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Sector report

Non-maintained nurseries


Click on individual markers for provider details

Note – All funded early education in Swansea and Neath Port-Talbot local authorities is provided by maintained schools. These are included on the primary sector map as schools that cater for the nursery age range.



Number of providers 2023


Number of providers 2022


Number of providers 2021

Core inspections

No. of core inspections: 92

Welsh-medium: 42

English-medium: 50

Case studies

No. of case studies: 11


No. in follow-up September 2022: 5

No. removed 2022-2023: 5

Downgraded: 1

No. went into follow-up 2022-2023: 2

Total in follow-up in August 2023: 3

During 2022-2023, overall, non-maintained nursery settings continued to provide strong care, support and guidance that had a positive impact on children’s well-being. Leaders and practitioners focused well on developing Curriculum for Wales and implementing the Curriculum for Funded Non-maintained Nursery Settings (Welsh Government, 2022). This improved opportunities for children to learn and explore independently, with practitioners developing an effective understanding of when and how to intervene in children’s play to help them make progress. Settings were beginning to develop their assessment and observation processes appropriately, although not all settings used these well enough to support children effectively. Generally, leadership in settings continued to be strong with leaders having a clear vision for their settings. However, the sector continued to face difficulties with recruiting suitably qualified staff, especially in Welsh-medium settings. There also continued to be some inconsistencies in the effectiveness of self-evaluation processes. As a result, leaders did not always identify the most relevant areas for development or include all practitioners in self-evaluation.

A young girl playing outside

Teaching and learning

Throughout the year, we saw an increasing number of settings beginning to implement Curriculum for Wales and the Curriculum for Funded Non-maintained Nursery Settings successfully. The Curriculum for Funded Non-maintained Nursery Settings links closely to the principles of child development, as well as to the four purposes, the statements of what matters and the six areas of learning and experience of Curriculum for Wales. These settings provided more purposeful opportunities for children to influence and lead their own learning.

Where this approach was most effective, practitioners had a clear understanding of how planning in response to children’s interests and stage of development supported progress in learning. They provided hands-on, engaging experiences in an authentic context that was meaningful to the children. Practitioners achieved an appropriate balance between allowing children to make their own decisions about where and with what they wanted to play, and their own plans and knowledge about what skills different children needed to develop. They refined their planning regularly in response to the needs of the children.

In many settings, where teaching was strong, practitioners made good use of highly effective questioning to develop children’s learning and thinking skills. They encouraged children to make purposeful decisions about their play, for example by finding the correct container to refill a water tray. Practitioners knew when to intervene, and when to step back to give children time to work things out for themselves.

Effective planning at Caban Kingsland in Holyhead, Anglesey

The setting has embraced Curriculum for Wales and practitioners have developed a highly effective approach to responsive planning. They have struck an excellent balance of allowing the children to make their own decisions about where and with what they would like to play, alongside their own plans and knowledge about what skills different children need to develop. This is particularly important and effective for children who may be experiencing challenges to their learning. This balance of open access free play, combined with a wonderful range of resources, and the practitioners’ skills in knowing when to intervene and when not to intervene, is highly effective. Their whole approach is based upon developing every child as an individual. This allows the children to develop their confidence, resilience and self-esteem effectively.

In a few settings, where provision was not as strong, practitioners did not always plan well enough for developing children’s skills. They did not provide beneficial opportunities for children to experiment with new experiences or to challenge themselves. In these cases, adults over-directed the learning with few opportunities for children to find things out for themselves. In a very few settings, practitioners did not plan enough valuable opportunities for children to use the outside area to develop their skills progressively.

Throughout the year, settings began to revise their observation and assessment arrangements suitably in line with the draft assessment arrangements for funded non-maintained nursery settings. Many practitioners knew their children well from talking to them and observing them playing. They used this information appropriately to provide opportunities for children to build upon their existing knowledge, skills and understanding. A majority of practitioners made useful assessments and observations of children, noticing what they could do well and where they needed support, and identifying the next steps in their learning. In a minority of settings, the use of observations and assessments to plan experiences to deepen and extend learning was in the early stages of development. In these settings, practitioners did not always use information well enough to plan the next steps in children’s development. They did not consider sufficiently what skills they wanted children to develop or whether activities challenged children at the right level.

As last year, most children developed their communication and literacy skills effectively. They listened well to practitioners, and many listened respectfully to each other’s views, for example when selecting a story and settling down to share it. Many children chatted happily with their friends and practitioners and asked sensible questions. They used suitable language in their spontaneous and structured play, such as discussing ingredients in a recipe book before shopping in the setting’s role play area. Many children chose to visit their setting’s reading area readily. They enjoyed the content of books, demonstrating good early reading skills such as exploring and handling books independently, retelling familiar stories and making connections between books and their own experiences. Many children asked practitioners to read to them in different areas of the learning environment.

