Choosing Childcare

affordable childcare

Finding good quality childcare can be a difficult task for parents. There are lots of things to look out for and to remember to ask when you visit a childcare setting. How do you know if your child will be happy? Will they cater for your child's needs? Do they provide feedback about how your child is doing? What if my child doesn't like it?

Steps you can take in choosing childcare

Make a list 

Draw up a shortlist of childcare providers. 

Search Childcare

Remember to check the hours that childcare providers can provide childcare, the hourly, daily, and/or weekly cost and if they have places available for your child.

Visit the settings

It's a good idea to visit several settings and ask questions in person about the childcare provided. It might help to take a friend and/or your child on the visits to help you decide.

What to look for

Trained and experienced staff.

Staff should be ready to learn and respond to your child's individual needs.

Busy but relaxed children. Children who seem happy and purposeful.

Safe and clean premises. 

The place should be welcoming and friendly, ideally with outside play space.

Cultural sensitivity and responsiveness to children's home life.

A staff team and group of children who reflect local ethnic and cultural groups.

Fun activities planned each day.

Childminders, nurseries and out-of-school clubs all need to plan their days with children's interests and enthusiasms in mind.

Planned activities and quiet times to relax are important

A big welcome for you and your child. 

What to ask 

What is the ratio of staff to children?

How many children do you care for? 

What qualifications and/or experience do you have?

What are the daily routines and how can you incorporate my child's and other children's routines? 

Do you operate a key worker scheme (whereby one member of staff has main responsibility for your child)? 

What are your policies on discipline and how do you manage children's behaviour? 

Do you provide meals, snacks, nappies, etc. or will I need to provide them?

What will your child enjoy?

These are some things parents feel are important when using childcare:

Friends - check a stable group of children attend so your children can have fun with friends

Food - check mealtimes are relaxed and fun and ask if children can help themselves to drinks and snacks

Fun outside - check the outside area is well planned, spacious and safe - children love playing outside

Finding out - make sure there is plenty of opportunity for children to learn new things with varied, carefully planned things to do

Feeling safe and loved - check that the staff are able to respond to individual children's needs, to comfort and encourage them and to keep them safe

These are just some of the things you can consider.

Remember to also think about the things that matter to you and your child, and make sure you ask about them!

Check the quality

Most childcare providers (including nurseries, childminders, children’s centres and extended school services) looking after children under the age of eight years usually have to be registered with Ofsted (the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills). Ofsted visits all registered childcare services and makes sure that standards are being met and that children are safe. You can check Ofsted grades and report for the childcare providers you are considering. 

Take up references 

Other parents' experiences of a childcare provider can also be very useful. It advisable to take up at least two references. Childcare providers should be happy to give you names of other parents to speak to about the service they provide. Do remember that what works for one family may not always be suitable for your needs.

Book a place 

Book your child's place and arrange details like hours, start date, and who is allowed to pick up your child.

You may need to pay a retainer fee to keep the place open until your child starts.  

Your child may take some time to settle into a new childcare setting. 

Allow time for your child to adjust to their new surroundings, especially if this is their first time in childcare.

Most childcarers, such as childminders, will offer a ‘settling in period', where you have an agreed length of time to assess whether the setting is the right one for your child and that they are happy there.

Don’t forget that some two year olds and all three and four year olds in England can get 570 hours of free childcare, the equivalent of 15 hours a week for 38 weeks of the year.

Registered Childcare

Ofsted is the Government Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills. It regulates childcare for children from birth to 18 years of age.

Ofsted operates two registers:

The Early Years Register

All childcare providers must register with Ofsted on the Early Years Register and meet the requirements of the Early Years Foundation Stage if they are providing care for children from birth to age 5 for more than two hours a day on more than five days a year. This includes childminders, day nurseries, pre-schools, private nursery schools and, in certain situations, schools.

The Childcare Register

The Childcare Register has two parts: a compulsory part and a voluntary part.

The compulsory part of the register:

A childcare provider must register on the compulsory part of the Childcare Register if they provide care for children age 5 to 8 for more than two hours a day on more than five days a year.

A childcare provider will be on both the Early Years Register and the Childcare Register if they care for children under and over the age of 5.

