How to start a nursery

It's no easy route to riches, but if you love working with kids then running a day care centre could be for you - here we cover how to launch your own...

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Starting a nursery: Rules and regulations

Childcare is a very sensitive issue. So the amount of red tape covering this area should come as no surprise.

Under the Children Act of 1989, anyone providing day care for children under the age of eight that exceeds two hours must be registered with the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted). The registration requirements differ depending on whether you will be operating the nursery from your own home or from dedicated non-domestic premises – this article assumes you will have dedicated premises. For a guide to registered a childcare operation from your home, click here.

Before you begin the registration process, you need to complete two preliminary stages – a DBS check and a health declaration booklet. A DBS check, formerly known as a CRB check, scans your history for prior criminal convictions to ensure you are suitable for looking after children. Application fees cost around £50, and you can apply online here.

The second pre-registration stage requires you to fill in a health declaration booklet, which requires you to detail any health problems and notify Ofsted of any medications you are taking. The current health declaration booklet can be found here.

The registration process looks at the ability of the day-care facility to provide care which conforms with the 14 national standards for day care and childminding. The 14 national standards are a baseline of quality that you, the staff and the premises must adhere to. During the registration process, you will need to demonstrate to Ofsted that you comply with the standards which include:

All members of staff must be ‘suitable’ to look after children, which means making sure they have had the appropriate police checks, and no unvetted person is left alone with the children. The manager of the centre must also have at least two years’ experience as a qualified nursery nurse, between one and two years’ experience in a supervisory role, and a relevant nursery qualification.


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All staff must meet the necessary training requirements. At least half of all staff must have appropriate qualifications (at least level 2 qualification for a day-care setting). All staff must have health and safety training and a child protection procedure induction within their first week of employment.

The size of a group of children must also never exceed 26, and should follow the following staff-per-child and space-per child ratios.

Age of childrenSpace required per childStaff ratio
Up to 2 years3.5 square metresOne to three children
Two-three years2.5 square metresOne to four children
three to seven years old2.3 square metresOne to eight children

*Table information taken from the National standards for Day Care and Childminding.

You must also provide a minimum of one toilet and one wash hand basin with hot and cold water available for every 10 children over the age of two years.

The children’s needs and welfare should be promoted through appropriate activities and play, which develop children’s emotional, physical, social and intellectual capabilities.

The premises must be safe and secure, and any furniture and equipment must be well maintained and conform to safety standards.

If you are intending to convert a residential property, things get a little more complicated as you will need to apply for planning permission. In particular, the planning authorities will check for adequate parking for all the parents dropping off and picking up their children. And if the local residents aren’t behind the plan, your application could be held up for a long time.

“It took us 12 months to get planning permission for one nursery because it was in a residential area,” explained Pat Perkins of the Wingfield nursery in Leicester. “The residents didn’t want a nursery and twice we were given permission but they challenged it so you automatically lose it and we had to go to appeal. But we met the criteria 100% and we didn’t go away.”

You should also seek advice from your local environmental health department to ensure you comply with legal obligations under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the Food Safety Act.

Ofsted will also notify your local fire authority of your registration application, and they may contact you to arrange an inspection. You will then have to meet any recommendations made to you by the fire authority.

Once you are registered, Ofsted will assess the nursery at least once every three years to make sure it conforms with the national standards.

More detailed information on the registration process and the national standards can be obtained from Ofsted or your local authority.

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