Many children’s physical skills developed well. They climbed and balanced on different obstacles and a majority used large toys such as toy cars, bikes and trikes with increasing dexterity. They used a range of equipment with increasing control and developed their strength and co-ordination both indoors and outdoors. A majority of children used mark making tools effectively to support their play, for example when writing shopping lists in the role play area or using chalk on the yard. Many children developed a good range of numeracy skills successfully and were beginning to use mathematical language confidently in real life contexts. For example, children visiting an allotment used their knowledge of weight and measure to describe the size of pumpkins. Overall, practitioners provided children with opportunities to be creative in their play, appreciating the creative process rather than focusing on a finished product. This meant that most children developed their creative skills appropriately through art and craft activities, choosing the materials and resources they wanted to use. Many children showed enjoyment and pleasure as they developed their creative skills effectively, for example, as they danced expressively and played percussion instruments successfully to familiar songs. Many children developed their thinking and problem-solving skills effectively, for example when making a den in the outdoor area and devising ways of stopping the tarpaulin being removed by the wind.

In a majority of English-medium settings, practitioners provided worthwhile opportunities for children to practise and develop their Welsh language skills. They used songs with the children and read simple stories to them. They used Welsh to ask simple questions and encourage children to name colours and numbers appropriately when playing. However, in a minority of settings, practitioners did not provide enough opportunities for children to hear or use Welsh as part of daily routines. Most practitioners in Welsh-medium settings planned well for the development of children’s Welsh language skills and supported those who were new to the language effectively. They provided a wide range of exciting learning and play activities that meant that many children, including those who did not speak Welsh at home, made good progress with their Welsh speaking skills.

Most settings celebrated and provided a few suitable opportunities for children to experience Welsh culture. For example, in addition to celebrating important days in the Welsh calendar, many settings also provided valuable opportunities for children to learn about their local area through regular visits to local amenities and historic buildings. Most settings provided a few suitable opportunities for children to learn about other cultures and beliefs such as through learning about Diwali and Chinese New Year. However, too often, resources and experiences to develop children’s understanding of equality and wider cultural differences were limited. As a result, children did not always learn about their wider society and the diversity of Wales.

A young boy playing in a playground with his teacher

Care, support and well-being

As in previous years, most settings continued to provide strong care, support and guidance to children that had a positive impact on children’s well-being. Most children arrived at their settings feeling happy, secure and eager to start their day. Many greeted one another happily and talked excitedly with practitioners about their news.

Nearly all practitioners interacted well with children and forged positive relationships with them. They interacted in a warm, friendly manner, helping to create calm and relaxing environments for children. In the best examples, practitioners were very attentive and supported children to become more engaged and independent in their play and learning, taking an interest in each child’s life.

Where practice was strongest, children had valuable opportunities to express themselves clearly. They had a strong voice and contributed positively to the way practitioners developed the provision. Where this was most effective, practitioners considered their interests and views and incorporated them into the planned activities, for example providing children with cameras to photograph autumn leaves in response to their questioning about the different colours. As a result, many children explored areas freely and confidently and decided what to play with and where to explore. They expressed their feelings and made effective choices about how they spent their time and with whom they played. Many children approached practitioners frequently with requests and engaged naturally in conversation with them.

Practitioners continued to place a strong emphasis on encouraging children to be healthy and active. They used positive routines and activities to promote healthy lifestyles. For example, they offered children a suitable range of healthy food and drink choices for snack. Nearly all leaders put suitable systems in place to manage allergies and, when necessary, the specific health needs of individual children.

Where practitioners ensured a good balance of adult and child led age-appropriate activities, children developed their independence skills well. For example, older children chose and prepared their own fruit at snack time. They collected their own bowls, tipped away unwanted food and put their dishes in the sink. Most children attended to their personal care skills appropriately, such as washing their hands at appropriate times and getting tissues to wipe their nose. In a few settings, children learned to help others by arranging place names, plates and cups, serving themselves with tongs and pouring milk at snack time.

In nearly all settings, leaders developed a comprehensive range of relevant policies and procedures to support practitioners to keep children safe. Nearly all leaders and practitioners had a secure knowledge of how to protect children and knew what to do if they had any concerns. In the very few cases where we identified issues with safeguarding, practitioners did not have a sufficient understanding of the setting’s safeguarding policy and procedures and did not implement them well enough. In a very few settings, health and safety procedures were not robust enough, such as procedures for signing adults in and out of settings or recording fire drills appropriately.

Most practitioners were positive role models for children showing them how to treat each other with respect and courtesy. They managed children’s behaviour skilfully, using positive strategies and clear explanations in line with their behaviour management policies. Many practitioners supported and anticipated children’s emotional needs well. For example, they prepared children and introduced them to unfamiliar adults visiting the setting.

Most practitioners used their knowledge of children well to provide suitable care that was appropriate for their needs. In the best examples, they used all information provided by parents and carers, including one-page profiles to adapt their provision according to individual needs. They identified children who may have additional learning needs (ALN) accurately and had effective systems for supporting them and their families. Many practitioners made effective use of support from the local authority.

