High quality childcare increasingly driven by large nursery groups

Nursery chains are continuing to expand and bring ‘new thinking’ into practice according to Ofsted’s latest providers’ survey.

Busy Bees is the largest operator in the UK with 354 settings.
Busy Bees is the largest operator in the UK with 354 settings.

Ofsted’s third annual report highlights a positive picture across education sectors, with 86 per cent of schools and 96 per cent of early years providers achieving good or outstanding grades.

Its latest data suggests that nurseries that are part of large groups are more likely to be rated outstanding, which highlights how strong practice can be shared effectively across the whole chain.

The watchdog said that there may be benefits from a different inspection model that would allow individual inspections of nurseries to be brought together and features analysed across the whole chain.

Asked by EYE’s sister publication, Nursery World,as to whether this signalled a move away from inspecting all individual nurseries within a group, an Ofsted spokesperson said it had no plans to stop inspecting individual nurseries that are a part of larger chains, and that the report discussed how Ofsted's inspection and regulatory work must keep pace with the evolving early years landscape.

Market consolidates around big players
Launching the report last week, Ofsted’s chief inspector, Amanda Spielman said:
‘The early years market has changed quite a bit in recent years. The overall number of childcare places has increased. But within that, nursery chains have expanded, while the number of childminders has continued to fall.

‘Our recent survey of childminders leaving the job shows that there are many reasons for giving up – the most cited being cost, bureaucracy and changing personal circumstances, in that order.

'Sustainable, high-quality childcare is crucial for many families – and standards are high. The vast majority of nurseries and childminders are rated good or outstanding, and that isn’t surprising, since we take prompt action to close down those that really aren’t good enough. Also, parents are extremely reluctant to send their child to a nursery or childminder that is less than good. That means poor providers generally don’t last long in the market. They either improve swiftly, close or – in the case of nurseries – get taken over by bigger organisations.

'And we are seeing more and more nurseries acquired or opened by large chains. Several operate nationally and some internationally – in China and North America, as well as across Europe.

'These larger organisations can bring new thinking and practice back into their English nurseries. One large chain told us that discovering how early Chinese children start learning to use chopsticks has lifted their own expectations here about young children’s ability to learn to use a knife and fork.'

She added: 'And now that nearly all children are in formal childcare before they start school, we have an opportunity to make sure that all children really are ready for school. Our EIF inspections so far do show that nurseries and childminders are taking the curriculum and what children are learning seriously.'

Read the report here

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