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Free early education places for all three and four year olds

All three and four year olds are entitled to a free, good quality early education place from the term after their third birthday.

This free early education place runs for two years until the child reaches compulsory school age, in the term after their fifth birthday.

A free early education place can be accessed in maintained school nurseries or in the private or voluntary sector day nurseries and pre-schools and with registered childminders

When does my child qualify for their free early education place for three and four year olds?

A child born between Will be eligible for a free place from
1st April and 31st August (inclusive) The start of the autumn term following their 3rd birthday until compulsory school age
1st September and 31st December (inclusive) The start of the spring term following their 3rd birthday until compulsory school age
1st January and 31st March (inclusive) The start of the summer term following their 3rd birthday until compulsory school age

Although the actual term dates vary from year to year to accommodate national holidays such as Easter, which moves each year, term dates to determine eligibility remain constant.


The free early year’s entitlement consists of: 570 hours or 1140 hours per year and can be taken in a variety of ways to suit the parents and child’s needs as long as the provider is able to deliver the flexibility needed. However, the most popular way for children to access their entitlement is 15 hours per week or 30 hours per week, over 38 weeks of the year.

Parents can choose to take their 15 hour or 30 hour free entitlement across a whole day if their provider can accommodate it. Any additional charges for example meals must be agreed with the parent before they take up their child’s place. Providers must also ensure that parents are given the option of providing a packed lunch if it is more affordable.

Where parents choose to take up two sessions in one day, and this can be accommodated, it is considered good practice to encourage parents to take up the entitlement across consecutive days.

A child may receive their free entitlement in more than one place by attending more than one provider, but no more than two in any one day, providing that the entitlement adds up to no more than 15 hours or 30 hours in one week.

The local authority has a duty to secure early years provision free of charge and ensure there is guaranteed access to the free entitlement in Dudley for any parent who wants it. This does not mean that every provider must offer all models of flexibility. However, there is a minimum guarantee that all parents should be aware of:

  • Parents are entitled to access the free entitlement for up to two years before their child reaches compulsory school age (as defined in section 8 of the Education Act 1996.) A year starts on the date the child becomes eligible for free early years provision and subsequent years commence on the anniversary of this date
  • Parents are entitled to 570 hours or 1140 hours of free provision within a year, with the full amount to be taken over no fewer than 38 weeks.
  • Parents can request access to their entitlement in a particular pattern and the local authority and providers should consider this when securing flexibility.
  • Parents will have a choice of provider, although they may not always be offered the full entitlement at the times they want it at their provider of choice.


Providers should offer flexible packages of care for each eligible two-three and four-year-old. The local authority and its providers have agreed the minimum and maximum it considers acceptable in order to offer flexibility to all parents:

  • no minimum session length 
  • no session longer than 10 hours
  • no session on offer before 6.00am and after 8.00pm
  • a maximum of two provider sites in any one day

Parents must be able to choose to take the free entitlement of 15 hours or 30 hours a week for 38 weeks a year flexibly. There is nothing to prevent parents from taking up less free entitlement at the provider of their choice, as providers will be funded accordingly.

The local authority is able to make available for any parent that wants it, access to their 570 or 1140 free hours in fewer hours per week over more weeks of the year. This is known as the ‘stretched’ entitlement. This can be:

  • around 12 hours a week for 48 weeks of the year for the free 15 hour entitlement

  • around 23 hours a week for 48 weeks of the year for the free 30 hour entitlement

Should a child move provision during the year, the funding for the free entitlement will remain for that term with the provider who originally claimed for the child’s free entitlement, funding will then be transferred to the new provider in the following term. This also applies to children moving into Dudley from another local authority area.

Children moving to Dudley from another country are entitled to a free place on the same basis as any other child regardless of whether they have British Citizenship.

Providers are required to take any three or four year old or eligible two year old whose parent chooses that provision for a free place, if there are vacancies. This will only apply if no additional staffing is required to meet the minimum staff/child ratios as set out by the Early Years Foundation Stage. Providers cannot charge for any part of the provision of the free entitlement.

Providers are not permitted to charge ‘top-up’ for any part of the free entitlement as this is free to the parent at the point of delivery. A locally agreed rate of funding is given to the provider by the local authority for each eligible child in their provision.

Childcare Choices

Childcare Choices is a new government website which brings together all childcare offers in one place for the first time.

The site makes it easy to find out what’s on offer to support you and your family.

Parents can now apply for a number of schemes, including the 30 hours free childcare, through Childcare Choices.

To find out more visit