The UK’s education system

Preschool learning in the UK

The UK’s education system

It is estimated that there are around 23,600 early years childcare providers existing in the UK as of the year 2018. Similarly, 93% of 3 to 4 year old children living in the UK received funding for early education (statistics correct as of 2017).

Please note, ‘public’ schools in England are known to be schools which require high fees due to an archaic term referring to paid boarding secondary schools. For this reason, in this article, schools which are commonly categorised as public schools (government funded) will be described as state-funded schools. Parents can find local preschool services at the following government websites, England and Wales , Scotland  and Northern Ireland 


The first part of the educational system is preschool/ play school. Although not obligatory, parents may be interested in sending their children to such organizations for childcare or child development purposes. Public preschools can easily be found in the UK but spaces can be limited and you may be placed on a waiting list if you have chosen a particularly desirable school.

England: For 3-4 year olds, preschool is funded up to 570 hours a year, this is often used over 38 weeks annually consisting of 15 hours per week’s childcare. Otherwise, parents can pay fees for preschool services should they require that their child stays in childcare full time, for example when there are working parents. For parents looking for care for their child aged 2 or younger, childcare funding applies only to those who meet certain social criteria 

Scotland: All 3 to 4 year old children residing in Scotland can access 600 hours of paid childcare a year. For those with kids aged 2 and under, funding depends on your local council. You can select your council to find childcare funding here 

Wales: Those in Wales with children aged 3 or 4 can be awarded up to 30 hours funded childcare a week depending on personal circumstances  such as their income and family situation. 

Northern Ireland: In Northern Ireland, if the nursery you have selected is registered with the Preschool Education Programme, they will have state-funded places available offering 38 weeks yearly childcare of 5 half-days weekly. 

For paid places at nurseries, the UK average cost of part time care is £127 ($158) a week and £242 ($302) a week for full-time attendance. Due to public funding, some parents may opt to only send their child to preschool for half days, five days a week. Full-time preschool hours are based around the typical workday which can vary around the hours of 8 am to 6 pm.

Preschool, although part of the educational system, is more for child development of social interactions among peers and to explore the child’s creativity. Children will spend their time in preschool doing creative activities like painting, drawing, playing, moulding and singing educational songs or nursery rhymes. The most key part of preschool in the UK is to better prepare children to interact with others and become accustomed to being away from their parents before they begin primary school. 

Although not all do, some preschools will have a uniform which may entail of a logo-ed jumper or t-shirt. 

Further reading

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