Childcare Office

Childcare: Pre-School Children (0–5 years)

Ofsted Registration and Inspection

Ofsted, the Government's Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills, is responsible for inspecting and regulating schools as well as childcare facilities, including childminders. The Ofsted website publishes inspection reports online. You can search for reports by address, although childminder names and addresses are not given to safeguard the welfare of children and protect their privacy. If you can't find the report you want online, ask the childcare provider for a paper copy. If a facility is newly-registered, Ofsted may not have made its first, full inspection.

Many childcare providers are required to register with Ofsted. Ofsted Registration is split into the Ofsted Early Years Register and the Ofsted Childcare Register, which has compulsory and voluntary parts. Childcare providers that care for children from birth to 5 years must follow the Early Years Foundation Stage framework and join the Early Years Register. This includes nurseries, childminders and some out-of-school clubs and playschemes that care for younger children. Childcare providers that care for children under 8 but older than 5 must join the compulsory part of the Childcare Register.

Some providers are not required to register but can opt to join the voluntary part of the Childcare Register. This includes settings that only care for children aged 8 and over, activity-based settings such as sports clubs, providers of short term care, or carers who work in the child's own home such as nannies.

Ofsted also inspect state schools and academies. Schools are not included on either register unless they offer care services for children under the age of 3 years. Ofsted check that any extended services that the school directly provides, such as out of school clubs, meet requirements when they carry out a full school inspection. See the Ofsted website for further information.

Choosing Childcare

For information on University and College childcare facilities, see the page University Childcare Facilities and Assistance.

There is a wide range of childcare available in the Cambridge area outside of the Colleges and University. The Family Information Service (operating within the Cambridgeshire County Council) maintains the Family Information Directory, which includes information on childcare and early learning providers and support services; local and national.

There are a number of other websites which aim to assist families with finding suitable childcare; these include the Daycare Trust and

The Childcare Information Adviser can post out free booklets and leaflets on choosing childcare and childcare in Cambridge, including many of those mentioned below.

Age Criteria

  • Day nurseries generally take babies from 3 months (some from 6 weeks old)
  • Childminders can take children from newborn babies to teenagers
  • Nursery schools and pre-schools take children from 2–3 years
  • Out of school clubs and holiday playschemes usually take children that have started full-time school
  • In Cambridge, children can begin school in Reception class the September after they turn 4 years old


For information on the University Workplace Nurseries and the College Nurseries, see the University Childcare Facilities and Assistance page.

Day Nurseries

Run by private individuals, community groups, commercial businesses, Montessori organisations or by employers; day nurseries generally care for children from 3 months (sometimes 6 weeks) to school-age and offer care from around 8am to 6pm for most of the year. Most offer a choice of morning, afternoon or full day sessions and some nurseries provide out of school childcare facilities for school-age children. Costs vary depending on the age of your child (babies generally cost more because facilities need a higher staff: child ratio in line with Ofsted regulations) and whether you have a full or part-time place. 3 and 4 year olds are eligible for a free part-time place through the Early Years Funding scheme.

To find nurseries in your area, use the Cambridgeshire County Council's Family Information Service.

LA Nursery Schools and Classes

These facilities run by the Local Authority (LA) - Cambridgeshire County Council - may be either nursery classes attached to primary schools or separate, self-contained nursery schools. Part-time morning or afternoon places are free to parents who find a vacancy. Places are funded through the Early Years Funding scheme. Children can start an LA nursery from the beginning of the school term after their 3rd birthday. However, this depends on vacancies: there is no automatic right of admission and children living in the nursery catchment area will have priority for places.

LA nurseries operate during state school terms. There are often waiting lists in operation. If you are interested in sending your child to an LA nursery you should contact individual nurseries directly.

There are five self-contained LA nursery schools in the Cambridge area. These are:

For a list of primary schools with nursery classes, go to the Cambridgeshire County Council's Schools and Colleges homepage.

Private Nursery Schools

There are also private, fee-paying nursery schools in Cambridge which take children from the age of 2 or 3 years until they start school. They may offer a particular educational approach, e.g. Steiner or Montessori. Some operate during state school terms only; others are open for most of the year. Most operate for the state school day from approximately 9am–3.30pm. For an extra cost, they may run early and late clubs around their regular hours. 3 and 4 year olds should qualify for free part-time sessions through the Early Years Funding scheme.

For details of private nursery schools in Cambridge, use the Cambridgeshire County Council's Family Information Service.


Self-employed, professional child carers who are registered by Ofsted to look after a small group of children in their own homes. Ask to see a childminder's Ofsted report for information on how many children they are registered to look after. A childminder can offer a flexible service and care for children from newborns to teenagers. The service offered can be tailored to each family's needs and some may provide evening, weekend and school holiday cover. Many childminders will also take children to and from school or other childcare facilities. Costs are negotiated by the individual childminder.

The Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY) (formally NCMA) provides information and advice on choosing a childminder.

For registered childminders in the Cambridgeshire area, use the Cambridgeshire County Council's Family Information Service.

