Childcare Business- What I Have Learnt in 20 Years

What I have learnt from running a childcare business for 20 years.

20 years running a business

I have just celebrated 20 years of running my own childcare business- The Hunnypot Day Nursery. In this blog, I talk about what I have learnt from running the business for 20 years

The Hunnypot Day Nursery was originally called Carr Lea Nursery. It was set up in the mid-1990s and we bought the nursery as a going concern from a former teacher. I assume she set it up as she lived in a little studio flat in the same building. By all accounts, the former owner, Ms H. had a nervous breakdown. That should have been enough to set alarm bells off you’d think! But no. We (Bob, my husband and I) decided we could do this. After all, it was business and we knew how to run a business – at least my husband did, and I had a business degree. How hard could it be?

 

 

working in the city

 

Pastures New

Well, it truly was a baptism by fire. Not only did we know nothing about the childcare industry, but we also lived in London; a mere 200 miles away. So to say this was biting off more than we could chew was an understatement. When we purchased the nursery, there was no EYFS (Early Years Foundation Stage). Every Child Matters came into existence 3 years later, in 2004 after the horrific Victoria Climbie incident. (just writing her name now has sent chills down my spine as to how horrific it was).

I had a full-time job in the City and was not really involved for the first couple of years.  In 2004, I took redundancy and decided to retrain as a teacher. It was really at that point that I became fully involved. We rebranded in July 2004 and for all intents and purposes, we started from scratch, three years later. All of the policies had to be rewritten, a whole new team had to be employed and trained and above all, we needed to get attendance up to make the business viable. I stayed at the now John Smith Stadium for around 6 weeks (they used to turn their boxes into rooms). This meant I could be at work by 7 am and could finish late (often almost midnight). It also meant my whole focus was in the nursery.

There were many many times when we struggled to meet our wage bill and even more times when we had sleepless nights, due to everything from staff shortages to cash flow issues to potential court cases. Almost always, it was ..’make like a swan,’ where you are paddling like mad underwater but appear serene and calm on the surface.

Lessons I have learnt:

It takes a village…

Above all, childcare is about the people. Almost every childcare provider I know works extremely hard to provide the best service they can. After all, for almost everyone, a child is the most important and the welfare and the care with which that child is looked after is paramount. It is a very emotional thing to leave your child with someone other than your immediate family. The initial separation from your child can be heart-breaking, so you must have every confidence in your childcare provider and the team in that company.

To run a good strong nursery, you need a good, strong team around you. There needs to be synergy between the members of staff in each room as they work so closely. there also needs to be synergy between the rooms as there will often be a cross over of who with staff allocation in each room.

..and management

Then there is the management team. Imagine a rudderless boat at sea…this is what happens without strong management. The top-down approach to set the ethos and the ‘feel’ of the nursery, is absolutely vital. The managers need to be able to cope with anything and everything that is thrown at them with a cool head, ranging from a leak in one of the rooms, to an upset parent, to collecting fees (sometimes from reluctant payers), to a child or a staff member being taken to hospital, to a domestic row between two parents at the setting. None of these examples is theoretical; the managers at my nursery have had to deal with each one of these over the last 20 years.

As a business owner, my duty of care is to my staff, just as their duty of care is to the clients. I have to ensure that my staff are looked after, not only as I need to make sure that their performance at work is as professional as possible, but from a human perspective. All of this comes from training, knowing your staff and many, many conversations. To do all of this, however, I need to ensure that the business is viable.

So there is plenty of number crunching, from mortgage payments to rent, to bills, to tax on the outgoing, to ensuring that there is enough money coming in to meet all of these demands (just as in any other business).  It is especially hard to do so (in my opinion) in childcare as it is not about selling goods but about the welfare of children.

We have to look at the best utilisation of staff and space as in any other business but within very strict government guidelines with things like ratios, room sizes and safeguarding.