Understanding children’s individual needs at Meadowbank Day Nursery, Abergavenny, Monmouthshire

Practitioners have extensive knowledge of children’s individual needs. They carry out observations as part of the daily session and use the information gathered to inform their planning and the next steps in children’s individual learning. Practitioners have an excellent understanding of every child’s needs, including those with emerging or additional learning needs. The Additional Learning Needs Co-ordinator (ALNCo) provides effective advice and leadership on all issues relating to ALN. Practitioners make excellent use of the links formed with specialist services such as the local authority’s Early Years ALN Lead Officer and speech and language professionals. Practitioners engage very well with parents when identifying children’s individual targets and reviewing their progress.

Young child playing outside

Leading and improving

Leadership in most settings was strong. Nearly all leaders provided a clear vision for their settings. In the strongest examples, they shared their vision with all staff and parents, and reviewed their policies and procedures to ensure that these reflected their vision.

Many leaders engaged practitioners effectively when reviewing their own practice, provision and progress of children. In the best examples, leaders considered the views of parents and advisory teachers well to help them form an accurate picture of their provision. The most effective settings utilised this comprehensive information well to identify strengths and areas for improvement. These settings had a good link between the priorities they identified and plans for development. They identified clear actions to address the priorities. These led to clear improvements in children’s progress, the quality of provision and practitioners’ understanding of the curriculum. However, in a few settings, although leaders often understood the need for these processes, monitoring and evaluation to support ongoing improvement was limited.

Many leaders conducted regular supervisions and appraisals with practitioners. They ensured that practitioners understood their roles and responsibilities well and encapsulated these in detailed job descriptions. Where this was most effective, leaders identified practitioners’ training needs and opportunities for continuous professional development effectively. In the most effective practice, this led to good quality provision that was regularly evaluated and refined. In the few cases where practice was not as effective, staff appraisals were too informal and did not focus well enough on identifying strengths, targets for improvement and training needs.

Nearly all leaders ensured that children were cared for in a safe and secure environment that was well maintained, clean, and a suitable space for children to play and learn. Many leaders and practitioners provided children with rich and stimulating environments that supported all areas of their learning and development well. These had a positive impact on children’s learning such as helping to develop their physical, social and communication skills.

Providing a rich and stimulating learning environment at Mini Miner’s Club, Ystrad Mynach, Caerphilly

Leaders work hard to provide an inviting, child-friendly and stimulating indoor environment that ignites children’s curiosity. They use an effective balance of natural and man-made resources. Each of the playrooms is bright and well organised, with clearly identified areas. Leaders ensure a level of consistency within the various playrooms to aid transition and develop a sense of belonging as children move through the setting. Practitioners provide a beneficial range of resources to engage children as they wait to enter the playrooms, for example a cosy book area where children can sit and share books with their parents and carers. Leaders make good use of real-life furniture and resources and see this as central to their vision for the setting. Each room contains attractive, child-sized furniture, ornaments, real clothes and kitchen utensils. These resources support children’s imagination and curiosity effectively and provide valuable inspiration for role play.

However, a few settings did not always have robust enough risk assessments to identify and mitigate foreseeable dangers. These often needed updating or tailoring to the specific characteristics of the individual setting.

In most settings, leaders made effective use of funding to enhance provision for children’s learning and development. They used the Early Years Development Grant and other grants efficiently. These had a positive impact on children’s physical, social and communication skills. A few settings also supported helpfully those pupils with additional needs, for instance by providing sensory whiteboards to help children develop early mark-making skills.

As in previous years, most settings continued to have strong links with parents and carers. They provided valuable information for them to support their children’s learning at home and understand the progress their child was making in the setting. Many settings held stay and play sessions to increase parents and carers’ knowledge of what their children did during the day, and how they liked to learn. These sessions created a strong bond and a sense of belonging between the settings and the families.

Many settings worked closely with their Early Years Advisory Teachers. They engaged in regular professional dialogue and acted on advice to improve the provision for their children. They also accessed beneficial training which supported them well in implementing the curriculum. This enabled them to keep up to date with the curriculum and put in a system to support children with additional learning needs. A very few Welsh-medium settings accessed valuable training opportunities on language immersion methods that have had a beneficial effect on improving children’s Welsh language skills. However, a very few settings failed to make beneficial links with the local authority, or wider community groups and businesses. As a result, a very few settings did not always make suitable use of the range of opportunities available to develop children’s learning and their understanding of the world around them.

Arrangements for transition between settings and schools were variable. In a majority of settings, leaders had secured effective partnerships with schools to ensure smooth transition for children. Where transition arrangements were well established, communication between settings and schools was regular and useful. Settings arranged for children to visit schools prior to starting their time there. For example, a few were able to have lunch in the school, while many attended occasions such as concerts, assemblies, or sports day. Many leaders arranged for teachers from the schools to visit the settings to meet the children in a familiar environment and to learn more about them.


Welsh Government (2022) A curriculum for funded non-maintained nursery settings. Cardiff: Welsh Government. [Online]. Available from: [Accessed 16 November 2023]