Inspectors give toddler-designed nursery top ratings

Ross Bamforth Bella Rose, and Magnus Hay play outside. Picture: Greg Macvean
Ross Bamforth Bella Rose, and Magnus Hay play outside. Picture: Greg Macvean
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IT’S the nursery school designed by the toddlers who attend it – and now it can claim to be Scotland’s best.

Cowgate Under-5s Centre in the Old Town has secured an unheard-of nine “excellent” ratings across every assessment category after a quality check by experts from Education Scotland and the Care Inspectorate.

Delighted staff said they were told by one national inspector that she had only awarded six top grades in her entire working career – five of which have just gone to the trailblazing nursery.

The centre has a unique, “dialogue-based” approach, with children able to determine how they spend their time as soon as they arrive in the morning.

Inspectors have hailed the set-up as “outstanding” and say it means children have complete freedom to investigate and explore the world around them.

Their report states: “In all areas of the nursery, highly-knowledgeable staff provide comfort, encouragement and stimulation. Because their work is of the highest quality, children develop secure relationships with caring and trusted adults, and make excellent progress.”

Managers said the centre’s philosophy was one of encouraging children to take control of their learning at the earliest opportunity.

Youngsters are even free to hold meetings about aspects of the nursery they are less keen on and communicate their feelings to staff.

Lynn McNair, head of centre, said: “We designed one of our play rooms based on a theory of how you lay it out but the children said that they didn’t want it like that and drew their own plan.

“They sat down to talk about what they would like to change about the layout and the room by themselves. We had the quiet space in a quieter and more secluded part of the room but would you believe that they moved it to the centre?

“They said that’s where they wanted it to be – but it’s used more and the children even talk to you about it. It’s the most successful playroom we’ve ever had.”

Parents said the inspection results were “not at all a surprise”. Lucy Power, 35, whose daughters Bella, five, and Isla Rose, one, both attend the nursery, said: “I find that they really support each individual child – they really nurture them to be creative and free.

“I know that Bella feels a great sense of ownership there – there’s home and then there’s the Cowgate. It’s like a second home for her.”

City bosses said the Cowgate nursery’s success was only one example of the high quality of early years education available to families right across the Capital.

Councillor Paul Godzik, education leader, said: “The Capital Coalition has a commitment to ensure every child in Edinburgh has the best start in life.

“The Cowgate nursery is a shining example of how we are meeting that pledge.”


MANAGERS at the Cowgate Under-5s Centre say their approach to caring for toddlers is inspired by concepts developed as far back as the 19th century and specifically in the work of German educationalist Friedrich Froebel.

Froebel, who died in 1852, laid the foundations for modern education systems based on the recognition that children have unique needs and capabilities. Many of his ideas can still be observed in nurseries today, including learning through play, group games, goal-oriented activities and outdoor time.