Sutton Valence Prep School Nursery
A friendly, caring Nursery that sits literally at the heart of the Sutton Valence prep school benefitting from all the facilities but with its own identity too
SUTTON VALENCE NURSERY
Sutton Valence Nursery sits in Sutton Valence Prep, a co-educational day prep school in Chart Sutton, just south of Maidstone, in a wonderful countryside setting, not far from the Senior School of the same name. The original building, below, is a grand red brick mansion and the rest of the school is housed in sympathetic modern buildings.
There are around 280 boys and girls (split pretty evenly around half of each) in the Prep, aged three-11 years, roaming in rural playing fields and woodland.
The Nursery itself has around 35 pupils in total attending in flexible Morning or Afternoon sessions.
A lot of schools will tell you that their Nursery is at the metaphoric heart of the school but at Sutton Valence they back this up with it literally sitting at the heart in terms of layout too. As you walk up to the main School Office the colourful, welcoming outside Nursery play area is seen just to the left.
The Nursery is made up of two rooms – both are big and bright with lots of different pockets of activities and engaging toys (a lot of which are well-designed wooden sets) so everyone finds something that interests them.
Children aren’t split between the classrooms according to their age. Staff find this encourages the younger Nursery members to model their behaviour on the older ones – and equally bigger children like to ‘set a good example’.
There’s a school hall in the Pre-Prep which is used for music and drama performances or Nativities at Christmas time.
The second of the two Nursery rooms opens out into this wonderful, safe outdoor play area. On the day of my visit there was a ‘pool party’ taking place. Not in the real Prep School swimming pool (lessons only start there from Reception age) but in two paddling pools set up in the bottom play area. The children are beyond thrilled.
Admittedly this is an ‘end of term’ fun activity rather than a weekly occurrence, but a typical example of the thoughtful variety of Nursery life.
LEARNING & FUN
The Nursery follows a two-year topic cycle to keep kiddies engaged and to ensure there’s no doubling up – some children will be in Nursery for almost two years if they are Autumn born (we had this issue with my son who was born in October and ended up doing almost a whole extra year before school than my summer-born daughter.)
Little ones are are encouraged to go as far as they want in terms of stimulation. They can start reading if this interests them. And if they move onto the Prep School, Sutton Valence welcomes children of all abilities into small classes, so there’s plenty of attention lavished.
A great USP for this Nursery is just how much it benefits from the expertise offered throughout the rest of the Prep school. Even Nursery gets visits from the specialist French, Dance and P.E staff that teach in the rest of the school. I met the Assistant Director of Music from the Senior School, who comes once a week to the Nursery. One minute he’s at the Senior School working with the choir, then the next he’s off to Nursery for some Wheels on the Bus! That’s a pretty high-calibre of teaching for bringing out any talent in those tiny ones.
And all this means of course that you get a good mix of male and female teachers even at Nursery level which you don’t often get at Primary age – certainly my son (who is now 10 years old) has never had a male teacher in his life (much to his dismay).
As I tour the Nursery, Hayley from Namaste Kids, turns up ready to run a yoga session for these lucky little ones. The emotional, physical and mental benefits of teaching a mindfulness practice such as yoga and meditation has been well documented, so it’s great that they start young here.
The Nursery does not exist in isolation and is seen as very much part of the school. It’s involved at every turn – right from its central positioning to playing an active roll in whole-school events such as the Leadership Week taking place at the end of the summer term. Nursery pupils buddy up with Y6s and do a fun obstacle course to install that all-imporant confidence.
Let’s be honest – nearly all of us keep the next step after nursery in mind when we’re looking around any childcare settings. School nurseries, like this one, provide a natural progression and can support families as they transition from nursery into ‘big’ school. School routines, teachers (some of whom will teach a child throughout their educational journey) and other pupils quickly become familiar, helping the child settle in quickly. At Sutton Valence Prep School, the Nursery is next door to the Reception classes and the children regularly play together during break giving them confidence in the next stage of school life.
If a pupil does move onto the Prep, it has the usual top notch facilities you expect at a high-end prep (full-size astro turf, tennis and netball courts, extensive sports fields, a heated swimming pool for the younger children, a sports hall, permanent cricket nets and a grass athletics track…). But also children here have the added advantage of access to the Senior School facilities. Just ‘over the road’ – or in fact a short 1mile minibus trip away – they can enjoy the benefits of Sutton Valence Senior School’s 25m indoor heated pool (lessons start in Reception), just one example of the plus point of having a big brother school near by looking out for you.
HEAD & STAFF
The head of the Pre-Prep is Miss Phillipa McCarmick. She’s very switched-on and also approachable and friendly. Fully encouraging an open door policy – in fact I get the impression that parents are as well looked after here as the children.
Mrs Una McInerney is in charge of Nursery – she’s motherly, kind and experienced – between the two of them they seem to have a good ‘Nursery dream team’ going on.
The childcare here is wonderfully flexible – you can sign up to anything from a couple of mornings a week to full wrap around care from (7.30am to 5.45pm should you need it) five days a week.
What’s more the Nursery is now open 50 weeks a year and takes children from three years old. They accept applicants for 15 hours of funded care a week and 30-hour funded places (where applicable) – so a really strong offering here.
Lynsey, the Nursery Supervisor, also runs the Breakfast Club – so a friendly familiar face first thing in the morning. Similarly Lisa who oversees Little Suttons at the end of the day is the Assistant Nursery Manager – another well-known staff member to the children so lots of consistency in their day even if they’re starting early and leaving late. Music to the ears of working parents no doubt.
WORD ON THE GROUND: Parents I’ve spoken to have confirmed that they very much feel they are a priority and are always kept front of mind. One mum commented that she enjoys the professionalism and peace-of-mind of using a Nursery that’s attached to a school, over a private run Nursery.
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
Good for: Great option if you’re a working parent. Childcare is particularly flexible – there’s good offerings before and after school run by members of staff that the children will be familiar with. The vibe is informal and friendly. Also, if you’re happy with the setting and have the finances, there’s also the advantage of being able to move up through to the rest of the school and never have to think about school choices again.
Not for: It’s hard to think who wouldn’t like this Nursery. Fees would be the main issue – but having said that they accept funded care and prices are comparable to childcare Nurseries not attached to schools in the area.
Dare to disagree?! Don’t take my word for it! Have a look for yourself. To arrange an individual tour of the school please contact Abigail Betts, 01622 842117.
Sutton Valence Nursery, Sutton Valence Prep, Church Road, Chart Sutton, Maidstone, Kent, ME17 3RF, Tel:01622 842388, svs.org.uk/nursery