Finding a nursery can be a headache for many parents and parents-to-be. Our education expert Sabine Hook explains when to apply
It used to be the case that finding a place for your child at nursery was as easy as registering with the local school at the end of your street, safe in the knowledge that there would definitely be a place available. In recent years, however, such a simple registration process is a distant memory for many.
With registration deadlines creeping earlier and earlier, and most parents hedging their bets with an average of four different nursery applications, the pressure and competition has become increasingly intense.
For the most successful and popular nursery schools, it is now a near-incomprehensible reality that registrations can be accepted as early as three months pregnant. This results in parents who are registering after birth being stranded so far down the waiting list that it is barely worth paying the registration fee, which is almost always non-refundable.
Since each nursery’s registration deadlines vary in direct proportion to the popularity of that nursery, it is well worth researching this issue long before your child’s birth date. Desirable nurseries in family-friendly areas such as Notting Hill will require registration forms and fees just days after birth.
Directly asking your favourite nurseries when they recommend registering puts the responsibility in their hands, and there is a chance that this could quickly dispense with any unnecessary stress. If the registration date recommended is a couple of days after birth, or even earlier, then it’s time to get organised. For example, it has become increasingly common to see women in their second trimester of pregnancy making nursery and school visits. In addition, either requesting registration forms from the nursery or printing them off from the website will allow you to fill in the majority of information at your leisure before the birth, which means that you only need add the date of birth and the child’s name before sending them off.
Registration fees can range from £50 to £130, and these are non-refundable if your application is unsuccessful. Therefore, you should only apply to those nurseries that are of real interest, and to which you have a reasonable chance of successful application.
It is important to communicate regularly with those nurseries with whom you have registered, as well as keeping them updated on any changes of address or contact information. Some nurseries do not allow visits before registration; rather, they will invite you to visit closer to the point of entry. It is always essential to make sure you have visited the nursery before confirming the place. Visiting a range of settings will give you more experience, allowing you to compare and contrast those you have visited and thereby making an informed and well thought-out decision.
The unfortunate reality for most London parents is that, due to such high competition for places, the majority of nurseries will encourage registration from birth, and if not before then up to eight months after birth, which will usually be sufficient to gain a place for a start at two or two-and-a-half years old. Although such a level of preparation at such an early stage may initially seem ridiculous, it will ensure you have the best possible information available as early as possible, allowing you and your partner to relax, look after yourselves during the last stages of pregnancy and enjoy the precious early days and months with your new baby.
Sabine Hook is the Early Years and Nursery Lead Consultant at Holland Park Tuition & Education Consultants | hollandparkeducation.com