Choosing Childcare: Things to consider and questions to ask
Before you decide on a childcare setting, make a shortlist of several providers that have a vacancy at a time that suits you and arrange to visit them.
Try and visit when childcare is being delivered, so you can see how the children are looked after. Try and take your child with you so you can see how the provider interacts with them.
Take a written list of questions with you so you don’t forget to ask what you want to know. Below are some suggested questions, but you may have your own.
Some of these are things for you to consider as you look around, others you need to ask the provider.
- Do the children look happy, settled and busy?
- Are they playing well together?
- Do they have a good variety of things to do and play with?
- Are the toys and activities appropriate for your child’s age and culture?
- Is it a clean, secure and safe place for them to play?
- Is it warm, clean, light and well ventilated?
- Is it laid out well (with things at the right height for children)?
- Can children get to places or things they shouldn’t be able to?
- Are the staff friendly?
- Do they listen and respond to the children?
- Do they consider what the children are interested in?
- Are they joining in with games and activities?
- Do they look like they enjoy their work?
- What is the outside area like?
- How much time do they spend outside?
- Is there a place for children to sleep, if they need to?
- Is there somewhere secure to keep personal things?
- Is there a place where children can be on their own, if they want to?
- What activities are planned to help play and learn?
- How do they encourage good behaviour and deal with difficult behaviour?
Anyone providing more than 2 hours of childcare for children up to 8 years old must be on Ofsted’s Compulsory Childcare Register. Childminders can be registered with an Ofsted registered agency instead.
For children over 8, many providers choose to be on Ofsted’s Voluntary Childcare Register. Some crèches or school clubs may not need to be registered.
- What Ofsted rating do they have?
- When was their last Ofsted inspection?
- Can you see their latest Ofsted report?
You can look this up on the Ofsted website – see our guide to Ofsted.
- Can you see their Certificate of Public Liability Insurance?
- Does it cover outings away from the nursery?
- If they transport children, can you see their Business Use car insurance?
- How many children are there per member of staff?
Ofsted set limits for different ages – see our guide to Ofsted.
- Are all staff DBS checked?
DBS is the Disclosure and Barring Service that replaced the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) check in 2012.
By law, at least half the staff in a childcare setting need to hold a valid childcare qualification.
You should ask what qualifications staff have and be satisfied that it is appropriate for the service being provided – staff in a school nursery will have different requirements than those working in a crèche.
Types of qualification include CACHE (Council for Awards in Care Health and Education), QCF awards (vocational training that replaced the NVQ), VRQ awards (mixing vocational and classroom training), City & Guilds, Montessori and BA(hons).
The qualification types have different levels ranging from 1 to 7. Staff need to be at Level 3 or above to be qualified to look after your child unsupervised. Staff at Level 4 or above are suitable for managerial roles. Degree qualified nursery teachers are at level 6.
Newly qualified staff should also all be trained in paediatric first aid.
- What qualifications do staff hold?
- How are unqualified staff supervised?
- Are staff working towards qualifications? – ongoing training indicates that the setting wants to raise its standards above the basic requirements.
Accessibility and Flexibility
- Is the setting convenient for your home or work?
- What can you afford to pay?
- If it’s a Government funded place, can you afford to pay for any extras?
- What level of support does your child need?
- Are parents encouraged to be involved (especially if it’s a community group)?
- How would they let you know how your child is doing?
- On a day to day basis.
- As part of their early education.
- What are you expected to pay?
- As well as the provider’s hourly rate, this can include extras for Funded Early Learning (FEL), deposits for reserving a place and retainers for keeping a place open.
- How are charges invoiced?
- Do they take Childcare Vouchers, or are they set up for Tax Free Childcare?
- Is there a discount for more than one child?
- What if your child is sick or on holiday?
- What arrangements are there for food?
- This includes main meals and snacks.
- If your child has a special diet, how is this catered for?
- If your child has additional support needs:
- How will those needs be met?
- What training or experience do they have?
- Is there a settling in period when your child starts?
- What is their complaints policy?
Safety and Security
As well as the questions about the environment above, there are some additional considerations about safety.
- Do they carry out fire drills and check fire safety equipment regularly?
- How will they let you know about fire drills, medical emergencies or outings?
- If your child needs medication, what is needed to administer it?
- What’s their procedure for First Aid?
- What process do they have for people picking up your child?
- At a crèche, how will they identify your child and how will they confirm the identity of the person collecting?
- At a school or nursery, how is handover to a childminder arranged?
Additional Questions for Childminders
Because childminders normally work alone in their own home, there are some additional things to consider.
- Is there any cover if the childminder is sick or on holiday?
- Do you need to provide any additional equipment (e.g. a car seat)?
- How do they supervise multiple children if one is toilet training?
- If they look after school age children, how many children do they do this for and how many schools do they go to?
- What ages are the other children they look after?
- Are there other adults in the house when your child is there?
- Can you get references from other parents?