Types of childcare

Pre-school and playgroups

What is a pre-school?

Sometimes referred to as Playgroups, provide education and childcare for children aged two to five years.  Pre-schools offer sessions of less than four hours at a time and usually follow term times. Most are open in the morning for a minimum of two and a half hours, but some also run sessions in the afternoon.


Pre-schools offer a wide range of stimulating activities for children which are based on the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS). Some of the activities that the children will be able to enjoy include:


  • arts and crafts
  • books and stories
  • sand and water play
  • outdoor play
  • music and
  • singing


Pre-school registration

Pre-schools are registered with and inspected by Ofsted. This means that the pre-school will be checked to ensure that staff are appropriately trained and qualified and that the premises are suitable and safe. 

Ofsted registration requirements will specify the number of children that are allowed to be on the premises at any time and the ratio of staff to children. The minimum rations are:


  • Children aged 2-3 years – 1 adult to ever 4 children 
  • Children aged 3-5 years – 1 adult to every 8 children 


Paying for a pre-school

Pre-school fees will vary and will depend on the number of days/sessions your child attends. 

Pre-schools can accept childcare vouchers as payment and families qualifying for Working Tax Credit may also be able to claim help with childcare costs.

Some pre-schools offer 15 hours of free Early Education Funding for three and four year olds and for some two year olds who meet the eligibility criteria. Ask the pre-school directly whether they offer the funding or check the childcare search on the Family Services Directory.

What to think about when visiting a pre-school

You will be the best judge of what is right for your child however the lists below may guide you on points to look for and what to ask.  Things to consider and questions to ask when looking for a quality setting:


  • Are you and your child made to feel welcome?
  • Do the children present look happy and involved in what they are doing?
  • Are the staff joining in with what the children are doing?
  • Do the activities look interesting and inviting and are there opportunities for outdoor play?
  • Ask whether your child will have a key worker
  • Ask to see their registration and insurance certificates
  • How much does each session cost? How often do you pay?
  • Is there a waiting list? If so when will you be informed of a start date?


General points to consider


  • Are there lots of toys, books and play equipment?
  • Are the premises clean, well kept and safe for children?
  • Are the children able to move freely between activities and are they able to make their own choices?
  • Are different cultures positively represented in the toys, books and displays?
  • Are girls and boys encouraged to take part in all activities?
  • How will the provision meet any special needs your child may have? Think about equipment, access, skills, experience and training of staff.
  • Will you be given the opportunity to meet with staff to talk about your child and how will they share any records kept about your child with you?


Searching for a pre-school

You can use the childcare search on the Family Services Directory to look for pre-schools in your area. Alternatively, you can contact us on 020 8770 6000 for a list based on a post code area.