We understand that as a parent or carer it can be difficult to make an informed choice about childcare. What is childcare? Where do I start looking? How do I know my child will be safe?

Below, we cover all of these areas and guide you through the process of choosing childcare that suits your needs as a family.

Choosing childcare

For children who have not yet started school, there are three options available for childcare: childminders, nurseries and pre-schools.

The activities your child will take part in vary depending on the childcare provider and your child's age. 0-5 years will follow the Early Years Foundation Stage framework, a set of standards the childcare provider must follow to help your child learn and develop.

EYFS focuses on learning through play. The areas of learning are:

    • communication and language
    • physical development
    • personal, social and emotional development
    • literacy
    • mathematics
    • understanding the world
    • expressive arts and design

Childcare providers also have a duty to consider how best to offer extra support for children with a disability or special educational needs - talk to the provider about any specific requirements your child has.

We can search for childcare providers who have experience of looking after children with particular needs such as autism, hearing impairment, or global development delay. Portsmouth Local Offer also has details of local services for those with special educational needs or disabilities.

If you're struggling to secure childcare, we can help - email us at fis@portsmouthcc.gov.uk or give us a call on 023 9268 8830.

    • Ofsted inspects all registered childcare to ensure children and young people get quality care in a safe environment. The Ofsted website can be a good place to start when choosing childcare.
    • it is important to start looking early - good childcare can get booked up quickly and you may experience long waiting lists.
    • research all your options and be prepared with a list of questions to help with your decision making (some useful questions can be found below).
    • visit the setting to get a feel for the day-to-day routine, and take your child with you to see whether they like it too.
    • visit more than one provider, so that you can make comparisons.
    • think about your child’s age and needs, for example, if they are very young they may need one to one attention and care, whilst older children may prefer to mix with other children.
    • Once you’ve chosen the right one for you, tell them of any particular needs your child has, such as dietary requirements or allergies. You could also share your child’s health and development review that is completed with your health visiting team.
    • Make sure you get a contract or agreement to sign but read carefully first to make sure everything you’ve agreed is written down.

What to ask when visiting a provider

You will probably have lots of questions when choosing a new childcare provider - here's a few to get you started.

    • What qualifications do you have?
    • Do you enjoy being with children and why?
    • Do you have healthy snacks available?
    • What learning opportunities are there for my child?
    • How do you encourage good behaviour?
    • Will my child be with a regular group of children? How old are they?
    • Will there be a key person with special responsibility for my child?
    • Will I have regular contact with them?
    • What happens in an emergency?
    • Can I see a copy of your most recent Ofsted report?
    • Are the children happy, safe and playing together?
    • Is there a quiet area for children to rest?
    • Are the adults listening to the children and answering them carefully?
    • Are the adults friendly and joining in with what the children are doing?
    • Are there lots of activities on offer to help children learn and play?
    • Can the children choose some of these themselves?
    • Are the premises and resources clean, well-kept and safe for children?
    • Is there a fun outside play area (or will children go to parks and other places regularly)?
    • Do parents have plenty of opportunities to communicate with the staff about their children?
    • Are the premises accessible for wheelchair use and do they have resources to support a child with a disability or special educational needs?

What to look for when visiting a provider

  • Are the children happy, safe and playing together?
  • Is there a quiet area for children to rest?
  • Are the adults listening to the children and answering them carefully?
  • Are the adults friendly and joining in with what the children are doing?
  • Are there lots of activities on offer to help children learn and play?
  • Can the children choose some of these themselves?
  • Are the premises and resources clean, well-kept and safe for children?
  • Is there a fun outside play area (or will children go to parks and other places regularly)?
  • Do parents have plenty of opportunities to communicate with the staff about their children?
  • Are the premises accessible for wheelchair use and do they have resources to support a child with a disability or special educational needs?

Childcare funding

Free childcare and education for two to four-year-olds

All three to four-year-olds in England can get 570 hours of free early education or childcare per year. It’s usually taken as 15 hours a week for 38 weeks of the year.  Some two-year-olds are also eligible.

