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Just wanted to know if any other areas are the same. Here in the London Borough of Richmond, the entitlement to a FREE 15 hours of pre-school education is such that unless you live close enough (or follow the right religion) to get into one of the approx 50% of primary schools that have a nursery class, you cannot find a free place in any other pre-school, so have to pay top-up fees for every hour your child attends. So if I wanted to send my daughter to her pre-school (one of the cheapest I could find locally) for 15 hours a week I would still be paying over £400 a term. Apparently there is between one and three free places offered at each pre-school, but these are not advertised and have no eligibility criteria so how the pre-schools allocate I do not know. Also, this information often comes as a complete surprise to many first-time parents so if you know anyone who has a toddler and lives in this area, please warn them.
It is not strictly illegal but the local authority are breaking the government's code of practice. I have taken it up with our local MP, who is Vincent Cable. Shockingly he was not aware of the situation but is now pursuing with the Head of Education at the council. I am a childminder myself, although currently on maternity leave, so I thought I was pretty clued-up about things but it was all news to me when I came to enrol my daughter in pre-school.