A NURSERY manager is leading the way for early years education having guided three centres in south Hereford to ‘outstanding’ Ofsted grades within 12 months.

Nicki Ovel has taken her creative approach to Merry-Go-Round at Riverside, the latest of her three Merry-Go-Round nurseries to open, in October.

Within five-months it had received Ofsted’s top grade – and already offers 70 places. Nicki is now looking to expand with more places available to two-year-olds as a result of a new local authority scheme.

Nicki – who has been in the business for 25 years, 18 with deputy manager Karen Robinson – uses a northern Italian philosophy to get the most out of the 150-plus youngsters who attend her nurseries.

The Reggio Emilia ethos gives the children – even at this young age – some control over their learning, allowing them to follow through with creative activities that interest them.

It has been a hit at Riverside, with Ofsted inspector Amanda Tompkin praising the “wealth of exciting and innovative experiences which sustain children’s learning and interest”.

Among them, a dance teacher and a group of lambs will come in this week, separately, to spend time with the youngsters.

Nicki said everything’s very creative.

“We observe what interests children," she added. "The Ofsted results are about leadership and safeguarding – but they also want to see your vision.”

Taking over the Belmont Avenue facility – formerly Springfield Childrens Centre – Merry-Go-Round now has 280 families in South Wye using its nurseries.

With Karen, Nicki splits her time between the three nurseries, with both the 70-place Green Croft Children’s Centre and the smaller centre at Our Lady’s primary school having also received outstanding grades within four days of each other last year.

Now, a new scheme to get some youngsters into education earlier is set to see a big increase on nursery admissions in Herefordshire.

Funding has been made available for some families who receive benefits to send two-year-olds to nursery for up to 15 hours a week for free.

As a result, the number of two-year-olds in early education is set to double in September with around 600 expected to take up places in the county.

It is already popular at Riverside with around half the two-year-olds at the nursery supported by local authority funding.

Nicki said: "There is obviously a need in this area.

"Because we got Outstanding we are already attracting a number of those families - which is good because it means they are getting high quality early education."