On a bright spring day, not far from the seafront in Hove, East Sussex, Young Friends Nursery is a hub of activity. Out in the garden, children and staff are enjoying the first real sunshine of the year, while indoors nursery chef Gillian Lloyd-Evans is busy preparing lunch. Occupying a central position, the kitchen is clearly the heart of the nursery.
According to Young Friends' website, its strengths include 'providing the flexibility of a childminder with the resources and experience of a high-quality nursery, and the environment of a free-flow family house and garden'. Its homeliness and attention to individual needs were certainly factors which helped it achieve Outstanding in its first-ever Ofsted inspection.
A satisfied customer, Amanda Atkins, is willing to back this up on the day of my visit. 'Individual children's routines are catered for, with my daughter Sophie having her lunch later than the other children. At the same time she benefits from wonderful facilities.'
The inspection took place on a sunny day last July when, according to proprietor Louise Lloyd-Evans, the inspector was able to go out in the garden, observe the children and practitioners, and lay all the paperwork out on a long table under the trees.
'We knew the inspection was due to happen and we were quite nervous about it, but in a positive way,' says Ms Lloyd-Evans, who has experience as a childminder and a nursery manager. 'It was a wonderful surprise to receive an Outstanding because we did not automatically expect it. The inspector liked the way the different age groups mixed together and the way the older children were helping the younger ones with their snacks. It was apparent how the children were able to access all areas of learning under the EYFS by simply being out in the garden and enjoying what it has to offer. We were able to clearly evidence how individual children's learning developed as part of a cycle.'
The nursery occupies the downstairs of a large house Ms Lloyd-Evans bought in 2008, and she and her family live upstairs. The garage area has just been transformed into a bright and airy extension that will provide a sleep room for birth-to-twos and a soft floor area for activities, including dance and yoga. The recent building work has also created a new side entrance which has an intercom system.
Parents' involvement in nursery life won recognition from the inspector. 'We have spent a lot of time and effort developing these partnerhips,' says Ms Lloyd-Evans. 'Parents are very involved on an informal and social basis, and in a more structured way as part of consultations.
'We have created Wow Moment scrapbooks for the children that feature lots of photographs and are a record for parents of their child's development. We have also made song books that we are soon to send home so that they can join in with nursery songs and help with their communication, language and literacy.'
To allow parents and families to access all of the many photographs that are taken, Ms Lloyd-Evans has set up Kodak accounts. 'Parents can access the Kodak Gallery and have their own password, enabling them to pass pictures on to family and friends,' she says. 'It also makes life easier for us, in that we do not have to print out additional sets all the time.'
She says another strength identified by Ofsted was the nursery's ability to effectively develop communication, language and literacy. 'All around the nursery there are opportunities to mark-make, write and draw, but it comes down to the skills of staff to really encourage this and develop sustained shared thinking.'
One of the newest arrivals to the baby room is Ms Lloyd-Evans' own daughter Scarlett. 'Being a mother has been a big part of the vision for the nursery,' she says. 'It has spurred me on to create the very best of environments.'
Katie Holmes, deputy manager, says:
'Louise and I have been friends for a long while and we have the same way of thinking. We've been able to put our ideas together and I am trusted to get on with the job of applying them to our everyday practice. We are very much in sync and it is a true partnership.
'The day of the inspection was really very relaxed, with the inspector sitting back and observing what we were doing. She could see the extent to which the children were accessing areas of learning through their own initiated activities and enjoying every moment of their time in the nursery.
'It was noted that many of our activities involve children coming together across the age range. For example, our jungle wall display started with the animal noises the youngest children in the nursery could make, and then the older children added to it by making animal masks out of paper plates. We later took the theme out-of-doors and the children added tissue paper and other materials to it to recreate the natural environment.
'Because we have recently had our extension built, we've got a role-play area currently dedicated to building work with tools and DIY catalogues, which the children love.
'I am currently undertaking the long EYPS pathway and am feeding back what I am learning to my colleagues. Everything I have learned has relevance to all the staff and it is important to share this knowledge and improve how we all work together as a team.'
SNAPSHOT: YOUNG FRIENDS NURSERY
- - Young Friends Nursery opened at the beginning of 2009 and currently provides sessional and full daycare for 12 children from birth to five years. It provides the free entitlement for the over-threes.
- - Owner Louise Lloyd-Evans oversees the running of the nursery and has five other staff members, who are qualified to Level 3 and above. Louise has Early Years Professional Status and her deputy manager Katie Holmes is currently on the long pathway. Louise's mother Gillian is the nursery chef, and her nineyear-old daughter Mia often joins in too.
- - The inspection took place in July 2009. Young Friends achieved Outstanding in all but one category, for which it received Good.
- - An extension has been built to provide a spacious new area for birth to two-year-olds. This has a separate sleep room and free-flow access to the garden.
- - Work is underway to further develop the garden, which has a sensory area, a large climbing frame and two pet rabbits. Some overhanging trees at the back were recently cut down to allow more light to come in over the fruit and vegetable garden.
- - Young Friends has accessed the Graduate Leader Fund, which will continue through 2011.
- - Young Friends has recently changed its registration to 'childcare on domestic premises'. This classifies it as equal to a nursery. In Brighton it is difficult to apply for registrations to transfer a property from domestic to business, as the city has a shortage of residential properties.