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Early Years Education and School Entry

Registered and unregistered childcare

There are two types of childcare, registered and unregistered. Childcare is registered and inspected by Ofsted. Childcare falls under one of three registers:
Early Years Register (EYR): This covers childcare for children up to the age of five.

Compulsory Ofsted Childcare Register (OCR): This covers childcare for children aged five to seven (unless exempt).

Voluntary Ofsted Childcare Register (vOCR): This covers childcare for children aged eight and over and care for children of any age that is activity based or provided in the child’s own home.

The different types of registered childcare include:

  • childminders;
  • children’s centres;
  • day nurseries;
  • preschools/playgroups;
  • crèches (open more than two hours per day and last more than five days per year);
  • nursery schools;
  • extended schools;
  • out-of-school services or kids’ clubs; and
  • holiday playschemes/clubs.

Financial help for childcare costs is generally restricted to paying for childcare services that are registered.

More information can be found at the Directgov or Day Care Trust Website.

Preschool Education

What you are entitled to?

Starting in the term following their third birthday, all three and four year olds are entitled to 15 hours of free nursery education for 38 weeks of the year. This applies until they reach compulsory school age (the term following their fifth birthday). Free nursery education can take place in:

  • day nurseries, private nursery schools, maintained nursery schools and nursery classes attached to primary schools
  • preschools and playgroups
  • primary school reception classes, where schools operate an early admission policy to admit four year olds
  • accredited childminders who are part of networks approved to deliver early education
  • Sure Start Children's Centres

Since September 2010, the free provision is available for 570 hours per year, which must be taken over at least 38 weeks - for example, 15 hours per week over 38 weeks of the year. A year commences on the date your child becomes eligible for the free place and subsequent years start on the anniversary of this date.

Although the free provision must be available over at least 38 weeks of the year, to allow the entitlement to be delivered more flexibly, it can be stretched over more weeks than this if you use fewer than 15 hours per week. This is something that would be negotiated with your childcare provider.

For more information about free nursery education in your area, contact your Family Information Service (FIS). The FIS provides information, advice and assistance to parents, carers and professionals on the range of children, family and young people's services available within their area. You can find the contact information of your Local Authority from the Directgov website (includes Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland).

Compulsory school age

In England and Wales, most local authorities have a policy of accepting children into school at the beginning of the term during which the child becomes five. However, the child does not have to attend school until the beginning of the term following their fifth birthday.

In Northern Ireland, a child who is four years old on or before 1 July in any year must start primary school on 1 September that year.

In England, from the school year beginning September 2011, local authorities must accept children into primary school in the September following the child's fourth birthday. However, parents may request that their child does not start school until later in the year or until reaching compulsory school age. A parent will also be able to request that a child attends school part-time until compulsory school age.

In Scotland, if a child's birthday is in January or February, it is possible to decide to defer their entry to school for a year, the child is then entitled to an extra year of pre-school education. If the child's birthday falls between September and December, and it is decided by the parents to defer their entry into school for a year, the local authority can decide whether to offer the child an extra year of pre-school education. Different education authorities have different policies and you should contact the education authority for information and advice.

How to apply

The local authority's online application form (or paper application form) will ask you to list your preferred schools. You may be asked to put down one or more primary schools.

To apply for a school place online, simply locate your local authority's website and search for school admissions.

Most local authorities set a deadline for applications at some point in the autumn of the year before the child is due to start school, when they are three or four years old.

Since most local authority areas now have a reception year for four year olds, it’s a good idea to start enquiring about primary schools well before your child reaches their fourth birthday.

You can research schools in your area using the Ofsted reports on the Ofsted Website. Most schools arrange open days for parents to visit before completing the admission process.