Though the financial situation has not been easy, most nursery chains seemed to have coped remarkably well. The majority of our Top 20 groups have increased the number of places they offer, some organically, as well as a couple of major acquisitions - Bright Horizons Family Solutions buying Teddies and Just Learning snapping up Nunu.
On page 4, we look at how one nursery chain can be assimilated into another as smoothly as possible, talking to senior managers of Busy Bees, Bright Horizons and Complete Childcare. And on page 6, you'll find our profile of Casterbridge Nurseries, a group which has expanded to 26 settings over the past five years, both launching and acquiring nurseries.
Innovative approaches to marketing have come to the fore as the chains strive to maximise occupancy. Radio campaigns and e-marketing are among the tactics being used, as our feature on page 16 shows.
It's always fascinating to see who's where in our Top 20 table, with the chains ranked by size. But ultimately, it's quality that matters most, and this year we have introduced a new table (see page 20) showing how the nursery groups have fared in their Ofsted inspections. Of the inspection reports available, you can find out what percentage of outstanding, good, satisfactory and inadequate grades each chain has been awarded.
Given the vagaries of the inspection system, it's not a perfect tool, of course, but it paints an interesting and thought-provoking picture of nursery provision which is doing reasonably well, but must keep trying to do better.