Quality is a word that has been hijacked by the marketing industry -

to the point where the only meaning we can safely attribute to it is one of vague approval on the part of the company selling us something.

But quality, as it impinges on our children, must be much more specific.

What do parents want for their children, whether they are at a childminders, nursery or playgroup or an out-of-school club?

First, they want to know that the organisation is valid and the staff trustworthy.

All childcare organisations for under-eights, operating for more than two hours a day, must comply with the Children Act; all are inspected by the Registration and Inspection Unit and all staff are police checked. The same applies to registered childminders.

As important, from the point of view of safety and quality of care, is the staff-to-child ratio. In all registered settings, there must be at least: one adult to every eight children aged 3-8; one adult to every four children aged 2-3 and one adult to every three children under two.

Always ask, as some nurseries exceed the minimum. But, of course, quality of care goes beyond ratios. You want your child to thrive and develop.

If he/she is taking up an early education place, the nursery/playgroup will be inspected by Ofsted to ensure the children are following the Foundation Stage. Ask to see the report.

What else? Quality standards proliferate, but only a few are recognised by the Early Years Development and Childcare Partnership (EYDCP).

They are: The National Day Nurseries Association quality standard, the Pre-school Learning Alliances and the Certificate for British Teachers (nurseries/playgroups); the Aiming High from Kids Clubs Network and one operated by Northumberland Out of School Initiative (out-of-school clubs).

However, don't be entirely seduced by certificates and numbers. Many excellent playgroups and out-of-school clubs cannot as yet afford to work towards a quality standard.

In East Sussex, we are working towards this with subsidies and aim to get 40 per cent across the county recognised.