All three and four-year-olds and some two-year-olds are entitled to a certain amount of free early learning and childcare hours.
Free Early Education Entitlement for 3-4 year olds
All three and four-year-olds are entitled to 15 hours of free early learning a week (up to 30 hours for eligible families
) until they either go into reception class or reach compulsory school age (the term following their fifth birthday).
This free entitlement is usually paid from the term after your child turns three. To see when your child is eligible please see the cut-off dates below.
|1 January – 31 March
||Summer term (April onwards)|
|1 April – 31 August
||Autumn term (September onwards)|
|1 September – 31 December
||Spring term (January onwards)|
Using Free Early Education Entitlement
The 15-hour entitlement can be used:
- over a minimum of two days or a maximum of five days, at a minimum of 2.5 hours a day and a maximum of 10 hours a day
- over 38 weeks, or pro-rata over a maximum of 50 weeks per year. Some providers, such as independent schools, may offer less than 38 weeks. However, they must offer a minimum of 33 weeks and 11 in any one term
- anytime between 7am – 7pm, depending on the sessions offered by your chosen provider
- through a maximum of two childcare providers – you should arrange this with your chosen provider
- without being subject to conditional additional payments.
How to claim Free Early Education Entitlement
Your childcare provider will be able to claim funding from Essex County Council. The funding is paid directly to your provider on a termly basis.
Each term your provider will ask you to sign a parent/carer agreement form. The form is your commitment to that childcare provider for your child’s place for that term. The provider will then submit the form to Essex County Council to claim the Free Early Education Entitlement for the next term.
Early Years census and personal data
Each year, early years settings in the private, voluntary and independent sector who have children accessing the Free Early Education Entitlement for three and four-year-olds are required to complete an Early Years Census. This information is passed by each setting to Essex County Council, which provides it to the Department for Education.
Under the Data Protection Act 1998 early years settings must inform parents about the data they hold and how it is used. Data covers personal information such as names, addresses, date of birth, etc. This is known as a Privacy Notice. This should also include information about whether the data is passed to any third parties, for example the local authority.
If parents have any questions about how data is being used or stored within an early years setting, they should contact the childcare provider directly.
Our Early Years Privacy Notice
explains how Essex County Council holds and uses this data. Information on how the Department for Education holds and uses this data can be found on its website