Free early learning for children under 5

Use this guide to find information about free early learning for children under 5.

Free early learning for 3 and 4 year olds

All 3 and 4 year olds can get 570 hours of free early education or childcare per year. It’s usually taken as 15 hours a week for 38 weeks of the year, which is equivalent to the school term time.

The free hours can be claimed from the term following your child's third birthday, until they are of school age.

This means:

A child born betweenCan have a place from
1 January to 31 MarchThe beginning of term on or after 1 April
1 April to 31 AugustThe beginning of term on or after 1 September
1 September to 31 DecemberThe beginning of term on or after 1 January

You can use this funding at most Ofsted-registered private day nurseries, preschools, children's centres or with some childminders. Please check to make sure that they accept the funding before you enrol.

Some children may also be eligible for the early years premium. This is funding that childcare providers can claim to improve your child's learning.

How can I use the free hours?

If your child attends more than the free hours per week, you will be expected to pay the difference to the provider.

You are entitled to just take up the free hours at the provider of your choice if the provider has vacancies and can accommodate your child.

The provider must notify you when you register if your requirements exceed the funding limit.

There will be a minimum and maximum number of free hours that a provider can offer on one day, but this may vary between different providers.

Depending on your provider, you may be able to stretch the hours over the year.

You should discuss with the provider how you want to take the hours to best meet your needs.

Can I use more than one childcare provider?

Your child can attend more than one provider and, as long as they both do not exceed the maximum number of free hours per term, they will be funded. You will need to ensure that both providers are aware that your child is also attending elsewhere.

How do I register my child?

When your child is eligible, you should obtain a list of early year’s providers from the Families Information Service and apply directly to them for a place.

Once you have decided on your provider and agreed the hours and days that your child will attend, the provider will ask you to complete and return to them the parent declaration form.

How is the funding paid?

We will pay your provider directly for the number of hours that your child attends each term. The money is paid through a grant called the dedicated schools grant.

What if the group asks for extra money?

Some groups charge additional fees for extra services, but they must make it clear to you what these are. You cannot be charged for the free hours.

What help can I get if I can’t afford to pay for the extra attendance?

All parents can claim Child Tax Credit, and if you work more than 16 hours per week, you may be eligible to claim Working Tax Credit and the Childcare Element.

Use the childcare calculator to check what help you can get with childcare costs.

What happens when my child starts in reception class?

When your child starts in reception, their free early learning will happen in the school and they are no longer entitled to funding at another provider.

Can I use a provider in another borough?

Your child can attend providers in another borough but it will be funded by the council where the setting is registered.