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Free early education for three and four-year-olds FAQs

These are some frequently asked questions about free early learning for three and four-year-olds, for parents.

What will my child receive?

Providers offer early education which is inspected for quality by Ofsted. The providers are required to deliver a play-based curriculum called the Early Years Foundation Stage, which continues through the reception year at school.

Will providers share information with the school my child attends?

As your child moves into school, providers are required to share information about their learning and development. This information will be used by the teacher to provide learning opportunities that meet your child’s needs and help them to settle into school.

What are eligible children entitled to?

Eligible children attending a provider are entitled to receive:

  • a maximum of 15 hours free a week up to a maximum of 570 hours a year
  • a minimum of three and a maximum of eight funded hours in a day, taken between 7.30am and 6.30pm, at a maximum of two providers at any one time.

How is the early education delivered?

The entitlement should be offered in one of these options:

  • three hours a day over five days a week
  • five hours a day over three days a week
  • six hours plus six hours plus three hours over three days a week.

Do providers have to offer every option?

Providers do not have to offer every delivery option and can offer more flexible options.

Can I request a different option from my provider?

You can, but providers are not expected to agree to the flexible requests from every individual parent.

Does the availability of a provider affect the funding?

If your provider is open for less than 38 weeks, the total number of weeks paid will be reduced to match the total number of weeks they are open. If your provider is open for more than 38 weeks, they may allow you to stretch the full entitlement of hours over more than 38 weeks. If you stretch your child’s entitlement the number of hours you can claim each week will be less than 15 hours. We add up the number of funded hours that your child claims in each funding period to ensure that this does not exceed the 570 hour maximum entitlement in any 12 month period.

How do I find a childcare provider?

For information visit the family information service website. Contact the individual provider yourself to check availability and what they are able to offer.

Is my child eligible for a funded two year old place?

You can check if your child is eligible to a funded two year old place via the eligibility checker form on our family information service website.  Eligible two-year-olds can take up to 570 hours of early education funding with a quality childcare provider. For more information on eligibility read our free early education for two-year-olds FAQs

When is a child eligible for a free three year old place?

Children become eligible for the free entitlement at the start of the funding period after their third birthday. They are eligible for up to two years before they reach compulsory school age, which is the school term after their fifth birthday. These dates are set by the Department for Education.

Date of birth between             Eligible for a place from

1 April - 31 August                    1 September following their third birthday

1 September - 31 December     1 January following their third birthday

1 January - 31 March                 1 April following their third birthday 

What dates does the funding cover?

The funding dates are set nationally by the Department for Education.

  • summer: 1 April - 31 August
  • autumn: 1 September - 31 December
  • spring: 1 January - 31 March.

Can my child attend more than one provider?

Yes, your free entitlement can be split between two different providers. You must inform your provider if your child attends more than one early education provider and complete a parent declaration form for each provider. You have to specify on both forms how many hours of funding you want to claim at each provider.

Can I use a provider outside the boundaries of North Somerset?

Yes, you can but you must make your claim for your child’s attendance at your chosen provider in the other authority. The provider will also require a similar claim form to be filled out and signed.

What happens if my child switches providers in the middle of a funding period?

We fund the childcare provider that your child is attending during head-count week for the number of hours that your child is attending. This provider receives the funding for your child for the whole funding period. If you change providers during the funding period then your new provider will make a claim on your behalf. We will reclaim back funding from a provider when a child leaves before they have received all their funded hours.

Is there any flexibility for children with special education needs?

We recognise that some children with special educational needs may require additional support during their early education. Please contact the special education needs co-ordinator at the provision your child attends for more information.

How do I claim the entitlement?

When you find your provider they will give you a children’s information form to complete and return with a copy of your child’s birth certificate or passport. This only needs to be completed once for any child attending a provider. The provider will make the claim on your behalf three times a year, but you will need to complete and sign a parent declaration form for the hours you want to claim during head-count week. You will be given this form by your provider.

Are there any other costs associated with my child's entitlement?

  • providers cannot charge you any additional fees for the funded hours as a condition of your child accessing their place, for example meals, optional extra activities or extra hours of provision in addition to the funded hours.
  • if your child attends more than the maximum entitlement per week, your provider is entitled to charge you for the extra goods or service for example additional hours, meals, optional activities.
  • your provider’s fee policy should clearly state the charges for all additional hours and services.

The value and payment of fees for hours not funded by the early education entitlement is a matter between you and the provider.

What is head-count week?

Providers are funded for the number of hours that eligible children are registered to claim funding during head-count week.

The head-count week dates for 2014/2015 are:

  • autumn 2014: 29 September - 3 October 2014
  • spring 2015: 12 - 16 January 2015.
  • summer 2015: 18 - 22 May 2015

What happens when my child starts school on a part-time basis and I need them to continue at nursery as well?

When your child starts school, even if it is only a few hours a week to start with, the free entitlement will not be available from your provider. You will have to pay your provider for any hours that your child attends from the start of the funding period.

I have a query with the bill from my provider

You must contact your provider if you have a query about your bill. The value and payment of fees for hours not funded by the early education entitlement is a matter between the parent and provider.

I am having difficulty finding a provider with spaces

Our family information service can provide a brokerage service to those families who are finding it difficult to find suitable childcare for their child or children. For more information visit our family information service website.

How do I apply for a place in a school nursery class?

There are eight schools with nursery classes. The governors of these schools are responsible for allocating the places, which they have to do in accordance with our nursery school admissions policy, Children are normally admitted to a nursery class in the academic year following their third birthday. For more information download our nursery school admissions policy (pdf).

What do I do if I am not satisfied that my child has received their early education place?

If you are not satisfied that your child has received their early education place or with any aspect of the way in which they have received it please contact our early years funding team.