In England all three and four year olds are entitled 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.
As a general rule children can get free early education from the term after their third birthday 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 will be able to access free early education from the following terms:
Your child can have up to 15 hours a week for 38 weeks a year. Childcare providers are able to claim the following number of weeks each school term.
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.
You can find details of Ofsted registered childcare including those that offer free early education on our childcare finder.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.