Early learning is important for young children, as it gives them a good start in life. For children in England aged three to four years old, there’s help at hand for parents, in the form of free early learning opportunities.
The early years are an important stage of life and children grow and develop at quite a rapid pace, both physically, mentally and emotionally. This is a time when they’re quickly learning new skills and gaining new experience, and any forms of pre-school education that can support and enhance that learning are important.
In order to support parents who want to give their children the best start in life, the government introduced a scheme to provide free early learning places for all three and four year olds in England. The current rules state that all three and four year olds are entitled to 12.5 hours of free early learning sessions each week, for 38 weeks of the year. This can be taken in various forms, such as through places are nursery, playgroup, with childminders or even through places at pre-school.
In addition, the scheme is set to change slightly – for the better! – in the year 2010. When this occurs, all three and four year olds will be entitled to 15 hours a week of free early learning. At the moment, it’s anticipated that this may be delivered over a minimum of three days, although there’s likely to be some flexibility with this.
Children become eligible to take up their free early learning sessions depending on which month of the year their birthday occurs. According to the current guidelines:
If your child is born between 1st April and 31st August, your child is eligible for their free place from 1st September following their third birthday, until they reach the statutory school age.
If your child is born between 1st September and 31st December, then your child is eligible for their free place from 1st January following their third birthday, until they reach the statutory school age.
If your child is born between 1st January and 31st March, then they’re eligible for their free early learning place from 1st April following their third birthday, until they reach the statutory school age.
Taking Up Free Early Learning And Nursery Places
Free early learning places are available from a range of learning providers including:
- Children’s centres
- Day nurseries
- Private nursery schools
- Maintained nursery schools
- Nursery classes operated at primary schools
- Primary school reception classes (early admission for four year olds)
- Accredited childminders
All of the free early education providers have to meet government standards, are inspected regularly by Ofsted and must work at helping children progress towards the Foundation Stage early learning goals. Whichever type of provider you choose, they’ll all be meeting these goals, so you can be sure your child will be getting a good start.
In the first instance, it’s a good idea to contact your local Children’s Information Service (CIS) as they have details of which classes or centres are able to offer free places. You don’t need to have any special vouchers to obtain the free place, but the provider does need to be registered in order for you to be eligible to claim the free place from them. Demand for places in many areas is high, so there’s unfortunately no guarantee that you’ll get your child into your first choice provider, but they’ll do their best to find a place that suits you and your child.