Clearly the larger providers such as Busy Bees and Bright Horizon have a track record of operating on more of a global level and this was evidenced further over the summer by the Busy Bees acquisition of BrightPath Early Learning Inc, a leading Canadian childcare provider with 77 settings. However, smaller regional operators of early years childcare are now venturing further afield.
British Early Education, led by Andrew Clifford (formerly of First Class Childcare before their sale in 2016), is looking to develop in China and has recently partnered with Chinese investors Largreen Education (China) to open a 300 place International Kindergarten in Yixing earlier in the year. Kay Patel and Majella McElwee of Happy Tree Nursery Group – operators of three nurseries in London - recently told of their ventures in opening a new childcare facility in Shenzhen, recognising the fact that – not dissimilarly to Britain many years ago - traditionally grandparents in China would look after grandchildren. However, a new generation of young professional Chinese parents now want more formalised, educationally driven childcare. Marjella and Kay are due to open their setting later this year.
The NDNA held its third members event in Dubai early this year where attendance and interest was high demonstrating the activity and exposure of the Childcare market in the UAE. Courteney Donaldson, Director of Childcare and Education at Christie & Co has spent much of this year travelling around Singapore, the UAE and China, accompanied by Dr Joanne Jia, head of our Asia Desk, meeting with key operators in the markets and investigating and reviewing further plans for development.
All of this activity and interest is not one way traffic. The UK education and early years sector has long been deemed a global leader with its enviable EYFS, successful outcomes and ‘Government Support’. Investors and international operators remain keen to target UK provision and the Early Years sector witnessed its first major new entrant to the UK market earlier this year when Les Petits Chaperons Rouges (the second largest provider in France) acquired Magic Nurseries in January which has since been followed by their acquisition of Kiddi Caru taking them to a total of 36 nurseries in the UK. The sale of Magic Nurseries - which comprised 16 settings – to LPCR was the first major overseas operational move into the UK market, outside of investment and individual assets. Since then, we have been engaged with a number of European providers and investors all of whom are keen to make a similar sizeable acquisition in the UK and we see no signs of this changing, despite Brexit and Election outcomes.