A highly regarded nursery with unusually well qualified staff, this is a Children's Oasis in more than name. WhichSchoolAdvisor.com inspected the Umm Suqeim nursery and very much liked what it found.
28th September 2017, at 8.20am
We visited on a busy September morning to find out more.
We begin by meeting with Caitrionia, Head Teacher of Children’s Oasis. Caitriona is Irish, and has 16 years Early Years teaching and management experience from Ireland, London and Dubai. Originally qualified as a Montessori teacher, Caitriona is currently studying for her Cache Level 5 Early Years Leadership Diploma with the well regarded EYES education group.
Caitriona began by introducing us to the ethos and approach of Children’s Oasis. Key facets of everyday life here are encouraging independence, communication and confidence in children. Teachers are not given set topics to follow but are empowered to follow the interests of the children in their class and to set topics which will inspire and create ‘self-activated’ learning. Sensory, messy and active play are daily experiences for children of all ages. Each class teacher sends a weekly individual newsletter to parents describing what the children have been up to.
Physical development is supported in many ways at this well-equipped nursery. Outside there is a large natural play area (with a sweet little hill and bridge – great for role play and imaginary play), a huge bikes and trikes area, a well thought out mud kitchen, a water play area, a digging and planting area, a construction zone and a slide and climbing area. Some of these areas are open to allow free flow and some gated to allow teachers to separate the younger and older children.
The very youngest classes have small specific outdoor areas which area gated for safety. Natural materials are encouraged and used wherever possible. The garden is lush well stocked with beautiful plants.
Inside there is a large gym/soft play room with a climbing wall. In addition, there is a regular programme of Music and Movement as well as a visiting football teacher (at no extra charge).
Languages are at the forefront of the curriculum here. We visit the Spanish immersion class, which was opened a few years ago at the request of a Spanish parents group. Run by two Spanish speaking, Cache* qualified teachers, and available to children from 18 months to 4 years old, the EYFS curriculum is delivered entirely in Spanish. On the day we visited we were greeted with a warm ‘hola!’ and saw children busy with messy play, singing and painting.
[*Cache qualifications are qualifications awarded by the Council for Awards in Care, Health and Education - the UK's leading provider of vocational qualifications for those working in the care and education sectors. Cache qualifications are divided into five different levels, ranging from Level 1 (entry level) to Level 5 (for experienced professionals).]
For the remaining children there is a varied language programme. Parents can choose from Arabic, Spanish, French and Dutch. These lessons are also fully immersed and might see children working in any of the EYFS curriculum areas whilst absorbing their new language.
As we toured the nursery we talked to Caitriona about her staff. She is clearly proud of her team and speaks warmly of them all. Impressively, all classes are staffed with two Cache level 3 qualified teachers, plus a qualified teaching assistant.
On the morning we visited Caitriona had just held an awards ceremony for all the classroom assistants who had completed their Cache Level 1 certificate.
This is the first time our reviewers had encountered a nursery with such emphasis on staff qualifications at all levels. We commend Children’s Oasis for an approach which can surely only improve the experience of all the children in their care.
To cover staff absences, Caitriona has a bank of previous Children’s Oasis teachers who are used for supply.
The majority of teachers are employed on a full time basis, working until 5pm each day. The nursery has a ‘no work taken home’ policy. Caitriona tells us this approach not only support the work/life balance of their busy teachers, but also ensures data security and privacy for children and families.
Most teachers are recruited from the UK, utilising some strong relationships the team has with UK training providers and nursery inspectors. There is a very low staff turnover rate.
Staff to child ratios are very good here – being:
• Baby room – 3 months to approximately 14-15 months – 1:3
• Turning 2s – 1:5 (max – currently 1:4)
• Turning 3s – 1:7
• Turning 4s – 1:9
This focus on well qualified staff allows an inclusive approach to children with special needs. Teachers are highly trained in the EYFS and use it to assess and benchmark the progress of children. When an additional need is identified, staff work with parents and professionals to ensure there is a unified approach between home and nursery.
One of most interesting features of Children’s Oasis is how the day is structured. Most children attend until 2pm (taking advantage of the very healthy lunch provision – see below), but options are available for morning only, afternoon only or full day provision, making Children’s Oasis a very workable option for working parents.
Unusually, the latter part of the day is staffed in just the same way as the morning, with a full and active programme and the same child:qualified teacher ratios throughout the day. The nursery is open for 51 weeks of the year.
Food is provided by local catering firm Pinch Gourmet. A typical lunch might be cauliflower macaroni cheese with mince beef or vegetarian lasagne. Desserts are usually fruits or something like a low sugar ice cream. Healthy eating is interwoven into the curriculum wherever possible.
We were able to chat to Sophia, a Mum of two children at the nursery. She tells us that she chose Children’s Oasis based upon reputation and longevity. When she first visited she was impressed by the cleaniness and sense of order. Sophia has noticed that the teachers all appear to be very happy at the nursery and feels that this contributes to the strong family feel and high quality provision. Sophia feels that one small improvement might be the forming of a parents association or group.
On our visit we also met with Charlotte Borghesi, the new owner and Director of Children’s Oasis. As well as busy professional lives (Charlotte was latterly the GM of Mars Middle East), Charlotte and her husband share seven children from age one to teenagers. Her passion for education, especially Early Years education, is evident as is her utter commitment to this new venture.
Charlotte’s three youngest children attend Children’s Oasis and when news of the imminent closure broke, Charlotte was frustrated and unhappy at the prospect of find another nursery of similar quality. As a business person, Charlotte was intrigued by the prospect of entering the education industry and approached incumbent owners to discuss a possible purchase of it. Some negotiation and persuasion was required (the previous owners had planned to simply close the nursery), but within weeks the deal was struck and Charlotte had achieved a long held goal of owning a school.
Charlotte is clearly open to learning about Early Years, and will be undertaking the Cache 3 Early Years diploma in order that she better understand the role of her staff. She is incredibly enthusiastic about the quality of her team and the organisation she now heads – citing especially the many years of experience her team have between them (more than 200 years!) and that the nursery holds the quality assurance mark ISO 9001. The ISO certification is something which Charlotte feels underscores a constant underlying commitment to quality procedures.
Overall, this is a quite spectacular nursery with a great team and management who are committed to continuous improvement. Facilities are superb and the staff we met enthused about their work life. Relationships between staff and children appeared relaxed and unhurried and all the children we encountered were happily engaged.
We are excited to see what the future holds for Charlotte, Caitriona and the team.
What we loved
The staff – well trained, well qualified and well looked after
The commitment towards quality
What could be improved
We would love to see more natural resources in the classrooms
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