Show me the money – how nursery funding works

If you’re a parent in England getting ready to go back to work after the summer break, you might be wondering how you can get help with childcare costs. That’s where nursery funding comes in. This article is here to help make things easy to understand.

We’ve broken down everything you need to know about how nursery funding works – from who can get it, to how to apply. By the end, you’ll have a clear picture of how you can get the support you need to take care of your child while you’re at work.

15 hours free childcare

Currently, all parents and carers of three and four-year-old children are entitled to 15 hours of free childcare for 38 weeks (during school term time). Parents may also be able to get free childcare for 52 weeks if they use less than 15 hours a week, though this will be dependent on whether their childcare provider offers this.

An eligible child can start in their childcare place the term after they turn three years old. Term start dates are 1 September, 1 January and 1 April. It is important to note that the 15 free hours of childcare is not intended to cover the cost of meals, other consumables (like nappies and sunscreen), additional hours or additional activities like trips.

Childcare providers may charge a fee for these additions. However, you must not be required to pay any fee as a condition of taking up a 15-hour place and must be offered alternative options.

30 hours free childcare

For parents who are employed and have three or four-year-old children, they have the right to access 30 hours of free childcare over 38 weeks, which corresponds to the school term time. This benefit is applicable if both partners individually earn less than £100,000.

Additionally, each partner must anticipate earning an average of at least £167 per week, which is equivalent to 16 hours at the national minimum or living wage. Eligible children can commence their childcare placement in the term following their third birthday or upon receipt of a valid 30-hour code, whichever transpires later – these terms being 1 September, 1 January, or 1 April.

Parents might have the option to distribute their childcare hours throughout 52 weeks if they utilise less than 30 hours weekly. The cumulative allowance of 1,140 hours annually can be employed flexibly, encompassing one or multiple childcare providers.

To maintain their entitlement to the 30 hours of free childcare, parents must ensure that their details are up to date every three months. Eligible parents can presently utilise this free childcare option at the following participating establishments:

  • Full day care (e.g., nurseries)
  • Schools
  • Childminders
  • Sessional providers (e.g., playgroups)
  • Sure Start Children’s Centres
  • After school clubs

Again, the 30 hours of free childcare is not intended to cover meals, other consumables, additional hours or additional activities.

Picking the perfect nursery

Now that we’ve clarified the free hours of childcare parents can count on, it’s time to tackle a crucial question: what should parents prioritise when choosing a childcare facility? For those of you with three and four-year-olds, nurseries often come to the forefront as the preferred option. Our guide offers practical advice to help you navigate the task of selecting the right nursery for your child, ensuring a seamless fit for both your needs and your little ones.

Start with good research

Definitely, one of the key pointers that stands out is the importance of thorough research when you’re on the hunt for the perfect nursery to entrust with your little ones care. Taking a close look at reviews is a step that can’t be overlooked.

Although the internet can sometimes throw in some misleading feedback, if a nursery is consistently racking up negative reviews, it’s a solid hint that exploring other options might be a smart move.

If you’re looking for a place near your home or work, make sure you know where it is. Cross off any that aren’t in the right location for you. Also, see if they have government funding for childcare – that’s important.

Check if they’re private. And take a look at their website. The more info they provide, the better. If you know people who have children in nurseries, ask them which ones they would recommend.

Their experiences and insights can provide valuable information about the different options. Find out how they decided on the right nursery.

Choose a few that seem good for you and have reviews you trust. You can send them an email or call to ask questions. If they let you visit, that’s a great idea.

Visit the nursery

You’ve found a few nurseries that seem right for you and your child. But online, they might only show the best bits. Is it really that good? The only way to know is to visit and see it for yourself when children are there. That’s when you’ll get the real picture!

Here are the important things you should be on the lookout for:

  • Firstly, how do the staff greet you upon arrival? Are they warm and friendly?
  • Do the children attending the nursery look happy? Children are blunt and honest, and you’ll be able to read from their faces whether they look like they are enjoying themselves.
  • Spend time observing how teachers and staff interact with the children. A positive and engaging interaction style indicates a nurturing environment.
  • Enquire about the nursery’s curriculum and approach to early childhood education. Look for a balanced blend of structured learning and play-based activities that cater to different developmental needs.
  • Check if the nursery has a variety of age-appropriate learning materials, books, and toys that encourage creativity, problem-solving, and cognitive development.
  • A good nursery focuses on each child’s individual needs, interests, and learning pace. Look for signs that the staff personalise their approach to suit each child.
  • Assess if the classrooms are organised and inviting, with designated areas for different activities such as reading corners, art stations, and play areas. Also, a strong learning environment includes opportunities for children to interact and collaborate with their peers, fostering social skills and teamwork. Can you see theseon your visit?
  • What about outdoor space? Ensure that the nursery offers outdoor playtime and activities. Outdoor play promotes physical development, exploration, and a connection with nature.
  • How many members of staff are there? As many parents are well aware, young children require constant supervision. If there are only a few staff members, how will they manage to monitor every child effectively?
  • Ask about the qualifications and training of the staff . Well trained educators with knowledge in child development can create a more effective learning environment.
  • Is the place safe? Imagine if an emergency occurs – do the staff seem prepared to handle it? Check for clearly marked fire exits and protocols in case of a fire. Can you be certain that a child can’t easily wander outside?
  • Is the nursery environment clean? We understand children can be messy, but too much mess with active toddlers can lead to problems. Check for any broken toys or equipment that could be unsafe. Are there places for children to wash their hands? Toddlers often pass around germs, so it’s important to know if the staff are working to stop sickness from spreading.
  • Check if the nursery provides regular updates on your child’s progress and activities. This demonstrates that they value open communication with parents.
  • Look for nurseries that encourage parent involvement through activities, meetings, and workshops. A strong partnership between parents and educators benefits a child’s overall development.

What questions should you ask

If your child is eating at the nursery and is perhaps a fussy eater, ask how does the nursery handle children with specific dietary preferences or fussy eating habits?

Can the nursery describe the daily routine for the children? How often do they have outdoor playtime, and are there structured schedules for outdoor activities to ensure they get fresh air and exercise?

For children attending the nursery for the full day, do they have a designated nap time? How do they ensure children’s comfort during nap time? In cases of unforeseen changes, for example in a work schedule, is the nursery accommodating and open to being flexible with drop-off and pick-up times.

In the process of evaluating a nursery, if you encounter situations where staff cannot provide satisfactory answers or if their responses don’t match your requirements, it might be wise to look at a different nursery.

Remember, every child is unique, so prioritise what aligns best with your child’s personality, needs, and learning style. Visit the nursery, ask questions, and trust your judgment and instincts when determining if it’s an excellent learning environment for your child.

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