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UK Childcare for Toddlers and Older Kids

Relocation is especially stressful for expat families. Worrying about childcare options in your new destination may be one of the main reasons for extra anxiety. Our guide to childcare in the UK tells you all about parental leave and early years education – we help you make an informed decision!
Early years education at day nurseries or children’s centers mostly consists of learning through play.

Toddlers and kids under the age of five benefit from various options for childcare in the UK, until they start primary school. If you want to know more about primary education across Great Britain and Northern Ireland, check out our guide to schools in the UK.

Plenty of Choice: Childcare Options

In case that your kid is not yet old enough for primary school, there are several other possibilities for early years education.

  • Day nurseries take in children aged three months to five years, looking after them during the day, mainly from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm. They are often private institutions or affiliated with a specific workplace. Maybe your new job in the UK even provides one for the families of staff members!
  • Nursery schools generally cater to kids aged three to four or five, in the couple of years before children go on to primary school. Sometimes, nursery classes are attached to a local primary school, or combined with the first year of primary to form an “infant school”.
  • Local childminders look after children in their home. They are often more flexible than day nurseries. They may collect the kids at home or drive older children to school, etc. Childminders need to complete a twelve-week training course and undergo a criminal background check for their entire household. They are officially registered with the British government: You can look up the latest inspection report for every childminder online.
  • Unlike childminders, nannies take care of children in the family’s own home. They also work in the evening or on the weekend. However, there are no official qualifications or registrations for nannies. Therefore, you should always ask for references and follow up on their previous employment history.
  • Au-pairs are mostly twenty-something girls from overseas who come to the UK to improve their English, explore the country, and earn some money on the side. They are usually not suitable for looking after very young children. However, they can provide after-school care and babysitting for older kids.
  • For schoolchildren, there may be so-called breakfast clubs or after-school groups in your area. They supervise children whose parents aren’t at home yet when the school day ends, or they provide kids with breakfast and bring them to school in the morning.
  • Crèches mostly serve the convenience of parents and carers, e.g. at shopping centers. They take in younger children for a couple of hours, so adults can run errands or relax for a while.
  • If you have a child with disabilities, you will require a nearby specialist provider for special needs education.

To find available childcare facilities in your new place of residence, please get in touch with the Family Information Service of your Local Council. You can access a search function for all FIS contact information in Great Britain and Northern Ireland via the Daycare Trust.

Free Education and Childcare Funding

The Family Information Service in your area will tell you if there are any funded places for early years education available. For example, three-year-old and four-year-old children in England have a legal right to 15 hours of free education per week, 38 weeks per year. In Northern Ireland, they usually get one year of government-funded pre-school education.

Unfortunately, parents have to meet most other costs associated with daycare and early childhood education themselves. The Daycare Trust just published a big childcare survey for the year 2016. First of all, they came to the conclusion that there are still big gaps in provision of high-quality childcare across the UK. This applies particularly to children with disabilities, families with atypical work patterns, and schoolchildren in need of after-school care.

Secondly, childcare costs have increased sharply during the past few years – more than other kinds of living expenses – especially in Greater London and most expat destinations in Southern England. For instance, the average cost for a childminder looking after a child under two is 202 GBP for a 50-hour week. In a day nursery, this price rises to 218 GBP on average, and 303 GBP in the London area. Full-time childcare can thus turn into a luxury.

Childcare Vouchers

However, it is possibly to get financial benefits beyond funded early years education. Your employer may offer childcare vouchers as part of your job benefits. If so, you should calculate very carefully if these vouchers are worth more or less than Working Tax Credits.

Tax Credits

You can only claim Working Tax Credits if you don’t get any company vouchers for childcare. Then you may get up to 2,010 GBP a year (for one child) from the UK government. To be entitled to this money, both you and your partner need to work for at least 16 hours a week. To see if you have a right to additional child benefits, check the online benefits adviser.


We do our best to keep this article up to date. However, we cannot guarantee that the information provided is always current or complete. 

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