Types of childcare

Types of childcare

Registered childcare

Registered childcare is inspected and regulated by an organisation called Ofsted (see Useful links).

Ofsted’s Early Years Register covers registered childcare for children up to the age of five.

Registered childcare options for children up to the age of five include:

  • childminders,
  • day nurseries,
  • crèches,
  • nursery schools,
  • preschools and playgroups, and
  • children’s centres.

Childminders and home child carers

A childminder looks after a small number of children in his or her own home. Anybody who is paid to look after children under eight years old in this way for more than two hours a day must, by law, register as a childminder with Ofsted. Close relatives don’t need to register with Ofsted, but friends and neighbours do.

Childminders are registered to care for up to three children under five, including their own children. Ofsted inspectors will visit them to check their homes are suitable and the level of care they provide meets the welfare requirements of the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS).

Childminders can also apply to be registered as home child carers. This means that they can look after your children in your home. If you’re using a childminder or home child carer, always ask to see their registration certificate.

Your local Families Information Service (FIS) should have a list of childminders and home child carers with vacancies in your area. Call 0800 2346 346 for more information.

You can also ask other working parents for recommendations. If you don’t know anyone who’s using a childminder or home child carer, ask your health visitor to put you in touch with someone who is.

Once you’ve found a childminder or home child carer you’re happy with, it’s a good idea to get a written agreement or contract in place before they start looking after your child. As well as providing a safeguard for you both, it will help avoid any misunderstandings about things like holidays, extra pay for overtime and expenses.

Day nurseries

Day nurseries care for and educate children from birth to the age of five. Most day nurseries are open all day, but they usually close at weekends and in the evenings.

Day nurseries can be run:

  • privately,
  • by voluntary organisations,
  • by a local authority, or
  • by a workplace.

Very few day nurseries are run by local authorities. The ones that are usually give priority to parents who are under a lot of stress and find it hard to cope, or those whose children have special needs.

Nursery fees can be expensive but are usually cheaper for children over two years old. Local authority nursery places are sometimes free of charge.

Contact your local FIS on 0800 2346 346 for information about nurseries near you.

You may be lucky enough to have a nursery or crèche where you work. If you don’t and there are a number of parents there who need childcare, you could discuss the possibility of starting one with your employer.

Nursery schools and classes

Nursery schools are independent from schools for older children and have their own head teacher and staff.

Nursery schools are run:

  • privately,
  • by voluntary organisations, or
  • by a local authority.

Nursery classes can be held at a nursery school or an infant or primary school.

Sessions are held during term times only.

Preschools and playgroups

Preschools and playgroups, which are usually run by parents, include a wide range of childcare for two to five-year-olds. Sessions usually last three hours and only during term time.

Contact your local FIS for more information about preschools and playgroups in your area. Call 0800 2346 346 for more information.

Children’s centres

Many children’s centres offer childcare as well as other services such as family support. Visit the Sure Start website (see Useful links) for more information.

Sharing/group care

You could get together with other parents who have similar needs and organise your own childcare. This can work well, particularly if some of you work part-time.

If the group runs for more than two hours a day or more than five days a year, it will need to be registered with Ofsted.

Your health visitor may be able to put you in touch with other parents who work or who want to work and need childcare.

The Daycare Trust has information about setting up group care (see Useful links).

Nannies, mother’s helps and au pairs

A nanny is a qualified child carer who comes to your home to look after your child. Duties vary but typically you can expect a nanny to prepare meals for your child, clear up after them and do some of their laundry.

If you employ a nanny, you’re responsible for paying their tax and national insurance as well as their wages. You may find that there’s another working parent nearby who’d like to share the cost and services of your nanny.

Working Families can give you more information on employing a nanny.

Mother’s helps and au pairs don’t have childcare qualifications. A mother’s help can either live in your home or somewhere else and will help with childcare and housework.

Au pairs are young women or men who come to the UK from overseas, usually for a year, to learn English. An au pair will live in your house and work for you for up to 35 hours a week. You provide them with bed and board, pocket money and access to English lessons in return for help in the home.

Nannies, mother’s helps and au pairs don’t have to be registered with Ofsted so there are no official safeguards. However, people caring for children up to the age of 17, including nannies, can choose to join the voluntary part of the Ofsted Childcare Register.

Early education for free

All children are entitled to some free early education from the age of three until they start school. These free sessions are available in a variety of settings in the public and private sectors, including nursery schools and classes, day nurseries, childminder networks and playgroups.

To find out how to receive your free sessions, contact your local FIS on 0800 2346 346.


NHS Choices
Published Date 2010-07-23
Last Review Date 2009-07-28

Photography: FamilyMWR @Flickr


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