Strathisla Children's Centre, Keith

ELC Moray; working together to build a better future for our children (long read)

Early Learning and Childcare (ELC) in Moray has a new vision, with children at the heart of the future of Moray’s integrated early years service.

When the Early Learning and Childcare (ELC) expansion roll-out started in 2018 the offering in Moray was very different from what parents and carers will see, following significant investment of around £20m, from August 2021.

This is the story about how Moray Council’s ELC service went from five core staff to 20, while 53 practitioners increased to 144.

The core staff at Moray Council’s HQ, which is led by Early Years Service Manager, Hazel Sly, act as a support network for all ELC settings in Moray, not just local authority ones.

Hazel says of the newly declared vision for ELC: “It’s an honour to work with passionate and like-minded professionals to raise the profile of ELC.

“The children are at the heart of everything we do and having the shared vision across such a vast sector will really allow us to continue to grow and flourish.

“Working with families to build relationships and nurture their children is of paramount importance and to see that reflected in our vision is like a dream come true.”

Traditionally in Moray, local authority nurseries offered term-time only ELC to three and four year olds. While private, voluntary and independent (PVI) nurseries often opened year-round and for 0-4 year olds. Childminders also boosted the capacity of ELC in Moray, many working in partnership with the council.

From August this year, parents and carers are entitled to 1,140 hours a year in ELC for three and four year olds, funded by the Scottish Government, with most now able to take those hours over a full year and at times out-with the traditional school day in a variety of settings. Parents and carers can also top these hours up when using PVI providers and childminders in Moray.

The increase in hours, which Moray has been phasing in since 2018, is already helping parents to get back into work, training or studying.

Offering year round ELC provision is new for local authority settings and learning from PVI nurseries and childminders has been key to developing a service that meets the demand from parents, carers and guardians.

Linkwood Nursery is one brand new setting looking forward to following the year-round lead in a recently-constructed building.

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Case study from Nursery Manager, Elaine Gordon

Linkwood Nursery is a brand new purpose built year-round nursery within the grounds of Linkwood Primary School in Elgin. We’re able to use staff PVI experience to operate a full-time nursery.

It’s a bright and spacious building filled with lots of neutral furniture and natural resources. Resources are available for children to self-select at all times which fits in with our planning in the moment approach, allowing them to lead their own learning. Indoors, our block play area and workbench are very popular with our children and promote learning across all curricular areas. 

We offer free-flow indoor/outdoor play and early learning and have a lovely outdoor space where the children have the opportunity to explore their natural environment. We’re currently in the process of developing our outdoor space further as part of our nursery improvement plan. We’ve already created a music wall, bug hotel, water wall, stage and builder’s yard. Our outdoor mud kitchen and sandpit are also very popular.

Additionally, we’re very fortunate to have the ‘Linkie’ woods right on our doorstep and take the opportunity to explore the natural world within our local community during our weekly outdoor session.    

At Linkwood Nursery, we aim to provide a warm and welcoming ethos where we promote kindness so everyone is respected and included.

Parental involvement is very important to us and we aim to ensure everyone feels valued and part of our nursery community.

Our children’s mental health is also very important to us at Linkwood Nursery. To ensure everyone has a shared understanding of what this means we use our SHANARRI bears to promote the wellbeing indicators within our nursery. 

As a nursery manager, I feel so fortunate to have been given the opportunity to set up this amazing nursery, with a year-round offering that’s new for some settings. To be part of our team’s journey striving for excellence in supporting our youngest learners is the most rewarding of all.

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A large part of the renewed focus in ELC is meeting the new National Standard, which ensures consistency of quality provision that families can expect regardless of where they use their funded hours.

Embracing this direction of travel for the service, Moray Council has also introduced new partnership approaches by contracting ELC services from Flexible Childcare Services Scotland to operate from the brand new Council-owned Strathisla Children’s Centre in Keith.

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Case study from Nursery Manager, Eleanor Smith

On 12 August 2020, we opened in our temporary setting at the Longmore Hall as the construction of our purpose-built nursery had been put on hold due to Covid-19. We opened just as the first lockdown was coming to an end and began with only 11 children on the role. At first, we were anxious about the challenges that we faced with no immediate outdoor area and making the vast hall feel cosy, comfortable and welcoming.

Children have explored their community and utilised the amazing spaces across Keith, developing an understanding of their immediate environment and the green spaces within their town. We finished off our term with 33 children on the role and the most amazing memories that have been made during our first year.

