Chief judge Wendy Scott says:
All five shortlisted nurseries offer thoughtful, responsive and stimulating care and learning. All have at their heart the welfare of the families they serve, and are committed to work in principled ways within their particular environments. They make the most of opportunities to share their ideas and experience, and work very supportively within their teams of dedicated staff, who are encouraged to develop their qualifications. They are all generous in their relationships with the wider community.
I must thank all the staff, children and parents who shared time with me. It has been inspiring to find so much outstanding practice.
Dandelion Education is a small Forest School in Norfolk founded by two former primary teachers, which is registered for children up to eight. The broad variety of provision offers an inviting range of open-ended activities involving physical and intellectual challenge coupled with strong and sensitive emotional and social support. Every opportunity is taken to promote the children’s confidence and independence of thought as well as action.
Staff offer warm, unhurried and well-informed responses to a wide range of needs and aspirations. They are trained in working through Philosophy for Children, which adds a significant dimension to their approach, enabling considerable depth as well as breadth in their interactions.
The owners have been able to negotiate flexi-schooling within their community; some parents have chosen to keep their child at Dandelions for their reception year, and others, with the agreement of their primary schools, continue at Dandelion for two days a week, thus maintaining an enabling child-centred approach, which is sympathetically shared with feeder schools. Some home-educated children also attend Dandelion for two days each week, and a close dialogue is maintained with parents. One father volunteers at the nursery on a day when his child doesn’t attend.
There are links with students at all levels, who are helped by the explicit scripts for dealing with arguments, which the children also learn to use. The ethos is very respectful, and staff follow children’s interests, giving them freedom to climb, dig, explore, collect, share and create. Their awareness of the foundations of mathematical, scientific and literacy learning is expressed through representation in many ways, including thoughtful discussion. Children are given time and space for wide-ranging experiment, leading to grounded thought, based on their active involvement in their chosen activities and extended through well-judged adult support.
Links with families and community are very close, and the nursery welcomes pupils on work experience through to PGCE and Erasmus students. The plan to open another nursery in a more accessible location will lead to opportunities for more families to share their very effective approach to early education and care.
‘We LOVE seeing his gigantic grin shining through his muddy little face at the end of the day. We only wish there were a Dandelions for grown-ups…we’d be first in line!, says one parent.
Little Forest Folk, London
Staff at Little Forest Folk demonstrate a deep and creative commitment to learning out of doors in all seasons, expressed through inspiring provision for children’s rounded development in five nurseries in urban areas. They are evidently responding to a widely felt need, as they have had to close their waiting lists. Over half of the staff team are men. In addition to the complex work involved in sustaining the ethos of new nurseries and exploring the possibility of setting up a primary school, director Leanna makes time to disseminate her ideas, including doing a TED talk.
Dukes and Duchesses, Liverpool
Staff at Dukes and Duchesses in Liverpool are similarly disseminating excellent practice through their link with the North Liverpool Teaching School Partnership. In addition to sharing their imaginative and enlightened ideas, they are making an invaluable link between the PVI and maintained sectors. Their work with disadvantaged neighbours has developed into continuing relationships that are meaningful on both sides. They have developed access to a Forest School in order to extend the limited access to outdoors on their inner city site. They intend to become a social enterprise.
Little Green Rascals Organic Day Nursery, York
Little Jungle Nursery, London
Open to registered settings offering full daycare for children from 0-5 (private, voluntary or maintained sector)