Apply for a free nursery place


Your child is entitled to free early education for up to 15 hours per week for 38 weeks, starting from the term following their 3rd birthday.

For example, if your child is 3 in January, they can start in the summer term which begins in April.

Once started your child can continue until they start full time school.

Free nursery education
lf your child turns 3 between...They will be able to start nursery...
1 September and 31 Decemberfrom 1 January or the beginning of the spring term
1 January and 31 Marchfrom 1 April or the beginning of the summer term
1 April and 31 Augustfrom 1 September or the beginning of the autumn term

You can choose where you want your child to go (subject to availability). Places are available at:

The following information refers to nurseries maintained by the Council.

  • For private nurseries, see applying for a place at a private nursery
  • For Family Hubs (previously known as children's centres), you should contact the centre directly
  • For religious or faith (voluntary-aided) schools you should contact the school's head teacher

How to apply

After your child's 2nd birthday, you should arrange to visit the head teacher of the nursery. You will be asked to complete a registration form - ask for a copy of this form as proof of registration.

The head teacher will be able to tell you:

  • how many places are available
  • which options are available (such as full or half days)
  • when you will hear if your child has been given a place

If places have already been offered, the nursery should be able to accommodate your application request if there are still places available.

When you will hear if your child has a place

The head teacher will be able to tell you how and when you will be told if your child has been given a place.

Arranging a visit to a nursery

By arrangement with the nursery, you can visit, look around and talk to the staff.

Do not be afraid to ask questions, such as: 

  • Does the nursery encourage parental involvement?
  • How will staff help my child to settle in?
  • Will I be kept informed about my child's progress?
  • Can I see your prospectus or latest Ofsted inspection report (copies of Ofsted reports are also available on the Ofsted website).

Please note that whilst each child is guaranteed a free early education place, it may not always be available in your first choice of school or nursery.

How nursery school places are decided

Nursery schools do not have catchment areas, even where they are part of an infant or primary school.

Schools must not use their catchment areas as a factor for entry into their nursery. 

Whilst schools may take names of interested parents after their child's second birthday, nursery places must not be allocated on a 'first come, first served' or a waiting list basis.

Over subscription criteria

  1. 'Looked after children' meaning children accommodated by the Local Authority.
  2. Children with  diagnosed special educational needs
  3. Other children accessing professional support, for example children who have English as a second language
  4. Concurrent sibling link - brother or sister attending the nursery when the child will be admitted (this includes adoptive siblings, half siblings, step siblings, long-term fostered children residing  at the same address)
  5. Shortest distance from the centre of the parental home (including flats) to the main nursery entrance. This is measured as a straight line using the Local Authority Geographical System  (GIS) with those living closer to the nursery receiving higher priority.

The distance measurement will be used as a tie-breaker within each point above, where necessary.

Parents should note that attendance at a nursery or co-located children's centre does not guarantee admission to the school

If your child is not offered a place at your preferred school

There is no right of appeal against an offer of a free early years place. However, you may contact the Early Years Team if you believe your child has not received his or her free entitlement.

Contact the Early Years Team, Red Zone , Chuter Ede , Galsworthy Road, South Shields, NE34 9UG or phone 0191 424 6554.

Transferring your child to another nursery

If your circumstances change, for example if you move house, then a transfer may be possible if places are available.

When your child reaches infant / primary school age

When your child reaches infant / primary school age you must complete an application form for your child to attend the reception class.

Please note that attendance to a nursery unit, class attached to a primary, or infant school does not guarantee a place in the reception year of the school.

For information about applying for a place at an infant or primary school, see school admissions.