Lesson 1: Childcare is a people business (and I don’t mean the children)

Evidence, evidence, evidence

Tony Robbins, the motivational coach, calls entrepreneurs gladiators. I guess this is because you are effectively going into battle every single day; no matter what is going on in your life, no matter how tired, upset, bored or ill you are, the show must go on. No matter what happens, the nursery must open on time and close on time. In between, we have to provide the best service we can give.

As Charles Dickens states in his novel, David Copperfield, “Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen [pounds] nineteen [shillings] and six [pence], result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result – misery.”

What I have learnt from running a childcare business for 20 years is, just how important it is to keep the paperwork. Evidence for all of the authorities involved and the legal framework for childcare is huge.

Lesson 2: The numbers don’t lie

 

Sleepless nights

It almost does not matter how old your business is or how many years you have been running a business. Sleepless nights are a part of the course. I am a born worrier anyway; I worry about everything, but I am not alone in finding that running a business has many sleepless nights of tossing and turning, then waking up exhausted to start a new day.

Often this is because I have not foreseen something or I suddenly find myself firefighting, with many issues that have cropped up at once.  It is not just me as the owner who finds this. The manager will often face the same -there have been many a time where the manager has said she has been up half the night thinking about a particular problem and how to solve it.

Sunday nights are the worst!

For example, the most recent time when I had a completely restless night was at reopening after lockdown. It was not so much for me about making the numbers work at this point. It was more about the stress of making sure that we had done everything to meet government guidelines- especially as they were changing almost by the hour. In the end, we decided to stay closed for an extra month and lose that income rather than open and put anyone at risk.

While writing this blog, I asked the manager when the last sleepless night she had in terms of work was. Her response was instant….’ every night!’ Then she told me that it was when she was planning the staff rota for the week and she received a call from a staff member to say she had Covid. The manager then added, “I never sleep on a Sunday,’ because she is anticipating the problems that she will face when she comes in on Monday morning.

Invariably there is some fresh issue (or hell as the manager put it!) that will be waiting to be dealt with.

What I have learnt from running a childcare business for 20 years is how many surprises can be thrown at the team.

Lesson 3: Things are never what they seem

 

Running a nursery is not a lifestyle business

Previously, I was involved in businesses that were open 7 days a week, I was adamant that whatever our next project was, it must be ‘office hours.’ I was tired of having to work 7 days a week and having no work/life balance. So when a friend of mine suggested childcare, it seemed to tick that main box of a business that was Monday to Friday. Finally, I thought, a lifestyle business. We can go on holiday and actually have time at home on Saturdays and Sundays. To that extent, the nursery provided a better balance. I underestimated the amount of paperwork involved, at least at the start of the journey. The downside was that journeys up north would take place on a Sunday, so I could claw back one and a half days 3 out of 4 weekends.

It may surprise you to learn that running a childcare business means making sure the paperwork is organised and in order.

Before the wonderful accounting software was available, it meant lots of spreadsheets and word documents. That meant that some of the weekends were taken up with the paperwork that goes with all businesses- receipts, spreadsheets, invoices etc.

What I was not prepared for was the amount of time the nursery would take up, once it got under my skin. For example, a trip to IKEA, COSTCO etc, even now, is never just a trip. There will always be something that I will see that will make me think, ‘this would work really well in this room at the nursery’. It’s always in my head. I recently went to a garden store- instead of buying what I needed, I found myself exploring the store and coming up with ideas for some of the outdoor spaces. It never leaves your head.

Lesson 4: Business is business, but it is my business

Would I do it again?

I have grown up living above our family business and then married a man who ran his own business, so I think that running a business is in my blood. As I have stated earlier, I also worked within different financial institutions for many years. So I have experience of both sides; being an employee and being an employer, working for someone else, and working for myself.  By far the more satisfying for me has been to work for myself. Yes, the financial rewards ( when they happen) can vary. Yes, the work-life balance can be non-existent, but by far the sense of satisfaction of creating something from the ground up. The sense of achievement, in this case when a child eventually leaves us to attend school. Yes, the sense of achievement to think, I helped that child is beyond measure!

What I have learnt from running a childcare business for 20 years: while earning a living is vital, to be able to contribute is beyond any measure.

Lesson 5: It can stressful and rewarding beyond measure!

By far, my biggest lesson has been how lonely it can be without the right contacts and teams.

 

 

 

Choosing the Right Nursery.

How to choose the right nursery for your child. School or full-time nursery?

Give your child the best start in life.

Choosing the right nursery is probably the best start you can give your child. Parents often ask us whether they should leave a child in our nursery or move them to a school nursery. Below is a breakdown of the differences between the two types of settings.

The choice between a nursery at school (which is school hours) and a daycare nursery (which is full time) is a choice that must be made before your child has turned 3.

Prior to the age of 3, some of the childcare options available are daycare nurseries, creches and nannies. Full-time education in the UK is compulsory from the age of 5, however, from the ages of 3-4 years old the government provides an optional 570 hours per year of state-funded pre-school education.

So, let us assume that your child is in a daycare nursery that they love and is turning 3 soon. Should you move them to a nursery school or keep them in a daycare nursery? We have created this guide to help you understand the similarities and differences, and ultimately choose the right childcare for your child and you.

Schools often call their nursery school a pre-school.

chilld's play at the right nursery

The Curriculum

Similarities between nursery school and daycare nursery

Both nursery schools and daycare nurseries follow the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS).

The government sets the criteria for children’s development and care. It is the curriculum that all registered providers must follow and is applicable to children from birth to 5 years old, known as the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS).

After the age of 5, your child will begin Key Stage One (KS1).

The EYFS has systematic milestones which are measured at certain ages. The milestones are at 11, 20, 26, 36, 50 and 60 months so that you can monitor the continual progress of your child.

The milestones are focused on 7 areas of learning. These are:

  1. · Communication and language
  2. · Physical development
  3. · Personal, social and emotional development
  4. · Literacy
  5. · Mathematics
  6. · Understanding the world
  7. · Expressive arts and design

Funding

Both ‘approved’ nursery schools and daycare nurseries receive government funding of 570 hours a year or 15 hours for 38 weeks in a year for children aged 3-4 years old. To be ‘approved’ by the government, nursery schools and daycare nurseries must be registered with and inspected by one of the Health and Social Care Trusts, for example, OFSTED. As long as a nursery school and daycare nursery are OFSTED registered, you can claim your government-funded (free to you) childcare hours.

Please contact Kirklees Council for further information.

School Place

Nursery schools are associated with a school, whereas daycare nurseries are independent of any school. It is commonly assumed that if your child attends a nursery school, then they will also attend the associated school. This is a misconception; there are no guarantees of this and there have been many instances of children not getting the desired school place. So, both nursery schools and daycare nurseries have the same impact on your child’s school place.

OFSTED Registration

OFSTED (the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills) Both nursery schools and daycare nurseries must be OFSTED registered and are required to have routine inspections regardless of their grade. Schools for children aged 5 + which receive grade 1 are exempt from routine OFSTED inspections. There are four OFSTED grades:

  1. · Grade 1: Outstanding
  2. · Grade 2: Good
  3. · Grade 3: Requires Improvement
  4. · Grade 4: Inadequate

Click here to find the OFSTED inspection report of the Hunny Pot nursery.

Differences between nursery school and day nursery

Age range

Nursery schools are associated with a school and are for children aged 3-4 years old. (In exceptional cases they may take children aged 2 ½ years old). There is a common assumption that after nursery school a child will attend the associated school, though as mentioned above, this is not guaranteed.

Daycare nurseries commonly take children from the ages of 12 weeks to 12 years old. After the age of 4, daycare nurseries can offer ‘wrap-around care,’ meaning that they offer morning and after school clubs, including drop-off and pick-ups to and from local schools. These clubs can be helpful with transitioning children from nursery to school. They can also be useful if you have more than one child and want to drop and pick them all up from the same place. The wraparound care will often also include breakfast and a small tea after school. The advantage of that is that it ensures children get proper nutritional foods and snacks.

Opening Hours

Nursery schools are generally open during term-time and offer half days, such as from 8 am to 2 pm.