From September 2017, you may be able to get 30 hours per week of free early education and childcare if your child is three or four years old.

The availability of funded childcare and the number of hours on offer depends on your circumstances and your child's age.

For two-year olds

You can check your eligibility and apply for the funding here and you will receive an immediate response. You will need your national insurance number, plus evidence to support your application.

If you are entitled to the funding, you will receive a Two Year Old funding voucher which will indicate the earliest date your child can start their funded place. You will need to show this to your provider when arranging your child’s early education place. We are unable to backdate funding before the date on the voucher.

You can start claiming funded early years education the term after your child turns two, and this continues until your child becomes eligible for funded early education, the term after their third birthday. More information on 2 year funding can be found here.

The earliest date your child can start depends on his/her birthday:

Child's birthday                        Date funding can start

1 January - 31 March              1 April

1 April - 31 August                   1 September

1 September - 31 December   1 January

For three and four year olds

All three and four year olds are eligible for 15 hours funded childcare for 38 weeks of the year. Speak to your childcare provider about this funding.

You may also be eligible for an additional 15 hours funded childcare under the government's 30 hours scheme.  For details on who is eligible and how to apply for all types of funded childcare, please visit the Childcare Choices website.  Not all childcare providers offer the full 30 hour entitlement.

If you have any questions, need assistance, or want help searching for a suitable childcare provider

If you are eligible for 30 hours of funded childcare, this will reduce your monthly childcare costs and is therefore likely to impact on other benefits/tax credits you are receiving.

Disability Access Fund (DAF)

This new funding was introduced in April 2017 to support children with disabilities or special educational needs. If your child receives disability living allowance (DLA), your childcare provider is eligible to receive disability access funding, which is £615 per child per year to help them make reasonable adjustments to their setting to support your child.  Speak to your childcare provider for more information.

Early Years Pupil Premium (EYPP)

From April 2015 all early years providers who deliver Government-funded early education can claim EYPP for eligible three and four year old children. Click here to view the eligibility criteria.

Registering for EYPP could provide up to an extra £300 for your child’s nursery, pre-school or childminder to fund valuable support that could include extra training or resources to help raise the quality of your child’s early education. Speak to your childcare provider if you believe your child may be eligible.

For further information or help, please email eyfunding@portsmouthcc.gov.uk

Help with childcare costs

Childcare can be one of the biggest monthly outgoings for a family so it's important to claim every financial entitlement available to you. Each year thousands of families miss out on £1000's toward the cost of childcare - make sure you're not one of them.

You may be able to claim:

  • Child Tax Credit - you don’t need to be working
  • Working Tax Credit - you may be able to claim extra to help cover the costs of approved childcare

You can apply for Working Tax Credit even if you’re on leave or about to start a new job.

Check what help you could get with childcare costs.

Child Tax Credit

You may be able to claim Child Tax Credit if you’re responsible for children, either:

  • aged 16 or under - you can claim up until 31 August after their 16th birthday
  • under 20 and in eligible education or training

You don’t need to be working to claim Child Tax Credit. Click here for more information.

Child Tax Credit won’t affect your Child Benefit.

Working Tax Credit

You could get Working Tax Credit if either of the following apply:

  • you’re aged from 16 to 24 and have a child or a qualifying disability
  • you’re 25 or over, with or without children

You must:

  • work a certain number of hours a week
  • get paid for the work you do (or expect to)
  • have an income below a certain level

Click here for information on Working Tax Credit.

You can’t claim tax credits and Universal Credit at the same time.

Working Tax Credit (Childcare Element)

This is extra money for working families to help pay for registered childcare.

You can get help paying for childcare if it’s provided by a:

  • registered childminder, playscheme, nursery or club
  • childminder with an Ofsted-registered childminding agency
  • registered school
  • home careworker working for a registered home care agency

This is known as ‘approved childcare’.

You can claim tax credits to help with your childcare costs if you’re eligible. Use this tool to work out what childcare costs you should claim. You can make your claim seven days before you start paying for childcare.

