Mill Hill Nursery School in Sunderland achieves Centre of Excellence status.
Mill Hill Nursery School is a large standalone Local Authority maintained school situated in Sunderland. The school provides education for children aged between 0-5 years of age who come from a diverse range of communities. The school has effectively reviewed its provision according to the changing needs of their immediate community, resulting in the school offering childcare for 0-2- and 2–3-year-old children. In addition, the nursery is now open from 7.45am -5.30pm for fifty weeks of the year, nursery is staffed by qualified teachers, Early Years Practitioners and support staff. All of the team are dedicated to the children in their care. The school had their last OFSTED Inspection in 2017 and it was rated as ‘Good’.
Commitment to Continuous Development
Mill Hill Nursery forms one half of a hard federation with its sister nursery school -Houghton Community Nursery School. The schools share a Headteacher, governing body, SENDCo and Childcare Manager. The school also has a lead teacher and several Early Years Practitioners who lead, and have responsibility for, their own key groups. In addition, the school also employs some level 3 staff who are specifically employed to support individual children who are in receipt of additional funding. The nursery is staffed effectively to meet the needs of all the children in the setting. The school has recently received the silver Autism Accreditation Mark, this showcases and recognises the longstanding work undertaken for the high numbers of children attending the setting within the last ten years who have a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Condition. The school is also well on the way to achieving the Gold Standard and expect to have achieved this by the end of this academic year.
The IQM assessment of Mill Hill Nursery was done remotely over one day. During the time of this review the world was facing a global pandemic, COVID-19. Despite all of the challenges, the IQM Leader ensured that the assessment day ran smoothly with all relevant stakeholders being given a voice via a virtual platform. The IQM leader provided relevant supporting documentation to enable a thorough assessment of the setting’s inclusive practice prior to the day. All the staff at Mill Hill Nursery share an inclusive ethos which pervades throughout the establishment. Leaders have an accurate picture of strengths and areas for improvement and are highly focused on the drive to ensure outcomes for all children are high. Leaders and staff at all levels lead by positive example and are highly committed to ensuring that all children are fully included in the setting.
Mill Hill Nursery School has a continuous commitment to inclusion and a determination to provide the very best education for all of its children. Both the leadership team and governors as well as the whole staff team are experienced in working with a range of children and their families. The staff actively adapt the curriculum, learning environment, teaching and learning to meet the individual needs of the children or a group of children. All practitioners take time to listen to the learners and take into account their interest resulting in a child-centred approach to learning. At Mill Hill each child is seen as unique, and diversity is celebrated. Staff take collective responsibility to ensure that all children are included and that everyone matters. All the children who have different needs have these met through careful planning. The learning environment, both indoors and outdoors, is engaging, stimulating and open-ended, enabling children to develop independence but also allowing them to feel safe, secure and nurtured.
Child Centred Approach
The setting has a high proportion of children with SEND. Many children come to the nursery because of the setting’s reputation. All the children with SEND receive the intensive support they need with high quality interventions through teaching approaches, peer integration and a rich and exciting curriculum. All the children follow an individualised learning route that is specifically designed to meet their needs based on outcomes. This is supported by highly experienced, strong and established relationships with a range of specialist professionals. To further enhance the already established curriculum, the children who require particular support have access to additional learning environments, including a dedicated sensory space, as well as the forest and sensory garden. Children are able to use visual timetables, concrete objects of reference, communication equipment and a multitude of other resources to support their learning. The nursery is well staffed, and each base has a teacher and a number of support staff, depending on individual need. This enables those children who require one to one support to receive that support during the day.
Teaching in the setting is delivered in different ways and in a wide range of environments to suit the needs of the child. There is a strong emphasis on practical learning, with multi-sensory approaches in order to get the best possible outcomes and experiences for the child. Movement and sensory breaks are built into the day for those children who need it. The staff are highly skilled and experienced. They have access to a range of training opportunities as the leaders are committed to providing staff with high quality continuous professional development. Staff constantly reflect on their practice and actively look for ways of broadening their knowledge and pedagogical understanding. CPD includes training, for example, Early Bird training, Makaton training, PECs, Elkan, Understanding Behaviour Level 2, Level 2 Understanding Autism qualification, Thera play, Down Syndrome Awareness training. The setting has two members of staff trained for Coastal Schools and five members of staff who are Forest School trained.
Developing and Sharing Knowledge and Skills
At Mill Hill, there is a culture of reflection and staff development. The whole Federation has an action research and enquiry-based approach. For example, the highly experienced SENDCo has led the staff in an action research project aimed at narrowing the gap for pupils with a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Condition. The SENDCo has worked with the local specialist school for pupils with ASC together with the Educational Psychologist and wider specialist to overhaul the school’s assessment system for ASC children and to up-skill staff in this area.
