At the Children 1st @ River View Nursery in Leicester children are outgoing, communicative and, as the Ofsted inspector observed, 'clearly very relaxed within the setting'.
The nursery is part of the 13-strong chain, Children 1st @ Breedon House, which acquired the site from another provider in 2005. Since then, it has expanded its registration to 96 children, and the group's experience of operating in city centres has been key to its ongoing success.
Children are placed in small family-like groups so they can build relationships with staff and each other, and lead their own activities. The small group approach promotes children's ability to be adventurous by giving them a secure base from which to explore.
Managing director Jacqui Mason says, 'The inspector noted how we use our base rooms but avoid having specified rooms as such, which limit children to certain activities during the day. We have a free-flow approach and have organised our physical environment to enable this. There is a lot of movement going on and there is a lot of choice.'
Ofsted identified the calibre of the nursery staff as one of its greatest strengths. A total of 24 staff were present on the day of the inspection and everyone was questioned by the inspector.
'She was very thorough in looking at our recruitment procedures,' says director Cathy Griffin. 'We evidenced the process from our advertisement, to the recruitment, induction, probation and final confirmation, to the appointment. The detail was there to highlight our approach to employing committed and passionate staff.'
The company works closely with local schools to identify pupils aged between 14 and 16 who have the potential to become part of the team. 'Often, our assessment of someone will start two years prior to taking them on,' says Ms Mason. 'There is no set criteria. If an individual has a warm disposition and is willing to learn, we will want to train them.'
The nursery is well set up to offer in-house training. The group is a CACHE accredited training centre, and since the launch of the EYFS all staff members have received extensive training.
The inspector particularly noted the effectiveness of its training on the key person under the EYFS. Manager Carol Eccleston emphasises the importance of its documentary evidence in this vital area. She says, 'The inspector looked at key persons' diaries outlining children's day-to-day life at the nursery and also at the development files which contained documents such as the transition letters when children moved to new areas of the nursery. These also included evidence of how in some cases, we were able to work with other formal childcarers as well as parents. For example, childminders have come into the nursery to see what children in their care are experiencing.'
Ms Mason says the nursery has worked with some challenging issues in child protection and staff are trained in the Common Assessment Framework. 'We were able to demonstrate that we are carrying out joined-up working, whether it was through links with local safeguarding teams, local schools or NHS practitioners.'
The inspection report praised the way in which exercise and a healthy lifestyle are promoted. Capital grant funding helped Children 1st @ River View to re-equip its outdoors, which now has a large tepee, cycle tracks, climbing frame and sand pit. The baby area has its own oudoor space. Meals are freshly prepared on the premises and dining areas are arranged to ensure that meals are a social occasion.
'Our chef is absolutely integral to the team,' says Ms Mason. 'We have a special dietary needs policy, and a lot of thought goes into preparing meals and snacks that are fresh and healthy.'
She adds, 'The inspector scrutinised all our health and safety procedures.We were highly commended in this area, getting a lot of praise for the way we made mealtimes a relaxed and enjoyable occasion, and the quality of food.'
Stella Buckham, deputy manager/early years practitioner, says:
'We have a lot of children here who have English as an Additional Language and this is reflected in our multi-cultural staff. We currently have two Polish practitioners undergoing training, one of whom can read Romanian, and this is proving useful as we have increasing numbers of Polish and Romanian children in the nursery. We also have a lot of children whose first languages are Punjabi, Hindi and Gujarati.
'Working in partnership with parents around language is vital. We talk to them about how we can mutually support a child to develop their language skills both at home and in nursery.
'The inspector was impressed with how well resourced we are to support language development and how well trained staff are in this area. Our resources include cards which provide visual references, dual language books, posters and a range of other props which are a springboard for activities. We also have books and resources for parents. Children are surrounded by signs and notices throughout the nursery that support them in their understanding of English and the wider environment.
'We have lots of celebrations here for birthdays and festivals. In fact, at the moment we are just planning a party for two staff who have been in childcare for 20 years and 30 years respectively!'
- Children 1st @ River View Nursery currently has 113 children on roll, aged from two months to five years. The nursery provides full day and sessional care.
- A total of 20 staff are employed. Manager Carol Eccleston has a degree in Early Years Childcare and Education and is currently working towards an MA. Stella Buckham, deputy manager/early years practitioner, is studying for a foundation degree. A total of 13 staff are qualified to Level 3, while other staff members are working towards this.
- Children come from a wide catchment area around Leicester. Many parents are students or are employed by the local hospitals. The nursery supports a number of children with English as an Additional Language and children with special educational needs.
- The nursery has achieved the Investors in People award and the NDNA's Quality Counts.