Funded early education for 3 and 4-year-olds

Find out how your child can access their funded early education from the term after their third birthday.

What is funded early education?

This is also known as funded childcare, early learning or pre-school education. This allows children to play, learn and be supported by qualified Early Years professionals at a registered day nursery, school nursery class, pre-school playgroup or with a childminder.

Who can receive this and when?

All children no matter their family circumstances are entitled to 15 hours funded early education (childcare) from the term after their third birthday up until they start school full time. Eligible working parents are entitled to up to 30 hours funded childcare. 

The table below shows when your child will start their early education:

Child's 3rd birthday falls between these dates:  Term they can receive funded early learning:
1 September to 31 December Spring Term (January)
1 January to 31 March Summer Term (April)
1 April to 31 August Autumn Term (September)

How much funded early education is my child entitled to?

Your child is entitled to a maximum of 15 hours of funded early education (childcare) or up to 30 hours for eligible working families, for up to 38 weeks of the school year, during term time 

Providers should make sure their admissions information is clear and accessible for parents, for example, by publishing the number of standalone 15 and 30 hour places they offer to enable parents to make an informed decision on where to take up their child’s entitlement.

How long can my child continue to receive funded early education?

If your child already attends a day nursery, pre-school or playgroup or childminder, you can choose to keep them there until your child is of compulsory school age.

Compulsory school age is the beginning of the term after a child's fifth birthday.

Once a parent has accepted a full or part-time reception class place at a school, they no longer receive the early education funding (unless the place has been deferred.)

How can my child take their funded hours?

Suffolk County Council encourage childcare providers to offer, as a minimum a session of funding daily to parents where no additional charges are made, for example 9:00am to 12noon.

Childcare providers can choose to have a number of funded offers available. You will need to speak to your chosen childcare provider to arrange how you take your funded hours with them.

This can depend on how they run their childcare provision and what space they have available.

Funding does not have to be limited to specific hours and can be offered during every hour of operation if the provider so wishes. 

What is the Stretched Offer?

Childcare providers may be able to allow parents to 'Stretch' their child’s 15 or 30 hour entitlement by taking fewer free hours a week, over more than 38 weeks of the year.

Not all childcare providers are able to offer this to parents due to staffing structure, availability of places, and restrictions on the use of their premises.

Parents must contact their setting directly to ask whether they are able to allow you to do this.

Can I split the funded early education between two providers?

Yes, you can split your funded childcare entitlement between more than one provider, though no more than two sites (locations) in one day as long as the total combined number of funded hours does not exceed the maximum your are entitled to up to 15 hours (or up to 30 hours for eligible working parents). 

How do I apply?

For further information:

  • Speak to your local pre-school playgroup, day nursery, childminder or the local primary school if it has a nursery class.
  • Search online for childcare providers that offer funded early education places for 3 and 4 year olds. Go to our Early Years and Childcare Directory website and follow these steps:
    1. Enter your full postcode in the 'location' box field
    2. Click on the arrow from the ‘Early Years and Childcare Directory’ box field to select ‘childcare’ and click ‘Search’.
    3. This will show you a list of childcare providers in your local area.
  • Contact the Suffolk Family Information Service on 0345 60 800 33.

What happens next?

You will need to arrange to visit the childcare providers you are considering and talk to them to see what they can offer you and when.

The provider will let you know when your child can start and will give you a Parent/Carer Authorisation Form (PAF3 of PAF 4) for you to complete.

They also need to see proof of your child's date of birth. If you are a working parents you can find out if you are eligible on the government's website. 

Can a childcare provider charge for additional services or 'top up' charges?

Yes. Childcare providers can make additional charges. These should not be called ‘optional’ or ‘top up’ charges.

Childcare providers must:

  • have a clear invoicing process in place for parents
  • publish a statement of how and when they deliver the funded early education entitlement.

An ‘Additional Charges’ policy must be published and available for parents detailing any additional charges (if applicable) made during funded periods. This policy will include, for example, the charges for meals, additional activities or additional hours of childcare.

Providers must have a separate agreement for any additional hours or activities, which clearly sets out for how long the parent has opted to pay the additional charges and the circumstances when the parent can opt out of paying the additional charges. Parents agreeing to access funded sessions where additional charges apply should sign an agreement indicating their consent.  

If you think your childcare provider is charging for additional extras as a condition of your child having a funded early education, please email the Suffolk Family Information Service at so it can be investigated.

Further information

Department of Education's Funded Early Education Choice Framework (PDF, 70KB) explaining how children aged 2, 3 and 4 can take up a funded early education place, and what information is available to parents.

Early Years Pupil Premium (EYPP)

Read information about the Early Years Pupil Premium (EYPP)

Funded childcare entitlement for working parents of 3 and 4 year olds 

Eligible working families may able to access up to 30 hours of funded childcare for their 3 or 4 year old. For details and to find out if you are eligible please see our 'Childcare for working parents' page.