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Wednesday, 3 October 2023

Free early learning for three and four year olds

Free early learning gives children the best start in life. Through learning and playing with other children in a safe and structured environment, they’ll have a head start when they begin school.

What you are entitled to

All three and four year olds are entitled to 15 hours of free nursery education for 38 weeks of the year. This applies until they reach compulsory school age (the term following their fifth birthday). Free early education places are available at a range of early years settings including nursery schools and classes, children's centres, day nurseries, play groups and pre-schools and childminders.

For more information about free nursery education in your area, contact your Family Information Service (FIS). The FIS provides information, advice and assistance to parents, carers and professionals on the range of children, family and young people's services available within their area.

When your child qualifies for a free place

The table below shows when your child will become eligible for their free early learning place.

If your child is born between:

They are eligible for a free place from:

1 April and 31 August

1 September following their third birthday or the beginning of the autumn* school term

1 September and 31 December

1 January following their third birthday or the beginning of the spring* school term

1 January and 31 March

1 April following their third birthday or the beginning of the summer* school term

* Based on a three-term school year

Extra financial help

The free entitlement may not cover your family’s needs because of things like work commitments. If this is the case you may be able to get financial help with the costs of extra childcare.

Finding a free early years provider that suits you

There are a number of different types of early education setting that can offer the free entitlement:

  • day nurseries, private nursery schools, maintained nursery schools and nursery classes attached to primary schools
  • preschools and playgroups
  • primary school reception classes, where schools operate an early admission policy to admit four year olds
  • accredited childminders who are part of networks approved to deliver early education
  • Sure Start Children's Centres

Although there's no guarantee of getting a place with a particular provider, your LA should take your preference into account wherever possible.

There’s no voucher or grant involved - just check with your local Family Information Service (FIS).

Standards for free early education providers

All settings receiving government funding to provide free early education to three to five year olds must:

  • be included in their LA's Directory of Providers
  • help children progress towards the ‘early learning goals’ set out in the Early Years Foundation Stage
  • be inspected regularly by Ofsted

This means that your child will get a good quality early years education, regardless of which type of setting they attend.

What your child will learn

The Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) focuses on the distinct needs of children from birth to five years old.

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