Nursery sector overview


Nursery sector overview

Sector overview

Day nurseries are childcare providers that care for children aged from birth to five years on non-domestic premises. They are distinguished from Preschools by their operating hours, generally running full day sessions of eight more hours. All day nurseries will be registered with their country’s regulator and can be run by commercial businesses, but also private individuals, and community groups.

Sector size

The UK’s nursery sector is estimated at about 20,000 settings across the country, the majority of which are either stand-alone single settings or small groups. However, in recent years it has become increasingly common for nurseries to be bought by larger corporate groups. Most of these consist of only a few settings in each, but some have dozens or even hundreds of settings under their banner.

Together, the UK’s nurseries employ over 180,000 individuals and look after over a million children. The sector as a whole is worth about £6.7 billion to the UK economy per year. (LaingBuisson 2020).

Service and delivery

Increasingly, nurseries operate from purpose-built or extensively modified premises, designed to be friendly to children, keeping them safe and stimulated. These may include multiple classrooms for different age groups, playgrounds, grassy areas, sandpits and play equipment. Care and education is delivered by highly qualified staff.

A major attraction of the nursery market is the sheer variety of delivery models available. From traditional nurseries in market towns, to huge city-based provision for hundreds of children, to forest schools that take early learning outside into nature, every successful nursery evolves to fit its environment and the demand in its local area.

Trends and development

Over the past 20 years, early years education and childcare has been increasingly recognised both as crucial to children’s development and to the UK’s economy through allowing both parents to work full time. Successive governments across the country have increased childcare entitlements, subsidising the delivery through payments from local authorities.

Many nurseries have found that in this environment, they have been able to attract capital investment, improving their buildings and expanding their reach, and developing their provision. As the sector has increased in sophistication, larger groups of nurseries have emerged, sharing resources and operating with shared pedagogical philosophies.