Nursery Management

Quality practice in early years

  • Quality practice in early years

We hear from NDNA’s Fiona Bland on what quality practice looks like…

How do we define quality?

Defining quality in early years can be a challenge as ‘what quality looks like’ can be a very individual concept based on a person’s pedagogy, experience, training and other personal viewpoints. As a team, you can create your own shared vision for what quality looks like. 

Meet as a team to discuss your vision/ethos and determine quality based on related research, curriculum documents, statutory documents, staff knowledge and experience of the children you all work with. 

You may want to start with small steps and consider one area of practice, such as language development with babies, and reflect on what quality practice might look like for this aspect of practice. Once you have determined what constitutes quality practice in the area you are monitoring, you can identify the evaluation resources you can use. 

Involving the whole team in the process of defining what quality is will support a shared understanding, provide a range of perspectives, empower staff to take ownership of their own practice and work as a collective to deliver and maintain quality practice across all age groups.

Why is quality practice important?

We know that a child’s earliest years are the most formative – it is the time their brains are growing and developing billions of new connections.

There is a range of available research, such as EPPE or EPPSE and SEED, that tell us that high-quality provision is critical for good outcomes for children. 

The ‘Early Intervention: the next steps’ report (2011) found that a child’s development score at just 22 months can serve as an accurate predictor of their educational outcomes when they reach 26 years of age, demonstrating the incredible importance of a child’s earliest years. 

Having this research data confirms not only that effective high-quality provision is important, but also that it’s every child’s right to experience high-quality early years provision

How can we measure quality?

When we measure quality, it’s much more than a snapshot in time or a visit by a regulatory inspection body.

Quality needs to be measured in a range of ways and times to ensure you get a true evaluation of all aspects of practice. Tools you may use to measure quality: 

  • carrying out room audits
  • peer observations
  • room observations
  • monitoring children’s progress
  • supervisions and appraisals
  • external support visits from sector professionals
  • feedback from specialists such as a speech and language therapist
  • taking part in quality assurance schemes
  • views from the children using your provision
  • feedback from parents and families

Using a range of tools to measure quality will provide you with a more holistic approach to all elements of your practice. 

How do we evaluate practice?

Reflective practice is a critical component of developing high-quality early years practice. 

With any tool that you use to measure quality, it’s essential that you evaluate the impact of what you have observed/measured and evaluate this to identify the impact on positive outcomes for children. 

If you cannot identify a positive impact, you will need to reflect on why this is and what else you may need to do to bring about a positive change. High-quality practice and evaluation is an ongoing process and should form part of your everyday practice. 

In addition to practitioners’ skills, competencies and perceptions you also need to have a realistic and honest approach to assessing quality, being able to be a critical evaluator and providing constructive feedback is essential to developing practice. 

Ensure that you link your quality practice evaluations to your action plans, supervisions and business plan so that your action plan is not looked at in isolation, but is integrated into your everyday practice documents.

What makes a quality environment?

A high-quality environment incorporates a number of elements alongside the physical spaces and resources, it also includes: staff with knowledge of child development who can sensitively tune into children’s needs, key people who develop secure attachments, open-ended play resources, opportunities for children to ‘have a go’ and face challenges, autonomy for children to lead their play and follow their interests, staff who are reflective with a commitment to ongoing improvement, and cooperative partnerships with children’s families. 

This list could go on and each person may be able to add elements of their own pedagogy. 

Create a stimulating and playful environment both indoors and outside where children feel safe and comfortable to try out ideas, investigate, solve problems, take risks, have fun and develop interests in the world around them in a safe, well-resourced and stimulating environment. 

Crucially they should be supported by knowledgeable practitioners who understand how to encourage playful learning and development. 

Practice should be inclusive, with the children’s individual needs at the heart of everything the setting does, with practitioners and children sharing and celebrating similarities and differences within their setting, local communities and wider society in which they live. 

Parents and families are as unique as the individual children in your setting. Parents come into an early years setting with a wide range of experiences, skills, views and attitudes, confidence and knowledge.

So it’s vital that you have a range of strategies that enables parents to become part of your nursery life and to share the knowledge they have about their child. 

Through working with parents and other relevant professionals, you can establish cohesive and complementary ways to support children’s progress at home and in the setting. 

You should have high expectations for all children to develop to their full potential, providing interactions that encourage and extend children’s ideas, thinking, communication and language development. 

Observation, assessment and planning must be purposeful and age or stage appropriate, reflecting the journey each child has made and supporting each child’s future development and learning. Ensure a clear understanding of your role in supporting children and families to make healthy and safe choices in life. 

These include promoting a balanced diet for children following appropriate nutritional guidelines and a commitment to promoting children’s physical development, minimising sedentary behaviour.

How do we lead quality improvement?

Leading on quality practice involves leaders and managers using research, reflection and evaluation to develop a sustainable business underpinned by sound policies, practices and procedures, to help children have the best start in life. 

Good leaders promote an ongoing drive for quality improvement underpinned by a good sense of self-awareness, self-evaluation and reflection. 

Leaders have a clear vision for the future, with aims and objectives and plans in place to achieve these. They monitor outcomes for children to ensure that all children are making good progress and any gaps in development are identified early so support plans can be actioned. 

Supervision and performance management arrangements are part of the process of monitoring quality practice. 

These provide staff with professional discussion opportunities to reflect on their roles and responsibilities, identify training needs, support staff wellbeing and celebrate successes. Recognising and acknowledging staff achievements are critical elements of motivating staff to continue striving for excellence.

NDNA’s Quality Counts accreditation provides a holistic approach to evaluating your practice through four detailed audits and an external accreditation visit. Read more at

To find out about NDNA’s Review of Quality Practice, visit