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Childcare in the UK

What are my childcare options?

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What are my childcare options?

Finding childcare can be a time-consuming and stressful process. Make sure you fully understand the options with our helpful guide.

The three main options you can choose from are registered childminders, nurseries and nannies. Some families may also choose to use an au pair.

The type of childcare that's best for you and your child depends on:

  • how many hours a day and at what times you’ll need childcare
  • which days of the week you’ll need childcare
  • your budget
  • your child’s likes/dislikes, interests and behaviour.

Visit our guide to how to find the best childcare for more on this.

If you're looking for childcare because you are going back to work after having a baby, visit our guide to your rights after maternity leave for information on working hours, benefits and working options.

Childcare options compared

Childcare comparison table
  Registered childminder Nanny Nursery
Cost

Average costs for 25 hours of care are £110 a week full time for a child under two, and £109 for a child over two.

Costs vary. A live-out nanny is entitled to the national minimum wage and on average 25 hours a week will cost between £240-£375.

Average costs are £116 a week for a part-time place (25 hours a week) for a child under two, and £112 for a child over two. For full time care expect to spend around £213 a week.

Location Usually their own home. Usually your home. Nursery.
Carer-to-child ratios A maximum of six children under eight years old. Three of these can be five or under, but only one can be under one year old. No set ratios for how many children a nanny can look after. This is decided by the family. • Babies aged five weeks to two years - one carer to three children.
• Children aged two to three years - one to four.
• Children over three - one to eight, or 13 if led by a teacher.
Qualifications Must have completed a local authority-approved training course and a 12-hour paediatric first-aid course. Not legally required to have a childcare qualification, though many study towards one. At least half the staff working in a nursery must hold a valid childcare qualification at level two or above.
Inspection Must be registered and inspected by the relevant body, eg Ofsed in England (in Wales only if they care for children under eight years old). Childminders are inspected every two to three years. Not inspected unless they're registered. Nurseries must be regularly inspected every two to three years.
Employment process Childminders are self-employed and take care of their own tax etc. The family is the nanny’s employer and takes care of tax and national insurance. Not applicable.
Hours and flexibility Hours are agreed with parents and should normally be stuck to. Hours vary depending on family needs and can be flexible, especially with a live-in nanny. Nursery hours are normally fixed and allow for little flexibility. Part-time averages 25 hours a week.
Emergency/backup childcare Would need to be arranged, eg if your childminder is ill or on holiday. Would need to be arranged, eg if your nanny is ill or on holiday. None needed - nurseries will arrange staff replacements if staff are sick or on holiday.
Pros
  • Must be qualified and inspected by the relevant body.
  • Can provide tailored care for your baby/child.
  • More flexibility for parents with pick-up/drop-off times.
  • Provide security and stability if working for the same family for a long time.
  • Children are looked after at home, so may adjust more easily to a nanny.
  • Nannies can form strong bonds with the family and children through one-on-one care.
  • More flexibility. If you're running late because of work, for example, the nanny can give your child dinner and put them to bed.
  • All nurseries must be regularly inspected by the relevant body.
  • Nurseries give children the opportunity to interact with other children so they can develop social skills and learn through play.
  • There is no need for emergency back-up childcare.
  • Some employers subsidise day nursery fees.
Cons
  • Can be expensive.
  • Emergency or backup childcare needs to be arranged.
  • Activities may be less structured than at a nursery.
  • You might have to pay for outings and some activities on top of the childminder's fees.
  • Nannies are not inspected unless they're registered.
  • More expensive than other options.
  • Your child may have less social interaction with other children.
  • You will normally need to arrange backup childcare.
  • You are the nanny’s employer and must arrange pay for tax and national insurance.
  • Nurseries can't provide one-to-one care.
  • Some nurseries may have a high turnover of staff.
  • Opening and closing times are fairly inflexible.
  • If your child is ill and doesn’t attend nursery, you still effectively pay for your child’s place.
  • Nurseries make it easier for children to catch coughs and colds from other children.

Registered childminders

Registered childminders normally look after children in their own home, and tend to be the cheapest of the three options for a child over two. In England, they must be registered on the Ofsted childminders’ register to work as a childminder, and are inspected by Ofsted every two to three years.

In Wales the body responsible for registration and inspection is the Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales (CSSIW), but childcare providers in Wales are registered only if they care for children under eight years old.

