Choosing Childcare

Choosing childcare is an important decision for you and your family. Child Carers provide you with the flexibility to return to work or continue with your studies knowing that your child is being helped to learn, have fun and make new friends and being looked after. There are a range childcare options available and this page will guide you though each.

If you know what type of childcare you are looking for, you can search our directory for a childcare provider.

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A registered childcare provider is someone who is:

Registered with Ofsted (Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills) to look after children under the age of 8. A child-carer or childminder must be registered with Ofsted or a childminder agency if they want to be paid to look after children under 8 for more than 2 hours a day in England. It is not compulsory for a childminder to be registered if they are only looking after children over the age of 8 however, they can join the voluntary part of the Childcare Register. By using a registered childcare provider you maybe able to obtain help through tax credits with your childcare costs.


What this means:

A registered childcare provider must undergo a Disclosure and Barring Service(DBS) check to ensure they have no previous criminal convictions that prohibit them from working with children and vulnerable people. They are continually inspected to ensure they are providing a safe and adequate service.

To become registered a childminder (unless exempt) must apply to:

  • The Early Years Register to look after children aged 5 and under
  • The Childcare Register to look after children aged 5 to 7
  • Both registers to look after children of any age under 8

Exemptions: Certain providers don’t have to register with Ofsted, these include those who provide activity-based care such as sports clubs and Nannies who provide care in the child’s own home.


An unregistered childcare provider is someone who:

Is not registered with Ofsted (Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills) yet provides some sort of childcare, usually to those aged 8 and over.


Examples of unregistered childcare providers:

  • Babysitters, when the care is between 6pm and 2am in the home.
  • Nannies and au pairs, caring for a child or children in the child's own home.
  • Home educators and home tutors.
  • Blood relatives caring for a child or children they are related to.
  • Recreational and sporting activity providers.
  • Some under 8's crèches, of four hours or less with a parent present
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Registered Childminders 

Registered and inspected by Ofsted, they are Self-employed childcare professionals who work in their own homes caring for smaller numbers of children. They are able to take childcare vouchers and deliver Early Education Funding places for 2, 3 and 4 year olds.

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Day Nurseries

Day nurseries look after and educate children from 3 months to 5 years and tend to open from 8am to 6pm Monday to Friday. Some Nurseries open for longer hours and on Saturdays to help support parents' different working patterns. Most offer the free early education places for eligible 2, 3 and 4 year olds.

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Pre-schools (playgroups)

Pre-schools provide play and education in sessions of about three hours for children between 2 and 5. Most are open five mornings a week, with some providing afternoon sessions as well. Some preschools have flexibility on the sessions your child can attend, while others are more structured with children attending five full mornings or five full afternoons. Pre-schools and playgroups tend run term time only, from around 9am to lunchtime or from lunchtime to around 3pm or 4pm.

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Crèches provide childcare to enable parents to attend an activity taking place on the same premises. Crèches are required to register if they are open for more than 2 hours on any day and more than 6 days a year. The registration certificate will show how many children may be cared for at any one time and how many staff must be provided.

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Foundation Units (School based nursery classes)

Some schools have foundation units or nursery classes on the same site. They can provide a good introduction to school. They are registered with Ofsted and are open term time only. Some take children from two years old but the majority take children from the term in which they turn three.

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Before and After School Clubs

Before/After school clubs may be offered by a school, or by a private or voluntary (charitable) provider either on or off the school site. They run before and after the school day. If they provide care for children under the age of eight years, then they will be registered with Ofsted.

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Usually used outside standard work hour for example, in the evenings and at weekends and are often older teenagers (16 years +). There are Babysitting Agencies who will offer screening for suitable babysitters.

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Sitters UK is a useful resource for finding approved Babysitters.

Unregistered Nannies

Unregistered nannies are paid employees who look after children in your home. Nannies may be expected to help with children even when parents are in the family home.

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Au pairs

Will live with a family and look after the children. Au pairs work throughout the day and sometimes are expected to help with light household chores, preparing meals for children and taking them to school or pre-school. There are currently no legal requirements on a person applying to work as an au pair.

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For more information see advice on employing someone to work in your home by GOV.UK

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Arranging childcare through the school holidays can be a challenge however, many activities, schemes and childminders operate during this time.

Holiday Childcare (Ofsted Registered)

Registered holiday childcare can provide essential childcare and peace of mind during the school holidays.

Search our directory for registered holiday childcare

You can also search our childminder directory as many provide holiday care.

Holiday Activities (unregistered)

With our holiday activities directory you can find activities, events, courses and camps that run over the school holidays.

Choose from:

  • Arts, Crafts and Cooking
  • Dance and Drama
  • Sports and Swimming
  • Days Out and Museums
  • SEND inclusive activities
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Finding suitable childcare for a child with a Special Educational Need and/or a Disability (SEND) can often require a little more consideration, from the environment and setting of care, to the experience of the carers themselves. Our Childcare and Special Educational Needs and Disabilities page has guidance on things to consider, relevant legislation and who can help.

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Paying for Childcare

Information on the benefits, schemes and allowances that may help to cover your childcare costs. Also find: links to calculators to work out how much you may save and who to speak to for further help.

Family and Childcare Trust Website

Provides information on what to look for and questions to ask when visiting a childcare provider.

Working in Early Years and Childcare

Advice on working in the Early Years and Childcare sector including the different options available and the training and qualifications needed.