Pre-School at School vs Nursery – What Is the Difference?

Pre-School at School vs Nursery: What Is the Difference?

Like many parents, your child may already be attending a day nursery or other form of early years provision. When your child reaches pre-school age (3+), your attention may be starting to turn towards local primary schools. At this point, you will likely realise that most primary schools offer a pre-school or nursery provision for young children.

You’ll then have lots of questions about the differences between the nursery or pre-school your child already attends and the provision offered by your local school. Questions such as:

“If I send my child to the school’s nursery, will that guarantee them a primary school place?”

“Can I still use my funding entitlement at a school nursery?”

“Should I send my child to a school nursery or keep them at their current nursery?”

With that in mind, we thought it would be a good idea to explain all of the key differences to help you make an informed decision.

“Would my child have a better learning experience at a school nursery?”

The first, and arguably the most vital, thing to remember is that nursery schools and private nurseries both follow the same curriculum: The Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS).

The EYFS is the statutory framework and standards for care, education, and child development. It’s followed at all nurseries and pre-schools, regardless of whether they are part of a school or privately operated.

The differences between school settings and private nurseries stem from how the EYFS is delivered.

Schools are not bound by the same staff to child ratios. For example, for children aged 3+ years, the ratio in schools is 1:13, whereas, in a private nursery or pre-school, the ratio is 1:8.

Another difference is the varying types of ethos that school nurseries and private nurseries adopt. For instance, our ethos at Tommies Childcare is child-centred and child-led. We believe in following children’s interests and needs through play-based learning. Our staff are trained to engage with children ‘in the moment’ and support their ongoing development by observing their interactions. In contrast, pre-schools and nurseries attached to schools typically follow topic-led teaching that, for young children, in particular, is a very formal approach. These topics may not be of interest to your child. You’ll know from your own experience as a parent that, if your child is not interested in an activity, they are less likely to engage and develop.

“If I send my child to a school’s nursery, would that guarantee them a primary school place?”

A common misconception is that children who attend a nursery attached to a primary school will gain automatic entry when their child starts in Reception. The Local Authority makes decisions about which school your child can attend, and the nursery or pre-school which your child currently attends does not weight their decision.

Of course, the Local Authority will consider your preferred choice of school when you submit your application. However, we regularly hear of cases where parents have moved their child out of their current nursery to a pre-school linked to a school (under pressure from the school) to discover later that it does not guarantee them a Reception place.

We advise parents to carefully consider whether they are moving their child to a school nursery for the right reasons.

“Can I still use my funding entitlement at a school nursery?”

Both private nurseries and school nurseries receive funding for up to 15-30 hours per week for children aged 2, 3 and 4-year-olds.

However, how each entity offers the funding is quite different. For example, schools often provide short morning or afternoon sessions only, usually 2.5 hours each. This is because it is compatible with school opening hours (9.00 am – 3.00 pm). So, if you work full-time, you may need to find childcare for the lunch hour or at the end of the school day. You’ll also need to consider your childcare requirements during term breaks and holidays.

Private nurseries have more flexibility when it comes to offering you funding. For example, at Tommies Childcare nurseries, parents can combine their funding entitlement with paid places. You can then claim your funding whilst enabling your child to attend longer days (7.30 am – 6.00 pm) and continue attending during the term breaks and holidays. The cost of a paid place combined with the funding is also significantly reduced.

“Should I send my child to a school nursery or keep them at their nursery?”

If your child already attends a private nursery and you are considering moving to a nursery school, then you may want to think about whether this could cause you and your child stress.

Being able to drop off your child at their current nursery and leave them smiling and waving is an immense relief for any parent. Unless you are sure that your child would have a better experience at a school nursery, why go through what could be an unnecessary and upsetting move?

If you are still thinking about relocating to a school nursery, then you might find it useful to ask the school these questions so that you can be sure it’s the right decision:

  • What is the staff to children ratio?
  • Would my child get help going to the toilet if needed?
  • What if my child has a toileting accident? Who will help them? How many staff will be left with the other children at that time?
  • What early year’s related qualifications and training do staff have?
  • Are all staff Paediatric First aid trained?
  • Does the nursery have a suitable environment, resources, and equipment for 3 and 4-year-old children?

If you found this information useful and want to learn more about how we use the EYFS at our nurseries, why not read our guide to In the Moment Planning?

Or, if you have any further questions, please feel free to get in touch.

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