Saturday, 23 October 2021

How to choose the best childcare

THE media is full of articles reporting on the latest research, with results that suggest sending your child to a

THE media is full of articles reporting on the latest research, with results that suggest sending your child to a nursery/childminder/nanny will turn them into a genius/delinquent/rocket scientist (delete as applicable!) It’s no wonder new parents agonise over the right choice.

As a parent who returned to work when my son was six months old I relied on the old-fashioned methods of personal recommendation and gut instinct. Enthusiastic recommendation of one particular nursery from several colleagues, the minute I announced I was pregnant, seemed like a positive thing and it was ultimately this nursery that I chose. I was really happy with the care my son received for the next two years.

I now run a nursery company which cares for more than 200 children at different sites. I continue to maintain that first impressions are critical and when friends ask, I will always say, ‘Don’t look at the interior design and colour schemes, but talk to the staff, look at how they interact with children and just see how you feel about the whole place’.

One of the first decisions parents must make is whether to have their child cared for in their own home or take their child to a childminder or nursery. Each option has its pros and cons.

A qualified nanny will look after the child in your own home and is very flexible. Cost varies from £400 to £500 nett per week, with parents responsible for tax and NI payments. With this option one individual cares for the child all day, which some see as an advantage, others may see as a risk.

Childminders are registered with OFSTED to care for other people’s children in their own home. This provides a homely environment and domestic routines, but your child will have to fit into someone else’s routine, particularly if the childminder drops off and collects older children from school.

Day nurseries provide care in a registered premises by qualified staff, usually in age-based groups. Several staff are present all day and should get proper breaks away from the children. A range of activities and social interactions with other children are provided, in a safe environment. However, if your child is ill you will have to make alternative arrangements or take time off work. Nurseries also operate fairly fixed hours, so if you work very long hours, or unusual ones, they may not suit you.

It is worth having a careful think about which elements of childcare are most important to you, as well as the financial implications of your choice. In Oxfordshire the local authority provides a good website with guides that you can download and a full directory of all providers in the area. Visit

Whether you decide on a nanny, nursery or childminder, draw up a shortlist and visit or meet at least three of each to give you good grounds for comparison. It is always worth speaking to parents who use the type of care you are looking for.

A recent survey of childcare costs suggests that the average can be between 10 and 20 per cent of a family’s income. Once children turn three they are entitled to 15 hours’ free Early Education per week, during term-time, which is paid directly to the care provider. From September 2013 this offer also extends to the 20 per cent most disadvantaged two-year-olds, rising to 40 per cent in September 2014. If you think you may be eligible for this, speak to your health visitor, social worker or local children’s centre and they will explain how you apply.

The current tax credit programme is also helpful to many parents and can make a considerable contribution towards childcare fees — and not only for those on very low incomes. More information is available at

The use of employer childcare vouchers is also a real benefit for working parents as tax breaks are available for both employers and employees who participate in a “salary sacrifice” scheme. Both parents can claim the allowance, which can result in a saving of more than £1,000 each per year in tax. For more details visit

If you are reading this whilst expecting your first child, you may be feeling rather overwhelmed! However, the earlier you start to think about how you would like your child to be cared for when you return to work, the better it will be for you both. Whether you are working full or part-time, or whether you just want your baby to be looked after for a few hours each week to give you some time to yourself, you need to be comfortable with the care that you choose. Give yourself plenty of time, speak to other parents and don’t leave it until the last minute or you may not be able to have your first choice. It is reassuring to start your maternity leave with a clear idea of what will happen when you decide to go back to work. Don’t forget, you are entitled to a minimum of 6 months maternity leave and you also have the right to ask for flexible working hours when you return to work. However, that is a whole subject in itself, maybe another time!

Sarah Steel

Managing Director

The Old Station Nursery


Choosing the right care for your child can seem like a minefield. Sarah Steel, managing director of The Old Station Nursery on Fair Mile, gives advice.

More News:

POLL: Have your say