10 Things to Consider when Choosing a Preschool

Choosing the right preschool for your child is one of the first big challenges to face new parents. As an Early Years Professional I know that there are many important factors that will influence your child’s education and choosing the right pre-school is the first part of that long process. So how can you be sure that you are getting your child’s education off to the best possible start?

Here is a checklist to help you assess your preschool options. You can also print off the checklist to take with you when you visit different preschools.

How many areas do Ofsted rate as outstanding, good, satisfactory or inadequate?

The government sets preschools the challenge of delivering positive outcomes for the children in their care. This framework is called the Early Years Foundation Stage and Ofsted will assess the preschool setting against this framework. The Ofsted report is the most authoritative and independent assessment you can read on the setting. There are 14 areas that they assess which are marked as either outstanding, good, satisfactory or inadequate. You can read a preschool’s Ofsted Inspection Report here: http://www.ofsted.gov.uk/inspection-reports/find-inspection-report

First Impressions

What does the pre-school look and feel like? Do staff look happy in their work? Are they caring and friendly with the children and with parents? Are the children enjoying themselves and interacting with each other in a safe and respectful manner? Is the general upkeep of the building and equipment in good order? Does it look like a safe place and a safe team of staff to entrust with your child? If you take your child with you to look around, how does your child respond to staff and the preschool? How responsive are staff to your child during the visit?  Can you imagine your child in that preschool without you and happy in their play?

Booking a Visit

Is it easy to book a visit? Does the person on the end of the phone ask questions about your requirements and your child’s individual needs?  Do they return your calls?  Is the preschool flexible about when you can visit or are you required to visit at certain times? If popping your head around the door is frowned on, what explanation is given for that?    

Outdoor activities

Children benefit hugely from exploring and learning outdoors in a challenging and safe environment. How does the setting exercise the children’s bodies and minds outdoors and how do they explore? What safety precautions are taken when the children are outdoors? How much of the preschool week is spent outside?  If the outdoor space is limited what do the preschool staff do to ensure that this element of the Early Years Foundation Stage is still fulfilled?

Logistics

Is it convenient and easy to get to and what is it like to park if you need to go by car? Is it a feeder pre-school for a good Primary School? Does the preschool allow a child of your child’s age to attend? Are the opening hours right for you?  Does the preschool offer nursery education grant sessions so that you are able to have the 15 hours of free childcare that you are entitled to in the term after your child’s third birthday?

Equality and Diversity

Does the setting promote equality and diversity regardless of your child’s ability and background?  How do they help children understand and respect that people are different and come from different family backgrounds?  How do staff assess the abilities of children and adapt their care and planning of activities to cater for these vast differences?  Are the children encouraged to be independent in their play choices and are their interests expanded upon with staff support?

Staff and Team Leader

What are the qualifications of the team leader and staff? Have any staff achieved the Early Years Professional Status (the early years equivalent to Qualified Teacher Status)? How experienced are the staff and what training have they received? How many of the staff hold full and up to date Paediatric first aid certificates?  Are there any unqualified staff working in the preschool and if so what roles do they perform?  Does the team have a good grasp of the Early Years Foundation Stage and can they demonstrate how children learn through play? What is the staff turnover like? If there have been several staff changes, is there an explanation for this?

Who owns the Preschool?

Is the preschool run by a committee, a church or is it privately owned? If it’s run by a parent committee are you expected, willing or able to help? If it is privately run, are the needs of the business owner aligned with your child’s care? Are you comfortable with the owners and how they might influence your child’s preschool experience?

Testimonials

Do you have friends or relatives who are ambassadors for the preschool? Can you arrange to visit the preschool at dropping off or picking up time and ask current parents for their views on the preschool? Would they recommend the preschool to a friend or family member? Are there testimonials from parents that you can read at the preschool?  

Partnerships

How do you think you will get on with the preschool staff and preschool Leader? Do they encourage active participation with parents? In what ways will you be able to approach staff if you have questions or concerns? How will they feed back to you on your child’s development? How do they keep parents up-to-date with developments and news at the preschool? What sort of partnerships do they have with other professionals such as the local primary school, health professionals and other support agencies?

by Zoë Hendy BSc(Hons), PG Dip Early Years, EYPS