In our last post, we published a complete guide to free childcare for 2-year-olds in England. Now it’s time to look at the free childcare funding available for 3 and 4-year-old children. With up to 30 hours of free childcare available in this age group, this represents a great opportunity for parents or guardians to continue with their careers and boost household income, particularly following maternity or paternity leave. It’s also wonderful for the children, who will naturally benefit from early years education and be better prepared for school when the time comes at age 5.
So, how does the 30 hours of free childcare funding work, and who is eligible?
How 15-30 hours of free childcare funding works
This is funding that comes from the Government, via local councils, to pay for childcare at nurseries, pre-schools and similar approved childcare providers. The funding goes direct to the childcare settings or providers, not to the parents or guardians of the children. There are two possible halves — 15 hours of free childcare and an additional 15 hours on top of that, potentially taking the total available up to 30 hours of free childcare for each child.
The first 15 hours of free childcare
The first 15 hours of free childcare for 3 and 4-year-olds in England is very straight forward. In essence, all 3- and 4-year-olds in England are entitled to the 15 hours of funding for childcare each week. Well, to be more precise, the scheme allows for 15 hours per week spread out over 38 weeks in any one year. That’s a total maximum of 570 hours a year. However, so long as the total hours in any given year does not exceed 570, some childcare settings will allow parents or carers to spread the free childcare out over a different number of weeks, simply by adjusting the number of hours used during each of those weeks appropriately.
Eligibility for 15 hours of childcare funding:
- All 3- and 4-year-olds living in England are eligible (and there are also similar schemes in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland).
- The free childcare funding can only be used in conjunction with approved childcare settings and providers. Treetops Nursery in Willesden is one such approved nursery.
- The children are eligible from the term* following their 3rd birthday, until they reach compulsory school age or start Reception Year at school.
* (Terms usually start in early January, April or September).
- The 15 hours of funding is not means-tested, nor is it related to whether or not the parent or guardian is working or unemployed etc.
- The Government funding does not include food and consumables (nappies, sun cream etc.), so you will need to check this with your individual childcare provider.
30 hours of free childcare
30 hours of free childcare funding is also available for eligible families. However, it includes the first 15 hours explained above, plus a possible additional 15 hours per week, when eligible. This takes the total amount of free childcare available to a possible maximum of 1140 hours per year, or 30 hours per week spread out over 38 weeks. As with the first ‘15 hours’ scenario, some childcare providers allow it to be spread out over more of the year, so long as the number of hours per week is reduced accordingly. And, as before, the free childcare funding can only be used with approved childcare providers like Treetops Nursery, Willesden.
Eligibility for 30 hours of childcare funding:
You and your partner, if you have one …
Have you heard about the free childcare funding that’s available for eligible 2-year-olds? Do you want to learn more? If you are a parent who is looking to work, or perhaps to get back into work after starting a family, then this could be a perfect solution for you and your toddler. Under a Government scheme, approved nurseries, pre-schools and childcare providers in England can supply up to 15 hours per week of childcare for eligible 2-year-olds. It’s an absolute no-brainer, so we thought we’d put together this comprehensive guide to tell you everything you need to know.
The benefits of free childcare for 2-year-olds
Free childcare hours will be a great help to families:
- It will help those on maternity or paternity leave to re-enter the workplace more easily, knowing that their young child is being cared for in a safe and secure environment.
- For up to 15 hours a week, the childcare will be funded by the Government, free of charge, enabling families to boost household income and quality of life.
- The 2-year-olds benefit greatly as it allows them to make an early start on their education and development. They can prepare for school for around three years and hit the ground running there when they reach the age of five.
A Department of Education study showed that children who start early education no later than the age of two will have long-term benefits including enhanced abilities, better confidence and improved social skills, to name just a few. Studies also show that even their lifetime outcomes and future employment potential are improved if they started early years education and care by the age of 2. The greatest benefits were seen by those children receiving at least 10 hours per week. So, with 15 free hours a week on offer for free, it’s something that every parent in England should at least consider.
How it works
It’s quite straight forward. First, it’s wise to do a rough check to see whether you/your child is likely to be eligible (see the next section below for that). If it looks like you are eligible, you can apply for the funding via a Government website – more about that later. If you are approved, your child can begin free childcare from an approved childcare provider (… such as Treetops Nursery in Willesden). The Government will pay the cost of the childcare, up to 15 hours per week for 2-year-olds, direct to the childcare provider. Your child can begin receiving the childcare in the year in which they reach the age of 2. Which term they start in depends upon the month of their birthday so, in real terms, they usually begin on, or soon after, the 1st of January, 1st of April or 1st of September.
Eligible 2-year-olds can receive up to 570 hours of free childcare over the course of a year. Usually that is taken as 15 hours per week over 38 weeks. However, some childcare providers allow it to be a little more flexible with, perhaps, less hours per week but over more weeks of the year, so long as the total is no more than 570 hours overall.
Eligibility requirements for free childcare funding for 2-year-olds
In order to be eligible for the free childcare funding, either
- the parent(s) need to be receiving one or more of the requisite ‘qualifying benefits’ or
- the 2-year-old must fall into a qualifying ‘additional needs’ category.
We’ll explain more about each one …
Back in July, we wrote a detailed article about the importance of parental involvement in the education of children. One critically important element of that is parents or carers actively reading with their children. Indeed, parent-child reading has been proposed as a possible solution to the performance deficit often experienced by children from lower socio-economic backgrounds (through no fault of their own). That makes parent-child reading incredibly important as a way of evening up the playing field and ensuring that pre-school children are completely prepared when the time comes to move to school and beyond. If not, research shows that they are likely to do worse at school and go on to have poorer life outcomes generally.
The research is compelling
A study funded by the Nuffield Foundation, whose mission is to advance educational opportunity and social wellbeing, looked at the impact of adult-child reading from data gathered over 40 years. The results are frankly astounding.
“Reading with pre-school children boosts language skills by eight months.”
That’s incredible when you bear in mind that the children studied were, on average, just 3¼ years old. An 8 month skills boost is therefore equivalent to an extra fifth of their entire lives! Such an impact, at a time when they’re right in the middle of their pre-school years, is incredibly important for them. After all, this is a critical time in their learning and development — and one that will have a profound impact on the rest of their lives.
Reading with children is the key
You may have noticed that we said reading with children, rather than to them. It makes sense to involve the children in the reading process, so they learn from parents/carers and pick up little nuggets of information and know-how as they progress, together, through each book. For example, parents can