The children have been part of the journey of the Strathisla Children’s Centre since the cutting of the turf, visiting the site regularly to monitor changes and have been excited to see it develop and even talk to the builders. They’ve re- created their observations into their play in the setting, making their own nursery from blocks and loose parts. Discussions on the new setting have been at the forefront over the latter months, and they’re excited to see the new building near completion. We know this will help with their transition by making it as stress free as possible.

The Strathisla Children’s centre will allow the children to have free flow play to outdoors, engage more in outdoor activities, open opportunities to grow their own fruit and vegetables and take part in the eco-schools.

Across the setting, the children will be able to choose more spaces to play while also having areas for quieter times such as the sensory room.  We also have plans for a large reading area.

We will continue to have relaxed lunches and snacks together, where children take pride in setting the table and making mealtimes a wonderful social event with their peers and staff. Furthermore, the beautiful new kitchen and eating areas will allow us to develop this further.

Children will now be able to be more independent when using the toilet facilities and hand washing and having an area specified for outdoor clothes will allow them to further develop self-help skills.

Although we’ve loved the Longmore Hall and are grateful for the use of it during a difficult time, the new purpose-built nursery will allow us to grow and continue in our improvement journey. We have plans in place for further developing parent partnerships and supporting families in Keith and surrounding areas by using the beautiful family room. They say, ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ and we feel we are embedded in the community and look forward to providing them with a wonderful high-quality setting.

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Childminder support has also received attention, with a new Childminding Officer post engaging and supporting those in the sector in Moray. The value of childminders to ELC is incomparable. Offering a longer, flexible, service has been a mainstay of the industry previously, with the expansion formalising a lot of the qualities, expertise and experience childminders provide to families.

Increasing the number of places required to ensure every three and four year old in Moray has access to their extended funded hours has meant significant investment. Over £20m has gone towards restructuring nurseries; increasing staff numbers; refurbishing and building new ELC settings; and bringing all provision up to the new National Standard.

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Case study from Pilmuir Nursery Manager, Bev Ashworth

Pilmuir Nursery opened its doors to children from Forres, and the wider community, in August 2020. The nursery offers year-round childcare from 8am until 6.15pm via a variety of attendance patterns to suit parents and families for children aged 3-5 years who are accessing Early Years funding from Moray Council.  

The nursery can accommodate up to 60 children at any one time, and we have a large staff team to support the children. The nursery will be looking to support a small group of eligible 2 year olds in the near future, which is a new venture for our nursery.

The large, light and bright interior is perfect for offering children a large variety of learning experiences using natural materials for furniture and resources which enhance the inside spaces.  The layout of the building allows wonderful creativity in a safe and nurturing environment. We have a separate area for quieter times to allow children opportunities to rest during the very busy day, a superb fully equipped sensory room and facilities to deliver quality lunches and light teas, provided by Moray Council’s catering team.

Our huge, secure wraparound outside space offers a variety of activities from large physical challenging play to more nature based learning. Children are free to choose where they want to be during the day, inside or out, in a completely free flowing way and are supported in their learning in all areas by our highly motivated and experienced staff team.

Alongside other providers, Pilmuir Nursery continued to support families during lockdown by staying open for the children of key workers to ensure they were able to fulfil their vital roles. The nursery team also continued to support all our families who were at home by sharing a variety of activities and learning experiences through our closed Facebook page and via regular contact from the team to individual parents.

Earlier this year, the dedication and hard work demonstrated by the fantastic team of staff at Pilmuir was rewarded by receiving awards of 5’s (Very Good) across all areas after the first inspection by the Care Inspectorate in the new building. It was rewarding to see the very positive comments from parents whose children access Pilmuir Nursery, as well as the efforts of the team being recognised. 

Once we are able to open our doors to the wider community, we hope to have a series of open days where we can invite people in to see what is taking place in our corner of Forres.

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Opportunities for a career in ELC in Moray has never been better. With positions available from entry level to management there continues to be a place for everyone who wants to contribute to shaping the lives of Moray’s young people. From Modern Apprenticeships to undergraduate degrees and beyond, gaining qualifications while working in the sector or qualifying first, there’s a continued effort to professionalise all levels of employment in ELC.

There’s often a range of contracts varying from part-time to full-time at locations across Moray. The new ELC in Moray website has more information about the sector in the region. A sector that’s working together to build a better future for our children.

Contact Information

Moray Council Press Office

pr@moray.gov.uk