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Choosing childcare

Choosing the type of childcare that will suit your family is an important decision and will be based on what is available to you, your working pattern, your child's needs and the cost.

There are two types of childcare, registered and unregistered.

Childcare in England is registered and inspected by Ofsted. Childcare that is registered falls under one of three registers:

  • Early Years Register (EYR) - this covers childcare for children up to the age of five until 31 August following their fifth birthday.
  • Compulsory Ofsted Register (OCR) - this covers childcare for children aged five to seven inclusive (unless exempt).
  • Voluntary Ofsted Register (vOCR) - this covers children aged eight and over, and care for children of any age that is activity based or provided in the child's own home.

Only childcare that is registered can qualify for help with costs. All three and four year old children and some two year olds are entitled to at least 15 hours free early education a week.

Registered childminders are professional day carers who work in their own home to provide care and education for other people's children in a family setting.

Registered childminders are allowed to care for a maximum of six children under eight years old, of which usually no more than three may be in the age range birth to five years. These numbers include the childminder's own children. As they work with small groups of children, they may be able to offer more individualised care. They can also look after siblings of different ages. Childminders may employ assistants or work together with another registered childminder to enable them to care for increased numbers of children.

Childminders can either be registered by Ofsted or by a Childminder Agency; the childminder agency must be registered with Ofsted. The registration process involves extensive checks to ascertain their suitability which includes criminal records, health and social care checks. Applicants will then be interviewed and have the opportunity to discuss how they make their premises suitable

An Ofsted registered childminder will be inspected at least once every four years. Childminding inspection reports are available online on the Ofsted website.

A childminder registered with a childminder agency will receive at least one quality assurance visit per year and have access to support and training as set out in the regulations for childminder agencies. The Agency has a duty to publish the quality assurance reports which will be found on the agency's website. 

All early years providers including childminders must work within the statutory requirements of the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) which sets out the framework for the learning and development, safeguarding and welfare and assessment of children.

Childminders are self-employed and set their own hourly rates. A contract will be agreed with the childminder that will include hours, holiday pay and terms and conditions. Childminders can accept childcare vouchers as payment, families qualifying for Working Tax Credit may be able to claim help with childcare costs.

Some childminders may offer funded Early Education places for three and four year olds and for some two year olds who meet the eligibility criteria. Ask the childminder directly whether they offer the funding.

Useful Links

Find a local registered childminder using the Childcare Search (opens new window)
How to register as a childminder (opens a new window)
Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY) (opens a new window)

Nannies and home carers are employed by parents to care for children at home and can be suitable for parents who need flexible childcare, who have a large family or have a child with a disability. 

Although many do have nursery nurse or childcare training, nannies and home carers do not have to hold qualifications. Nannies and home carers can join the Ofsted voluntary childcare register but they do not have to. Parents are responsible for interviewing and checking the registration and all relevant references of nannies and home carers. The cost of employing a nanny will vary depending on whether the nanny lives in or out, how many hours they work and any other duties. As their employer, parents are responsible for paying their tax and national insurance contributions.

The Family Information Service do not provide lists of individual nannies.

Sometimes called full day care, day nurseries provide year-round care and education for children from six weeks to five years old. Nurseries offer full day care with opening hours ranging from early morning to evening to suit working parents. You can send your child full or part time.

Full day care nurseries are registered and inspected by Ofsted, demonstrating the quality and standards of care and education. They offer a wide range of activities based on the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) which includes arts and crafts, books and stories, sand and water play, outdoor play, music and singing.

Many nurseries offer free early education funding for three and four year olds and some may offer funded places for two year olds (eligibility criteria applies).

Sometimes referred to as sessional care or pre-school nurseries, these provide education and childcare for children aged two to five years.

Pre-schools offer sessions of less than four hours at a time and usually follow term times. Most are open in the morning for a minimum of two and a half hours, but some also run sessions in the afternoon.

Pre-schools are registered and inspected by Ofsted, demonstrating the quality and standards of care and education.

The wide range of activities is based on the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) and includes arts and crafts, books and stories, sand and water play, outdoor play, music and singing.

Fees are per session and are usually charged by the term. Many groups offer early education funding for three and four year olds and some may offer funded places for two year olds (eligibility criteria applies).

These provide occasional or temporary care usually for children up to five although some do allow older - babies are usually required to have had first vaccinations before attending. Some crèches are in permanent premises and care for children whilst their parents are engaged in particular activities, for example, shopping or sports. Others are established on a temporary basis to care for children whilst their parents are involved in time-limited activities, for example, a conference or exhibition. Parents are usually required to stay on site or nearby. There may be restrictions on the length of time a child can stay in a crèches.

Crèches need to be registered with Ofsted if they run for more than two hours a day, even when individual children attend for shorter periods.

Sometimes called out of school services, extended school services or wraparound care, these offer play and care to school age children of four to fourteen years. Depending on the hours you need, you may want a breakfast club which opens before school begins, or an after-school club. Breakfast clubs may provide a light breakfast for children. Many after-school clubs offer a snack, and usually offer play opportunities and sports activities as well as quiet places for children to relax or complete homework. 

Out of  school services can be run by the local authority, schools, private companies or voluntary organisations. 

If the club is open to children aged eight and under, offers more than two hours of care and is not just activity based (such as a sports club), it will be registered with Ofsted. Some will come under the school registration if on the school premises and run by the school.

Holiday clubs and playschemes offer play and care to school age children from four to fourteen years during school holidays. Many offer play opportunities, sports activities and trips out as well as quiet places for children to relax.

Holiday clubs can be run by the local authority, private companies or voluntary organisations. If the club is open to children aged eight and under and offers more than two hours of care and is not just activity based (such as a sports club), it will be registered with Ofsted.

Holiday club spaces often get booked up quickly, so early booking is recommended.