Playsteps is a PVI setting within walking distance of Swindon town centre. Opened in 2006, it has 132 children on roll. The setting itself is situated within a listed building which used to be the local vicarage and has since been adapted for use as a nursery.
We spoke with Jo Morris, Operations Director, to find out more about the nursery’s ethos and values.
Jo has 21 years’ experience in Early Years, including nannying and working for a mobile crèche. She has been at Playsteps since 2008 and recently has been juggling this role with being the spokesperson for the CNLF Campaign, supporting the sector by calling for a change in the legislation around the 30 hours ‘free’ childcare policy.
1. A ‘Home from home’ ethos
Playsteps is proud of its ‘home from home’ ethos, seeking to provide children with a comfortable and secure learning environment. “I remember working for a large chain nursery,” reminisces Jo “When children did extra hours, we filled in a sheet for invoicing using a number on their records, rather than their name. I hated that, so it has always been very important to me that we know and greet each child by name as soon as they walk through the door. ” The setting also encourages visits from multi-agency professionals to observe and assess children whilst they’re at the nursery, so they’re not made to feel anxious in an unfamiliar, clinical environment.
2. Ongoing staff development
The staff team at Playsteps are subject to observations at least three times per year: by the deputy manager, nursery manager and a room mentor, and activities are regularly observed. This helps team members to assess the quality of their practice against a set of criteria. Areas for improvement are then identified and fed back. “Even senior team members are observed by staff and sit in on each other’s activities to assess and learn from each other’s practice.” explains Jo.
3. Open culture for raising concerns
“I constantly tell our team ‘If something doesn’t look right, sound right, seem right, feel right…tell me!’ Our team is fantastic at this. All staff members know the contact details of our local early years adviser. We put Karen Flower’s [local early years adviser] name and number in our staff rooms, as well as our staff cubicles.” Jo says “Our team know to come to us with any concerns but it’s also important that they know what to do if they are still worried after we have taken action. Child protection is everyone’s responsibility and I am accountable to the team and the local authority for any decisions I make.”
4. Always looking for ways to improve
Earlier this year, Playsteps introduced new observation software into their rooms. Although some staff were initially cautious of the move to online learning journeys, it has proved invaluable. “Before, we had cameras which always used to run out of power, so before we could take any photos, we had to hunt for batteries. Then we had to print the photos, to stick in the journals. It was just taking up too much time, which could be better spent with the children.” Jo explains. “So we looked at alternatives, and decided to introduce the online system. We can record observations and assessments in minutes and these ping up on parents’ phones to give them updates about their child’s development. Parents are uploading photos and videos from home too, so we have a complete picture of the children’s development. Now all the staff rave about using this software.”
5. Incorporating forest school philosophy
The current focus is on developing Playstep’s outdoor areas, to make the most of children’s learning experiences. There is a newly created forest area, where children can climb trees, jump off logs, learn camping and fire making skills. Jo believes that having this area offers children a unique opportunity to assess risk for themselves and become more independent. “As I see it,” Jo says jokingly “Every child should have the opportunity to fall out of a tree at least once.”
6. Valuing children’s input
Jo holds a regular forum where she picks a group of 6 children to feed back about their experience at the nursery. She asks the children what they like, what they dislike and what they don’t do at the nursery which the children would like to do in future. “During one of these forums, a child said that they’d like to play football with their Daddy at nursery.” says Jo. “So, we arranged a ‘stay and play’ football session where we invited Dads and other family members to come into the nursery for part of the day.”
Jo credits the success of her setting, recently rated “good” by Ofsted, with the incredible staff team she has alongside her. It’s clear that Jo’s strong vision and leadership drives the nursery forward in terms of continually improving practice and striving to improve in all areas.
- A “Home from home” ethos
- Ongoing staff development
- Open culture for raising concerns
- Always looking for ways to improve
- Incorporating forest school philosophy
- Valuing children’s input