Childcare Office

Childcare: School Age Children (4+ years)

State School Enrolment

In England you are required by law to make sure your child begins education from the beginning of school term after he or she turns 5 years old. However, children normally start Reception class in a state school from the September after their 4th birthday.

State schools in England are non-fee paying and maintained by the Local Authority (LA), with the exception of academies and free schools which deal with their own admissions. Every child is entitled to a free education, and every child resident in Cambridge will be offered a school place. It is wise to plan ahead for your child's enrolment at school, particularly if you are new to the Cambridge area. Your child is given priority for a place in your catchment area state school (i.e. the age-appropriate school in the area where you live) as long as there is a vacancy. You can use the My Cambridgeshire service to look up catchment area schools for your address.

You can choose to send your child to a school other than your catchment area school if there is an available place, but priority for places will be given to children in that catchment area. If you do choose to send your child to a school in a different catchment area, you will be responsible for any travel arrangements unless you are sending your child to a Roman Catholic school for religious reasons. There is also no guarantee that a younger brother or sister will be allocated a place at the same school in the future.

Primary schools take children from ages 4–11. Some primary schools have attached nursery units that accept 3 year olds. Children begin in Reception class, then move up through Year 1-6. Some primary schools are split into Infant and Junior schools. Secondary schools take children from 11–16; or Year 7–11. If a secondary school has an attached Sixth Form for studies in Year 12 and 13, they will accept children that choose to stay on beyond the age of 16.

You can research your options and download admission guides to Cambridge schools from the Cambridgeshire County Council webpages. Parents can apply for a place in the school year before their child is due to attend. See the County Council webpages for admission deadlines for applications to schools; although you can apply after these deadlines for remaining vacancies.

Contact the County Council Admissions Team for further information. See the County Council website.

Ofsted, the Government's Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills, inspects and reports on state schools and you can browse Inspection Reports. The Department for Education publishes school and college performance tables.

Family Holidays During Term-Time and Extended Visits Overseas

School-age children, who are registered at a school must, by law, attend that school regularly. In particular, parents need to avoid taking their children out of school during term-time in order to go on holiday. All schools have a policy which discourages parents from arranging family holidays during term time and will state that such leave will not be granted unless there are 'exceptional circumstances'.

Extended visits to family overseas (more than 10 days) maybe unavoidable, and if so, parents will need to discuss the educational impact on their child(ren) with the school.

Further information can be found on the Cambridgeshire County Council webpages.

Term dates

See Cambridgeshire Schools Term Dates.


Most secondary schools and a few primary schools have a school uniform. In cases of financial hardship the Local Authority have some provision for covering the cost of a uniform for pupils aged 11 and above. For more information, contact Cambridgeshire County Council. This service can also help with free school lunches as well as provide information on the Learner Support Fund, which helps with the cost of books, equipment and travel.

Independent schools

Independent schools are privately owned and not maintained by the Local Authority. They are registered with the Department for Education but make their own arrangements concerning staffing numbers, qualifications and curriculum. Independent schools obtain most of their finances from fees paid by parents and some of the larger independent schools are known as public schools. Most boarding schools are independent.

There are a number of independent schools in the Cambridgeshire area for all age groups up to Sixth Form Colleges for 17 and 18 year olds. These schools deal with their own enrolment and can ask children to sit entrance exams before they are considered for a place. You will need to contact the individual school to find out more.

To search for independent schools in the area, see the Independent Schools Council or the Independent Schools Directory. Schools that are members of the Independent Schools Council are inspected by the Independent Schools Inspectorate.

The Department for Education publishes school and college performance tables, including exam results for independent schools.

Academies and Free 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 so you need to contact the school directly. 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 open in September 2011. For more information see The Department for Education.


Should your child need extra tutoring outside school, schools may have suggestions for people who can help. If you feel your child needs extra help contact the school for advice/recommendations.

You can also advertise for a student to tutor your child. Students, like other tutors, will expect payment for their services. The Graduate Union and the University Centre have notice boards on which students, other members of the University and some private individuals advertise their services — the vast majority of these tend to be for language tutoring. Cambridge Student Community Action (SCA) may also be able to help provide student volunteers to work with children.

English Language Tuition

For children whose first language isn't English, TESL or TEFL tutors or language schools may be of help. Speak with your child's school — they can usually refer you a teacher in your area whose job it is to make sure children who are speakers of other languages get help with English. You can also advertise on College and University notice boards: students are often willing to tutor for an hourly rate. The Graduate Union Bulletin has adverts offering a variety of English language services. If your child is really struggling at school owing to problems with English, the volunteers at Student Community Action may be able to help. There may be a waiting list for SCA's popular TESL service, but it's worth enquiring.

Children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities

If your child has special needs it is important to ensure that you get all the support and assistance you need. For state schools, contact the Cambridgeshire County Council Admissions Team before enrolling your child to discuss what support is in place for children with special needs. See also the County Council's Special Educational Needs and Disability pages. For information on special needs provision at independent schools, you should contact the individual school.

For information and support for children with dyslexia, try Dyslexia Action.

For children with disabilities and their carers see Disability Cambridgeshire. Student Community Action run the Big Sibs scheme for vulnerable children, including those with disabilities or with a disabled family member. This programme, for which there may be a waiting list, matches the child with a big sibling — a student from Cambridge or Anglia Ruskin University — for weekly walks, games, visits and chats.

Young Lives can provide local special needs contact details. Call 0345 04 54 014.

Out of School Childcare and Holiday Playschemes

See also the section on Childminders.

Out-of-school or after-school childcare providers care for children of school-age outside normal school hours. Clubs and playschemes can provide care 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.

Many out-of-school 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 out of school clubs and playschemes that offer care for children age 5 years and younger. Clubs and playschemes that care for children under 8 but older than 5 must join the compulsory part of the Childcare Register.

Settings that only care for children aged over 8 and activity-based settings - such as sports clubs — are not required to be Ofsted-registered but can opt to join the voluntary part of the Childcare Register. Ofsted also inspect state schools. Schools are not included on either register unless they offer care services for children under the age of 3 years. If a school provides an extended, out-of-school service directly (and does not use an outside organisation to provide clubs and playschemes) Ofsted will check requirements are met when they carry out a full school inspection. More information can be found at Ofsted.

For more information about the holiday playscheme providing subsidised state school holiday care to the children of University staff, see the section Universities' Holiday Playscheme.

For information on out-of-school childcare in your area, contact your child's school or see Young Lives.

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.

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.