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Choosing a pre-school or nursery


Pre-schools offer sessions of care, play and education for children between two and five years of age.

Groups are usually open in term time only, and for between four and ten sessions a week.

Working parents can combine a childminder and a pre-school group to provide childcare throughout the day. Increasingly lunch clubs and extended hours are offered by pre-schools.

  • Can be easier to combine with alternative care such as a childminder
  • Opportunity to get involved as a parent
  • Always staff to cover if one carer is sick
  • Need to find alternative care in the school holidays
  • Only admit children from about two years of age
  • Needs to be combined with alternative care if working hours exceed group sessions


Nurseries usually offer full day-care, play and education between 8am and 6pm all year round.

Nurseries cater for a wider range of children, often including babies.

  • Group setting where the majority of staff are trained in childcare
  • Always staff to cover if one carer is sick
  • Open 50 weeks of the year with full and part-time places
  • May not take and collect older children from school
  • Can be difficult to negotiate flexible hours
  • Can be expensive, particularly for babies

Nursery classes

Nursery classes are attached to some Wiltshire primary and infant schools.
These classes cater for three and four year olds for a minimum of five half-day sessions per week in term time.

In all settings each child in a group will have their own keyworker and each group will have a SENCO (Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator).

Nursery classes are free in state schools; independent schools set their own charges although early years entitlement hours are available in most independent schools for eligible children.

  • Can provide free early years education for three and four year olds in some infant and primary schools; however, fees are charged by independent schools
  • Always staff to cover in case of sickness
  • At least one member of staff is a qualified teacher.
  • Children can only attend for five mornings or afternoons during school terms
  • Children are not guaranteed a place in the infant or primary school
  • Needs to be combined with alternative childcare if working hours exceed opening times

How do I make a choice?

The best way to decide whether a pre-school or nursery is right for your child is to visit while other children are there, taking your child with you.

It is also a good idea to talk to other parents and find out why they chose to send their child to a particular group.

  • How will my child be settled into the group?
  • How is good behaviour encouraged, and how are behaviour problems dealt with?
  • How will you report to me on my child's progress?
  • Will I be able to see and discuss records kept about my child?
  • What activities might my child do in a typical session/day?
  • Is there a waiting list?
  • Can I see your most recent Ofsted report?
  • What experience and/or training do the staff have? (Including training in baby care if this is significant.)
  • What is the fee structure?
  • Are the adults welcoming?
  • Are the children happy and involved in what they are doing?
  • Are the toilets nearby and easy for the children to use on their own?
  • How are rest periods planned into the session/day?
  • Do the adults speak calmly, and give positive encouragement?
  • How much choice do the children have about their activities?
  • Is it an exciting environment?
  • Is there a wide range of resources e.g. books, natural materials, table top and floor games, art and craft resources, climbing equipment and imaginative play areas?
  • Are the resources in good condition?
  • Is there an outside play area and equipment?
  • How much time do the children spend outside?

There is no standard fee structure.

  • Pre-schools and nurseries set their own rates and you should always be clear about their charges
  • Nursery charges will be partly dependent on the age of the child with a full time place costing around £30 per day
  • Fees for babies are always higher due to the need for a higher staff to child ratio
  • Pre-school sessions usually cost between £6.50 and £9.00.

Pre-schools and nurseries set their own fee structures with different rates depending on the child's age and the length of time they are in the setting.

To search for information on getting help with your childcare costs, visit the government’s Childcare Choices website.

  • Caring for sick children is not part of a pre-school or nursery’s role, and you should keep your child at home or collect them if they are unwell
  • In the case of an accident the needs of the child should be put first, and action taken accordingly
  • You will already have been asked to sign a consent form allowing the group to seek emergency treatment if necessary
  • You will also be asked to sign the group's accident/incident book confirming that you were given full details of any accident and the action that was taken

More information on should I keep my child at home?


If you any concerns about the childcare setting your child is attending you can find out more information on our dealing with concerns page.


How do I find a pre-school or nursery?

  • Contact us
  • Search for a pre-school or nursery in your area please visit our Childcare directory
  • Friends may be able to recommend groups they have used

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Last updated: 28 April 2020 | Last reviewed: 28 April 2020