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Choosing a Pre-School

What is a Pre-School / Playgroup?

Pre-schools / playgroups are for young children to learn and play in small groups, often close to their homes. Pre-schools / playgroups provide sessional care for children aged 2½- 5 years (some pre-schools take from 2 years), sessions are about 3 hours in a morning or afternoon during term time.  More and more pre-schools are now offering extended sessions enabling parents to work. 

Pre-schools / playgroups are often held in church halls or community centres and are run by qualified staff.


Plus points

  • your child can enjoy learning and playing in a group setting
  • your child may be able to access free nursery education
  • you can meet and get to know parents in your area


It is important to plan ahead as some pre-schools / playgroups have waiting lists.


Have a look at our Early Help Directory for a list of Ofsted registered pre-schools in Bedford Borough, or call us on 0800 023 2057.



Pre-schools / playgroups are registered with and inspected by the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted)

Ofsted registration requirements will specify the number of children that are allowed to be on the premises at any time and the ratio of staff to children.  The minimum ratios are as set out below:


Children aged 2 – 3 yrs           -           1 adult to every 4 children

Children aged 3 – 5 yrs           -           1 adult to every 8 children


Every registered pre-school / playgroup has an Ofsted registration certificate which indicates the maximum number of children that can be cared for on the premises – their registration certificate must be prominently displayed on the premises.


Early Years Register

Registered pre-school / playgroups caring for children aged from birth to 31 August following their fifth birthday must register on the Early Years Register and deliver the Early Years Foundation Stage – a framework for the delivery of quality integrated care and education for children.


Childcare Register

Pre-schools / playgroups caring for children older than five years and under eight must register on the compulsory part of the Childcare Register.  This may be because they run a holiday scheme or after school club.  Pre-schools / playgroups caring for children aged eight and above may also choose to register on the voluntary part of the Childcare Register.



Early Years Register

Ofsted inspects pre-schools / playgroups on the Early Years Register at least once every three or four years.


Following their inspection, Ofsted will give them one of four grades:

Ofsted Grading Meaning

The setting’s practice consistently reflects the highest aspirations for all children’s safety, well-being and learning. It enables them to make excellent progress in relation to their starting points and prepares them extremely well for school or the next stage in their learning.

Good The setting’s practice keeps children safe and enables all children to do well, make good progress relative to their starting points and prepares them well for school or the next stage of their learning. Children benefit from practice that is at least good and sometimes outstanding.
Requires Improvement

The setting’s practice is not good enough because one or more key aspects of its work require improvement to be good. Children do not make good progress in their learning and development. Leadership and management demonstrate sufficient ability to identify and make required improvements.


Overall effectiveness is likely to be inadequate if any of the key judgements are inadequate; and/or

There are breaches of statutory requirements which have a significant impact on the safety and well-being, and/or the learning and development of children; and/or

It is a nursery or pre-school which has been judged as ‘requires improvement ‘at two consecutive inspections and is still not ‘good ‘at its third inspection.


Ofsted will also write a report which will tell you about the quality of the childcare service provided by the pre-school - what they do well and what needs to be improved.  You can ask the pre-school for a copy of their inspection report


Alternatively you can view a pre-school’s Ofsted report at http://reports.ofsted.gov.uk/, you will need their Ofsted Unique Reference Number (URN) to view their report on the website.


Childcare Register

If a pre-school is on both the Early Years register and Childcare register, then Ofsted will check to see if the pre-school is meeting the requirements for registration when they undertake the early years inspection.


When you visit

Try to take notes as you go along, for reference later. You must be your own judge of what is best for you and your child, but the lists below may help guide you on points to look for and what to ask.


Things to consider and questions to ask

  • Ask to see the registration and insurance certificates.
  • What is the age range of the children?  Are the activities suitable for those age groups?
  • How much does each session cost?  How often do you pay?  Some groups ask parents to pay half-termly, other pay per session or weekly.
  • Do I have to pay if my child is absent through sickness or family holidays?
  • Do the times of the sessions fit in with your requirements?
  • Are you encouraged to visit before fixing a start date?  What help will be given to your child to settle?
  • Does my child need to be toilet trained?
  • What sessions are currently available?
  • Is there a full range of stimulating play opportunities offered at each session? 
  • Ask whether your child will have a key worker.
  • What extended services do they offer i.e. lunchtime club, before / after school care.
  • Do the activities look interesting and inviting? Are there opportunities for outside play?


General points to consider

  • All young children need a variety of learning experiences e.g. quiet times, noisy, messy play, creative and imaginative play, outdoor activities and physical play.
  • It is important that children are able to move freely around activities and make choices. Are both boys and girls encouraged to take part in all activities?
  • Is the overall atmosphere one of enjoyment and happiness.
  • Are different cultures positively represented in the toys, books and wall displays?
  • Look at what happens between the adults and the children. They need to be involved together in activities and enjoy each others company.
  • Make sure that the provision meets any special needs your child may have and that it takes into account your child’s age and cultural background.
  • Will the staff set aside time to talk to you about your child? Are you able to see any records kept about your child?
  •  You should sign an agreement with the setting of your child but be certain you are happy with its contents.
  • It is a good idea to use the provision for a trial period before making permanent arrangements.


When you feel happy with everything, then go ahead.


Do you have a child with a disability or additional need?

Bedford Borough Council is committed to ensuring that all childcare and early years settings in Bedford Borough provide a service that includes all children.  We believe that every child has a right to a safe, stimulating and inclusive environment to enable them to reach their full potential.  The Council offers funding to encourage, support and enable childcare and early years settings to offer places to children with a disability or additional needs.  For further information please telephone 0800 023 2057.


Fees and conditions

Pre-school / playgroup fees vary.  However, a 3 hour session is somewhere in the region of £12. 

All three year olds qualify for Nursery Education Funding from the term following their 3rd birthday until they start school.  This means that your child will attend their 3 hour session for free (15 hours per week). Some pre schoold offer this entitlement on a flexible basis.

Some 2 year olds may be entitled to up to 15 hours a week of free nursery education.  Please call Bedford Borough Family Information Service for further information on 0800 023 2057 or go to www.bedford.gov.uk/2yearfunding for more information.

Settling in your child

Once you have made your decision, settling in will be easier for both you and your child if it is done gradually.  Ask the pre-school / playgroup about their settling in policy.   

The pre-school / playgroup staff will have a lot of experience in settling children.  Some children can be upset at first - this is only natural - but with gentle reassurance this phase will pass.


What to do if you are not happy with your childcare

If you are not happy with the care that your child is receiving and have spoken with the provider but are still not satisfied with the outcome, then you can phone the Ofsted Complaints Line on 0300 123 4666.

Ofsted will investigate any complaints about providers and take enforcement action if providers do not meet the required standards set.


Find out more

For a list of pre-schools / playgroups in your area or further information please contact Bedford Borough Family Information Service on the number below.  Alternatively, you can search online for pre-schools / playgroups on our Early Help Directory.


Freephone 0800 023 2057

Lines open: Mon - Thurs 8am – 5.15pm, and Fri 8am – 4.45pm. 24 hours answerphone service.

If you would like to speak to someone face to face please call on the above number to arrange an appointment.


Email: fis@bedford.gov.uk

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