Laura Henry Interview: How to Choose a Nursery

Choosing a nursery that is right for your child is a daunting experience for many parents. With so much choice here in Dubai, and new nurseries opening all the time, how can parents make good decisions for their child’s all important early education?
Laura Henry Interview: How to Choose a Nursery
By Jenny Mollon
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In many other countries, notably the UK and in most of continental Europe, parents have government inspection reports to challenge or confirm their feelings on each nursery they visit.  In the UAE, the sector is closely monitored by both the Ministry of Education and the KHDA, but at present their findings are not made public. 

WhichSchoolAdvisor.com itself provides part of a solution for this with increasingly detailed nursery reviews but we have not visited every nursery yet - and that will take (considerable) time! With that in mind we sat down with Laura Henry, ex UK OFSTED Inspector, and an International Award Winning Early Years Trainer and Consultant, to ask what tools are available to parents so you are armed to make the right choice for your own, unique, child.

 

Laura's Expertise


WhichSchoolAdvisor.com's Jenny Mollon (left) meets former OFSTED inspector and Early Years expert Laura Henry.

Laura Henry is very well known in the Early Years industry.  Not only is she incredibly knowledgeable, with an impeccable CV and a deep understanding of child development, she is a mother of two boys and was a working parent throughout their childhood. 

She understands and has great empathy for working and stay at home parents alike.

Laura is in Dubai to work with Children’s Oasis nursery in Umm Suqeim. Children’s Oasis have been collaborating with Laura for ten years, and during this visit Laura conducted a quality inspection, feeding back successes and areas for improvement for and to the staff and management to work on.  On our last visit to Children’s Oasis we felt that their implementation of the English EYFS curriculum at the nursery was outstanding and we were glad to hear that Laura agreed with our findings.

 

Defining Quality

If you are going to look for a high quality nursery, the most obvious place to start is, before you go anywhere, to understand what that means in practice. For Laura ‘quality’ in Early Years Education stresses the importance of child-centred learning. She says:

‘A truly great nursery puts the child at the centre of every aspect of their operation.  The starting point of everything must be the child. 

On top of that, relationships are vital, with positive relationships being a key element of the EYFS.  However, I prefer to refer to them as personal relationships, as the warmth and quality of attachments is a vital starting point for children’s adjustment into nursery life.  Remember that a child’s emotional environment is just as important – if not more so – as their physical environment’. 

Laura advises parents to visit lots of nurseries to really inform themselves of what it available and to define what their own ‘non-negotiable values’ are in a nursery. 

"If you think you like a nursery, visit two or even three times, and take a trusted second pair of eyes if you can.  A grandparent is ideal. 

"People don’t buy houses or cars without checking them at least this many times, so why would you only visit a nursery once before sending your precious child there?

Don’t be swayed by other parents telling you that their child’s nursery is the ‘Best Nursery’ – only you know what the best nursery for your own, very specific, very individual child will look like’.

 

Focus on the Pre-School class

Laura advises parents to really focus on the ‘last class’ or oldest group of children – this is in effect a demonstration of the eventual outcome of your child spending time at that nursery.  Look for happy and engaged children who are allowed to learn in their own unique way.

For this age group, Laura has seen many nurseries now giving homework to children.  She believes that homework is unnecessary, and possibly even harmful for children under 7.  That said, for children age around 3-4, taking a library book home is a nice way to share a little of nursery life at home – any more than that and parents should really be questioning the value of the task.

 

Take notes – questions to ask

So what are the key elements for Early Years success and how can a parent judge this without an expert OFSTED inspector to hand? Laura advises asking doing your own homework, learning about the ages and stages of child development (the EYFS Development Matters document being a great starting point) then probing the following issues:

  • Staff turnover – ask for annual staff turnover and assess an average between all the settings you visit. For better or worse, what stands out and why?
  • Staff qualifications. Laura advises that you ‘really unpick’ this.  Staff are ‘qualified’ – but what does this mean?  Are they qualified to deliver the specific curriculum of the nursery?  What qualifications do the management team hold?  Are staff working towards the next level of qualification?  What is the distribution of qualified staff to each classroom?
  • Ratio should be defined as child: appropriately qualified staff not simply adults in the room.  Be specific about this.  Check the requirements of the curriculum and make sure that what the nursery is offering matches up
  • Ask about ongoing professional development. Every nursery should offer this but what impact has it made?  What improvements has the setting seen in the last year, and what are planned for the coming 12 months?
  • Ask everyone you meet in the nursery about their values – are they in sync with you and with one another?
  • Be critical about the facilities. They may be expensive and snazzy, but how will they benefit your child as an individual?
  • Put a question to a member of staff in each classroom – do their answers and their values match with the management? How to they react to your questions – with confidence or…?
  • Ask how teaching and learning is evaluated – how do they benchmark progress for each child? How will they keep you informed about your own child’s progress?

Lastly, Laura gives the age old advice of trust your gut - and not just at the point of choosing a nursery. 

Keep on monitoring your child’s happiness and progress and do not be afraid to move them as, Laura believes, you will do more harm by keeping a child in an unsuitable setting than by making the transition to a new one. 

We really hope that this advice, coupled with our in depth nursery reviews, equips parents to make a great choice of nursery for their child. Early years are a crucial stage of development and work we put in at this stage for our children will pay very real dividends for them later on as they progress through their educational career.

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