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Durham County Council

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Nursery and pre-school education

All three and four year olds and some two year olds in England are currently entitled to free, part-time early learning, care and development.

Free early years services for 3 and 4 year olds

Services are available for up to two years, until children reach statutory school age. 

Children can currently attend on a part-time basis for 15 hours a week, for 38 weeks of the year. This can be taken flexibly over a minimum of two days, and a minimum of 2 ½ hours per day with up to two providers.

From September 2017, working parents of 3 and 4 year olds will be able to access 30 hours of free childcare per week depending on their circumstances. (See below for more details).

When does my child qualify?

  • Child born between 1 April - 31 August: September term intake
  • Child born between 1 September - 31 December: January term intake
  • Child born between 1 January - 31 March: April term intake

Where can I access it?

  • Durham County Council maintained nursery schools and nursery units
  • Nurseries
  • Pre-school playgroups
  • Childminders

New from September 2017 - 30 hours of free childcare per week - are you eligible?

From September 2017, the 30 hours of free childcare will be available to parents and carers of 3 and 4 year olds where:

  • Both parents are working (or the sole parent in a lone parent family) and each parent or carer earns on average:
    • a weekly minimum that is equivalent to 16 hours at national minimum wage (for people aged under 25) or national living wage (for people aged 25 and over), and
    • less than £100,000 per year
  • One parent is working and the other parent is receiving certain benefits for caring responsibilities.

Full details are yet to be confirmed by the Department for Education but the government intends that the additional entitlement should be available in the following circumstances: 

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

The government believes that this will help these households to maintain one parent in employment or enable them to increase their hours of work whilst supporting the other parent with their own needs.

How do you apply?

Visit the Families Information Service website to search for free early years providers in your area and contact them direct to apply.

Free early years Play and Learn sessions for 2 year olds

Some two year olds may be entitled to free early education up until the term after their third birthday at 'Play and Learn' sessions. This can take place at a nursery, playgroup or with a childminder. If you are eligible, your child could receive 15 hours a week (term time only), or 11 hours a week (50 weeks a year).

Is your child eligible?

Children are eligible if they:

  1. are from households where a parent is in receipt of any of the following benefits:
    • Income Support
    • Income-based Job Seekers' Allowance
    • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance
    • Support under Part VI of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999
    • the Guarantee element of the State Pension Credit
    • or Child Tax Credit, provided they have an annual gross income of no more than £16,190, as assessed by Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC)
    • or are in receipt of Working Tax Credits (including those in receipt during the four-week period immediately after their employment ceases, or after they start to work fewer than 16 hours per week) with a household income of less than £16,190 as assessed by HMRC
  2. are looked after by their local authority
  3. have a current statement of special educational needs or an Education, Health and Care plan
  4. have left care through special guardianship or an adoption or residence order
  5. are in receipt of the Disability Living Allowance

When could your child start?

If you qualify, your child could take up their 'play and learn' sessions any time between the term after their 2nd birthday and the term after their 3rd birthday. 

Where can you access Play and Learn sessions? 

Visit the Families Information Service website to search for providers in your area.

How do you apply?

You can download an application form (PDF, 825kb) or contact us for a paper copy. Applications will not be considered until the beginning of the term that the child turns two.

More about Play and Learn sessions

Research shows children who go to good and outstanding nurseries, pre-schools and child minders make good progress with their language, physical and social development. When the time comes for school they settle in quickly and do well in their new class. Places are available in good quality settings so you can be confident that your child is receiving quality education and childcare helping them with their early learning through giving them new experiences. It will give you the chance to spend time with other family commitments, do some training or study or take a part-time job.

You can download a list of Frequently asked questions (PDF, 235kb) about free Play and Learn sessions for 2 year olds.