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Free Early Learning and Childcare

Choosing early learning and childcare is a big step for you and your child. There is a variety of childcare on offer, these include childminders, nurseries, pre-school, playgroup, nursery classes and out-of-school clubs. Try and give yourself enough time to visit several possible options in your area to get a good idea of what may suit your child. It can be a good idea to take your child with you to see how they interact with staff and their reactions to the setting. Try to go when children are there so you can see if they are settled, confident and involved in a variety of activities. You could also visit again at a different time of day.

All childcare providers (excluding Nannies and Au-pairs) are registered with Ofsted (the Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills) if they operate more than 2 hours per day. This means that they are inspected against a set of national standards. You can access a copy of a childcare provider's latest report through the Ofsted website. You can also ask a provider if you want to see a copy of their latest inspection report.

Need extra support to find childcare?
Some parents need a helping hand to find the right care for their child. This could be for many reasons, perhaps your child has a disability, or you work unsocial hours? You might have searched on this directory, but still can’t find what you are looking for. If you do need help, our Families Information Service can lend a hand. You can either call our helpline on 020 8921 6921, or email us at fis@royalgreenwich.gov.uk with your request.

Types of childcare

Good quality childcare and early education is not only good for children; it gives parents more freedom to work, study or train for a job too. But juggling work and bringing up children isn't easy. If you're struggling with this, you're not alone.

There are lots of different options to consider when choosing childcare. It's up to you as a mum, dad or carer to choose what you feel is right for your family and child.

Childminders

Childminders are trained, self-employed carers largely based in their own homes. They are registered with Ofsted and both the childminder and their home are regularly inspected. A childminder can work with up to 2 other childminders or childminding assistants. The exact number of children a childminder can care for is regulated by Ofsted. The maximum number one childminder can care for is six children that are under eight-years-old. Childminders work across a range of hours so can often be worth exploring if your working day doesn’t fit the 9-5, Monday to Friday pattern or if you have children of different ages and you want them to be looked after together. You may also want your child to be cared for in a home environment by just one person. Childminder charges vary from £3 to £6 per child per hour but costs vary across the city, so it’s best to check. Prices may include food, nappies and trips/outings etc; however some may charge additional fees for these extras.

Childminders are able to offer the free early years entitlement. Not all childminders offer this so it is best to check that your childminder does offer a funded place.

Day nurseries

Day nurseries offer childcare and, in some cases, free early years entitlement. They are for children between the ages of six weeks and five years and many offer out-of-school care for five to 11-year-olds. Opening times tend to coincide with a standard working day, 8am to 6pm on weekdays. Day nurseries charge, on average, between £250 and £350 for a full-time week but costs and opening times vary, so it’s best to check.

Nursery schools and classes

Nursery schools and classes offer free early years entitlement and are for children between the ages of three and five. They are open during school hours, normally only in term time for full or half-day sessions. Nurseries are free if part of a state education system (excluding meals and trips) but private ones charge £1,200 to £1,500 per term. As always it is best to check with the school you’re interested in.

Pre-school and playgroups

Organised by community or voluntary groups, often with the help of parents, these offer free early years entitlement places. They give your child access to different resources, equipment and activities and ensure they mix with other children. Sessions last between two to six hours and take place either every day or several days a week, usually during term time. Some sessions may run over meal times, where children can bring in packed lunches or food is provided. They are for children aged between two and five years and cost around £5 to £12 per session (1/2 day).

Before and after school or out-of-school care

Some clubs are open before and after school and all day during school holidays. They offer a quiet space for catching up with homework as well as plenty of fun activities for children between the ages of three to 14-years-old (and up to 16 for children with special needs). Many breakfast, after school and holiday play schemes are linked to schools. Some of which offer a variety of activities on top of the normal school day such as music, art, sport or additional study support. Costs range between £5 and £10 a day for after-school clubs; £1 and £4 for breakfast clubs; and around £90 to £130 a week for a holiday place.

Other options

  • Nannies and au-pairs - provide childcare in your own home and can look after children of any age.
  • Crèches - provide occasional care for children under eight and are usually linked to an activity or club.

What about babysitting?

A babysitter is someone who looks after your children in your own home for short periods of time. Most parents need to use a babysitter at some stage whether it is to enjoy some free social time in the evening or to attend an appointment during the day. Babysitters are not regulated so it's completely up to parents to ensure they are happy and comfortable with who they use as a babysitter.

Free Early Learning for 2 year olds

Who can get free early learning for 2 year olds

If your child is two or will soon be two, he or she may be eligible for a free early learning place in Royal Greenwich.

