National Standard for early learning and childcare


To reflect the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, updated interim guidance on 'Funding follows the child' and the national standard was published in May 2022. Please visit the Parent Club for the latest news and answers to some of the questions you might have.

'Funding follows the child' ensures that the funded early learning and childcare entitlement is delivered in high quality settings. It is underpinned by a national standard that all settings – regardless of whether they are in the public, private, third or childminding sectors – that wish to deliver early learning and childcare have to meet.

Due to the continuing impact of the pandemic, and the need for some flexibility, interim guidance on the implementation of 'Funding follows the child' from August 2022 is currently in place.

It means that parents and carers – including those of eligible two years olds – will be able to choose to use their child’s entitlement at any ELC provider that:

  • meets the national standard
  • has a place available
  • is willing to enter into a contract with the local authority

The national standard sets out what children and families should expect from their early learning experience regardless of where they access their child’s funded hours.

All ELC providers are required to demonstrate that they meet the national standard before they can access funding to deliver the funded hours, whether they are in the public, private or third sectors or childminders.

Local authorities are responsible for assessing and monitoring compliance with the national standard in all funded providers.

Read more about our approach and the national standard in: 'Funding follows the child' and the national standard of early learning and childcare providers: principles and practice

Helping ELC providers meet the national standard

We have published operating guidance detailing how settings delivering the funded entitlement can meet the national standard.

We have also published a frequently asked questions document for local authorities and funded providers.

Supporting technical guidance is also available covering business sustainability, sustainable rates and transition options guidance on contracting.

How the approach and national standard were developed

 We developed ‘Funding follows the child’ in partnership with COSLA and local authorities, through a Service Models Working Group, with the final approach informed by a consultation, and a supporting programme of engagement with stakeholders, in 2018.

Overview of local authority funding and support for ELC providers

As part of the financial sustainability health check exercise, we collected updated information from all local authorities on:

  • the sustainable rates that they have set for providers in the private, third and childminding sectors to deliver funded early learning and childcare
  • rates paid for the delivery of the commitment that every child attending a funded ELC session – which is any session that includes funded hours, regardless of whether they are mixed with 'paid for' hours – is provided with a free meal
  • their approach, in-line with guidance published in April 2019, for setting sustainable rates
  • any additional support that has been offered to their providers who deliver funded early learning and childcare during the pandemic

The information provided by local authorities is set out in the overview of local authority funding and support for early learning and childcare providers.

The sustainable rates data collection exercise will be updated annually.

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