The voluntary part of the register

If a childcare provider does not have to register on the compulsory part of the register, they may be able to join the voluntary part of the register if:

they only look after children aged between 8 and 18;

they look after children for fewer than two hours a day, five days a year (for example, some crèches);

they provide care in a child’s home (for example, as a nanny or home child-carer); or

they only provide activities such as sports coaching or tuition.

Registered Childminders 

Registered Childminders are self-employed childcare professionals who work in their own homes caring for smaller numbers of children.

They can offer full time, part time, before and after school, school holiday care, overnight care and emergency care.

Some childminders also offer the Free Early Education Funding places for eligible 2, 3 and 4 year olds (15 and 30 hours).

Day Nurseries

Day nurseries provide daycare and education in age related groups to children up to the age of 5 years and tend to open from 8am to 6pm Monday to Friday. Some nurseries open for longer hours to help support parents' different working patterns.  

Most day nurseries offer the Free Early Education Funding places for eligible 2, 3 and 4 year olds (15 and 30 hours) and some can also provide before and after school pick ups and school holiday care.


Pre-schools provide play and education in sessions (morning or afternoon) of about 2.5 hours for children between the ages of 2 and 5.

Some pre-schools have flexibility on the sessions your child can attend, while others are more structured with children attending five full mornings or five full afternoons.

Pre-schools / playgroups tend to run term time only and some of them offer the Free Early Education Funding places for eligible 2, 3 and 4 year olds (15 and 30 hours). 

School Site Nurseries

Some schools have nursery classes on the same site. They can provide a good introduction to school. They are registered with Ofsted and are open term time only.

They all offer the free funded 15 hour places for 3 and 4 year olds.

Some also offer the free funded 30 hour places for eligible 3 and 4 year olds and some also offer the free funded 15 hour places for eligible 2 year olds.

After School  Breakfast Clubs

Before/After school clubs may be offered by a school, or by a private or voluntary provider either on or off the school site. They run before and after the school day. If they provide care for children under the age of eight years, then they will be registered with Ofsted.


Unregistered Childcare

A childcare provider does not need to or will not be able to join the voluntary part of the register if the parent or carer stays with their child during childcare (such as at a parent toddler group) or they are a relative of the child, such as a grandparent, uncle, aunt, brother or sister.

Unregistered childcare can also include nannies, au pairs, some babysitters and babysitting agencies. However, babysitting is also offered by some registered childminders, in which case they will have a certificate of registration.


Usually used outside standard work hour for example, in the evenings and at weekends and are often older teenagers (16 years +). There are Babysitting Agencies who will offer screening for suitable babysitters.

Sitters UK is a useful resource for finding approved babysitters.

Nannies and Au Pairs

Nannies and Au Pairs are paid employees who look after children in your home and can look after any age children.  

Childcare provided by relatives

Childcare provided by a relative of the child, in the child's own home does not class as qualifying childcare. This includes relatives by blood, half blood, marriage or civil partnership who are registered or approved childcare providers.

Find out more

How will I know my child is safe?

All Ofsted-registered childcare providers must display their certificate of registration. To get a certificate of registration, providers have to meet certain legal requirements and safety measures.

You should always make sure you visit a childcare setting to get a feel for the environment and the way care is provided. You need to be comfortable that the staff know what they are doing and have suitable systems in place – for example for vetting staff and carrying out health and safety risk assessments.

The Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS)

This organisation carries out the roles of the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) and the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA). It oversees the requirement that all Ofsted registered childcare providers must get a CRB check for adults who look after children or have unsupervised access to them. (In the case of childminders, this includes other people living in the house over the age of 16.)

School Holiday Childcare

Arranging childcare through the school holidays can be a challenge.

There are activities, schemes and childminders that operate during some or all of the school holidays.

Holiday playschemes can provide essential childcare and peace of mind during the school holidays.

Alternatively Ofsted registered childminders can offer greater flexibility and the comfort of a home environment.

Holiday Childcare


Holiday Activities and Food Fund

Right to Request

Parents have the right to request that the school that their child attends considers establishing wraparound and / or holiday childcare. 

Childcare providers have the right to request to use school facilities for wraparound and / or holiday provision at times when the school is not using them.

Schools should respond constructively to requests for wraparound childcare.

Page last reviewed: 22/06/2023


Get in touch with us

Family Information Service
Back to top