If you already claim tax credits for childcare costs and your costs have changed, you can also use this tool to work out if you need to report the change to the Tax Credit Office. Changes can be reported online or by telephone on 0345 300 3900.

You can’t claim tax credits and Universal Credit at the same time.

Childcare Vouchers and Tax Free Childcare

Some employers have signed up to Childcare Voucher schemes which enable you to save up to £943 per year per parent off the cost of your childcare. Check with your employer's HR department to see if it has joined a scheme.

The government have also launched a Tax Free Childcare scheme which enables working and self-employed parents to benefit from a 20% saving on childcare costs.

It is important that you work out which of the above schemes would suit you, as you cannot benefit from Tax Free Childcare as well as receiving Universal Credit or Working Tax Credit.

Follow the link for an overview on how the vouchers work and save you money at Money Saving Expert tax-free childcare information hub.

For more information or to apply for tax-free childcare click here.

Help while you study

There is a range of support available for parents in education, depending on your age and whether you are in 6th form, higher education or further education. Click here to find out what support is available.

Additional childcare fees

Some childcare providers will have additional fees. It's important that you ask about these before you sign your contract so that you can budget and also to ensure you don't get a surprise when your invoice arrives.

Ask your childcare provider if meals are payable on top of the hourly or sessional cost. The majority of outings will be low cost or free. Trips to the local park, the beach and the library are popular with childcare providers, and the Early Years Framework includes an element of learning outside. Your childcare provider may wish to take the child further afield, perhaps to the zoo or a farm - trips like this may incur an additional charge, but you should be given plenty of notice, or they may give you the option to opt out.

Payment options

Most childcare providers request monthly payment in advance. This means you pay for the childcare you're going to use the following month - so in January you pay for February's sessions. Payment methods vary but most childcare providers accept bank transfer, cash or cheque and childcare vouchers.

If you have a particular time of the month you'd like to pay or a certain payment method you'd like to use, just ask your childcare provider.

Types of childcare

There are different types of childcare - which one you choose will depend on the age of your child, their needs and your circumstances. Use the information on this page and contact the Family Information Service to search the registered childcare providers in Portsmouth to find the best solution for your child.

The childcare you choose will need to suit your child, your life and your budget. For example, if you work in the evenings you may choose a childminder who can work flexible hours. If you need childcare early in the morning before school starts, you might choose a breakfast club attached to a school. 

All registered childcare is inspected by Ofsted to ensure they provide a safe and stimulating environment for the children they care for.

Clubs catering for children aged eight years and over are not required to register but may choose to register under the 'voluntary Ofsted register’.

Age of child Reason for childcare (example) Options
0 - 2.9 years

Working full or part time, studying or simply a break for mum and/or dad

Evening or weekend work

Nursery / Childminder


2.9 - 5 years  As above Nursery / Pre-school / Childminder
5 - 7 years

Before and after school care

Holiday care

Breakfast club / After school club / Holiday playscheme / Childminder
8 and over

Before and after school care

Holiday care

Flexi-care provider


More information on the different types of childcare is listed below.


Ages covered? From birth upward.

Provide free early education? Some do. Contact Family Information Service for details.

Cost? Childminders are self-employed so pricing varies. The average cost per hour is £4.50. Some will offer discounts for siblings.

  • Childminders are self-employed and look after your child sometimes along with their own children, and usually in their own home.
  • When caring for children under five,they must demonstrate that they follow the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS).
  • Some are registered to provide overnight care.
  • Childminders can pick up and drop off at nurseries and schools.
  • Every day will be different but a typical day could include visiting the park, fun activities, or attending local play groups.


Ages covered? From three months to five years.

Provide free early education? In Portsmouth, all nurseries provide this funding

Opening hours? Monday to Friday, usually 8am until 6pm. Mostly all year round, except for bank holidays. Some may close for a week over Christmas.

Cost? The average cost per hour is £5. Rates vary and may be dependent on hours booked and age of child. Some will offer discounts for siblings.

