All 3- and 4-year-olds are entitled to 15 hours per week of free early education for 38 weeks of the year (known as the free entitlement). Children become eligible for the free hours from 1 September, 1 January or 1 April (the start of term) following their 3rd birthday. They remain eligible until they reach compulsory school age (the term following their 5th birthday, though in practice most children now start school before this).
Free early education places are available at a range of early years settings, including nursery schools and classes, children’s centres, day nurseries, playgroups, pre-schools and certain registered childminders.
There are a number of parameters set by the Department for Education within which the free entitlement provision operates. These parameters set the framework within which local authorities should provide the free entitlement (eg the minimum and maximum number of hours per day, the number of days on which the free hours should be taken, the restrictions on start and finish times, and the number of providers who can be involved in delivering free hours to a child).