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Free Early Learning for 3 and 4 Year Olds

By: Rachel Newcombe - Updated: 1 Apr 2013 | comments*Discuss
School Education Pre-school Early Years

If you live in England and have a young child aged three or four years old, or have a child that will be reaching that age soon, then they’re entitled to an element of free early learning. Here’s what’s available and how to go about finding out what’s on offer in your area.

Young children grow rapidly, both physically and mentally, and thrive on learning new skills and gaining experience. A good start in life provides a good foundation for the rest of their life and the more they can learn, the better skills and development they stand to have.

The government recognises the importance of a good start in life and has introduced a scheme that provides free early learning places for all three and four year olds in England. Under the current rules, all three and four year olds are entitled to 12.5 hours of free early learning each week, for 38 weeks of the year. They’re able to take advantage of this learning in various ways, through places at pre-schools as well as nurseries, playgroups or childminders.

In the year 2010, the rules will change slightly and all three and four year olds will be entitled to 15 hours a week of free early learning. It’s expected that this will be delivered over a minimum of three days, although there will be a degree of flexibility in this.

When Does My Child Become Eligible?

Children become eligible for free early learning depending on what month in the year their birthday occurs. The current guidelines maintain that:

If your child is born between 1st April and 31st August, your child is eligible for their free place from 1st September following their third birthday, until they reach the statutory school age.

If your child is born between 1st September and 31st December, then your child is eligible for their free place from 1st January following their third birthday, until they reach the statutory school age.

If your child is born between 1st January and 31st March, then they’re eligible for their free early learning place from 1st April following their third birthday, until they reach the statutory school age.

Finding A Free Early Learning Place

Free early learning places are available from a range of learning providers including:

  • Pre-schools
  • Playgroups
  • Primary school reception classes (early admission for four year olds)
  • Accredited childminders
  • Day nurseries
  • Private nursery schools
  • Maintained nursery schools
  • Nursery classes operated at primary schools
  • Children’s centres
All of the free early education providers have to meet government standards, be inspected by Ofsted and help children progress towards the Foundation Stage early learning goals. Which ever type of provider you choose, they’ll all be meeting these goals, so you can be sure your child will be getting a good start.

In the first instance, it’s a good idea to contact your local Children’s Information Service (CIS) as they have details of which classes or centres are able to offer free places. You don’t need to have any special vouchers to obtain the free place, but if they do the provider needs to be registered in order for you to be eligible to claim the free place from them. Demand for places in many areas is high, so there’s unfortunately no guarantee that you’ll get your child into your first choice provider.

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