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Free nursery entitlement for 3 and 4 year olds

All 3 and 4 year olds are entitled to a free nursery place, of up to 15 hours per week.

When does your child qualify for a free place?

When your child qualifies for a free place depends on when their 3rd birthday is.

If your child's 3rd birthday falls between:

  • January 1 to March 31, their free place is available from start of the summer term
  • April 1 to August 31, their free place is available from the start of the autumn term
  • September 1 to December 31, their free place is available from the start of the spring term

Where can you access a free child's place?

Your free child place can be accessed at:

  • day nurseries
  • pre-school playgroup
  • childminders
  • independent schools
  • school nurseries including academies

View all the childcare providers who offer free places.

When can you take the free hours?

Children are entitled to up to 15 hours a week for 38 weeks of the year. This usually fits in with school terms.

The hours can be stretched over more weeks for example 11.4 hours over 50 weeks. The 15 hours can be taken flexibly over a minimum of 2 days. Sessions must be a minimum of 2.5 hours and a maximum of 10 hours. They can be taken between 7am and 7pm.  

You can choose to take up your 15 hours with more than 1 childcare provider. If you want to split your hours between a school nursery and a day nursery or childminder, you must check with the school first.

Further information

Parents must:

  • not be made to take up additional hours or pay for lunches to secure a free place
  • be given the option of supplying packed lunch if they do not wish to pay for a nursery lunch
  • not be charged fees that would top up to the amount normally charged
  • not be required to pay up-front for their free place and be refunded later