Nursery World Awards 2020 - Nursery Group of the Year

Friday, February 5, 2021

Little Barn Owls Farm and Forest School, Horsham

The unique environments, enquiry-based learning pedagogy, extensively trained educators and artists, and well-curated outdoor learning opportunities at Little Barn Owls combine to ensure consistency of practice and pedagogy across a multi-site operation.

Since opening in 2010 and winning the Nursery World Nursery of the Year Award in 2015-16, the group has become the largest provider for families in Horsham, West Sussex, caring for more than 700 families across three settings and employing 85 staff.

Staff work on short- and long-term collaborative projects with children, which usually stem from a child’s enquiry and can last up to a year. The team listens to children’s ideas, offers resources, reflects and makes proposals back to children to help them extend their research through purposeful play and discover more of the world around them.

One long-term project was even turned into a documentary and screened at a local cinema for children, parents and local teachers.

The beautiful environments and mindful aesthetics of the settings reflect the group’s values and act as a ‘third teacher’. Resources are non-prescribed and spaces are carefully curated to provoke children’s enquiry, creativity and deep thinking.

With sizeable outdoor space – including two farm schools and 11-acre private off-site woodland for daily Forest School sessions – the group values outside learning opportunities.

Every new staff member is given a ‘CPD tracker’ on their first day to assist with their professional development. This starts with a six-week induction, covering all essential safeguarding, policies and procedures, as well as ‘expected behaviours’ which are practised and embedded during this initial period, ensuring families receive a ‘five star service’ from all staff at all times.

Staff performance is monitored through a ‘talent review’ system, which is bespoke to each role and reviewed every three months. In addition, the group holds three CPD days a year for key training, often led by external speakers. Alongside this, Little Barn Owls runs a thriving training school for professionals and has published three books and a DVD about its work.

Despite the recruitment and retention crisis facing much of the sector, 80 per cent of Little Barn Owls’ core leadership and management team has been developed within the company, with staff retention high and turnover consistently low.

The group’s partnership with parents is enhanced by several events held throughout a year, such as quizzes, fun days, picnics and Christmas sing-alongs.

In September, the company opened its first school, Atelier 21, for children aged between four and 14, while the nursery group has plans for expansion in 2021 and beyond, including relocating and expanding its largest setting in 2021.


London Early Years Foundation (LEYF)

LEYF is one of London’s largest charitable social enterprises, operating 39 nurseries in some of London’s most disadvantaged areas. Using a cross-subsidy model, all profits are reinvested back into the business to fund places for disadvantaged children, making LEYF the largest provider of the free two-year-old offer in London and subsidising up to 35 per cent of places.

LEYF also champions diversity across its staff team, with 8.2 per cent of nursery teachers men compared to the national average of three per cent, while 52 per cent of staff and 50 per cent of nursery managers are black.

Core values, principles and policies are underpinned by the unique LEYF social pedagogy.


Child’s Play Private Nursery

Fennies Nurseries

N Family Club

The Village Nursery Group


Open to UK nursery groups with three or more settings


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