Childminding Networks

A childminding network is a group of childminders in a similar location who have joined together to provide a service that is monitored and assessed by a designated network co-ordinator from the The Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY) (formally NCMA). Childminders who wish to join an established network must undergo an assessment process and on-going monitoring.

Childminders in a network still work individually and care for children in their own homes, but can provide free part-time places for 3 and 4 year olds through the Early Years Funding scheme. Individual childminders cannot. However, childminders don't have to belong to a network and it may depend where they live. Not being part of a network does not mean that a childminder will offer a poorer quality of care for your child.

Pre-Schools (Playgroups)

Pre-schools offer sessional care or extended sessions, usually to children from 3 years to school age, although some may accept 2 year olds. Most pre-schools are only open during state school terms. 3 and 4 year olds should qualify for a free part-time place through the Early Years Funding scheme.

To find pre-schools in your area, use the Cambridgeshire County Council's Family Information Service.

Children's Centres

Sure Start Children's Centres are part of the Government's Every Child Matters programme to deliver better outcomes for children. They bring high quality integrated early years provisions to the heart of communities by providing family services - for example health care, family support groups - as well as childcare information and facilities.

For details on Children's Centres in the local area, see the Cambridgeshire Children's Centres. For more general information on Children's Centres, see GOV.UK.

Parent and Toddler Groups

These are informal community groups that meet on a regular basis, which parents or carers attend with their children. They are often run from local community centres or churches and ask for a small fee each session to cover refreshments etc. The Graduate Union sponsors a free group at the University Centre — see the GU Parent and Toddler Group and there are many more non-University groups that meet in Cambridge, including French, Spanish and German-speaking groups. See or the the Cambridgeshire County Council's Family Information Service for details.

Nannies and Au Pairs


Nannies work in your own home and do not have to be registered with Ofsted. However, see the Ofsted Registration and Inspection section for information on the voluntary part of the Ofsted Childcare Register that nannies can opt to join.

Like childminders, nannies may be able to provide more flexible and personal care for your child. They may be live-in or live-out (daily) nannies. It's possible for families that require part-time care to take part in a nanny-share with other families, which can ease the considerable costs. For nanny-share advice, try the Best Bear website. You can find other students looking for nanny shares through the Student Parent Newsletters or try the services and

Nannies are employed by the family, who will be responsible for sorting out terms and conditions of employment, tax and national insurance. There are specialist agencies, including Tinies, that will help with all aspects of employing a Nanny. Costs are high and can depend on the nanny's age, experience and hours worked, but if you have more than one young child it can work out cheaper than sending your children to a day nursery.

Au pairs

Au Pairs are usually students from overseas wanting to improve their English, who live in the family's home and help with light domestic duties and childcare in return for food, lodging and a small wage. Costs can depend on the individual and the amount of hours you require the au-pair to work. There are specialist agencies, including Cherish Childcare, that will help with all aspects of employing an au-pair.

Independent Schools

Independent Private Schools

Some of these privately-owned, fee-paying schools offer nursery places. If the school participates in the Early Years Funding scheme, it will be inspected by Ofsted.

To search for independent schools in the area, try the Independent Schools Council or The Independent Schools Directory. For pre-school education, search for Pre-Preparatory or Pre-Prep schools. There is more information on independent private schools in the School Age Children section of this guide.

Academy Schools

Academies are state-funded (non fee-paying) independent schools. They are inspected by Ofsted but have opted to be independent of local authority and national government control and deal with their own admissions. Some academies may offer nursery places. For more information as well as an updated map and list of academies in the area see The Department for Education.

Free Schools are new state-funded, independent schools set up by communities in response to local requirements. The first free schools in the country opened in September 2011. They may offer nursery places. For more information see The Department for Education.

Out of School Childcare and Holiday Playschemes

Out-of-school clubs and holiday schemes provide care for school-age children outside normal school hours. This can include both before and after school and all day during the school holidays; this will vary from one facility to the next. Often the facility is based in a local school.

See the Ofsted Registration and Inspection section for information on registration for out-of-school childcare.

For out-of-school childcare in your area, contact your child's school or use the Cambridgeshire County Council's Family Information Service. The Universities' Holiday Playscheme provides state school holiday care to the children of University students.

Early Years Funding scheme for 3 and 4 year olds

The Early Years Funding Scheme (formerly Nursery Education Funding) funds part-time early years education at eligible childcare providers for children aged 3 and 4 in the years before they begin school. Eligible childcare providers include day nurseries, Local Authority and private nursery schools, pre-schools, some independent schools and childminders belonging to a childminding network. Funding begins for 3 year olds from the term after their 3rd birthday and continues for all 4 year olds.

The scheme provides 15 hours of free, flexible childcare over a minimum of 3 days per week. This can be spread over a minimum of 38 weeks per year, up to a maximum of 50 weeks, as long as the hours claimed do not exceed 570 hours in total per academic year. You have to pay for any extra time your child attends the childcare facility.

Your childcare provider should inform you when your child is eligible for funding and it is the provider that claims the funding on your behalf. Anyone who has a place with a participating childcare provider will be able to get financial help from this scheme, including students from overseas.

There is further information available through the County Council.

Complaints about Childcare

See Ofsted for advice.