Daycare nurseries are generally open 51 weeks of a year and from 7 am to 6 pm.

As a result, many working parents find that nursery schools require them to use another form of child care in conjunction with the nursery school. Alternatively, daycare nurseries with their longer opening hours can be especially helpful for working parents and those who wish to not take holidays during standard school holidays. It also allows your child to only have one form of external child care, creating more stability in their life.

Children to Adult Ratio

Nursery schools are required to have 1 adult for every 13 children aged 3 to 5 years.

Daycare nurseries are required to have 1 adult to every 8 children aged 2 to 12 years. (For 12 weeks to 1 year this increases to 1 adult every 3 children).

Therefore, teachers at daycare nurseries will be able to give your child more attention and focus than teachers from nursery schools.

Parent-Teacher Interactions

Due to the nature of nursery schools and daycare nurseries, the parent-teacher interactions differ.

Nursery schools are also known as pre-schools and as a result, they follow a similar structure to schools. Parent-teacher interactions are generally reserved for scheduled parent-teacher meetings which normally happen once a term.

Daycare nurseries also have scheduled parent-teacher meetings, but it is also very common for parents to have an informal chat with a teacher at least once a week, sometimes even once a day!

Additionally, as children will only spend a half-day at a nursery school and a full day at a daycare nursery, the level of detail with regards to observations of your child will differ in the parent-teacher meetings of nursery schools and daycare nurseries.

Teaching Style

Both nursery schools and daycare nurseries will follow the same EYFS curriculum, however, their teaching methods and focus will differ.

Nursery schools will focus very much on teaching children how to read, write and count; with creative, free play and rest sessions mixed in. This will mean that the sessions are much more formal.

Daycare nurseries, however, will focus very much on the well-being of the child and will specialise their learning plans to match a children’s needs and interests. This will mean that each child will have much more freedom to learn through play as the sessions will be more informal. However, it should be noted that daycare nurseries will also ensure that every child is able to read and write by the time they are ready for school.

Formality

As a result of the differences in curriculum specialisation, nursery schools are regarded as more formal than daycare nurseries, which in turn are regarded as more flexible. There are different views as to what is the best way to help a child develop and learn. As Albert Einstein said:

‘It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education.’

Summary of nursery school and daycare nursery 

Nursery School Day Care Nursery

Curriculum Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS)

OFSTED is required by law to have routine inspections by one of the Health and Social Care Trusts, for example, OFSTED.

Funding Any ‘approved’ institute will receive 570 hours of government-funded child care for children aged 3-4 years

School Place Cannot guarantee your child a place a certain school

Age Range 3-4 years old 0-12 years old

Opening Hours:

Term-time 8 am –2 pm 51 weeks of a year

Open from 7 am to 6 pm

Child-Adult Ratio:

1 adult to every 13 children aged 3 to 5 years.

1 adult to every 8 children aged 2 to 12 years

Parent-Teacher interaction:

Interactions Scheduled parent-teacher meetings, normally once a term.

Scheduled parent-teacher meetings, normally once a term + weekly/ daily informal chats.

Teaching Style:

Focus on reading, writing and counting; with creative, free play and rest sessions mixed in.

Focus on the well-being of your child, and specialise learning plans to match your child’s needs and interests.

Formality: more formal Less formal

 

In Conclusion

The backbones of nursery schools and daycare nurseries are the same. Both types of daycare are there to teach your child using the EYFS curriculum. The setting must be OFSTED registered, meaning that your childcare costs can be paid for with your government-funded child care allowance. However, there many differences to consider that depend on your preference for how your child will learn, the type of interaction you want to have with your child’s daycare, and also what your personal schedule is like. As important as it is to choose the daycare that best suits your child, it must also fit you too! The right type of daycare for your child is the one that makes both them and you happy.

Whichever route you decide to go down, make sure you book an appointment and take a visit first. The best way to get to know any nursery is to look around the nursery, to get a feel of the place and by asking questions.

So get in touch and we’ll be happy to arrange a tour for you. Complete the form below to get in touch.

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