Search for childcare

Types of childcare

It helps if you start looking for childcare when you know you need a place for your child. Many parents begin before the birth of their child. 

Choosing childcare is down to personal preference, budget, age and needs of your child. You should check if you are eligible for help with the cost.

Finding a place for a child under two can be difficult. Child carers are limited to the numbers that they can care for. Some childminders keep waiting lists for younger children due to demand and the limited registered places available. 

If you are struggling to find childcare, you can complete this form to inform us of the gaps


Childminders are self-employed childcare professionals working in their own home. They can care for children of any age but only up to six children under 8. 

Ofsted inspects and regulates childminders. 

Each childminder may offer different opening times. Many can be flexible to cater for your requirements. Some provide childcare in the evening or even overnight care.  

Childminders drop off and collect from local schools. They offer free childcare places for 2, 3, and 4-year-olds. Alternatively, they will take children to and from early years settings to access funded entitlement for 2, 3 and 4-year-olds.   

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Agency childminder

Agency childminders have different regulations to regular childminders. They sign up to an Ofsted registered agency, but the individual childminders do not register. Ofsted inspects the individual childminders to ensure that they are providing a good service. 


A crèche provides occasional care for children under 8 for no more than two hours per day. 

Some are on permanent premises to care for children whilst parents are doing other activities. Some run temporarily when a particular one-off event is happening. 

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Day nursery 

Day nurseries provide day care for children aged 0 to 5 years. 

Each nursery will have separate rooms for the different age groups of children. Each contains age-appropriate toys and equipment. 

Ofsted registers and inspects day nurseries. 

Day nurseries offer free childcare places for 2, 3 and 4-year-olds, and children can attend full-day or part-day sessions.  

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Home childcarers 

Home childcarers look after children in the family home and can work around shift patterns and unusual hours. 

Some home childcarers live in with the family and may pick up other tasks, such as cooking and cleaning, by arrangement. 

Home childcarers do not need to register with Ofsted. They can register on the Ofsted voluntary registry to allow families to take advantage of tax credits. 

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Maintained nursery schools and classes 

Maintained nursery schools and classes are attached to an infant, primary or academy school and offer free early education sessions. Ofsted inspects maintained nursery schools and classes that are part of the school's inspections.   

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Nurseries take children from 2.5 to 3 years and are more formal in how they structure their sessions. Nurseries provide a grounding for starting at school, offering more educational exercises. For example, teaching letters, numbers, shapes and early-stage reading.   

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Parent and toddler group 

Volunteers run parent and toddler groups. They provide a great place to meet other parents with children of similar ages in your area. They are open to mothers, fathers, carers and grandparents who attend with their child. 

Parent and toddler groups offer great play opportunities in a stimulating environment, encouraging social and emotional development. Each group is different and offers different activities. They are not a form of childcare, so not registered with Ofsted.   

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Pre-school playgroups 

Pre-school playgroups offer free childcare for 2 to 4 years old on a session basis and will prepare your child for starting school. Ofsted regulates and inspects pre-school playgroups.   

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Breakfast and after-school clubs 

Some schools run breakfast clubs and after-school clubs. These can be provided by external organisations, on or away from the school premises.

Some are only available for children who attended the school. Others are available to all children in the community and have arrangements with schools for picking the children up.   

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Search for breakfast clubs  

Holiday club 

Holiday clubs offer school-age children a fun environment during the school holidays. Schools run holiday clubs on site. 

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How to choose

It's essential that you research different types of childcare to see what would best suit you and your child. 

Children find it hard to adjust to frequent disruptions in their childcare. It helps to think about:

  • what kind of setting you want your child in. A home-based setting where adult ratios to children are a lot smaller? A bigger setting where there are more children within their age range? 
  • the hours you will need childcare for. Do you work standard work hours or irregular shifts? 
  • the location 
  • how much it costs. Some settings offer Government-funded places for certain entitlements 
  • do they have places for your child? Are they able to cater to your child's needs?
  • your child's happiness and opportunities to develop 
  • the care your child will receive from the childcare provider 
  • if you can depend on the childcare provider 
  • your needs and your child's needs for the next few months and the longer term 

Write a shortlist of childcare providers you would like to visit. 

Visiting your shortlisted settings  

Before you decide on a childcare provider, it is a good idea to visit your shortlisted settings. You may choose to see more than one setting and visit more than once to help you decide. 

Think about taking your child with you to meet the childcare setting. You will be able to see:

  • how they get on with other children
  • how the child carer interacts with your child 

Try visiting at a time when there will be children in the setting. Check to see if the other children seem happy and relaxed.  

Ask other people who use the setting how they feel and how their child is getting on. The setting may be able to provide details of people who will be happy to talk to you. 

When you visit a childcare provider, you may want to check:

  • staff qualifications and how many children they supervise
  • how they will prepare for your child 
  • how safe and secure the rooms and outdoor area are 
  • what plans they have for emergencies 
  • how they adapt play activities  
  • if the equipment is varied, high quality and creative 
  • if the children seem happy and interested in what they're doing 
  • how they promote positive behaviour 
  • how they update you about your child's day and what they learnt 
  • how you can raise issues and concerns 
  • what food they provide
  • how they work with other professionals and your child 

Do not be afraid to ask about fees and payments, including deposits and sibling discounts. 

If your employer offers a childcare voucher scheme via your salary, let the child carer know. It is free for them to sign up to your employer's scheme. They can sign up to as many as they choose.