There are many options for childcare in the UK before your child begins formal education at age five. Although childcare is expensive there is financial support available for parents.
The state school system in the United Kingdom begins at the age of five. But parents can decide to take the opportunity to prepare their children for the education system by attending preschools such as crèches, nurseries, kindergartens or playgroups.
Children can attend any of the preschools from Monday to Friday, most of which will be open from 7 am in the morning through to 6 pm in the evening to allow parents to work a full day. Each day, children will learn about social interaction as well as developing their grasp of language, numbers and colours. For information on childcare in your area, take a look at the British government’s Family Information Service at www.gov.uk/find-family-information-service.
Childcare is undeniably expensive in the UK. The net cost as a percentage of family income is 26.6 per cent. This is the second highest in the OECD after Switzerland. The cost of childcare lies with the parents, although there are government initiatives to help with the outlay. Those initiatives include childcare vouchers, which can be purchased tax free from employers. Depending on the amount you earn per month, you may also be entitled to childcare tax credits. In addition, children aged three and four are entitled to 15 hours of free education for 38 weeks of the year, whether that is at nurseries, playgroups or even with a child minder. Some families may also be entitled to free childcare for two year olds. Companies and charities such as the Day Care Trust (www.daycaretrust.org.uk) offer helpful advice.
Selecting a preschool
Selecting the right preschool for your child can be crucial to their development but it must also be practical for you. Perhaps the location is the most important aspect, whether it is close to your home, work or a relative. On the other hand, the teaching style, cost or simply place availability may be the deciding factors.
When it comes to choosing a preschool, you should take a look around the facilities and talk to teachers and assistants. Then make a call whether a nursery, playgroup, kindergarten, or children’s centre is right for your child. The National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) offers helpful advice on choosing a preschool, including publishing a factsheet and a list of all preschools in your area.
Many parents in the UK rely on unofficial childcare in the form of relatives or friends. More than one third of parents (36.9 per cent) use this for children aged 3 – 5. By comparison, in France the figure is 19.6 per cent, while in Denmark it is negligible (0.1 percent).