According to Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) statistics, 76% of mothers return to work within 12-18 months of their child’s birth. Options for childcare during working hours in the UK commonly are; being looked after by another family member or friend, child-minders, or professional nursery care.
Nursery care is offered by day nurseries, with approximately 15,000 in the UK and roughly two-thirds of children in the UK under 5 years of age attending a day nursery for some part of the working week. Nursery care is typically available for children aged 0-5 years old. However, do check with your local provider as some nurseries will take children from 6 months or some only from 2 years of age. Open hours are usually from 8am-6pm and some offer extended hours for an additional cost or services such as school pick-ups or drop-offs and holiday clubs for older children.
Children can attend on a full-time or a part-time basis. Some nurseries offer nursery care year-round and others only offer term-time contracts so, again, it is worth checking. In the UK, children aged 3 and over are eligible for 15 free hours of nursery care each week starting in the term following their third birthday. Again, it is worth checking with your local provider as not all nurseries offer the free hours and there can be some restrictions around their use. It is vitally important to ensure that the nursery care provider you are considering for your child is Ofsted registered.
Nurseries are required to register with Ofsted to meet the National Standards which relate to their suitability as carers of children, the safety of premises and facilities, insurance and record keeping. In addition, childcare vouchers and help with costs via tax credits can only be used in Ofsted-registered establishments. It is frequently the case that nursery staff will have been -DBS-checked but parents should not automatically assume that all carers have been subject to police checks. Supervisors and Officers in Charge will, but assistant staff may not necessarily be. Their certificate of Registration and Public Liability Insurance should always be on display.
In the UK, 50% of nursery staff in an establishment must have a childcare qualification although in practice at many nurseries this number is likely much higher. There are also strict guidelines governing the ratios of staff to children – 0 to 2 years of age 1 staff to 3 children 2 to 3 years of age 1 staff to 4 children 3-5 years of age 1 staff to 8 children
When selecting a nursery for your child, be guided by your ‘instinct’ when you walk through the door. Consider how flexible will they be to your child’s needs which will really help your child to settle in smoothly. Do you feel as if you will be able to build a relationship with the staff who are likely to become a significant part of your child’s life. How happy do the children look when you visit? Take your time and don’t be afraid to visit several times or ask for a trial session for your child before making your final decision. It’s worth looking to see if the school you wish to send your child to when they reach the age of 4 has a nursery attached to it. If it does, it can help make the transition from nursery to primary school much easier on your child as they will already be in the routine of attending, and many of the children your little one plays with at nursery may go on to become class mates.