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Funding for early learning places

Funded early education sessions are available for children under 5 in Southampton. They are available from the term after your child turns three, although some funding is available for places for two-year-olds who meet the eligibility criteria.

When can my child get funding?

All 3 and 4-year-olds in England are entitled to 570 hours of free early years education. You can start claiming the term after your child turns 3. The date you can claim will depend on when their birthday is.

Many children may also be eligible for the 30 hour funding offer.  Please see the section on 30 Hour Funded Early Education/Childcare for details.

Some 2-year-olds are also eligible. This is dependent on meeting certain criteria. Eligible 2-year-olds can take up a place the term after their 2nd birthday.

Child's birthday When your child can start Two-year-old funding eligibility check can be done from
1 January - 31 March Summer term
(1 April - 31 August)
1 January
1 April - 31 August Autumn term
(1 September - 31 December)
1 April
1 September - 31 December Spring term
(1 January - 31 March)
1 September

If you would like your child to attend a pre-school or other provider at 2 years 9 months, you will need to pay until your child is eligible for the funding, unless your child is eligible for a funded 2 year old place.

What are the eligibility criteria for 2 year old funding?

Your 2-year-old can get free early education and childcare if you live in England and get one of the following benefits:

  • Income Support
  • income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA)
  • income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
  • tax credits and you have an annual income of under £16,190 before tax
  • the guaranteed element of State Pension Credit
  • support through part 6 of the Immigration and Asylum Act
  • the Working Tax Credit 4-week run on (the payment you get when you stop qualifying for Working Tax Credit)

You can check your child's eligibility for the above criteria online.

  • Your child may also be eligible if parents/carers receive some forms of Universal Credit, subject to income. 

If your family meets any of the criteria below, please contact the Family Information Service team on 023 8083 3014 to discuss eligibility:

  • have a current statement of special educational needs (SEN) or an education, health and care plan
  • attract Disability Living Allowance
  • the child is looked after by their local authority
  • the child has left care through special guardianship or through an adoption or residence order.

If you’re eligible the free early education and childcare:

Contact your childcare provider or or contact the Family Information Service on 023 8083 3014 to find out more.

Will the 2-year-old funding stop when my child turns 3?

Your child will continue to receive 2-year-old funding until the term after their third birthday. Your child will then become entitled to the free early years education under the 3 and 4-year-old offer.

Please chat to your provider if you would like your child to continue with them. In most instances it is helpful for your child to continue their early education with the same provider as they will have built up a good relationship with you and your child.

Where can my child take up their early education place?

The free early education and childcare can be taken in a variety of settings in Southampton:

  • school nursery class
  • nurseries or pre-schools on school sites
  • independent schools
  • nurseries or pre-schools in Children’s Centres
  • day nurseries
  • pre-schools
  • childminders (childminders cannot be funded for a child to whom they are related)

All settings that offer nursery education must be registered with Ofsted. Providers of funded early education places are usually judged as good or outstanding. Some settings with less than good or outstanding may be able to offer sessions.

You can use your entitlement at more than one provider, for example using a group provider and a childminder. We strongly recommend that you consider the impact on continuity of care for children when enabling children to take up their early education place at more than one provider, as some children find this very unsettling.

Settings may be run by private, voluntary, independent or maintained providers.

How many hours of early education can my child have?

Your child is entitled to 570 hours of early education.

This can be used across a minimum of 38 weeks, and a maximum of 15 hours per week. For many children this will mean 3 hours a day during school term times.

You can 'stretch' your child's entitlement by taking fewer hours a week over more weeks of the year, where the provider has capacity to offer this.

The following standards apply:

  • Sessions cannot be longer than 10 hours
  • Sessions cannot be shorter than 2.5 hours
  • Sessions cannot be taken before 7am or after 7pm

You will need to speak to your chosen provider about the availability and times of sessions available.

Does my child have to take up their funded hours of education?

Your child does not legally have to attend any type of education until the term after their 5th birthday. However, this is a very important stage for your child as it helps get them ready for school as well as preparing them for their future learning and successes.

From when your child is born up until the age of 5, their early years experience should be happy, active, exciting, fun and secure, and support their development, care and learning needs. Attending an early years setting will ensure that you and your child are supported during this important period.

You can choose to use only part of your entitlement e.g. 2 sessions per week.

Will I have to pay anything towards my child's place?

Funding is paid directly to the childcare provider. You will be asked by the provider to complete a declaration form. If you need to pay fees for the additional services provided (for example, if a nursery is looking after your child for more than 15 hours in a week, or for lunch), the funding will be passed to you as a saving on your fees.

Your childcare provider or the Family Information Service can give you more information about any additional fees and charges which may be payable.

Where can I get information to help me choose?

To get a place for your child, you will need to find a setting suitable for you and your child. You can search this directory for settings, or contact the Family Information Service on 023 8083 3014 at local rate.

Golden Ticket Postcard

Something Free for you and your 2 year old? If you are eligible for Free Nursery Education Funding for your 2 year old (based on financial criteria), you will automatically receive a Golden Ticket postcard from Southampton City Council.  This postcard will have a unique reference code starting 'GT' on the flip side.  You should give this code to the childcare provider of your choice.  

In addition to the Golden Ticket you will need another code to access your 2 year old funding. This can be generated through your childcare provider, local authority or you can apply online yourself through the Citizen’s Portal (The code should start TYF).

30 Hours Funded Early Education/Childcare

30 Hours Funded Early Education/Childcare is for children aged 3 and 4 where all parents in the family are in work.  Please see the section on 30 Hour Funded Early Education/Childcare for details.

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