Pupils at independent schools are certainly getting younger – more and more two- and three-year-olds are now toddling through the school gates to hang up their coats in the nursery class or kindergarten. Some schools even accept babes in arms. But how do you know if adding a pre-school will be a worthwhile investment? MTM’s Managing Director James Leggett takes you through the first steps towards opening a nursery.
There are currently just under four million children aged from three months to four years in the UK and, although some families are able to look after their children at home until it’s time for big school, the vast majority will attend a pre-school or nursery at some time in their little lives.
This is due in part to the fact that using a childminder is becoming a much less popular option – the government’s introduction of more rigorous requirements for qualifications, on-going training and the structure of daily activities, as well as greater regulation of childminders means that many have given up on the profession.
So, around a fifth of parents choose a day nursery for their children, particularly if both are working. Usually these cater for boys and girls from three months to five years old and are designed for maximum family convenience. Most are open from 7am to 7pm (I know of one that operates 24 hours a day) and many are located close to a large employer’s premises or a railway station for easy of drop-off and collection.
Increasingly we are seeing nurseries providing extra on-site facilities for parents, such as a café or a gym, and even office space for busy parents’ hot-desking.
School nursery classes
With such a demand for pre-schooler care, it’s no surprise that many independent schools have introduced their own on-site nurseries or kindergartens to provide a service for families who are either intending for their child to continue through the school, or for those who expect their child to start in a reception class elsewhere.
A very small number of schools insist that parents pledge that their nursery-aged pupil will stay at the school until the age of 11, 13 or even 18. Others don’t go that far, but of course, if the nursery serves as a showcase for the school – with the little ones benefiting from specialist lessons and activities (such as learning French or drama from specialist teachers) and making use of the school’s facilities (an outdoor classroom or swimming pool, perhaps) – then all to the good.
Most independent schools offer a core nursery day of 8.30am to 3.30pm, during term-time only, but to meet the needs of parents who are holding down full-time jobs, many also offer wraparound care in the form of breakfast clubs (usually from around 7am) and evening sessions (to around 6.30 or 7pm), and sometimes several weeks of holiday clubs during the Easter and summer breaks.
Independent schools considering adding nursery provision to their offer need to be very sure that they are prepared to make the required investment and that there is a clear return in terms of income, increased recruitment to the school, or ideally both
Benefits for schools
School nurseries are certainly a serious undertaking and are governed by a host of rules and regulations, covering pretty much every aspect of the environment and the provision, including the amount of cubic space to be provided per child, the child:adult ratio and the number of toilets, not to mention delivery of the EYFS curriculum.
With so much to take into account, independent schools considering adding nursery provision to their offer need to be very sure that they are prepared to make the required investment and that there will be a clear return in terms of income, increased recruitment to the school, or ideally both.
Nursery Feasibility Studies
In recent years we at MTM have received a steady stream of requests for MTM Feasibility Studies for nurseries from schools looking to add a nursery to the existing education offer, either as an additional class or as a standalone provision on the school campus or elsewhere, and also from nursery groups considering where to open new sites.
To provide our clients with the information they need to make the right decisions on opening a nursery, MTM carries out:
- A demand and supply analysis: How many 0-4 year-olds live in the catchment (usually within a journey time of under 10 minutes)? How will that change over five to 10 years, compared to the number of available places?
- Mystery shop competitor research: What do existing nurseries in the area offer in terms of the environment, outdoor space, activities, the structure of the nursery day, food, inclusion of nappies, the age of the practitioners (more mature, experienced staff are often preferred by nurseries and parents, as there tends to be less regular staff turnover)?
MTM’s experienced researchers analyse the findings and provide a commentary as well as recommendations of next steps, which are discussed at an in-person or virtual presentation. We then work with our client to consider the type of provision the potential market of parents of nursery-aged children would expect, and how it would best operate to fulfil the provider’s economic and educational aims.
Opening a new nursery can provide a high- quality, safe and structured environment for little ones to develop, learn and grow – and to take their first steps towards a happy school career.
To find out more about MTM Feasibility Studies and discuss how they can inform your school’s future development, please get in touch with our friendly team.