Nervous first time mother here. We have a choice between two nurseries when I go back to work full-time at 12 months. Both are rated Ofsted outstanding and are within a stone's throw of each other.
One is £1150 a month - has won national awards, has yoga/dance/goodness knows what else classes included, dedicated cook on the premises with really healthy food, hugely popular, extremely professional and well-run.
The other is £950 a month, and seems perfectly nice, but clearly not in a league with the first. Just normal childcare, I guess.
At first I was very taken with the fancy one, but now I'm thinking - do babies and pre-school children really gain any benefit from all the bells and whistles? Is it worth £200 a month? What would you do?
I have done supply work in some private nurseries ( a few years ago now). On the whole I didn't like them much as they seemed to cram as many children as they were allowed into each room/space and things seemed crowded. Baby rooms were often great but the provision for 2-3 year-olds not so! Staff often didn't do much actual "playing" with the children (not that I always blamed them with all the paperwork they had to do). Once or twice I felt staff were inappropriate in their interactions ( eg huuuge room full of noisy children and nursery nurse yelling "Oi xxx, shut up!") and once, dangerously, an outdoor play area had a bucket half-full of rain water just left in one corner.
I also did some supply work in the nursery part of a children's centre which was much nicer and more spacious and staff played/interacted more with the children.
The not so good nurseries tended to be ones where the manager was not the owner of the nursery. I got the impression that strategic decisions ( ie how many children to take on etc) were made by he owner and the manager just had to cope! There were signs of trying to make maximum profit, which sometimes didn't sit well with high quality care.
If it were me - I'd look for telltale signs of "pile-em high and sell'em cheap" attitude especially in the older children's rooms. Key things might be overflowing/inadequate storage for child's nappies/change of clothes in toilets or cloakrooms, rooms with large numbers of older children in, very noisy older children's rooms ( unless doing a specific "noisy" activity of course). Do you actually see any staff playing with children as you go round? How are the staff speaking to children ( shouty or calm and controlled). Do they always only have the minimum level of allowed staffing or are their "extra" staff? How many more mature/experienced staff do they have?
I suspect that nurseries actually managed on a day to day basis or nurseries provided by workplaces are less likely to suffer from the above than others, but of course this is a generalisation!
All these things would be far more important to me than actual ofsted ratings!
I had a really bad experience with a similar top league nursery in Edinburgh, to the point I complained to the care commission. I moved my daughter to a small, non fancy nursery, and it it was so much better. Go with your gut feeling! Do the children seem happy? How long have the staff been there etc?