Add a nursery

  • 28th June 2024

Katie Cardona explains why establishing a nursery as part of an independent prep school can be a valuable addition


The media is currently awash with stories about childcare. Improved funding for two-year-olds is about to be introduced, the demand for all-year-round childcare has increased during the cost of living crisis as both parents work full time, there’s a shortage of places in nurseries and pre-schools in some areas of the UK, and there are difficulties in recruiting and retaining staff.

Childcare comes in many shapes and forms, with the majority of the options having a hefty price tag attached and there may be problems with childminders, nannies and day care settings (which can be part of large groups of nurseries and nurseries within schools, both state and independent). The choice facing parents is bewildering, but the option of a nursery setting for your child within an independent school could provide a simple and compelling proposition.

Recently we at Reed Brand Communication carried out two pieces of significant research that left us convinced that nursery provision is a much-needed opportunity for growth for prep schools. The first research project focused on the experiences that marketing departments had had when focusing on early years. The second was looking outward at the early years sector as a whole and part of this was an in-depth study of independent day care nurseries. Their sophistication was enlightening, revealing an in-depth understanding of parents’ needs as borne out by their comprehensive websites and marketing.


These independent nursery chains, such as Busy Bees, Kids Planet and Bright Horizons, provide a compelling and attractive option for parents in terms of hours and provision. Their educational offering is impressive as they tend to follow a curriculum like a state school nursery would, they offer hours to suit working parents, and advice and support for parents in the form of talks and forums. Independent schools can easily match this and potentially offer more.

So, what is the value of a nursery to an independent school? Here are the main points to consider:

  • Financial sustainability is at the top of all governors’ agendas. A bigger school will offer better resilience in the current climate and what better way to grow your school than by starting at the bottom of the educational pyramid? Bearing in mind that the average annual cost of a full-time nursery place for a child under two in the UK is around £15,000, a well-run nursery with an excellent reputation represents a significant source of income. We are seeing large numbers of independent schools opening a nursery from scratch or developing the current provision by extending the hours they offer and/or reducing the age of the children they take, led by parental demand.
  • Nurseries within school settings are a valuable recruitment tool for attracting families, most particularly for prep schools which are already facing admissions challenges due to the affordability of school fees and a drop in the birth rate. Parents seeking a seamless educational journey are more likely to choose a prep school that offers a nursery. Schools are very aware of this so work hard to make places in the nursery available to families who express an interest in their child staying at the school. For a prep school this could mean seven years of fee income and, for an all-through school, substantially more.

Getting started

While there is the set-up cost of a nursery, it’s likely that the school will have the space to do this and the nursery (unlike independent day care nurseries) won’t have any rent or mortgage to pay.

We are all aware that the Labour Party has confirmed its intention to add VAT to independent school fees should it win the next election, but there’s still much debate on whether this would include nurseries. Would nursery provision qualify as welfare services and be exempt from VAT? Until Labour publishes its manifesto the details are unknown. Without 20% VAT on the fees, nurseries within independent schools could look even more attractive.

Another big plus is that independent school facilities and resources are very attractive to families. Extensive grounds and specialist teachers for PE, music, languages and art can be used and adapted for younger children, giving nurseries in independent schools a competitive edge over the day care nurseries.

And for parents…

What could be more convenient and reassuring for parents than to take their child to nursery at 8am, collect their child at 6pm, and have the peace of mind during the day that their child is in a stimulating early education environment where cognitive, social and emotional development are key elements of the provision, thus laying the foundation for future learning which can take place in the same school. Parents often talk of a ‘family feel’ in prep school settings. If this is evident in the nursery, it is an additional attraction for parents.

Continuity of education is an increasingly important factor for parents choosing a nursery setting. They are able to establish a relationship with the school and maintain it throughout their child’s school years. Their child’s friendship group and familiarity with the setting are key reassurances.

For this to work effectively…

The nursery provision must meet the parents’ needs in terms of hours offered. 8am to 6pm, Monday to Friday, for 48-50 weeks a year is what most working families are looking for. Most independent school nurseries offer places to two and three-year olds, but the trend for baby rooms accommodating infants from the age of six months is growing to meet the needs of parents as they come to the end of their maternity and paternity leave.

It must be appropriate for your school to factor a nursery into its strategy. Whether you are considering starting a nursery from scratch or developing your current provision, research is key to your decision-making. Insight and data are vital to assess whether there is demand in your catchment area, the ability to pay nursery fees, and what the competitive landscape looks like.

Communicating your nursery’s provision in clear terms to prospective parents is of the utmost importance. Parents needs to see quickly and easily the age group catered for, the hours on offer and the cost. When a school nursery is a relatively small part of a wider, all-through provision it is often buried within the school’s website which makes finding the all-important information difficult for parents.

Getting it right

If a school gets the nursery provision right in terms of offering and communicating that offering, it can make a very valuable contribution to the school’s financial sustainability and growth.

A nursery within a school can enhance the overall educational experience offered, as well as providing practical benefits for busy families, making the school’s overall offer more attractive.


Katie Cardona is a consultant with marketing and research firm Reed Brand Communication.

Katie Cardona

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