In Scotland the relevant body is the Care Inspectorate, and in Northern Ireland it's the Health and Social Services Trust.

By law, registered childminders can look after six children under eight. Three of these can be five and under, and only one can be under the age of one.

Childminders need to complete specific training recognised by their local authority to be able to register. They may also have additional relevant qualifications, but these are not compulsory.

See the table above to compare the different childcare options and their pros and cons at a glance.

Nannies

Nannies look after children according to a family’s needs, so working hours, location and pay vary widely. They're the most expensive of the three options.

Unlike childminders, nannies don’t have to be registered or inspected. However, in England they can choose to join the voluntary part of the Ofsted childcare register, which means they will be inspected, and in Wales they can choose to sign up with the Care and Social Services Inspectorate.

In Scotland and Northern Ireland, nannies are not required to register with the relevant body on an individual basis. However, if they are employed by an agency, it must be registered. In Northern Ireland, a nanny will be inspected only if they care for children from more than two families.

There are two types of nanny:

Live-in nannies

These live with the family of the children they're looking after. Accommodation and food are normally provided by the family. Live-in nannies often work 11-12 hours a day, five days a week. However, the exact hours depend on the family’s needs. The rate of pay is decided by the nanny and family, taking into account accommodation and food costs.

Live-out nannies

These travel to the family’s home to care for the children. Live-out nannies generally work 11-12 hours a day, but hours and times will vary depending on the family’s needs. A live-out nanny is entitled to be paid at least the national minimum wage.

Nannies are not required by law to be inspected by an external body such as Ofsted. So if you do choose to have a nanny, it’s important you have a clear idea of what you expect from them and get a feel for how well they'd suit your home environment and interact with your children.

Our advice on how to find the best childcare includes a handy checklist of things to think about before hiring a nanny, plus tips and advice on finding childcare.

Visit our guide to childcare costs for more on how much you can expect to pay for each option.

Nurseries

Children can attend day nurseries from six weeks old to around five years, or when they start school. They can attend part time or full time. Nurseries tend to be more expensive than childminders.

Nurseries usually have multiple rooms, and children are split between them according to age. They are inspected by Ofsted to ensure they comply with its standards.

There are legal ratios for nurseries that determine the number of carers there should be for each child:

  • Babies aged five weeks to two years - one carer to three children.
  • Children aged two to three years - one to four.
  • Children over three - one to eight, or 13 if led by a teacher.

Take a look at our table above to compare childminders, nannies and day nurseries to help you decide which option is best for your child.

Au pairs

Au pairs tend to be foreign exchange students or foreign nationals living and/or studying in the UK to immerse themselves in the culture and language. For this reason, they are generally quite young (17-27 years old).

They tend not to be classified as employees, so don't pay national insurance or tax. As a result, au pairs don't receive a wage, but are paid 'pocket money'. This is because the family covers the cost of their food, accommodation, bills, trips and family activities in exchange for childcare and some housekeeping duties.

If your au pair is studying, you must give them time to attend their classes.

Au pairs should not be used to look after children younger than three. If you choose to have an au pair, remember that they are not childcare professionals, so are not required to have any experience or qualifications in childcare. They will also never be inspected.

Using grandparents as childcare

Grandparents are the first choice as childcare for many parents, largely because of the prohibitive cost of other options. But it's important to have a full and frank discussion and make sure everyone understands the ground rules before you start out, if you want to avoid conflict down the line. Here are the key things you should be clear about before you start using grandparents for childcare:

Money

Make sure you're clear about money needed to buy essentials for the child. How much budget can you allow? Regardless of how close you are with your parents or parents-in-law, it's surprising how money problems can end up causing resentment.

Time

What hours will the grandparents be taking care of your child? What about if an emergency situation arises and you can't get home when you usually do, who will cover then? What about when the grandparents want to go on holiday?

Equipment

If the grandparents are going to be taking your child out in their car, who is going to provide a car seat? What about a spare pushchair if your big travel system is too bulky for your older mum to push?

Rules

The most difficult one of all to talk about, but it's the most important and can cause real tension if you don't have this conversation in advance. Things to include are: what is your parenting style? What routine do you like your child to follow? What are your rules about television, sugar, fizzy drinks, computer games?

Safety

Chances are you've completely childproofed your house. But what about the grandparents' house? Check for things such as ponds in the garden being fenced off, and cupboards containing poisonous substances being out of reach.

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