  • Nurseries can be run by private or voluntary organisations or by the Local Authority.
  • They must all demonstrate they follow the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS).
  • Your child will experience learning and development activities suitable to their needs.


Ages covered? 2.9 years to 5 years.

Provide free early education? In Portsmouth all pre-schools provide this funding.

Opening hours? Normally morning and/or afternoon sessions during term time only. Some also offer lunch sessions, known as wrap-around sessions.

Cost? The average cost per session is £10. Rates vary dependent on hours booked and age of child. Some will offer discounts for siblings.

  • Often located in places such as community centres and church halls and run by voluntary groups.
  • They must all demonstrate they follow the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS).

Out of school clubs

Ages covered? 5 years and over.

Opening hours? Dependent on the hours you work, you can opt for a combination of breakfast clubs (usually from 7.30am) and after school clubs (usually from the end of school until 6pm).

Cost? The average cost is £3.50 for a morning session and up to £8 for a session after school. Rates vary depending on whether or not meals are needed and the length of the session required.

  • Also known as breakfast and after school clubs, these are usually based on school sites but can also be found at community centres, church halls and nurseries.
  • Enable children to have care straight from school (usually accessed by those whose parents work outside school hours).

Holiday Playschemes

Ages covered? Five years and over.

Opening hours? Range from one scheme to another. Many offer full day sessions from 8am-6pm.

Cost? Costs are extremely varied due to the range of playschemes available. We can inform you about local options.

  • Catering for school-age children during the school holidays and occasionally bank holidays.
  • Fun activities such as crafts and sports. Many offer a variety of activities, but some playschemes focus on a theme, such as a drama workshop week.


Ages covered? 8-14 years.

Opening hours? After school and school holidays.

Cost? Varies - costs are based on individual arrangements with the childminder.

Flexible childcare for older children, primarily between the ages of 8 and 14.

  • Provided by registered childminders with experience of looking after children in this age group.
  • Your child will have some degree of independence and the chance to join in the activities they enjoy and hang out with friends if they/you choose.

Will my child be safe?

It's natural to worry about your child's welfare when they're away from you - especially if you haven't used childcare before. Every possible precaution is taken to protect their welfare in the childcare setting, including Ofsted, DBS and First Aid Training.

Anyone that wants to be paid to look after children under eight for more than two hours a day must register with Ofsted. Those providing childminding or day care services without being registered can be fined or even sent to prison.

A Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check is a process for gathering information about someone’s criminal convictions and other cautions, reprimands and final warnings given by the police through a service called ‘disclosure’. Anyone who will have unsupervised access to children in their care needs a DBS check. The DBS’s aim is to help organisations identify candidates who may be unsuitable to work with children or other vulnerable members of society.

For more information phone DBS on 03000 200 190 or email customerservices@dbs.gsi.gov.uk.

Issues with your childcare provider

If you have any issues with your childcare, talk to your provider - most issues can be dealt with directly. Don't be afraid to raise your concerns if you're not happy. You both have a common interest - your child - so it's likely they'll want to accommodate you where possible.

  • Ask for a meeting to discuss your concerns. It's much easier to discuss any issues this way than a quick chat at 'drop off' time when the staff will be busy with children coming and going.
  • Each childcare provider has their own complaints policy.  This could be on their website or you could ask to see a copy.

Funding issues

If your concern relates to your child's two, three or four-year funding and you haven't been able to resolve the issue with the provider directly, email us at fis@portsmouthcc.gov.uk or phone us on 023 9268 8830.

Missed sessions

Each childcare provider will have their own rules regarding missed sessions.  Some childminders may deduct session costs if you notify them in advance that you're going on holiday - but you need to ask about this before you register your child. Don't assume you don't have to pay for sessions your child misses whether it's due to sickness or holidays.

Complaining to Ofsted

If you've not been able to resolve your issues with the provider and you feel their care doesn't meet Ofsted's standards, you can contact Ofsted online or phone them on 0300 123 4666 to discuss.

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