The best start in life: five things to look for when choosing a nursery

Nursery is not just an add on to our schools. It really is the foundation for life and we absolutely strive to get that plan in action right from day one.

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Prince’s Gardens Prep

Picking the right nursery is a difficult choice in normal times, never mind during a global pandemic. To help parents feel more confident, Cognita’s early years experts explain why empathy, flexibility and passion are as important as high quality learning and routine.

We know how difficult it is for parents to leave their children in somebody else’s care, especially when many have been out of that social scene and nursery education for six months. Added to the abundance of information out there, it can all get a bit overwhelming. To make it simpler, we asked Cognita’s early learning experts what are the things you really need to look for?

Safety, happiness and wellbeing

This is invariably parents’ biggest concern. At Cognita, our priority is always the health, safety and wellbeing of the children in our care, their families and our staff. It’s at the core of what we do and we firmly believe that happy children make better learners. Launched last year, Cognita’s Be Well programme is unrivalled, and offers expert advice, support and programmes at each crucial stage in a child’s education, from the very early years through to A-levels.

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This has never more important. During the pandemic we have taken the best steps to ensure the littlest people in our care can return to school as quickly and safely as possible. ‘We meet almost daily to review official advice and ensure that we go above and beyond to protect our school community,’ says Richard McLelland, head of early years at Prince’s Gardens Preparatory School. ‘Parents, children and staff should rest assured that their safety is our highest concern.’

Results and strong foundations

Most parents want their child to be educated in a high achieving setting and we demonstrate this throughout our schools. At Cognita, we give our children a solid start from the very beginning. ‘Nursery isn’t an add on,’ comments Karen Nicholson, executive principal at Breaside Preparatory School, before continuing, ‘it really is the foundation for life and we absolutely strive to get that plan in action from day one.’

Cognita nursery children consistently exceed their early learning goals, achieving higher than national standards in attainment; generally one year more advanced than their peers.

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Vanessa Conland at Downsend Pre-Prep in Epsom adds, ‘Our children, often as young as two, just love to tell prospective parents what they are doing – things they can’t imagine are possible. I just say, imagine what we can do with them next year and the year after.’

Individuality and flexibility

All children are different, with different needs at different times. We know that parents want their children to be given flexibility to move, play, drink, eat and sleep when they need to. ‘Our nursery children are immediately treated as individuals, who are then part of a bigger, happy school family,’ says Anne-Marie Ralph of Downsend School. ‘Although we celebrate class achievements, we know the value of each child’s contribution.’ Cognita nursery teachers know and love their children individually and understand how to get the best out of each of them.

A fun and effective timetable

When choosing a nursery, parents are advised to check there are plenty of activities planned each day. Nicky Jackson, head of early years at Breaside, explains, ‘Even during lockdown, our nursery children were just as busy at home as they usually are at school. We continued with our curriculum with three or four live lessons every day, with maths, literacy, weekly forest school and sport, including my yoga sessions online – I have even had parents joining in full sports kit.’

Prince’s Gardens Prep’s Richard McLelland adds: ‘Many people think that nursery children are too young for whole school activities, but we firmly believe that they can participate in things like plays and sports days – it builds their confidence from the very first day. We know from experience that vertical integration within the school boosts academic and social development and older children love to be fantastic role models to the little ones.’

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Highly qualified and empathetic staff

Naturally, parents want capable, highly qualified teachers. But it is equally and sometimes more important, that they are empathetic. Parents want children to be supported with their feelings, whatever they may be. They hope that crying or unhappy children are sat with and soothed while they calm down.


‘We know that parents want more care and less hot-housing,’ says Breaside’s Nicky Jackson, an early years specialist. ‘Our teachers regularly share best practice around the UK, and with care and compassion bring the latest educational methodology direct to our classrooms. We genuinely love what we do and work towards a strong attachment with children and good natural relationships.’

Nonetheless, expertise is very much at the core of Cognita’s education. Executive principal at Breaside, Karen Nicholson, concludes: ‘The level of expertise is to be celebrated. We can clearly demonstrate the high-end questioning from children, our knowledge of them and the value-added specialist-taught subjects to children as young as pre-school age. Our nursery children enjoy the same level of care as all our Breaside children.’

In a world of uncertainty, there is one thing that remains constant, the importance of education. Children, now more than ever, need expert guidance to navigate their way to success and it really is never too early to start. With these five essential foundations, Cognita’s nurseries offer the perfect blend of educational expertise, love and a global outlook, to give children the very best start in life. 

If your interest is piqued or you have any questions, please get in touch for an informal chat. We know how brilliant our nursery teams are, and we’d love to show you too.