All 3 and 4 year olds are entitled to free part-time education. The scheme has been up and running for several years now, but the system is often ‘tweaked’ by the government which means that there is still some confusion about how it all works.
This is our attempt to simplify things!
A child born on or between 1 April and 31 August will become eligible for a free place from 1 September following their third birthday.
A child born on or between 1 September and 31 December will become eligible for a free place from 1 January following their third birthday.
A child born on or between 1 January and 31 March will become eligible for a free place from 1 April following their third birthday.
Once your child enters the reception class of a primary school, the nursery education arrangements will stop.
This where it gets a bit complicated. Your entitlement is worked out in terms of “hours” rather than “pounds.” A day nursery, which is open all year round, is allowed to offer a maximum of 11 hours a week over 52 weeks a year, whilst a preschool which closes in the school holidays, can offer a maximum of 15 hours a week over 38 weeks. You can decide which kind of childcare will suit your family best.
However, you will only be able to claim the maximum number of hours if your child actually attends for those hours, or it may be deemed fraud. For instance, if your child attends a nursery for one day a week between 8am-6pm, you could only claim 10 hours a week.
The Local Authority sends the relevant Parental Contract forms to the nursery or preschool for each funding period. They then ask you to fill in a form and supply proof of your child’s name and postcode. The Local Authority sends the grant directly to the childcare setting. Your child’s funded hours will then be completely free to you. If your child attends nursery for longer than the free hours then the setting will invoice you directly for these hours.
Extended hours from September 2017
From this date, the government is launching a scheme to offer working parents an additional 570 hours at nursery for your child.
Both parents (one in a lone parent family) will need to be working and earning the equivalent of 16 hours a week on National Minimum Wage including those receiving tax credits or Universal Credit. Eligibility will be retained if one parent is temporarily away from work for instance on maternity leave or off sick. Families should also be eligible if one parent is working and the other has substantial caring responsibilities or a disability.
How can parents find out if they qualify?
Once the system is operational there will be a simple online checker. Parents will then have to reconfirm their eligibility on a three-monthly basis. If their circumstances alter and they are no longer eligible then there will be a short grace period before the child’s funding ends in order to help the child and provider to manage the change. The length of this grace period has not yet been confirmed.
Will I have a guaranteed place at nursery?
There will be a limited number of places depending on our overall occupancy. Once the Eligibility Checker is live, we will offer these places on a first come first served basis. It may be possible to offer you a place at one of our sister nurseries until a place with us becomes available.
Finding a nursery, preschool or childminder
The nursery or preschool must be registered with Ofsted and the Local Authority. You can use the search facility on either website by following these links:
– Ofsted Website
– Northamptonshire Childcare Search