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The Nursery Education Grant

By Isabelle Parasram

So, your child is nearly three! You can look forward to a lot of things, but one thing that may well help in the midst of this recession is that your childcare fees are likely to go down, thanks to the Government funded Nursery Education Grant. (I use the word ‘likely’ because not all childcare providers participate in this scheme). If your child is currently at home with you, you can look forward to some free time during the week (though you may well spend much of it missing your child!) So, how does it work?

What you can expect:

Your 3 or 4 year old is entitled to 15 hours of free nursery education for 38 weeks of the year. This entitlement ends in the school term following their 5th birthday (when they should be starting school. You can opt to use your 15 free hours in a variety of settings, including nursery schools, children's centres, day nurseries, play groups, pre-schools and childminders.

When you can take this up:


1st April – 31st August 1st September following their 3rd birthday OR the beginning of the autumn school term 1st September – 31st December 1st January following their 3rd birthday OR the beginning of the spring school term 1st January – 31st March 1 April following their third birthday OR the beginning of the summer school term How it works in practice:

Generally, from a parent/carer point of view, if your child is already in an early years setting, nothing much will change for you apart from the fact that your fees may go down. You may be required to update your child’s essential information or bring in some verification documentation, but the process should be fairly automatic – your invoice may be adjusted and your payments may be reduced.

If your child is new to attending an early years setting, you will have to apply for a place. This may involve a lot of telephone calls, numerous visits to different settings, plenty of form filling and a bit of anxious waiting on standby lists!

There are some complications with the way the scheme works, however and this means that those who are operate it do so in slightly different ways. Also, not all providers are part of the scheme (it can create an administrative burden on some settings and it can be a loss-making exercise as the amount paid by the Local Authority is sometimes less than the cost of providing the place for the child).

The effect of this is that:

• Some providers who are not part of the scheme reduce their fees anyway and just absorb the cost of the grant themselves.

• Some providers only offer the 15 free hours at very specific (and sometimes inconvenient!) times of the day.

• Some providers have separate sessions for children who benefit from the grant – so this may mean that your child is put into a different group once he switches over to the grant scheme.

What you need to think about:

1. The grant only offers a limited number of hours of care – who will look after your child at the times in between? You may need to consider working part time or asking the Grandparents for some assistance!

2. What type of setting would you like your child to be in at age 3? For example, a school nursery can be beneficial in getting your child used to the school environment, but some schools will not change nappies and will expect you to come back to school to do so. When the session only lasts 3 hours and you have taken half an hour to get there, this can be frustrating to say the least!

3. Have you explored your options in time to get a place at your chosen setting? Many popular childminders and private day nurseries, for example, have waiting lists of many months, so start calling now!

Isabelle Parasram is the mother of four children aged 1-8.

She is also a barrister, a College Assessor of Childcare and Education, an NCT- trained antenatal teacher, the Director of a large children’s day Nursery & Out of School Club in Tower Hill and a Trustee of a Community Nursery in Shadwell. She would love to answer your questions or to have your comments on her article. Please e-mail her at: You can also read more about her at

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