Church Walk Preschool is celebrating after being rated ‘Outstanding’ in all areas by education watchdog OFSTED. The setting was inspected in October, and the report published online on Tuesday, 14 November 2023. The result was especially impressive as former deputy manager Lorna Walker only took up her position as manager in September, after previous manager Megan Eccles moved to a new role after a fantastic nine years at our setting.
In the report,the inspector said: “Children flourish at this wonderful setting where highly experienced staff provide meaningful and engaging learning experiences. A carefully planned and sequenced curriculum provides all children with opportunities to develop their skills.
“Staff challenge children to become deeply involved in their own learning, which supports them to develop resilience and critical thinking skills. They keenly encourage and prompt children’s ideas to help take their learning to the next level. Providers have exceptionally high expectations for children’s behaviour. Staff sensitively help children to learn the boundaries and rules of the setting through positive reinforcement. Children learn to be positive and respectful of their peers.”
The report also praised the preschool’s leadership team, Manager Lorna Walker and Deputy Manager Emma Wilding, saying, “Leaders work tirelessly to sustain the highest quality of provision. Meticulous analysis of the curriculum and its impact on children’s learning, detailed action plans and support from external partners are key in helping them to achieve this.”
The inspector also commented: “Partnership with parents is exemplary. Parents are highly involved in the setting and their presence is welcomed by staff and leaders.”
The inspection rating is even more impressive as Church Walk Preschool is one of only a very small number of voluntary-run settings remaining in the south of Cumbria. The preschool has charitable status, and is operated by a committee of volunteer parents and community members, led by Chair, Nicola Vogler, the setting’s registered person with OFSTED. Committee members hold director status and are accountable for financial decisions and appointments of employees, as well as overseeing that all safeguarding and safety standards are upheld.
Responding to the report, Manager Lorna Walker said: “We are absolutely thrilled to have received outstanding in all areas, especially when it is becoming harder and harder to achieve. I have worked at Church Walk Preschool Nursery for almost nine years and started the role of manager in September, so the thought of having an inspection one month into the job was a bit daunting. The previous manager, Megan Eccles, was incredible and had worked tirelessly for nine years to ensure that the nursery was providing the highest level of early years care possible, so I was lucky to be following in the footsteps of an excellent manager.
“We are a committe-run, charity setting with 34 families currently on roll within the nursery, as well as older children from Church Walk Primary School, who we offer breakfast and afterschool club care as well.
“Our inspector was lovely and put myself and the staff at ease straight away. We showed her all of the wonderful experiences our children receive and the inspector even came with us on our trip to the local church where the children were going to donate food for the foodbank and to learn a little more about harvest.
“All in all it was a really positive experience and my incredible staff and children really showcased all the wonderful work that we do here and why a play-based, child-led approach works so well to create confident, independent children who are ready for their next adventures into school life. I am thrilled that the ofsted inspector recognised that too.
“My entire staff team are the most kind, passionate, and dedicated women that you could ever meet. Unfortunately the Early Years sector is chronically under-funded so it really takes special people to maintain so much dedication to make a positive difference in every child’s life. The Outstanding grade, with no recommendations, is truly reflective of all of the hard work and commitment that they show day in and day out.”
Chairperson, Nicola Vogler, said: “We the committee are so proud of our dedicated team. The Outstanding rating is a true reflection of the superhuman levels of dedication displayed by the leadership team and their colleagues. Both my children attended the preschool, which is how I became involved in the committee, and now still attend breakfast and afterschool club. It would be impossible for me to carry out my busy role as Communications Advisor at BAE Systems Submarines in Barrrow, without the fantastic provision provided here at Church Walk.
“The result is especially impressive when set against the chronic funding issues experienced by the Early Years sector, and the recruitment issues also. As a charitable setting we keep fees for parents as low as possible, and support with advice on how to access support including tax-free childcare, and signpost other community services such as Warm Spaces and foodbanks. However, we struggle to recruit and retain staff as we are not funded well enough by central government to be able to match salaries in the school nursery sector. Rightly, nursery teachers in school settings are paid a teaching salary, but despite many of our practitioners being qualified at the highest level, we sadly simply cannot afford to pay similar rates, unless we charge parents extortionate fees. This, alongside the cost of living crisis, means we also rely on fundraising activities to keep us afloat.
“So I would also like to thank the whole local community for their support – this nursery truly does belong to the community. Parents and families attend our fundraising discos and summer challenge and give generously, and we’ve also been supported by local businesses (further details below).
“The construction of our garden room last summer, to make a dedicated, cosy space for children with Special Educational Needs or Disabilities I am sure has contributed towards this Outstanding rating, so thank you to all our supporters for that (full list below). The support from Baywind to allow us to install solar panels last October means our energy bills have significantly reduced, and we have reduced our carbon footprint significantly. This is so important for the future of the children who are attending their setting.”
The report can be read in full on the OFSTED website https://reports.ofsted.gov.uk/provider/16/EY332856