Tursery schools and classes staffed by teachers and assistants, provide a non-compulsory phase of education suitable for children in the year before they immediately go to primary schools. However, some places may be available for younger children.
Places are allocated to children on the basis of a school's admission criteria, combined with the parent's stated order of preference for the setting they wish their child to attend.
However, statutory, private and voluntary providers participating in the Pre-School Education Programme are required to give priority in their admissions criteria to children from socially disadvantaged circumstances and whose parents receive Income Support or income-based Jobseekers' Allowance).
More information about nursery schools, including how to obtain an application form and when to return it by, is available from the Education Authority (EA) in your region:
Things to check with nursery schools
- The staff ratio (1:13), premises, and level of supervision, which should be constant
- The atmosphere should be calm, happy and well-ordered, with children given plenty of positive reinforcement
- What out-of-school trips they do and how well organised they are
- Toys and equipment - they should be in good condition and accessible
- How open staff are with parents. high child to staff ratios may mean you get limited time with carers, but feedback is essential
Questions to ask nursery schools
- How much continuity of care is there? Even older, more confident pre-schoolers, dislike lots of change and constant new faces to get used to.
- Is there a good mix of creative play, free play and sitting down activities?
- Do they have the opportunity for physical play and outdoor activities?
Day nurseries are usually privately run and provide care for children aged from six weeks to five years old. All day nurseries must be registered and annually inspected by Social Services.
There are strict guidelines on staff/children ratios which must be compiled with:
- for under-twos, one carer to three children
- two to three year olds, one carer to four children
- three to five year olds, one carer to eight children
Day nurseries are usually opened from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm and care is usually provided all year round.
Day nurseries participating in the Pre-School Education Programme will have an allocation of funded places for which children in their final pre-school year can apply.
These places will be available:
- at least two and a half hours per day
- five days per week
- at least 38 weeks during the period September to June
In day nurseries:
- 50 per cent of staff must have a relevant childcare qualification
- children have opportunities to learn and play with friends
- childcare is reliable - if one member of staff is ill, others are available to cover
- some day nurseries offer school pick-ups and out of school care
- eligible for help with costs through childcare element of the Working Tax Credit
- funded places may be available for children in their final pre-school year
- part time places are often available