Free early years places for 3 and 4 year olds

All three and four year olds in England are entitled to free, part-time early learning, care and development. It lasts 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.  Some two year olds are also able to access these places.

When does my child qualify for the free places?

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 the free places for my child?

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

Some maintained nursery schools and nursery units may be able to admit children earlier than the date above. Please talk to the individual provider for more information.

Visit our childcare search page where you can filter for 'free 3/4yr places'. Durham County Council maintained nursery schools and nursery units can be found in the nursery education area. Please contact each provider direct to find out about their vacancies and to see how flexible they can be with the free hours.

How are places allocated?

Durham County Council maintained nursery schools and nursery units are allocated according to the criteria listed in the document below:

How are places allocated? (1 page, 7.13KB)

Nurseries, pre-school playgroups and childminders may have their own criteria so please contact them direct to find out how they manage their admissions.

When can I add my child's name to a waiting list?

You can place your child's name on a waiting list for a DCC maintained nursery school and nursery unit at the beginning of the school year (1st September to 31 August) in which your child has his or her second birthday.

Nurseries, pre-school playgroups and childminders may have their own criteria so please contact them direct to find out how they manage their admissions.

Conditions for those who offer the free, part-time early learning, care and development

If your child receives either 15 hours early education or free 30 hours childcare for working parents the provider must:

  • Not impose conditions which you must agree in order to take-up your free hours. For example you are not obliged to purchase additional hours or pay lunch time charges in order to access free hours. Provider’s information packs must make clear that there are no such conditions and that you will have the option of supplying packed lunches if you do not wish to pay for lunches
  • Not charge ‘top up’ fees  - the difference between what a provider would normally charge and the funding they receive from the council for the free hours
  • Ensure that no other fees are being charged in relation to the free hours, such as for registration or uniform
  • Ensure that if you only want your free place, you will be able to do so

New from September 2017 - 30 hours of free childcare per week

From September 2017, the Government will offer 30 hours of Free Childcare per week for parents of three and four year olds, to help them continue or take up employment.

Powered by Open Objects