Nurseries, kindergartens and pre-schools are different terms used to refer to non-domestic childcare provision in the UK. The terms are often used interchangeably by childcare providers. Children will leave nursery to start in Reception class at school the September after they turn 4. Childcare provision in England must be registered to Ofsted and is subject to inspection. All childcare providers in England follow the government’s Early Years Foundation Stage which sets the standards for learning, development and care for children from birth – 5 years old.
Usually cater for babies from 3/6 months old – 4 year olds. They offer long opening hours between around 8am – 6pm and will usually be open for 51 weeks of the year, closing at Christmas and bank holidays. Days tend to be split into a morning and an afternoon session. They are fee paying though most also offer the government funded hours if additional fee-paying hours are taken on top. They usually ask for the child to attend for a minimum amount of sessions per week. It is very unusual to need proof of address to apply to a day nursery and you can start at any time of year (subject to availability).
Preschools and Kindergartens
Can be attached to independent schools or stand alone. They tend to take rising 3 year olds for the year before they move up to school. Some take younger children as well. Will usually be term time only and opening hours often reflect school hours of around 9am-3pm. You do not need proof of address to apply for a place. They are fee-paying but may offer the government funded hours depending on the provider.
State School Nurseries
These are attached to state schools and provide 15 funded hours of nursery per week for 3-4 year olds term time only. The hours are usually between 9am-12pm. A few offer additional fee paying hours on top and some have started to provide the 30 funded hours extending the day to around 3pm. You need proof of address to apply. They are frequently oversubscribed and it can be difficult to find spaces part way through the school year. A place in the school’s nursery does not guarantee the child will be offered a place in the Reception year.
15 funded hours for 3-4 year olds (universal benefit)
All 3-4 year olds are eligible for 15 state funded hours of nursery a week during term time (38 weeks a year). This amounts to 570 hours. Eligibility starts the term following the child’s third birthday until they start Reception. Some Day Nurseries spread the hours out over the full year rather than term-time only to make monthly fees consistent. Due to limited spaces being available state school nurseries may prioritise applications from older children to ensure they get to experience a nursery setting before starting school.
30 funded hours for 3-4 year olds (means-tested benefit)
In September 2017, the government introduced a scheme to offer an additional 15 funded hours a week term-time for 3-4 year olds of working parents. This brings the total up to 1140 hours a year. There are eligibility conditions:
• You must be a single parent in work or, if in a couple, both parents must be in work and
• Must be earning at least the National Minimum Wage if under 25 and the Living Wage if over 25 for at least 16 hours a week.
• Neither parent must earn more than £100,000 a year.
The entitlement is applied for through the government and you will need your national insurance number/s to do this. If eligible, you are given a code to provide to the childcare provider and the funding starts the following term.
15 funded hours for Under 2s (means-tested benefit)
This is available to people on a low income and in receipt of qualifying state benefits such as Jobseekers Allowance and Employment Support Allowance (disability benefit). Children with special educational needs who have an Education and Health Care Plan (ECHP) also qualify. Not all nurseries offer these hours.