Free early years education is available for eligible 2 year-olds, and all 3 and 4 year-olds.
It is the first part of the Early Years Foundation Stage - completed in the reception class at school. Government funding allows us to provide free places of up to 15 hours a week for eligible 2 year-olds from the term after their second birthday and, all 3 and 4 year-olds from the term after their third birthday.
- The 15 hours can be taken in any combination of hours, over a minimum of 2 days a week, subject to reasonable demand.
- The free entitlement is equal to 15 hours a week over a minimum of 38 weeks.
- A maximum of 10 hours can be claimed in 1 day.
- A maximum of 570 hours can be claimed in a year.
Your childcare provider will tell you if a place can be offered free of charge. All places are subject to availability.
Eligibility for 2 year-olds
Your 2 year-old will be eligible if you meet any one of the following criteria:
- You receive Working Tax credits and have annual gross earnings of no more than £16,190 a year.
- Your child has a current statement of SEN or an Education, Health and Care plan.
- Your child is eligible for Disability Living Allowance.
- The local authority looks after them.
- They have left care through special guardianship or an adoption or residence order.
- You receive support under Part VI of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999.
- You receive Child Tax Credit but not Working Tax Credit (except during the 4 weeks immediately after their employment ceases, or after starting to work less than 16 hours per week) and household income does not exceed £16,190.
- You receive the Guaranteed element of State Pension Credit.
When to apply
The date you can start claiming depends on your child's birthday:
|Child's birthday||When you can claim|
|1 January - 31 March ||The beginning of term on or after 1 April |
|1 April - 31 August||The beginning of term on or after 1 September|
|1 September - 31 December||The beginning of term on or after 1 January|
Apply for early years education
Please do not complete an online 2 year old application until your child's second birthday.
Early years education for 2, 3 and 4 year-olds
If your child is 2, 3 or 4 years old, you should:
- Contact the childcare provider for vacancy information.
- For nursery schools, request an application form early in the autumn term following your child's second birthday.
- For all other settings, make contact before your child becomes eligible for early education.
Costs for any extra childcare provided should be discussed and agreed directly with the provider, before you sign a private contract or agreement.
Please take the completed form to your chosen childcare provider.
Where is early years education offered?
Free early education is offered by nursery schools and classes, private day nurseries, pre-school playgroups and the nursery units at independent schools. See our list of free early years education providers:
Before you make a decision, visit the setting with your child. Look at the care, education, early years workers, resources and equipment provided and how they will meet the needs of your child.
The Family Information Service will also be able to offer impartial advice and information about choosing childcare and an
early education checklist.
30 hours FREE childcare
From September 2017, the government will be introducing a 30 hour FREE childcare entitlement for parents who meet the following criteria:
- Both parents are working (or the sole parent is working in a lone parent family) and each parent earns, on average, a weekly minimum equivalent to 16 hours at national living wage and less than £100,000 per year. Working will include self-employed persons. Parents do not necessarily need to actually work 16 hours a week, but their earnings must reflect at least 16 hours of work at the national living wage. This includes parents on zero hour’s contracts who meet the criteria.
- Both parents are employed but 1 or both parents is temporarily away from the workplace on parental, maternity, paternity leave, adoption leave, or statutory sick pay.
- 1 parent is employed and 1 parent has substantial caring responsibilities based on specific benefits received for caring.
- 1 parent is employed and 1 parent is disabled or incapacitated based on receipt of specific benefits.
More information on 30 hours FREE childcare
Special educational needs
If your child has difficulties in some areas of their development, the childcare provider should be able to provide an inclusive environment which meets their individual needs. They will receive support from the Area SENCO (Special Educational Needs Coordinators) team - contact them on 01706 926400.
If you have problems with finding childcare, or your circumstances make it especially difficult, contact the
Family Information Service