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Free early education entitlement

School children

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

The Free Early Education Entitlement is a Central Government scheme funded through Local Authorities, which provides up to 15 or 30 hours per week of free childcare for children aged two, three and four years old (subject to some eligibility criteria) until they reach compulsory school age.

Early education benefits children’s social, physical and mental development while also helping them to prepare for school. Evidence shows that regular, 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 does not offer a guarantee of a place at your preferred provider.  

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

  • Be 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
  • Be included in the Southwark Directory of Providers
  • All staff are checked by the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS)
  • Meet the learning and development and welfare requirements of the statutory Early Years Foundation Stage 

You can view the Ofsted inspection report of an early education provider on Ofsted’s website at : http://www.ofsted.gov.uk/reports

 There are three entitlements that are 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 three and four 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 fifth birthday). Parents do not need to apply for this entitlement and there are no eligibility criteria. Click here for further information about this entitlement.

Two Year Old Free Early Education Entitlement

Some two year olds, 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 for this entitlement. Click here to apply for this entitlement.

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 year olds to 30 hours per week for working families. Parents will need to meet specific eligibility criteria to qualify for this entitlement. 

This 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'. Click here to apply for this entitlement.

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 Governments Childcare Choices website at: https://www.childcarechoices.gov.uk/

Contact us

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

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Early Learning



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Southwark Council
PO BOX 64529
London SE1P 5LX

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