Bright Horizons Blue Berries nursery in Kent is housed in a listed Georgian building which has been given a substantial extension to provide care and education for up to 148 children.
As one of the 23 per cent of nurseries in the Bright Horizons Family Solutions group currently rated Outstanding, it provides a benchmark for the group as a whole. Regional manager Virginia Middleton says, 'The vision is for all nurseries to achieve this, although we view inspection success not as an end goal but as a starting point for providing the highest quality care and education for the early years.'
The company engages in continuous monitoring and self-reflective practice in order to identify and action areas for improvement. Early years quality improvement managers work collaboratively with regional managers to create an Improvement Plan for each nursery, and considerable emphasis is placed on enabling nurseries to sustain improved practice and to continuously improve.
The site is certainly impressive, tastefully combining the character of the original building with the minimalist style of the new extension. Manager Karen Liddell describes its various rooms as being 'nurseries within a nursery'. The generous space of the premises is such that it allows for under-twos to be sleeping peacefully downstairs, while upstairs in the twos-to-threes and pre-school, all is hustle and bustle.
When the inspector visited the nursery last August, she spent time alone in these rooms observing children and staff. 'When I spoke to her in the afternoon, she praised the relationship that the children enjoyed with the staff,' says Ms Liddell. 'She said that she could see that staff effectively supported their key children and took their lead, helping them to become independent.'
Co-ordinating such a large team to be ready for an inspection is a carefully thought-out process supported by the group as a whole, and Blue Berries benefited from sharing the inspection experiences of other sites.
On the day of its inspection last August, staff confidently and actively engaged the inspector in conversation, rather than hanging back and waiting to be asked questions. 'They took time to talk to the inspector and it was all quite relaxed,' says Ms Liddell. 'Once the initial shock of the inspector's arrival was over, the day progressed in a typical way, allowing her to experience how the staff worked and how the children enjoyed their time. Afterwards, staff said they hadn't found it as nerve-wracking as they had expected.'
Ms Liddell wanted to highlight how staff maximised the benefits of the building. 'We are very lucky with our nursery building; it is light and spacious, with a large outdoor area which we are currently developing. We have a lot of areas to display projects such as healthy eating and wildlife. When the inspector came, the children in pre-school were waiting for a chrysalis to hatch and this was much talked about.
'We also open our building up to parent groups and wider community events like our summer fair. We hold regular "lunch and learn" sessions with parents and children, where parents book a meeting room and come in to get involved with a taste of their children's nursery activities, and these are often recorded with photographs in laminated books.'
Mealtimes are a highpoint at Blue Berries. Older children eat in their rooms with staff in a style that is very much home-from-home. Meals are freshly prepared on the premises and are based on the Caroline Walker Trust guidelines. Parents are sent menus and sign them off, and the nursery also caters for children who have severe food allergies.
When it came to the Self Evaluation Form, Karen Liddell says an up-to-date hard copy was available for the inspector. 'It was a big file which contained contributions from all of the staff. Every area of our practice was broken down and there was the evidence there to support it. There were also detailed action plans and the inspector was able to see how we had followed these up.'
Virginia Middleton adds, 'It is all in the preparation. You can be an excellent nursery, but you won't score if you don't have the evidence to back it up.'
Sandra Smith, nursery nurse
Ms Smith works in the pre-school room and has been with Blue Berries for five years.
She says, 'We have a good routine to our day that both staff and children enjoy. All the staff bring very different qualities to bear and are of mixed ages and qualifications.
'We are all aware of the fact that, however well we feel we observe the children, there is always room for improvement, and we welcome the fresh ideas that we can gain from training. I recently got a lot out of a course on schemas.
'On the day of the inspection, we were all very keen to tell the inspector about our work and show her evidence of the activities we had done with the children. We approached it in the way we would with parents, and just tried to be conversational and approachable. The children seemed to enjoy the inspection and were also not afraid to ask the visitor questions. It was apparent how confident and sociable they were.'
- Bright Horizons Family Solutions (including Teddies) is currently the second-largest nursery group operating in the UK and Ireland, with 136 settings. Across its businesses, including the United States and Canada, it manages more than 600 centres.
- Blue Berries has 42 in its team, of which 31 are qualified to Level 3 or above. Three of its room leaders have degrees in early years and two of its staff are planning to embark on EYPS next year.
- Bright Horizons operates its own in-house CPD programme and encourages sites to work collaboratively to pool knowledge and expertise. Staff can develop their careers by moving between sites.
- For the fifth successive year, Bright Horizons was listed as one of the Top 50 Best Workplaces UK 2010 by Great Place to Work Institute and The Financial Times.