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What is a Maintained Nursery School and how is it different to other nurseries?

Maintained nursery schools are one of the UK’s unique educational assets, and yet remain a largely untold story. Most families know about nursery classes attached to primary schools, nurseries run as private businesses and volunteer-run playgroups. Far fewer know there are maintained (that is, state funded) nursery schools, or what makes them different from other early years provision. This lack of public profile is not because they are a new phenomenon. Pioneers such as Rachel and Margaret McMillan set up nursery schools a century ago seeking to bring better health and educational opportunities to young children and their families. They used ground-breaking approaches such as a focus on play, outdoor activity and the holistic development of the child, many of which are being rediscovered today in ‘new’ developments such as forest schools.

Only around 400 maintained nursery schools still remain across the UK, and these numbers have been gradually eroded over the last ten to fifteen years.

They are publicly funded schools specialising in the 3-5 year old age range.  Like nursery classes attached to primary schools, they have a high proportion of graduate staff. Unlike nursery classes in primary schools, they have headteachers who are early years specialists. This means that the focus can be on delivering play-based age-appropriate education to children at a crucial stage of development, which requires a quite different set of approaches to later primary school.

They are inspected under the same Ofsted criteria as primary schools, rather than those used for early years settings in the private and voluntary sector, with longer inspections, and yet they have a far higher proportion of Outstanding judgements than primary schools or the rest of the early years sector – 58% of nursery schools compared to 10% of other setting-based early years providers .

(Taken from Maintained nursery schools: hubs for quality in the early years. Early Education 2015)