Quality, accessible childcare is crucial to enable parents to go out to work, but early education also helps to improve equality of opportunities for success in later life, regardless of a child’s background.

All three and four-year-olds are entitled to 15 hours of free early education a week, for 38 weeks of the year. The free early education can be at Ofsted registered nurseries, nurseries on school sites, children’s centres, some playgroups and pre-schools, or provided through childminders.

Some eligible two-year-olds are also entitled to the same amount of free early education as three and four-year-olds, and eligibility is decided using similar criteria to those children who would qualify for free school meals. Two-year-olds who have a statement of special educational needs or who are receiving Disability Living Allowance are entitled to a free place.

Your local authority Family Information Service can help you find a free childcare place for your three or four-year-old, and they can tell you if your two-year-old qualifies for the free offer as well as help you find a free place.

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Choosing the right childcare

Choosing the type of childcare that will suit your family is an important decision and will be based on what is available to you, your working pattern, your child’s needs and the cost. You can choose childcare that is registered or unregistered but only childcare that is registered can qualify for help with costs.

Childcare in England is registered and inspected by Ofsted, under the Early Years Register (EYR) for children up to the age of five.

When choosing childcare, it is worth considering the hours, the cost, the type of activities, the ratio of staff to children, availability of places, disciplinary policy and emergency procedure, as well as details of anything you may be required to supply.  You might want to know what the food is like or the arrangements for picking your child up, in case you are late or have to send someone else.

Don’t be afraid to ask for references from other parents and what training and experience the staff have. Check what activities they organise, whether consider your child’s culture or home situation, and how you will be told about your child’s progress. Pay them a visit so you can observe activities and talk to the staff.

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