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Free Child Care Places for 3 and 4 year olds

By: Sarah Knowles BA, MA - Updated: 5 Aug 2013 | comments*Discuss
Free Child Care Places For 3 And 4 Year Olds

Spiraling costs of childcare mean many people are finding it harder than ever to foot the bill. But working mums are now having to rely on childcare even more than before. Luckily, all children aged three and four in England are entitled to a free part-time nursery place, taking part of the burden off parents.

Types of Childcare

The law states that all children who live in England are eligible for an early education place in many different settings, as long as they are government-regulated and inspected regularly. For most parents, that means a part-time nursery place at a local school or daycare centre. However, it could also mean a private nursery, registered childminder's or playgroup.

Sessions that are free are, at a minimum, five sessions per week during term-time, at two and a half hours per session, for 38 weeks in a year. Four-year-olds are entitled to these sessions until they reach the age of compulsory education, or until they enter the Reception class. If your child wants to attend for additional hours, if possible, you will have to pay extra.

If you desire, your child can also attend more than one provider or attend two back-to-back sessions, as long as there is a 20-minute break in between. Many providers will require that you pick up your child and stay with them during this break, so this many not be an option.

A total of only five sessions a week will be paid for by the government, however, although if you exceed the limit you may be eligible to tax credits to cover the difference. Some nurseries, especially those that are attached to primary schools, will not allow your child to attend more than one session per day.

When Is a Child Eligible?

There are clear-cut cut-offs stating the age at which a child is eligible for a free nursery place. That is from September 1, January 1 or April 1, after they turn three. You can then ask for a list of Nursery education Providers to decide where is most suitable for your child.

Please be aware that many places fill up quickly, so it's a good idea to learn in advance where you would like your child to attend, and plan accordingly. For more information, contact the local education authority or visit the ChildcareLink site on www.childcarelink.gov.uk (0800 096 0296).

If you have a child with special needs, discuss this with the nursery provider. All places that provide part-time early education are required to have a Special Educational Needs (SEN) policy, as well as a Special Needs Coordinator (SENCO).

Future Plans

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has announced that free nursery places will also be available for all two-year-olds under a childcare expansion plan that should start to take effect over the next ten years. He has said that children who are exposed early to education in a structured setting will reap benefits when they eventually attend primary school.

While offers of a free place are indeed welcome, for many working parents two and a half hours a day is not enough. You may find that you have to hire a nanny to pick up and look after your child after the session is over, and you may find that it is more cost-effective to enrol your child elsewhere where a full-time place is available, even though that means forfeiting a free place.

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