All 3 and 4-year-olds in England are entitled to 15 hours of free early education each week for 38 weeks of the year. Some 2-year-olds are also eligible.

You can start claiming free early education after your child turns 3. The date you can claim will depend on when their birthday is.

Child’s birthday When you can claim
1 January to 31 March the beginning of term on or after 1 April
1 April to 31 August the beginning of term on or after 1 September
1 September to 31 December the beginning of term on or after 1 January

Example

Your child was born on 15 February 2012. They will become eligible for free early education from the start of term following 1 April 2015.

The free early education can be at:

  • nursery schools
  • nurseries on school sites
  • nursery classes in schools and academies
  • children’s centres
  • day nurseries
  • some playgroups and pre-school
  • childminders
  • Sure Start Children’s Centres

Contact your local council for more information about free early education in your area.

You can also search for help with childcare in Scotland, Wales and in Northern Ireland.

2-year-olds

Some 2-year-olds in England can also get free early education.

You must be getting one of the following:

  • Income Support
  • income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA)
  • income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
  • support through part 6 of the Immigration and Asylum Act
  • the guaranteed element of State Pension Credit
  • Child Tax Credit (but not Working Tax Credit) and have an annual income not over £16,190
  • the Working Tax Credit 4-week run on (the payment you get when you stop qualifying for Working Tax Credit)

Children looked after by a local council are also entitled to a place.

If your child’s eligible, you can start claiming free early education after your child turns 2. The date you can claim will depend on when their birthday is.

Child’s birthday When you can claim
1 January to 31 March the beginning of term on or after 1 April
1 April to 31 August the beginning of term on or after 1 September
1 September to 31 December the beginning of term on or after 1 January

Contact your local council to check if your child’s eligible.

New rules from September 2014

From September 2014 more 2-year-olds in England will be eligible for free early education.

As well as the current rules, a child will then also be eligible if any of the following apply:

  • you get Working Tax Credits and earn no more than £16,190 a year
  • they have a current statement of special educational needs (SEN) or an education, health and care plan
  • they get Disability Living Allowance
  • they’ve left care through special guardianship or an adoption or residence order

Contact your local council to check if your child will be eligible.

Inspections of early education providers

Early education providers are regulated and inspected by Ofsted. You can find out more about their inspections and read their inspection reports.

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