Applying for nursery


What you get for free
Every three and four year old in England is entitled to a minimum of 12.5 hours of free early learning for 38 weeks a year.
This will rise to 15 hours a week from 2010, delivered flexibly over a minimum of three days.
If your child is born between:
  • 1 April and 31 Aug, they're eligible to a free place from 1 Sept following their third birthday
  • 1 Sept and 31 Dec, they're eligible to a free place from 1 Jan following their third birthday
  • 1 Jan and 31 Mar, they're entitled to a free place from 1 Apr following their third birthday

If you're a working parent, lone parent or a student and need more hours than this, you may be eligible for extra financial help.

To claim, contact ChildcareLink on 0800 096 0296 or go to

Starting at nursery is the momentous first step in a lengthy process that will eventually take you and your child to school and beyond.

A couple of principles hold true whether you're applying for a place in nursery, primary or secondary:

  • It's never too early to start
  • Know the admissions criteria inside out

These apply, broadly, for both state and private nurseries because places can fill up incredibly quickly (get used to the slightly panicky "will you, won't you" feeling; by the time you're waiting for the secondary school admissions letter, memories of getting into nursery will be bathed in a rosy glow of nostalgia).

How to apply

Unlike primary and secondary schools, where you apply via your local education authority, the admission procedures for nursery vary by nursery and, depending on the type of nursery you've chosen, you'll need to apply to them directly, online or on paper.

If it's a private nursery, you'll have to phone, email or visit to talk to the manager and get the necessary application forms. You should also expect to pay a deposit.

The allocation of places in some community-run playgroups can seem slightly random opaque. It's worth finding out the name of the person in charge of admissions and hassling (nicely) while stressing your own super-enthusiasm for being a volunteer helper.

You can get the contact details of state nurseries and children's centres from your Children's Information Service (CIS) and you can get the number of your nearest CIS by calling 08002 346 346. Alternatively, search online and then email or call the nursery to ask about applications.

Have details about your child - such as health problems, allergies or special dietary needs - to hand because you'll be asked to provide these.


Last updated: 17-Sep-2014 at 4:55 PM