This depends on certain criteria such as if your child has additional needs or if your family receives any of the following benefits:

  • Income-based Job Seekers Allowance
  • Income Support
  • Child Tax Credit and/or Working Tax Credit (your annual gross income mustn't be over £16,190)
  • Universal Credit - from Summer 18, if you and your partner are on a low income from work (this usually means a combined income of less than £15,400 a year after tax)
  • Disability Related Working Tax Credit
  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance
  • Support under part six of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999
  • Pension Credit Guarantee and Child Tax Credit.

A child can also get free early education and childcare if any of the following apply:

  • they’re looked after by a local council
  • they have a current education, health and care (EHC) plan
  • they get Disability Living Allowance
  • they’ve left care under a special guardianship order, child arrangements order or adoption order

Check if your child is eligible

To find out if your child qualifies for a free early learning place please apply via our online checker

When your child can start

If your child is eligible, they can get free early learning the term after their second birthday. Use the table below to check when your child is eligible.

When eligible two-year-olds can start free early learning placesDate of birthWhen they become eligible

Between 1 April and 31 August 1 September following their second birthday
Between 1 September and 31 December 1 January following their second birthday
Between 1 January and 31 March 1 April following their second birthday

How free early learning works

Free early learning places can be used at any of the following:

  • a registered childminder
  • a children's centre
  • a crèche
  • a nursery
  • a pre-school playgroup.

Your local children's centre or the Families Information Service can give you a list of places that your child can attend.

Early learning places are free at the point of delivery so you shouldn't be charged in advance for your place.

Flexible arrangements

You are allocated up to 15 hours a week for 38 weeks a year. You can spread your hours over three days or more, which can help if you're working or studying.

You can also spread the 15 hours across more than one provider if you want.

Free Early Learning for 3 & 4 year olds

Free early learning for three and four year olds

Free early learning places are available for all three and four year olds across Royal Greenwich at:

  • private and independent nurseries
  • pre-school playgroups
  • children's centres, nursery schools or nursery classes of primary schools
  • some registered child minders who have been specially accredited.

Places are flexible and are available for 15 hours a week, 38 weeks a year. There are different ways you can use your 15 hours entitlement, and you don't need to keep to one provider.

How free early learning works

If your child is eligible for free early learning, your provider (for example, the nursery) will claim the funding for the free hours on your child's behalf.

Early learning places are free at the point of delivery so you shouldn't be charged in advance for your place.

Three year olds can get free early education places at specific dates after their third birthday. Use the table below to check when your child is eligible.

When three and four year olds can start free early learning placesDate of birthWhen they become eligible

Between 1 April and 31 August 1 September following their third birthday
Between 1 September and 31 December 1 January following their third birthday
Between 1 January and 31 March 1 April following their third birthday

Flexible arrangements

You are allocated up to 15 hours a week for 38 weeks a year. You can spread your hours over three days or more, which can help if you're working or studying.

You can also spread the 15 hours across more than one provider if you want.

30 hours free childcare

Working parents/carers of 3 and 4 year olds in may be eligible for a further 15 hours free childcare in addition to the existing free 15 hours early education entitlement, if they meet certain criteria.

Eligibility Criteria

The extended free childcare entitlement will be available to parents/carers of three- and four-year-olds where:

  • Both parents are working (or sole parent in a lone parent family) and each parent/carer earns on average:
    • a weekly minimum equivalent to 16 hours at national minimum wage (NMW) (for under 25 yr olds) or national living wage (NLW) (if over 25 yrs old), and
    • less than £100,000 per year

Or

  • Both parents are employed but one or both parents is temporarily away from the workplace on parental, maternity, paternity or adoption leave or statutory sick pay, or
  • One parent is employed & the other parent has substantial caring responsibilities based on specific benefits received for caring, or
  • One parent is employed & one parent is disabled or incapacitated based on receipt of specific benefits.

Additional Information

  • You do not need to actually work 16 hours per week, but your earnings must equal at least 16 hours work at minimum wage / national living wage. You, and any partner, must each expect to earn (on average) at least £131 per week (equal to 16 hours at the National Minimum or Living Wage). 
  • A parent/carer will be eligible if they expect (on average) to earn this amount over the coming three months:
  • For example, for a parent/carer who is on a zero-hours contract, they will qualify if on average they work two weeks out of every three, and when they are working they get 25 hours of work at the minimum wage.
  • ‘Parent’ means a person who has parental responsibility for the child. In cases where a parent has remarried or is living with a partner, the step-parent or partner must also meet the earning threshold.
  • Foster carers will be able to receive 30 hours of free childcare if the following criteria is met:
    • that accessing the extended hours is consistent with the child’s care plan
    • the foster carer and their partner, if applicable, are engaging in paid work outside of their fostering roles   

Flexibility - Taking up the extended entitlement

If you are eligible for the extended entitlement, you can take up to 1140 hours free childcare across the year. This can be taken term time only or ‘stretched’ across the year, as follows:

  • Up to 30 hours per week across 38 weeks per year or (term time offer)
  • Stretched offer where the parent can request to use the 30 hours over as many weeks as they want (up to the maximum of 1140 hours free across the year).

Not all providers may be able to offer a stretched offer, the full 30 hours per week or the particular pattern of provision that you require however, you can split your entitlement across more than one provider.

You will be able to access your free childcare:

  • between 6am and 8pm
  • up to a maximum of 10 free hours per day, 30 hours per week
  • across a maximum of 3 providers (But no more than 2 in any one day)

Charges

If you take more than 30 hours per week (or the equivalent of 1140 hours per year), there will be a charge from the provider for the additional hours. Please check with your provider for details of these and any other additional charges such as for meals, snacks or additional services.

Eligibility

You can check to see whether you are eligible for a place through the government website Childcare Choices here

Applications

Please apply before:

  • 31st August for a September place
  • 31st December for a January place
  • 31st March for an April place

Help with childcare costs

Help with childcare costs

Paying for childcare

There is a range of benefits and funds that can help towards the cost of childcare when a parent or carer is working, training or volunteering. To get help, the childcare must be registered or approved.

Tax credits

If you claim Working Tax Credit (WTC), you may be able to get help with childcare costs while you work. To get this help, the childcare must be with a registered childminder, eligible nursery, children's centre, pre-school playgroup, breakfast or after-school club, holiday scheme, approved home carer or registered nanny.

Who can claim?

You can have help with childcare included when your Working Tax Credit claim is calculated if you are:

  • a lone parent working 16 or more hours a week
  • a couple and both of you work for 16 hours or more per week
  • a couple and one of you works for 16 or more hours a week and the other suffers from ill health (special rules apply)

You can also have help with childcare included when your Working Tax Credit claim is calculated if you are in a couple where one adult works for 16 or more hours a week and the other is entitled to Carer's Allowance. This is a new exception which enables these couples to claim tax credits to cover childcare costs.

You can claim up to the September after your child's 15th birthday (or 16th birthday for children with special needs).

What you get

You can get help towards childcare costs of up to £175 per week for one child or £300 for two or more children. How much help you get depends on your circumstances.

Payment is made to the main carer of the children together with Child Tax Credit. In some cases it will just be included in the Child Tax Credit.

How to claim

You claim help with childcare costs as part of your Working Tax Credit claim. Ring the Tax Credits Helpline for help.

You must tell HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) within one month if your childcare ends, or the average costs change by more than £10 a week for four weeks or more. Try to do this in writing and keep a copy.

Remember to tell HMRC if you pay for childcare during holiday periods, even if you don't have any costs during term-time.

Tax-free Childcare

Parents/carers can get up to £500 every 3 months (£2,000 a year) for each of your children to help with the costs of childcare.

If you get Tax-Free Childcare, the government will pay £2 for every £8 you pay your childcare provider via an online account.

You can use it to pay for approved childcare.

You can get Tax-Free Childcare at the same time as 30 hours free childcare if you’re eligible for both.

Eligibility

You and your partner

You can usually get Tax-Free Childcare if you (and your partner, if you have one) are:

  • in work - or getting parental leave, sick leave or annual leave
  • each earning at least the National Minimum Wage or Living Wage for 16 hours a week - this is £125.28 if you’re 25 or over

This earnings limit does not apply if you’re self-employed and started your business less than 12 months ago.

You’re not eligible if:

  • your child does not usually live with you
  • the child is your foster child
  • either you or your partner has a taxable income over £100,000
  • you’re from outside the EEA and your UK residence card says you cannot access public funds

To apply, visit the childcare choices website

Housing Benefit and Council Tax Support

If you pay for approved childcare, it is also worth checking if you can get Housing Benefit or Council Tax Support. Up to £175 of your earnings can be ignored for one child (up to £300 for two or more children).

If you pay childcare costs and do not already get these benefits, it is worth checking if you can claim.

If you have any other questions, contact the Welfare Rights Service or the Families Information Service.

Care to Learn

Young parents under 20 may qualify for help with their childcare costs if they are returning to education, training or voluntary work.

Funding is available for both help with childcare costs and some other associated costs.

