1st August 2020 All Posts Insights

Connect Childcare – an alternative to First Steps

Connect Vs First Steps
First Steps Software Screenshot (left) is direct from First Steps Website - September 2020

What’s the difference between First Steps & Connect Childcare?

Both nursery management systems have been available for a number of years and as a result have fairly traditional interfaces. There are however, lots of differences between the companies and the products they offer.

Let’s take a look at the company overview

Connect ChildcareFirst Steps
Founded in20041994
Cyber EssentialsYesNo
ISO9001No
The systemConnect Childcare - iConnect & ParentZoneFirst Steps Manager - First Steps Monitor - First Steps Tracker First Steps Parent Link
Cloud based storageYesOptional
Releases & UpdatesEvery QuarterUnknown - Last update of Manager in Jul 19

Feature comparison

Both systems offer solutions to the key challenges of nursery management, with systems that cover bookings, bills, observations & parental engagement. But a closer look shows the differences in features…

FeaturesConnect ChildcareFirst Steps
Everyday featuresTwo tier securityYesNo
.Offline FunctionalityYesNo
Child developmentObservationsYesYes
.AssessmentsYesSummative Reports
.Next StepsYesYes
.PlanningYesNo
Parent EngagementParent AppYesYes
.View child observationsYesYes
.Make CommentsYesYes
.Parent signature captureYesNo
.Pay feesYesNo
.Parental Engagement ReportsYesNo
StaffingManage Staff, Holidays & AbsenceYesYes
.Weighted Staff CriteriaYesNo
.Multi Site Staff RotasYesNo
.Payroll ExportsYesYes
IntegrationsWebsite Enquiry FormYesNo
.Direct DebitsYesNo
.Card PaymentsYesNo
.Funding LoopYesNo

First Steps products work hand in hand with each other, but are disconnected and inaccessible from any other systems you may use. Connect Childcare offer multiple integrations as they believe there’s no point in entering information twice and it’s imperative that all of your systems show the same accurate data. 

Direct integrations with different external payment processors mean your cashflow will improve and you’ll save time with automatic allocations. Imports and Exports to and from accounts packages including Xero, Sage & Quickbooks will drastically improve efficiency for finance staff and there’s even a website enquiry form to automatically track those new enquiries. 

With everything connected you’ll save even more time, your processes will be slick and your data will be consistent. 

Connect for time saving integrations

First Steps for isolated nursery software

Supporting Child development

The administration load of a childcare practitioner is huge. It can become overwhelming and can take focus away from the children. But it’s an important process in tracking child learning, provides a way to show development to Ofsted and can be a tool to allow the Practitioners to reflect and grow professionally. 

 

If you’re looking for a new tool to help support child development, it’s important that you chose one that fits all of your needs. 

 

First Steps Tracker is a great tool to record observations and create learning journals using the EYFS or CoEL frameworks. With the option to set next steps and generate a summative report for each child, it’s a useful tool to reduce the amount of paperwork your practitioners need to complete.

 

Connect’s iConnect app also offers a quick way to record observations on tablets in your rooms. Rather than producing a summative report for you, iConnect allows Practitioners to apply their own knowledge and make their own judgements when recording child assessments. An innovative split screen view allows practitioners to see previous observations, whilst recording their assessment. So all of the information they need is at their fingertips.

 

Both systems have Next Steps features built in, but only iConnect offers planning as well. With options to plan by staff member, room or area, iConnect will show you children’s next steps so you can select activities that will help to support child development. 

Getting out and about

Outdoor play is fantastic for child development. Nature provides and enriched environment with a huge range of learning opportunities. 

Many software tools struggle to accommodate Forest Schools at all, and can become obsolete if you’re planning a trip out of your setting.

iConnect has an inbuilt offline mode. So if you’re making the most of the great outdoors, or if your internet connection is just a bit dodgy, you can still record your observations with speed – and sync them when you return to the wifi zone. 

Increasing convenience for parents

These days every parent has a smart phone in their pocket, and they’ve got used to having the world at their fingertips. Thanks to advances in Nursery Management Software they can keep up to date with their child’s activities and achievements at nursery, through their phones too.

First Steps Parent Link allows busy parents to see exactly what their children have been up to at nursery. It gives parents access to observations, daily events and account balances and allows them to add their own observations from home. 

ParentZone, from Connect Childcare offers a similar experience but some extra features. Parents can not only view their bills and balance, they can also make payments straight from their phone. With the cheapest card payment rates available, this can have a big impact on cash flow at your setting. ParentZone users can also request new regular or ad hoc bookings from the app, helping to increase occupancy.

The recently added, ParentHub, shares great resources and activities to support parents to continue learning at home, increasing partnership with your nursery and improving child development.

Intelligent Staff Management

With changing occupancy rates and different ratios to consider, managing staffing requirements can become a huge task for any nursery setting. Nursery Management Software will help you to understand your requirements, so you can deploy the right staff in the right places.

First Steps will help you to calculate requirements based on ratios and occupancy as well as managing staff holidays and absences. With the addition of a payroll export feature, it could save you time on staff management. 

 

Connect Childcare’s StaffPlan module is far more in-depth. With the objective of not only reducing the time spent, but also reducing your spend on agency staff. 

They take account of real time data and automatically calculate mixed ratios, allowing you to allocate the right staff to the right places. Their weighted criteria allows you to see which staff members are available to work and how suitable they are based on your preferred criteria. With the ability to deploy staff across multiple rooms and even multiple sites it helps growing nurseries to effectively manage their workforce and reduce their reliance on agency staff.

Future Development

Connect Childcare continually develop their products based on customer feedback. Updates are released regularly and a large development team work tirelessly to make improvements and release new features. 

First Steps provide a much more static software platform. At the time of writing (Aug 2020) their most recent update for First Steps Manager was over 12 months ago way back in Jul 2019.

It may not always be at the forefront of your mind, but ensure that the software you choose will be regularly updated is hugely important. Understanding software companies development plans is an important step to make sure they’ll be a good fit both now and in the future. 

Connect for

First Steps for steady, static software

First Steps have a great understanding of the sector and provide a system that covers most areas of nursery management.

Connect Childcare offer a more complete solution with the additional benefits of external integration and ongoing development. With ambitious future development they are consistent, reliable and committed to supplying a wide range of flexible features that can fit in with the many different ways of running a nursery setting.

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About the Author

Connect Childcare have been developing purpose built nursery management software for the past 15 years. Their missions is: To develop management software that improves the lives of children, globally.