Free early education entitlement

If you have a child aged 2, 3 or 4 years old, you may be entitled to a free childcare place.  

The Free Early Education Entitlement is a central government scheme funded through local authorities. The scheme provides up to 15 or 30 hours per week of free childcare for children aged 2, 3 or 4 yeasr old (subject to eligibility criteria) until they reach compulsory school age.

Early education benefits children’s social, physical and mental development and helps them prepare for school. Evidence shows that regular and good quality early education has lasting benefits for all children.

Free early education is available through day nurseries, pre-schools or playgroups, independent schools, maintained nursery schools and classes and childminders. However, the free entitlement doesn't offer a guarantee of a place at your preferred provider.  

All providers of free early education must meet the following criteria:

  • a maintained school in the local authority or registered by the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted) and inspected for the childcare and education they provide on a regular basis
  • included in the Southwark Directory of Providers
  • all staff must be checked by the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS)
  • meets the learning, development and welfare requirements of the statutory Early Years Foundation Stage 

You can view the Ofsted inspection report of an early education provider on the Ofsted website.

There are three entitlements available to children aged 2, 3 and 4 years old in Southwark.

Universal free early education entitlement for 3 and 4 year olds

Every child aged 3 and 4 years old is entitled to receive a maximum of 15 hours of free early education per week, until they reach compulsory school age (the term following their 5th birthday). Parents don't need to apply for this entitlement and there's no eligibility criteria. You can find further information about this entitlement here.

Two year old free early education entitlement

Some two year old, who may not otherwise benefit from early education at this age, are entitled to receive a maximum of 15 hours of free early education per week until the term after their third birthday. Parents will need to meet specific eligibility criteria to qualify. You can find further information about this entitlement here.

Free early education extended entitlement for 3 and 4 year olds

From September 2017, the government will increase the universal free entitlement for children aged 3 and 4 years old to 30 hours per week for working families. Parents will need to meet specific eligibility criteria to qualify for this entitlement. 

This extended entitlement will provide an additional 15 hours per week on top of the universal entitlement of 15 hours per week for all 3 and 4 year olds. This new scheme is also being referred to as the 'additional 15 hours' or '30 hours free childcare'. You can find further information about this entitlement here.

Other childcare support

You can also check whether you could be eligible for a range of other childcare benefits, such as tax free childcare and childcare vouchers, by visiting the Childcare Choices website.

Contact us

If you're not happy with the way your child has received their free entitlement, contact us for advice. You should raise any concerns with your early education provider in the first instance; however, if you're still not happy, contact us at earlylearninginfo@southwark.gov.uk.

Page last updated: 03 November 2017