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Free early learning and childcare

31 October 2018

All three and four-year-olds and some two-year-olds are entitled to 15 hours a week of free early learning and childcare, and some working families are eligible for up to 30 hours a week. Find out more about eligibility for 30 hours a week.

Some two year-olds are also eligible for 15 hours a week of free learning childcare. Find out more about the eligibility criteria for two year-olds.

There is also additional available to support your child's learning from the Early Years Pupil Premium.

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 until they either go into reception class or reach compulsory school age (the term following their 5th 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.
Born on or between Terms for eligible funding
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 2 childcare providers in any one day – 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.
For more information, see our frequently asked questions in the FEEE Guide for Parents now available in:

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.


What we need

We only collect basic personal data about you and your child which does not include any special types of information or location based information. This does, however, include name, address, date of birth and National Insurance number.

Why we need it

We need to know your basic personal data in order to share with the local authority and Department for Education who will access information from other government departments to confirm your child's eligibility for the extended free entitlement.  we will only collect the personal data that we need in order to carry out these checks.  We will not sell your personal information to anyone else.


What we do with it

We will do what we can to make sure we hold records about you (on paper and electronically) in a secure way.  We will only make it available to those who have a right to see it.  All personal information we receive is processed by our staff in the UK. However, for the purposes of IT hosting and maintenance this information is located on servers within the European Union.  No third parties have access to your personal information, unless the law allows them to do so.

How long we keep it

We are required under UK tax law to keep your basic personal information (name, address and contact details) for a minimum of 6 years, after which time it will be destroyed.

What are your rights?

If, at any point, you believe that the information we hold on you is incorrect, you can request to see it, have it corrected or deleted.  If you wish to raise a complaint on how we have handled your personal information, you can contact our Data Protection Officer who will investigate the matter.

If you are not satisfied with our response or believe we are not processing your personal information in accordance with the law, you can complain to the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) by visiting or emailing

View Essex County Council's privacy notice

Our Data Protection Officer can be contacted at or by calling 03457 430 430. Information on how the Department for Education holds and uses this data can be found at