The last 30 years have seen a significant increase in babies attending nursery, withcorresponding questions about the aims and organisation of practice. Researchbroadly agrees on the importance of emotionally consistent, sensitive andresponsive interactions between staff and babies. Policy objectives for nurseryand expectations of parents and staff give rise to different and sometimesconflicting aims for such interactions; for example attachments to staff, peerinteractions or early learning. Research shows marked variations of pedagogyaims and organisation with babies in nurseries in different national and culturalcontexts. It also demonstrates variation between nurseries in similar contexts andbetween staff in their beliefs and values about work with babies. This paperreports on an exploratory study of the beliefs, aspirations and approaches ofeight managers concerning pedagogy with babies in two similar English localauthorities. These managers spoke of the importance of being responsive to theconcerns and priorities of parents, whilst being sensitive to the demands of thework on their staff. The main finding was of the contradictions and confusionsmanagers felt were inherent in the work, arising from both conflicting policyobjectives and personal beliefs and aspirations; sometimes their own andsometimes those of individual staff and parents. Urban, Vandenbroeck, VanLaere, Lazzari, and Peeters’ [(2012). Towards competent systems in earlychildhood education and care. Implications for policy and practice. EuropeanJournal of Education, 47(4), 508–526.] concept of the ‘competent system’ isused to recommend a grounded approach to the development of a moreculturally, socially and individually responsive pedagogy with babies thanappears to exist at present.