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Free Nursery / Childcare

All three and four-year-olds in the UK are entitled to 15 hours a week of free childcare to attend childcare providers such as: day nurseries, pre-schools or independent schools in the private, voluntary and maintained sector in the borough. There are NO eligibility criteria for the 15 hours funding. It is available for all children regardless of household income or residency status.

In addition, an extra 15 hours (bringing the total to 30 hours) of free childcare is available to eligible children. This scheme does have a set of criteria and parents have to apply for it the term before they would like their child to start. Briefly, parents must either be in receipt of tax credits, universal credit or be working a minimum of 16 hours a week each, earning less than £100,000 a year. To check eligibility visit www.childcarechoices.gov.uk


Your child's place will be funded if he/she attends any childcare provider registered to deliver the Early Years Foundation Stage Curriculum (EYFS). Children are eligible from the term after their third birthday. Your child must be aged three by:

  • 31 March to start the summer term

  • 31 August to start the autumn term

  • 31 December to start the spring term


To secure a place for your child for the 15 hour a week free childcare, please talk to the nursery or other childcare provider as early as possible.

How to find care for your child
  • Draw up a shortlist using information from your local Family Information Service - check the hours that they can provide childcare, the hourly/daily/weekly cost and if they have places available for your child.

  • Visit several settings and ask questions about the childcare provided.

  • Make the big decision - it might help to take a friend and/or your child on the visits to help you decide.

  • Take up references from other parents who have used that service.

  • Book your child's place (you may need to pay a retainer fee to keep the place open until your child starts) and arrange details like hours, start date, who is allowed to pick up your child.

Settling in

Your child may take some time to settle into any new childcare setting, so allow them time to adjust to their new surroundings, especially if this is their first time in childcare. Most childcare providers offer a ‘settling in period', where you have an agreed length of time to assess whether the setting is right for your child and that they are happy there.

Visit settings

Visit several settings and ask questions about the childcare provided. It might help to take a friend and/or your child on the visits to help you decide. 


What to look for:

  • Trained and experienced staff, ready to learn and respond to your child's individual needs. 

  • Busy, but relaxed, children who seem happy and purposeful. 

  • Safe and clean premises - welcoming and friendly with outside play space. 

  • Cultural sensitivity and responsiveness to children's home life. 

  • A staff team and group of children who reflect local ethnic and cultural groups. 

  • Fun activities planned each day - childminders, nurseries and out-of-school clubs all need to plan their days with children's interests and enthusiasms in mind. Exercise and quiet times to relax are important. 

  • A big welcome for you and your child.  

What to ask:

  • What is the ratio of staff to children? How many children do you care for? 

  • What qualifications and/or experience do you have?

  • What are the daily routines and how can you incorporate my child's and other children's routines? 

  • Do you operate a key worker scheme (whereby one member of staff has main responsibility for each child)? 

  • What are your policies on discipline and how do you manage children's behaviour? 

  • Do you provide meals, snacks, nappies etc or will I need to provide them?

These are just some of the questions you could ask; remember to also think about the things that matter to you and make sure you ask about them.

Check quality and get references

Check the setting's Ofsted report at www.ofsted.gov.uk. Other parents' experiences of a childcare provider can also be very useful. Childcare providers should be happy to put you in contact with other parents so that you can take up references about the service they provide. 

Children's views

These are the things children said were most important when Family and Childcare Trust visited nurseries and asked children for their views:

  • Friends - check a stable group of children attend so your children can have fun with friends. 

  • Food - check mealtimes are relaxed and fun and ask if children can help themselves to drinks and snacks. 

  • Fun outside - check the outside area is well planned, spacious and safe - children love playing outside. 

  • Finding out - make sure there is plenty of opportunity for children to learn new things with varied, carefully planned things to do. 

  • Feeling safe and loved - check that the staff are able to respond to individual children's needs, to comfort and encourage them and to keep them safe.

Childminders, Nurseries & Playgroups
  • Childminders are professional childcare providers/carers who work in their own homes to provide care and learning opportunities for children. They are self-employed and can decide their own working hours. Most childminders offer care between the hours of 8am – 6pm although some offer their service at weekends and at other times by arrangement. All professional childminders must be registered and inspected by Ofsted.

  • Childminders are a good solution if your working day doesn’t fit the 9am – 5pm Monday to Friday pattern or if you have children of different ages and needs and you want them to be looked after together. You may also want your child to be cared for in a home environment by just one person.

  • A nursery looks after and educates children under the age of five (pre-school). Nurseries are usually open throughout the working day and some are open later into the evening and at weekends. There are different types of nurseries including private, community, council and workplace nurseries, however all nurseries must be registered and inspected by Ofsted

  • Playgroups offer a range of stimulating activities for children that encourage them to learn through play. Learning opportunities are planned around the Foundation Stage curriculum which covers children aged 3-5 as they prepare for Key Stage One in year one of school. 

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