What is the early years curriculum that nurseries use?

England – Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS):

All nurseries registered with Ofsted must follow the EYFS. The EYFS covers children from 0-5 years and children complete the EYFS at the end of their reception year at school. The EYFS is a play-based curriculum as research tells us that this is the best way for children to learn. Each area of learning and development must be implemented through planned, purposeful play and through a mixture of adult-led and child-initiated activity. 

The EYFS is split into two documents:

The Statutory Framework – this sets out the legal requirements nurseries must follow to look after children, it sets out requirements for things such as:

  • Staff qualifications
  • Ratios of staff to children
  • Guidance on medications
  • Safeguarding children
  • Space requirements
  • Covering the EYFS requirements.

Development Matters – Development Matters supports nursery practitioners to implement the statutory requirements of the EYFS. It sets out the themes, principles and practice of the EYFS. It looks at what and how children learn and sets out the ‘usual’ stage of development across six age bands. The age bands overlap to demonstrate that every child is unique and children do not grow and develop at the same rate. 

The areas of learning and development in the EYFS are:

  • Personal, Social and Emotional Development (PSED)
  • Communication and Language
  • Mathematics 
  • Physical Development
  • Literacy
  • Expressive Arts and Design
  • Understanding the World

Birth to 5 Matters – Birth to 5 Matters is guidance produced by the sector, for the sector, to support the introduction of the revised Early Years Foundation Stage in England in 2021. It is non-statutory guidance which practitioners may use to support their implementation of the Statutory Framework for the Early Years Foundation Stage which sets out the legal requirements for delivering education for children from birth to 5 in England.


Curriculum for Excellence – Curriculum for Excellence places learners at the heart of education. At its centre are four fundamental capacities. These capacities reflect and recognise the lifelong nature of education and learning. The four capacities are aimed at helping children and young people to become successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors.

The Curriculum for Excellence is split into different phases starting with the early stage (which is approximately aged 3 – 5 although the way the curriculum is designed some children may move onto the next stage earlier and others may remain in the early stage longer, this is what makes it unique to individual children). It starts at aged 3 and follows the child all the way to aged 18. This allows for a curriculum which is coherent from aged 3 to 18, which provides a broad general education, including well planned experiences and outcomes across all the curriculum areas from early years through to S3.

This includes understanding the world, Scotland’s place in it and the environment, referred to as Learning for Sustainability; opportunities for developing skills for learning, skills for life and skills for work; opportunities to maximise their individual potential, benefitting from appropriate personal support and challenge; support to help them move into positive and sustained destinations beyond school.

The full curriculum can be found here.

Realising the Ambition: Being Me -– This refreshed early years national practice guidance for Scotland presents key information about the characteristics of child development based on research and evidence.

It explores the range of interactions, experiences and spaces we need to provide for babies and young children to help them learn and grow best from their earliest days through to being a young child in early primary school.
In essence, ‘Realising the Ambition: Being Me’ increases expectations of high quality but still provides the necessary support for all who work in the early years sector and beyond.

This is a guidance document and NOT a curriculum. The individual child is very much at the heart of this guidance. Practitioners are encouraged to build caring, loving relationships with the children to ensure that their individual needs are being met.

The guidance document can be found here.

National Standard – from August 2021, all nurseries delivering funded early learning and childcare (ELC) must…meet the requirements of the Scottish Government’s “Funding Follows the Child and National Standard for Early Learning and Childcare” document which sets out ten criteria to ensure that regardless of where a child experiences their ELC it will be of an equally high standard.

The criteria in the National Standard focus on what children and their families should expect from their ELC experience, regardless of where they access their child’s funded hours.

The Care Inspectorate – Since 1 April 2018, the Health and Social Care Standards have been used across Scotland.
They have been developed by Scottish Government to describe what people should experience from a wide range of care and support services. The Care Inspectorate’s expectation is that they will be used in planning, commissioning, assessing and delivering care and support to all services for children and adults in Scotland.

As well as the Health and Social Care Standards ELC settings have to benchmark themselves against the ELC Quality Inspection Framework. The Care Inspectorate use this framework to inspect and award grades to the ELC setting. Inspection reports can be found here.

Scottish Social Services Council – In Scotland staff who work in ELC settings must be registered with the Scottish Social Services Council. This is a registration body which ensures that the staff who are working with children in nursery have the appropriate qualification for their job role (support worker, practitioner or lead practitioner) and that all of the appropriate safety checks are carried out to ensure the safety of your child. Registered staff must also carry out regular training to ensure that ELC provision is of the highest quality. This registration process is in place to provide parents and carers with the comfort that staff meet the requirements of the SSSC codes of practice.


All nurseries in Wales are regulated against the National Minimum Standards for Regulated Childcare. The standards focus on securing positive outcomes for children under eight and reducing risks to their welfare and safety. The Standards were updated in March 2012.

Nurseries in Wales are inspected against the National Minimum Standards by the Care Inspectorate Wales (CIW).

The Foundation Phase is the statutory curriculum for all three to seven year olds in Wales in both maintained and non-maintained settings. The Foundation Phase places great emphasis on children learning by doing. It sets out the curriculum and outcomes under seven areas of learning which set out what children should be taught. The outcomes set out expected standards of children’s performance. For more information visit the Welsh Government website.

Nurseries who deliver the Foundation Phase are also inspected by ESTYN which inspects the educational aspect of the provision. 

What is a typical daily routine in a nursery?

Routines in nurseries will depend on the individual nursery and should be flexible according to the needs of the children, but a usual nursery day will consist of the following types of activities:

  • Nursery opening – welcoming children and families into the nursery and discussing individual needs
  • Breakfast time – nurseries will offer healthy breakfast choices according to individual dietary requirements
  • Circle time/songs/stories – welcome, singing, weather, individual news
  • Continuous provision/independent choosing – the children will have access to a range of resources and activities to support their development. Children will be able to play with their friends, or alone and will have the support of their key person and other nursery practitioners. Outdoor play should be accessible throughout the session
  • Some of the activities available may be: painting, music and singing, story sessions, puppets, messy play activities – wet and dry sand, play dough, soil, pasta or water, dressing up and a role play area, bikes, scooters, climbing equipment, balls, hoops, building blocks and materials, IT equipment i.e. cameras, video recorders, calculators and computers. Treasure baskets, boxes, musical instruments and a range of other resources will be available according to age and stage of development
  • Snack time and lunch – nurseries will offer a range of healthy snacks and meals and will cater for individual dietary requirements
  • Individual development – your child’s key person will plan activities that will support your child’s individual development. They will observe your child daily and use these observations to plan their ‘next steps’ in their learning journey
  • Home time – this is an opportunity for parents to chat to their child’s individual key person and find out about their day.

How do I choose the right nursery?

To help both you and your child, it is critical that both of you are happy and confident with your choice of nursery. You should always visit more than one nursery before you make a decision about where you wish to place your child. This will give you a better view of the variety of nurseries available as some will suit you and your child’s individual needs more than others.

You should consider what is going to work best for you, for example, do you want a nursery near home or work/college? As part of this, you should think about what will work for your child.

Once you have shortlisted the nurseries you wish to visit, contact each nursery and ask for information about what they offer. High quality nurseries will either have a brochure/prospectus or set of information they can send you in the post or a website which you can visit. This will help you to gain more information about their services, fees and environment before you visit and allow you to collate the questions you wish to ask based on this information. 

Before your visit check the setting’s regulatory inspection report:

Ofsted (England) – view the website here
Care Inspectorate (Wales) – view the website here
Care Inspectorate (Scotland) – view the website here

The inspection report will highlight where the nursery has excelled and any actions or recommendations that they need to work on. This will give you an overview of the nursery at that point in time so check the date of the report. Remember, this is only a snapshot of that one day, and the nursery may have changed since this report so this may not be accurate at your time of visiting. It may however, give you additional questions to ask.

It is better to use the same criteria and questions for all nurseries so you can compare them more easily when you come to make your final decision. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or request clarification on any area you are unsure about.

Remember, you need to be fully confident about this decision for both your child and your own peace of mind. High quality nurseries will expect you to ask questions and respect your need to query their practice in these early stages. They will be used to parents asking them in-depth questions on all areas, understand that this is a vital decision for you and will answer any questions you have.

Our factsheet sets out some ideas for questions you may want to ask. 

Why can my nursery change my fees?

Your fees have to cover a wide range of expenses including staff wages, utilities, food, rates, rent or mortgage and the cost of updating equipment. A large percentage of fees go directly to staff salaries. The vast majority of nurseries work on very low margins, so when costs go up, most face little choice but to reflect this in fees. Most try to restrict how often they raise fees and give you advance warning.

I have separated from my spouse and don’t want them to pick my child up, what should I do?

This is a very upsetting time for all involved and nurseries will work with families to offer support, with their main focus on supporting the emotional well-being of your child. If you spouse has ‘parental responsibility’ then a nursery cannot legally stop a parent from collecting/picking up their child, nor can they be prevented from sharing information about the child, such as development progress records. The nursery will need a court injunction before they can stop a spouse with parental responsibility from any of the above.

If your spouse does not have parental responsibility then you can instruct them according to your wishes.

For a definition of parental responsibility please follow this link to the Gingerbread organisation and their explanation of parental responsibility.

I called Ofsted regarding a payment matter but they said it wasn’t their role. Why is this?

Ofsted deals only with complaints and queries in relation to welfare requirements and the quality of care children receive. Ofsted’s role is to regulate standards of care. Contracts are seen as a legal matter between the nursery and parent and are therefore not a matter for the organisation.

I signed a contract agreeing to pay for childcare if my child is ill. However, I don’t agree with this, what can I do?

A contract is a legally binding document. Nurseries still have to pay staff if your child doesn’t attend. If you are unhappy with any element of your contract, you should discuss it with your nursery to receive a full explanation. If you have signed a contract and no longer agree with its conditions, you should seek advice from a suitably qualified solicitor.

I can’t pay my nursery fees, what should I do?

Although this is a difficult matter, you should speak to your child’s nursery as soon as you realise that you cannot pay. Nurseries do understand the difficulties parents face sometimes and may be able to help you with a repayment plan and help you check if you are getting all the financial support you are eligible for. 

Find a whole host of free downloadable factsheets for parents of nursery-aged children here.