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Free Childcare for 3 and 4 year olds - 15 hours (Universal Entitlement)

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free childcare for 3 and 4 year olds

All 3 and 4 year old children are entitled to a maximum of 570 hours of free childcare a year (15 hours a week for 38 weeks a year).

Children can start with an approved provider the term after the child's 3rd birthday.

Free childcare is an opportunity for your child to play and learn in a quality environment that will help to extend their skills and experiences, develop their confidence and prepare them for school.

Childcare providers offer various models of flexibility when delivering free childcare/ early education. You will need to check directly with your preferred provider if they can offer the attendance pattern that you require for your child.

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How do I apply for a place?

To access the 15 hours free childcare you will need to get in touch with the childcare provider / school nursery you would like your child to go to. 

Your preferred childcare provider / school nursery will then take you through the application process and how to visit the nursery and talk to the staff.

Can I use any childcare provider?

The childcare provider you choose must be registered with Ofsted and follow the Early Years Foundation Stage framework.

All children are entitiled to start their free 15 hours early years place the term AFTER their 3rd birthday.

School nurseries may only offer a place from the start of the Autumn term (September).

Attendance at a school nursery does not guarantee a Reception place at that school. For further information on the school admissions process visit Sandwell Schools Admissions

When can my child start?

The date you can start a funded place depends on your child's birthday.

   Child's Birthday

When can your child start?

    1 January to 31 March

The beginning of Summer term on or after 1 April

    1 April to 31 August

The beginning of Autumn term on or after 1 September

    1 September to 31 December

The beginning of Spring term on or after 1 January

Children with a special educational need (SEN) or a disability

The Equality Act 2010 places a duty on all providers to:

  • Make reasonable adjustments for disabled children
  • Not treat a disabled child less favourably

The Special Educational Need (SEN) Code of Practice 2014 has the following fundamental principles that providers in receipt of Government Early Education Funding must have regard to:

  • A child with special educational needs should have their needs met
  • The special educational needs of children will normally be met in mainstream schools or settings
  • The views of the child should be sought and taken into account
  • Parents should have a vital role to play in supporting their child's education
  • Children with special educational needs should be offered full access to a broad, balanced and relevant education, including an appropriate curriculum for the Foundation Stage and the National Curriculum.

If your child has specific needs further support is available from our specialist Brokerage Service

More information on choosing childcare for a child with a special educational need or disability

Frequently Asked Questions

How many hours will my child get?

  • Your child is entitled to 570 hours of early education funded hours over an academic year.  
  • You can access a maximum of 15 hours per week over school term time (minimum of 38 weeks)
  • You can also access your free 15 hours as a stretched offer. 
  • The stretched offer will give you the same total number of free hours per year, but spreads them over both the term time and some or all, of the school holidays.
  • Your childcare provider will tell you if they offer the stretched offer.

Can my child go to more than one childcare provider?

  • If you are using more than one childcare provider make sure each provider knows that your child is attending another provider. 
  • If you use more than one provider, up to a maximum of two, each provider must agree the total number of hours per term they offering you.  
  • It is really important that you do not receive more per term in total than your entitlement otherwise you will need to pay for the extra hours. 
  • The two providers must also offer the entitlement over the same amount of weeks.
  • Add the hours per week together if you are using more than one provider to make sure the total no more than 15 hours per week (fewer if delivered under a stretched offer).

Can my child attend for more than 15 hours a week ?

If your child attends for more than 15 hours a week, you will have to pay for the extra childcare hours. Your provider must notify you at the beginning of the term if your childcare is going to exceed the funding limit.

What times are the sessions offered?

Free early education sessions offered by a provider must be between 2.5 hours and 10 hours per day between the hours of 7am and 7pm.

Where sessional care is offered these session can be:

  • 5 hours per day over 3 days
  • 3 hours per day over 5 days

If your child is attending a nursery within a school for 15 hours this is your total free entitlement.

You must not make a claim from another provider.

If your child attends a school nursery for less than 15 hours, you can take the remainder of your entitlement at a second provider.

What happens if I want to move my child to another childcare provider?

We don't recommend moving your child during the academic term as it is in a child’s best interest to be settled with a provider, and funding cannot be transfered to a new provider before the start of the next term. 

If you do wish to move your child, then you need to arrange this before the start of a term. You'll also need to give your current provider notice of your plans as soon as you can.

Childcare Brokerage Service

The Brokerage Service provides help to families who are unable to find a 3 and 4 year old funded place. Family Information Service brokers will discuss your child's needs with you and provide advice and information on the availability of places in your area.

If your child has specific needs further support is available from the Brokerage Team.

How to make a complaint

If you are unhappy with your application for free childcare for 3 and 4 year olds email details of your complaint to earlyyears_team@sandwell.gov.uk


Complaints and issues with your 30 hours eligibility code

If you have a complaint or have any issues regarding your 30 hours eligibility code then please contact HMRC directly on 0300 123 4097


Complaints about childcare quality

If the complaint relates to quality issues, first speak to your setting. If it isn't resolved, contact Ofsted on 0300 123 1234

Early Years Pupil Premium (EYPP)

Find out more about Early Years Pupil Premium

If your child is 3 or 4 years old and receiving the universal 15 hours free childcare in Sandwell, your childcare provider may be eligible for Early Years Pupil Premium (EYPP).

The Early Years Pupil Premium is extra funding paid to your registered childcare provider to support your child/children’s development, learning and care.

Disability Access Fund (DAF)

Find out more about Disability Access Fund

Additional funding is available for providers to support children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities.