Quality in early years

By Liz Elsom, early years consultant
13 August 2018 

Good quality early years settings are key to making a difference in a child’s life and giving them the best start they can have.

But what does a good quality nursery setting look like and how can you improve your quality for the children in your care?

Let's start by looking at the people at the heart of your setting.

A good quality setting should be a place where children are emotionally settled. They should be confident, curious and self-motivated. Children should be developing social relationships with their peers and adults and becoming self-sufficient in their personal care, play and learning.

And what about your staff?

Leaders and practitioners should be focused on improvement. They should be working with each other and parents to do their best for every child, providing an open relationship based on trust and communication. Your staff should be calm, cheerful and resilient and care for each other as well each child.


How can you improve quality? 

If you want to improve your quality, it can be hard to know where to start.

Practitioner with children at nursery

1. Reflect on what you do well at your nursery

Reflective practice - reflect on what you do well at your nursery and what you need to improve – self-evaluation – and plan what needs to happen next. This approach helps you take personal ownership of what you need to do to get better. 

Use tools to help you do this. There are many readily available tools such as evaluation forms, practice audits, action-planning templates. Pick ones that suit your setting and use them at regular intervals so you can measure your progress. 

Book your place on our 'Critical Evaluation - New Guidance for Ofsted Inspections' training to demonstrate to Ofsted how you evaluate the quality of practice in your setting. 

2. Use other professionals to validate your findings

Use external views to validate your findings so you can see if you are accurate in your own diagnosis.

  • Peer observations/mentoring helps to assess and improve individual practice
  • Critical assessment by a supportive individual or organisation or an inspection helps to assess your whole setting
  • Observe other settings – if you don’t have a local network, think about forming one yourself. It’s mutually beneficial to share ideas and observe different practice.

3. Give each a role in helping to get to your end goal

Break things up into different areas; the learning environment, workforce, management, health and well-being. This will make it easier to start. Share the lead for these to engage staff, encourage personal development and reduce burdens.

Involve everyone in developing a common vision for your setting; parents, children, all staff (not just practitioners) and visitors, like speech therapists.

Give each a role in helping to get to your end goal. This will show everyone that they have a part to play in giving each child the best start in life.

4. ‘Success is a journey not a destination’

The best early years settings never stop improving what they do.

But remember to pause and celebrate your improvements – that way everyone can see the progress you have made on your journey to excellence. 

What next?

NDNA Quality Counts is a quality improvement scheme that provides a framework for improvement based on mentoring, self-assessment and independent assessment.

It involves the whole staff team and helps create a culture of continuous improvement.

Find out more about Quality Counts here.  

Nursery practitioner being evaluated

In early years, Quality Counts

Liz Elsom, early years consultant
Liz Elsom is an early years consultant who was previously the early years policy lead in Ofsted.

Liz has played a key role in helping NDNA develop Quality Counts. She provides training, guidance and support to a range of early years providers and organisations on quality improvement, good practice and the role of regulation and inspection.