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Free early education for 3 and 4 year olds

Cover of Free early education for 3 & 4 year olds parent leaflet

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 leaflet available to download below.

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 fifth 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 childcare providers who offer free early education in Surrey on our childcare finder. Just enter your location or postcode and scroll down to select Yes to Registered for Free Early Education on the right hand side.

Our Thinking about childcare and early education booklet has information and advice on how to find, choose and pay for childcare. You might also like to have a look at our At my childminder's photobook for real life snapshots of how children in the care of a childminder might spend their time.

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Will the childcare provider ask me to sign any forms?

The first term that a childcare provider claims on your behalf you will be asked to fill in a Free Early Education for 3 and 4 year olds Registration form. They will ask you to show your child’s birth certificate or passport as proof of identity and eligibility.

They will also ask you to complete a Free Early Education for 3 and 4 year olds Declaration of attendance form at the beginning of every term and another form if you want to increase or decrease the number of hours your child attends.

You should read these carefully before signing as they form part of your legal contract with the nursery.

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 change my childcare provider once the term has started?

You can only change childcare provider if:

  • you move house and it’s now too far to travel to your current childcare provider
  • you change jobs and the hours your childcare provider offers no longer meet your childcare needs
  • you have stated on either your registration form or the Declaration of attendance form, that your child will be leaving during the term and you specify the last day that you wish the childcare provider to claim the free hours for you
  • your childcare provider gets an inadequate outcome in their latest Ofsted inspection.

You will still need to give your childcare provider the required notice period stated in your contract with them.

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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.

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  • Updated: 19 Aug 2014
  • Surrey Family Information Service
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