Parental Support for School Ethos
Parents speak very highly of the leaders and practitioners. They feel that they are listened to, and the school has fostered a real partnership ensuring both parties share the process of educating their children. Parents commented that communication between home and school is excellent. If parents have any concerns, they are confident that staff will take them seriously and, where appropriate, act immediately. One parent spoke about the excellent progress her son had made at the nursery and appreciated the support given by the very approachable staff. She stated that,
“This is a great nursery, and the staff provide fantastic 1:1 support”.
Another parent said,
“Every child is treated in a unique way and all the staff go the extra mile to support the children. I can’t praise the nursery enough for the way that my child has grown in confidence. The staff are very special people!”
All the parents spoke about how effective the Seesaw app was as a means of communicating and they said that everyone is treated with care and respect.
Proactive and Supportive Governors
Governors are fully committed to the school’s vision, and they play a very positive, active and supportive role in the school. They have an excellent range of skills and expertise which they use effectively to ensure that all pupils are safe and receive a high-quality education. Governors are highly trained and knowledgeable about early years education, and they provide both challenge and support within the Nursery. Governors know the school’s strengths and areas of development well. They have an excellent understanding of the school’s vision and were integral to developing the school’s values and vision alongside children, staff and parents. They are proud of the school’s achievements, its positive and supportive ethos and its inclusive nature. The Local Authority representative works alongside the leaders and ensures that their excellent early years practice is shared with other educational establishments and leaders are open to supporting other practitioners within the authority.
All groups of children are encouraged to be curious about the world in which they live. As a result, they are motivated which means their levels of engagement and involvement are high. Effective, quality interactions, reciprocal relationships and teaching by staff ensures that children’s communication, language and learning are continuously being developed. The group of children with whom I met were confident and showed effective levels of concentration and demonstrated a real love for learning. Mill Hill’s overarching aim is that all the children in the nursery flourish and become independent, confident, caring and responsible young learners who leave the nursery with a real love of learning. All members of staff are dedicated and knowledgeable about early years provision and are passionate about improving outcomes for all children. They work collaboratively, drawing on their experience to provide effective support and guidance for all children. The team have a strong knowledge and understanding of the Statutory Framework for the Early Years Foundation Stage. They comprehensively know how children learn through play and through practising skills they have mastered. Staff skilfully and confidently plan exciting activities that meet the needs and interests of all of the children. Children are treated as individuals and, most importantly, are treated with care and respect.
Fire and Passion for Learning
The vision, pedagogy and practice at Mill Hill Nursery School are inherently inclusive. There is a shared passion, which emanates from all stakeholders, for inclusivity for all and a drive for providing an education based on the needs of individual children by tailoring the environment, resources and curriculum to meet the needs of the children. Careful and close observations of children form the basis of the curriculum in which children’s unique questions, interests and fascinations are used as a starting point to ‘light the fire and passion’ for learning. This is then moved forward by practitioners working alongside the children to research together as co-constructors of knowledge, skills and understanding. Practitioners are skilled at weaving a child’s next steps for learning and key skills into their curriculum through working in this way; using the unique starting point of each child within their group of learners to ensure the curriculum on offer matches their needs.
Promoting Equal Opportunity
Mill Hill Nursery School creates a caring, safe and secure environment within a framework of promoting equality of opportunity. The staff ensure that everyone feels respected and valued. They aim to create a supportive and inclusive environment in which children can be independent, as well as being suitably challenged in their development. It is a place where families are welcomed as partners and relationships are firmly embedded on mutual trust and respect. All the children are treated with respect and care, and they are all seen as unique individuals with all members of the staff valuing their differences. Every child at Mill Hill has a voice this can be expressed in many ways. The staff are highly skilled at listening, observing, giving them time and tuning into this voice so that every child is able to express their thoughts, fascinations and interests. These ‘consultations’ form the basis of the nursery’s curriculum in which children and staff work in partnership to explore, create and discover how exciting learning can be. The staff at Mill Hill endeavour to develop children’s confidence, resilience, self-respect and respect for others, have a voice and have the ability to think for themselves and see themselves as part of a wider community, embracing differences. This inclusive vision does not end with the children but also holds firm for the whole school community of families, staff and governors.
Strong Collaborative Leadership
All the stakeholders spoken to during the assessment were extremely positive about the setting’s work. There is a very genuine sense of team effort here, of mutual support, of listening, discussing and of including everyone. Exceptional features of this school include the very strong, collaborative leadership leading to an excellent staff team. This is coupled with excellent teaching and learning, high aspirations and expectations for all children within an inclusive framework.
Bright and Creative Setting
It has been a pleasure to have visited this setting virtually and to have spoken to such dedicated and enthusiastic staff. Mill Hill Nursery School is extremely well organised and staff make excellent use of the space available to them. The rooms are bright, cheerful and appealing to the children and their creative work and photographs are displayed throughout the rooms to further enhance this. Staff are well deployed, and an extensive range of resources further supports children’s individuality and decision making. The enthusiastic staff team work together remarkably well to make sure all children’s individual needs and interests are successfully promoted.
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