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Free early education for 2, 3 and 4 year olds

Last Updated 02/09/2019

Free early education for 3 and 4-year-olds

Three and four-year-olds are guaranteed free places at registered centres or providers whatever your circumstances or income. You could get up to £678.30 per term if your child attends 15 hours per week for 38 weeks of the year.

The amount of funding will be apportioned for those providers that are open between 33-37 weeks.

Early years providers must provide a minimum of 33 weeks of nursery education per year, and have to register with the council to be part of the scheme. Providers participating in the scheme include:

  • private nursery schools
  • private or voluntary pre-schools or playgroups
  • private or voluntary day nurseries
  • nursery units of independent schools
  • nursery classes in primary schools
  • childminders

Children who go to local authority primary or nursery schools are funded automatically by the local education authority.

How the places are funded

Funding is available for a maximum of fifteen hours per week and up to 38 weeks per year. This totals a maximum of 570 hours which can be spread over a longer period if a provider is open for 38 or more weeks a year, such as a day nursery. Providers claim the funding through the local authority.

The 15 hours entitlement is flexible and can be accessed over a minimum of three days per week (this can be stretched to 2 days with providers who operate for 45 weeks or more per year) but this will be dependent on whether a provider can accommodate this. As a minimum, all providers must offer a three hour session, five days a week.

Parents will be expected to pay for any additional services or additional hours of childcare over and above the entitlement.

Who can get the funding

All children attending a funded provider in the city are eligible for funding in the term after they become three, irrespective of where they live; family income or of the immigration status of the child or their parent(s).

The table below shows when a child becomes eligible:

 See the table below for guidance:

Children born in the period

Become eligible for funding at the start of term beginning or following

School term

1 January - 31 March

1 April


1 April - 31 August

1 September


1 September - 31 December

1 January


Providers eligible for funding

For more detailed information on providers, please call the Family Information Service on 020 7641 7929 or email

How to apply

Your childcare provider will need to see a copy of your child’s birth certificate and will ask you to sign a declaration form. They will then claim the funding from the local authority on your behalf. You cannot apply individually.

Registration deadline

Each term we set a ‘headcount date’ and children not registered with a funded provider by that date will not be able to claim the grant until the following term (except under exceptional circumstances).

Please ask your funding registered provider for details of each termly headcount day.

For more information see our frequently asked questions and parents' guide to the early years foundation stage.

Additional 15 hours’ free childcare for 3 & 4 year olds for working parents

Working parents of 3 and 4 year olds may be entitled to an additional 15 hours of free childcare per week.  This funding will only be made available to families where both parents are working (or the sole parent is working in a lone parent family) and each parent earns, on average a weekly minimum equivalent to 16 hours at national minimum wage (NMW) or national living wage (NLW), and less than £100,000 per year. Check you’re eligible at

 Free early education for 2-year-olds

Some 2-year-olds are also entitled to up to 15 hours per week of free early education or childcare. These places can be taken up at pre-schools, through childminders or at a selected number of nurseries and in some children's centres. 

To apply for a free early education place click this link. 


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