Christchurch Preschool is situated in the crypt of Christchurch Church in the heart of Clifton. It’s run as a not for profit organisation, with a strong emphasis on community. The community bond is an intrinsic part of the setting’s ethos. Jayne, the pre-school’s manager, explains that the setting is committed to providing affordable childcare for all ‘it’s about increasing cultural capital and the best way we can do that is by being extremely inclusive and to stop any barrier that is around accessing anything that we do here’.
Christchurch Preschool began their Bristol Standard journey over seven years ago when Jayne was new to the role of preschool manager. Jayne explains how embarking on the Bristol Standard gave her and her inherited staff an opportunity to ‘really focus and think on why things were being done, it’s those words intention, implementation and impact. We saw it as a way of looking at what would be good; it was a good vehicle to get everyone on the same page. It also helped to think why we do things and the reasons for change and that just because we change things, it doesn’t mean that what happened before was rubbish. It just means this what we can do to get better; lets evolve and own things for ourselves.’ Initially Jayne and her team had mentor support and ‘as a staff group we got together, gathered all the information, looked at a dimension and wrote out our strengths and answered the questions, it got us to think about what we’re doing, then we pulled out what we wanted to do for our targets.’
Despite the city location and being based in the crypt of a church, there is huge emphasis and recognition of the benefits of children accessing the great outdoors. The setting is passionate about forest school with weekly sessions to a nearby forest. The setting share their forest school philosophy with the parents ‘We wanted to embed the forest school ethos and get parents on board we do a lot of education around that. So we do forest school parent sessions, normally on a weekend.’ Jayne explains how involved the parents get and what a contrast it is to their everyday lives, ‘it’s great to see three dads painting a tree with mud saying “we feel so much better, this is good for our well-being”’. As an extension to this, for the past seven years, the preschool have taken all the families away for a forest school weekend, where they camp and cook together ‘it’s really lovely and makes a real community for our children’. The success of forest school has inspired the setting to take the love of outdoors further and this was a main focus of their targets for the Bristol Standard. The targets involved stretching the forest school experience to incorporate beach school. ‘This was fabulous. We realised that for a lot of the children this was just incredible, giving them something to talk about, something to recall. It’s very difficult to talk about being on a boat if you’ve never actually seen one.’ Jayne explains that from the beach that they visit the children can see a large variety of marine traffic as well as both the Severn crossing bridges.
Jayne and her team had seen what a beneficial outcome the beach school target had for the children and decided to pursue it further. The passion for enabling children to experience nature and the great outdoors had expanded. The lucky children of Christchurch Preschool do not just experience forest and beach school, but mountain school, where they can climb Sand Point and look across the River Severn and beyond; river school where then can take kick samples to investigate what lies on the riverbed and also meadow school where they can run through the grass and observe the butterflies that fly up. ‘How are children going to write stories about things like that when they’re older if they’ve had no experience of that? Some of the children would do that as a family but others wouldn’t, so would have no experience of mountains or rivers.’ Jayne explains that this target has had a huge impact ‘I think it’s the extension of the beach school into all these other experiences, which then bolted on to the forest school experience which are providing opportunities for our children to experience all that rich language, develop resilience, problem solve and embrace change. The children have experienced awe and wonder; there are times when they have been in wonderment. It’s that quest for knowledge, we’ve given them the idea that they can find things out’. At meadow school the children were able to use an app to help them identify flowers and butterflies.
It is clear that parental involvement is hugely valued by the setting and their opinions respected. The parents have the opportunity to contribute towards anonymous surveys and to provide verbal feedback and this feedback has been used to inform targets for the Bristol Standard. The parents are ‘obviously very pleased when we get the award and like looking at the folders.’ The setting liked having tangible folders for the Bristol Standard to share with parents, Ofsted inspectors and to be able to look back and reflect on all that they had achieved.
When asked what advice she would have for those considering embarking on the Bristol Standard journey Jayne says ‘Do it! Just do it! Just start. Our Ofsted inspector really liked it and spent a lot of time looking at it.’ There is a real sense that the Bristol Standard journey for Christchurch Preschool is a collaborative effort and Jayne recognised the need to make it a team effort ‘play to your strengths and harness your skill set so if you’ve got someone who is excellent at writing things up and finding pictures and being the note taker and would be proficient at being the coordinator for it, you don’t need to lead it as the manager, it can really be a team thing In our setting our EYP Nicole has taken responsibility for it, she has driven it forward’. Jayne is enormously grateful to have such a talented and committed staff team who have all contributed to gaining the award. As a team they have developed a strategy for collating evidence and ideas throughout the year to use with their Bristol Standard, using a file to store evidence and photographs ‘it makes the collation of everything much better’.
It is obvious that the importance of providing quality experiences for the children and also fostering long term and positive relationships with the children, families and the wider community is at the heart of all Christchurch Preschool does and that the Bristol Standard has been a fantastic tool for them to use to reflect on and develop all of this wonderfulness even further.