Contact Care to Learn

Further and higher education childcare funds

Local further education or higher education colleges receive learner support funds that are available to support their students' childcare costs.

These funds are limited and students should approach their college as soon as possible to get advice about this.

Contact the student support team at your college or university for more information.

Jobcentre Plus

Jobcentre Plus can advise and assist financially in a number of ways to support the transition from benefits to education, training and employment.

Parents, particularly lone parents, should discuss with their Jobcentre Plus advisor about any possible help before any commitment is made to training and to ensure that they access all the financial and other support that they are entitled to.

Find your nearest Jobcentre Plus

Top tips and what to look for

There are lots of differences between the types of childcare, early education or pre-school services and individual childminders, nurseries, nursery classes or out of school clubs. Try to visit several possible options in your area to get a good idea of what could suit your child. Don't forget you are the expert on your child and trust your feelings.

Take your child with you to see how staff talk to him or her. Try to go when children are there so you can see if they are calm, happy and busy.

Suggested questions to ask when you visit:

  1. How long have you been working with children?
  2. What qualifications do you have?
  3. Can I look around the building to see the rooms and outside play space?
    • If there is no outside play space how will you make sure my child gets the chance to play outside?
  4. Where will my child rest?
  5. What kind of food and drink will you give?
  6. What will my child do all day?
  7. How do you encourage good behaviour?
  8. Will my child be with a regular group of children?
    • How old are they?
    • How will their timetable fit in with my child?
  9. How will you make sure I know how my child is getting on?

What does quality look like?

When you visit possible childcare options, look for these Quality Pointers.

  1. Are the children calm, safe and happy?
  2. Do children play and talk together?
  3. Are the staff listening to children and answering them carefully?
  4. Are the staff friendly and proud of their work?
  5. Are the staff joining in with what the children are doing?
  6. Are there lots of fun activities planned to help children learn and play?
    • Can children plan some of these themselves?
  7. Are there plenty of clean toys and equipment for children to use?
  8. Is the premises clean, well-kept and safe for children with a fun outside play area (or will children go to parks and other places regularly)?
  9. Do parents have plenty of chances to say what they want for their children?
  10. If there are other things you want to know, do not be afraid to ask. Good childcare staff expect you to ask questions and will be happy to answer them.

Top tips

  • Always take up references.
  • You could ask for names of other parents to talk to about your chosen service
  • Listen to your child and find out more if he or she seems unhappy
  • Always trust your own feelings about your childcare - you know your child best.

Childcare quality and standards

Childcare quality and standards

Office for Standards in education (Ofsted) are the regulatory body responsible for ensuring that Childcare standard are met, and that Ofsted -registered providers are checked for safety and suitability when caring for children.

Childcare for children under 5 years of age

If a childcare provider is caring for children from birth to 31st of August after their fifth birthday, then they must be registered by Ofsted on the Early Years Register (EYR). Childcare providers on this register must also deliver the Early Years Foundation Stage also known as the EYFS. The EYFS sites the standards for early learning, development and care.

Childcare for children aged five and over

These childcare providers can register with Ofsted on the General Childcare Register also known as the GCR.

The GCR is divided into two parts, they consist of

  • The compulsory part is for childcare providers of children from the end of the EYFS stage up to age seven.
  • The voluntary part is for providers who care for children who are aged eight and over.

There are some childcare providers that choose to look after children between the end of the Early Years Foundation Stage and age seven. These providers do not have to join the compulsory part of the General childcare register.

Examples of thee types of providers are nannies, and providers offering activity based childcare like sports or dance and dram clubs.

What do these registers mean for my child/ren?

If a childcare provider is registered on the Early Years Register, or on any part of the General Childcare Register (GCR), then all provision must meet certain minimum standards.

These standards will include the suitability of the staff that are working at the provision, and the also the suitability of the premises.

Part of this process will include the carrying out of Disclosure and Barring checks, to make sure that staff are suitable for working with children. These checks are undertaken on all providers who are Ofsted registered, regardless of which register they have joined.

Childcare at school

Any childcare for children aged three and over that is provided by a school does not need to be registered on either the EYR or the GCR.

This provision will be inspected as part of the schools inspection system, which is also carried out by Ofsted.

Schools providing childcare have to meet the same standards as registered childcare providers.

What if I have a worry or concern about my Childcare Provider?

If you are worried or concerned about any aspect of your child's care whilst at a setting, you should speak to the provider in the first instance.

If after speaking to your provider you are still not satisfied you can contact Ofsted and raise your concerns with them.

For more information about how to raise a concern or complaint, go to Gov.uk - Complain about a school or childminder.

Read more information on the regulation of childcare providers.

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