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Free early education for 3 and 4 year olds

Free Early Education for 3 and 4 year olds cover

In England all three and four year olds are entitled to up to 15 hours of free early education a week for up to 38 weeks a year. This is to give children the opportunity to take part in planned learning activities, and help prepare them for school through the early learning goals set out in the Early Years Foundation Stage.

Below is a list of our most frequently asked questions about free early education. You can find additional information in our publication below which is available to download in either booklet form or as an A4 leaflet.

When will my child be eligible for the free early education for 3 and 4 year olds?

Children become eligible to receive free early education from the start of the school term following their third birthday.

  • Born between 1 April to 31 August 2011 - autumn term September 2014
  • Born between 1 September to 31 December 2011 - spring term January 2015
  • Born between 1 January to 31 March 2012 - summer term April 2015
  • Born between 1 April to 31 August 2012 - autumn term September 2015

Your child can continue to receive free early education until they either start in a reception class at a local authority maintained school or reach compulsory school age, which is the school term after their fifth birthday.

Children who start at a non maintained (independent) school are able to continue to claim the funding until they reach statutory school age, which is the term after their fifith birthday.

How many hours can my child have for free?

Your child can have up to 15 hours of free early education a week for up to 38 weeks a year. Childcare providers are able to claim the following number of weeks each school term.

  • Autumn term 2014 - 14 weeks
  • Spring term 2015 - 11 weeks
  • Summer term 2015 - 13 weeks
  • Autumn term 2015 - 14 weeks

These may be offered during set times and sessions so you will need to speak to the childcare provider to see if the hours they offer suit your needs.

How can I claim free early education?

You will not be able to claim directly. Childcare providers registered on The Surrey Directory of Early Years providers will be able to claim it on your behalf. These include pre school playgroups, day nurseries and nursery units of independent schools

You could also claim through a childminder who has a good or outstanding Ofsted inspection report. You will need to speak to the childminder in the first instance to see if they meet the requirements and are happy to claim the funding on your behalf. 

Alternatively you can claim free early education through a maintained nursery school or class attached to a Local Education Authority (LEA) school. If they offer less than 15 hours you may be able to claim the balance with another childcare provider.

How can I find a childcare provider offering free early education?

You can find details of Ofsted registered childcare including those that offer free early education on our childcare finder.

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Can I claim free early education at more than one childcare setting?

Yes, you can choose to take up the free hours with more than one childcare provider if this suits you better. So for example your child could have 9 hours in a pre school playgroup and 6 hours with a childminder.

Can I move my funding to another childcare provider during term time?

Moving house or having to change your job may mean that your current childcare is no longer practical. It may be too difficult for you to get to your nursery or childminder or changing your job means that you require more or less childcare hours. Alternatively your current childcare provider may have received an inadequate outcome in their latest Ofsted inspection. All of these circumstances would allow you to ask for your funding to move with you without the need to give notice.

If you are aware that you will be changing your childcare in the middle of a term you can include this date on the registration form that you sign when your child takes up a place, or you can include it in the declaration form you sign at the beginning of each term. This advanced notice will also mean that you can move your funding to your new childcare provider.

When can my child use the free hours?

Childcare providers can choose the times they offer the free hours so discuss this with them first to ensure that the time you use is free.

However you won't be able to have:

  • More than 10 hours in one day
  • Less than 2.5 hours in one day
  • Any time before 7am or after 7pm

Do I need to pay anything towards this free place?

No, your childcare provider shouldn't charge you for any of this time as it is an offer of a free place rather than a subsidy towards your fees. However they can set their own rates for any additional time or services that you take and should let you know in advance what you will be expected to pay. 

You should also get an invoice at least once a term clearly showing what you are being asked to pay for. If you think that you are being charged for your child's free place or are being invoiced incorrectly you should speak to your childcare provider in the first instance. If you are still unsure then you can contact us.

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Will the free early education affect my tax credits or benefits?

No, the free early education does not affect any means tested benefits and you do not need to be on a benefit to claim it.

We have just moved to England and my child is not a British citizen will they be entitled to claim free early education?

Yes, a child moving to England from another country is entitled to free early education on the same basis as any other child, regardless of whether they have British citizenship or you have been told you have no recourse to public funds.

Files available to download

Page information

  • Updated: 19 Aug 2014
  • Surrey Family Information Service
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