. Over 40,000 childminders, pre-schools and nurseries have a subscription. The courses aim to create something playful and quirky out of what could otherwise be seen as dry topics, whether it is a fully-accredited fire safety course in the style of an 80s video game, a data protection training video using Ollivander's wand shop as a backdrop, or an information security course that plays like Mission Impossible.
‘This is great for sensory exploration and a truly open-ended product,’ says one judge.
Children can explore science outdoors and experience real life erosion, flood control, and experimentation with the natural, loose parts of the Outlast Cascade. The wooden structure consists of a streambed, a single water table, and a flow pan. Combined with loose parts and simple containers, the cascade aims to provide children with hours of co-operative, open-ended fun. Children can experiment with creating their own waterfalls and changing and manipulating the flow of the water.
Anna Ephgrave is a consultant teacher who has supported early years settings to achieve outstanding, and here she draws on her wide experience to help readers achieve this level. This book equips practitioners with the practical ideas they need to work in a manageable way to create a happy learning environment for children. Its accessible format is based on a month-by-month overview of the workings of an outstanding nursery setting. This covers all aspects of practice – from the organisation of the classroom and garden, to the routines and boundaries that ensure children are safe, happy and able to explore and learn. One reviewer said: I've already made significant positive changes. Thank you for such an excellent book!”
Highly commended: Early Childhood and Neuroscience by Mine Conkbayir, Bloomsbury
As a parent at Dukes and Duchesses, Kate became so involved in the nursery that she felt she might as well join the team. She started to work part-time, then gained Early Years Teacher Status. In her first year, Kate has been a key person for 11 children and families, receiving exemplary feedback. She has also been responsible for developing early mathematics – her project strengthened links with the local primary school and led to the setting being given a gold award in early maths. Her background in mental health allowed her to unpick use of the Leuven scales and she has reviewed transitions for the nursery.
Highly commended: Abbie Hendry, Rainbow Corner Nursery School, Southsea
Lucy has a very active role as senior room manager and childcare curriculum leader for her nursery, but finds time to lead the setting at the annual Kettering Carnival, where its float won first prize this year. She takes the initiative to lead projects for the nursery, and created a new outdoor area for the children, organizing help from parent volunteers and setting up a gardening club once it was finished. She now plans to develop a forest school. Lucy has studied for a foundation degree and BA in early years, and is now working on her leadership and management NVQ.
Highly commended: Ami Mahon, Elmscot Day Nursery, Timperley
Marie has led every aspect of Experiential Play’s qualifications portfolio for 12 years, with her ability to marry practical pedagogy with robust research much praised. She ensures her content is up to date, inspiring and challenging and that every learner engages, feels valued and contributes. Marie represented her company on a Glasgow City Council project to expand the early years sector. She has developed enriched approaches to SVQs and was involved in ‘Building the Ambition’, a new Scottish early years policy document. She set up ‘Approved by Dads’ for disadvantaged parents who can then work towards a childcare qualification, and has established a practice nursery for Experiential Play.
Rebecca Martland and Alison Featherbe, Minding the Gap
Sue Nichols, Professional Training Solutions
In Jane's 25 years as a childminder for more than 300 children, she has never missed a single day. Every child has found a place with her through word of mouth or recommendation. Jane provides an enabling environment for children to explore a wide range of topics. For the two-year integrated child review, she contacted the local health centre and provided EYFS training for health visitors. Jane has mentored many new childminders, in particular helping those who do not have English as their first language. Her last two Ofsted inspections were both outstanding, with one even describing her setting as 'the most outstanding of the outstanding.'
Sarah has been area manager at the Portico Group for 15 years, building up a comprehensive understanding of each nursery’s targets and plans. All of her work is underpinned by being visible and ‘hands on’ in the nurseries, communicating with children and staff, and keeping up to date with industry-wide initiatives and changes. Sarah spends 50 per cent of her time in the room observing practice. She is currently working on staff wellbeing strategies and last year undertook the National Professional Qualification for Senior Leadership. One nursery owner commented, 'If Sarah was my area manager, I would never let her out of the building!'
After training as an EYT in 2015-16, achieving an outstanding grade, Katie took on her role at newly purchased Greenview Nursery. As joint owner, Katie’s natural ability to lead a team, model effective practice and implement radical changes to support children’s progress, quickly became apparent. Her robust assessment model was disseminated quickly and effectively to staff to take the nursery from requiring improvement to outstanding. Katie has drawn on experience working in key stage 1 to revamp the nursery approach to behaviour management and has introduced parent workshops. She has developed a 15-module staff induction process, consisting of a series of shadowing, observations, quizzes and online training.
Anjali was in charge of LEYF’s House of Commons nursery when the Westminster terror attack led to its lockdown. She kept staff focused, persuaded children they were having a sleepover adventure, reassured parents until 10pm, and opened again next morning at 8am in what one parent said was ‘an incredible show of teamwork and resolve’. Anjali has been managing for over 20 years, and is consistently praised for her confident and kind management style, with many from her ‘creche for staff’ going on to senior positions in LEYF. She has a creative approach to play-led education too.
Highly commended: Joan Jobe, Kings Park Nursery, Portico Nursery Group
Karen has supported children, staff and parents through recent setbacks, including a staff member’s death and her own health problems, without her positive attitude and determination ever being affected and with her door always open. She provides individual coaching and leadership for each staff member, designing and delivering training sessions herself. She leads meetings for children with additional needs, chairs safeguarding meetings and put in extra hours to sort out problems with a new assessment programme. She also creates tailored communications for parents, some of whom have dyslexia.
Highly commended: Joan Jobe, Kings Park Nursery, Portico Nursery Group
Janet has created a ‘home from home in the heart of the community’ since she opened Holmsdale Manor in 1986. In the three decades she has been in charge, Janet has been a hands-on manager and the driving force behind the nursery ethos, which focuses on outdoor learning, purposeful physical play and reducing, re-using and recycling, as well as engaging with the local and wider community. Nursery parents say that at Holmsdale, 'it is very clear that there is an attitude that “only the best will do” and, as parents, that means more than words can describe!'
Highly commended: Elaine Mercer, St Albans Pre-School
One judge’s view - ‘Wonderful practice, clear links to principles and stands out with its vision of pedagogy’. Merseyside’s only outdoor nursery and forest school combines the physical and educational benefits of learning in the outside with a focus on maintaining nurturing relationships between children, staff and parents. The nursery employs a wellbeing co-ordinator to support the emotional needs of the children, in particular those who struggle with separation, looked-after children and those with SEN. A third of the children have SEN, and the nursery has looked closely at how to support them using the outdoor environment. The setting also runs parent and toddler sessions for the community, and forest school sessions for schools across the city.
Highly commended: Little Marlow Pre-School, Marlow
Our award-winning nursery group launched in 2003 ‘with a clear intention to be a disruptor’. Kids Allowed now has six settings offering more than 1,600 childcare places and employing 365 staff, with turnover heading for £12m. The group has developed its own pedagogy, with the aim of developing children’s innate abilities in creativity, resilience and critical thinking. Local schools often say, ‘you can tell a Kids Allowed child’. Chief executive Jennie Johnson was awarded an MBE for services to apprenticeships in June 2016. She attends every induction, gives out her email and mobile number to every new staff member, and encourages them ‘to challenge the nonsense if they think there are things we could do better’.
Highly commended: The Cheshire Day Nursery Group
Dukes and Duchesses Nursery and Forest School, Liverpool
Little Forest Folk, London