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Your childcare rights: England

Knowing what your legal rights are can help you make sure that you and your child get the support you need. Sometimes, just showing that you’re aware of your rights can quickly nip any problems in the bud.

The Equality Act 2010 is an important law that provides disabled children with a number of rights and protections. All permanently deaf children will meet the definition of disability.

The Equality Act 2010 means that public bodies, including local authorities and childcare providers:

  • can’t discriminate against your child – in other words, a childcare provider can’t refuse to accept your child simply because they are deaf. They also can’t treat your child less favourably than other children by, for example, not allowing them to do certain activities that other children are able to do
  • must make reasonable adjustments
  • promote equality of opportunity for disabled children. 

If a child is disadvantaged by something that the setting does, and if there are any simple or inexpensive things that the setting can do to overcome this, they must do it. This is known as making ‘reasonable adjustments’.

Examples of reasonable adjustments

  • Making sure there are subtitles on the TV if showing a children’s programme
  • Staff receiving training on how to use a radio aid
  • If the reading corner is in an area with poor acoustics or lighting, moving to somewhere better for your child
  • Providing ‘auxiliary aids’. This includes, for example, radio aids
  • Most reasonable adjustments cost little or nothing and are relatively easy to put in place. You have an important role to play in letting the childcare facility know what steps they can take to support your child

What is reasonable will depend on their size and financial resources. It may be easier for a local authority or a large nursery to make a reasonable adjustment than it is for a small childminder.

For more information go to The Equality Act and your child's education. 

The Children and Families Act 2014 aims to make sure that children with special educational needs can achieve the best possible outcomes.

Your child has special educational needs (SEN) if they have or are likely to have much more difficulty in learning than other children of the same age. Most but not all deaf children will be viewed as having an SEN. This can depend on the approach taken in the local area to identifying and labelling children’s needs.

All nurseries, playgroups and pre-schools and registered childminders that are funded by the local authority must follow the laws set out in the Children and Families Act 2014 and guidance, called the SEND Code of Practice: 0 to 25 years (2015). These laws mean that they should:

  • receive an education that enables them to achieve the best possible outcomes
  • have arrangements in place to support children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) – this may be done through a Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCO)
  • listen to parents, make sure they are involved in all decisions about their child and give information to them on how the provider will support children with SEND
  • make sure that children get help from specialist education services as quickly as possible
  • work together with other professionals, such as Teachers of the Deaf and the local authority.

If your child is regarded as having a SEN and as needing SEN support, the provider must also follow the ‘assess, plan, do, review’ cycle. This means that they must:

  • assess your child’s needs
  • plan what support is needed
  • do – in other words, provide the support that’s needed
  • review how well this support is working. If it’s not working well, they should assess your child’s needs again.

Read our factsheet on SEN support for more information.

If you feel that your child has needs that go beyond what the childcare provider can reasonably provide or are likely to be able to provide, you have the right to ask the local authority to carry out an assessment of your child’s needs. This is known as an Education, Health and Care needs assessment and, if the local authority agrees, it may lead to an Education, Health and Care plan. This is a legal document which sets out the support that the local authority must provide.

You have the right to appeal if the local authority refuses to carry out an EHC needs assessment or to appeal over the contents of an EHC plan.

Read our information on the SEN system.

The Children and Families Act 2014 also means that every local authority must produce a ‘Local Offer’ about what support they expect to be available to children with SEND locally. You have the right to leave feedback on the Local Offer and the local authority must consider any feedback that you provide.

Our factsheet on Local Offers has more information.

Under the Childcare Act 2006, local authorities must also make sure there is enough or “sufficient” childcare in the area for parents of disabled children. Government guidance also says that local authorities should produce a report on how they’re making sure there is enough childcare to meet the needs of disabled children. This may be available on your local authority website. If it’s not, you can ask the local authority to send you a copy.

Local authorities must also provide information to parents about childcare available in the area. You can find this information on the Coram Family and Childcare website.

In terms of staff qualifications, the manager should have:

  • at least two years’ experience of working in childcare
  • a level 3 qualification in early years education.

In terms of child–staff ratios, if you are using a nursery, preschool, playgroup or children’s centre and your child is:

  • under two, there should be one member of staff for every three children
  • aged two, it should be one to four
  • aged three, it should be one to eight or thirteen (depending on the type of childcare).

If you’re using a childminder, they can care for up to six children (under the age of eight). Of these six children, only three can be under the age of five.

In England, all newly qualified staff (with a level 2 or 3 qualification in childcare) should have a paediatric first aid qualification.

There’s more information on the child–staff ratios and other requirements in the Government’s Statutory Framework for the Early Years Foundation Stage.

All nurseries, playgroups, pre-schools and registered childminders in England must follow the Early Years Foundation Stage framework. This sets out requirements for how children’s early learning should develop.

There are seven areas of learning and development:

  1. communication and language
  2. physical development
  3. personal, social and emotional development
  4. literacy
  5. mathematics
  6. understanding the world
  7. expressive arts and design.

Children’s progress is assessed using 17 early learning goals. These include, for example, speaking, making relationships, reading, writing and numbers.

For children whose first language is not English, providers must try and provide opportunities for children to use their home language, as well as English, in play and learning.

When your child is aged two, childcare providers must carry out a ‘progress check’ and provide you with a summary of how your child is developing.

Before your child’s fifth birthday and in the final term of that year, they must also write an Early Years Foundation Stage Profile (EYFSP). This will look at how your child is achieving across each of the 17 early learning goals. It will tell you if the provider thinks your child is meeting expected levels of development or not. This report should be passed to your child’s first teacher at primary school.

All nurseries, playgroups and pre-schools and registered childminders must also do the following.

  • Take all necessary steps to keep your child safe and well. For example, they must have a policy around safeguarding and all staff must receive training in this area
  • Assign a key person to work with you and your child
  • Make arrangements to support children with SEND and give parents information about this.

Ofsted will inspect all registered childcare providers. Childminders caring for children under eight must be registered, either with Ofsted or with an approved childminders agency. The GOV.UK website enables you to find out if a childminder is registered.

Nannies and home carers don’t have to be registered with Ofsted, though they can volunteer to do so.

Ofsted will inspect all registered providers, usually once during a four-year period. Where there are any concerns about provision, Ofsted may inspect more often. You should be notified if the childcare facility is being inspected.

Ofsted will look at:

  • overall effectiveness
  • effectiveness of leadership and management
  • quality of teaching, learning and assessment
  • personal development, behaviour and welfare
  • outcomes for children.

Ofsted will say whether they think provision is:

  • outstanding
  • good
  • requires improvement
  • inadequate.

The Ofsted Early Years Inspection Handbook sets out how they carry out inspections.

Nurseries, pre-schools and childminders must take steps to ensure children with medical conditions get support to meet their medical needs (see Supporting Pupils at School with Medical Conditions). This guidance requires schools to make sure that:

  • children with medical conditions are supported so that they have full access to education, including to physical education and school trips
  • staff receive appropriate training
  • there is someone in charge of how the school supports children with medical conditions
  • they have a policy that sets out how they will support children with medical conditions (this should be readily available).

If your child has a temporary hearing loss (because of, for example, glue ear), this can be regarded as a medical condition.

You may be entitled to help with the costs of childcare for your child.

All three to four-year-olds are entitled to 570 hours of free childcare a year (or 15 hours of free childcare a week over 38 weeks). From September 2017, this will increase to 30 hours a week where both parents are working (or, if you are a single parent, if you are working). Visit the GOV.UK website to find out how to apply for free childcare

If your child is two and has a statement of special educational needs or an Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan, or receives Disability Living Allowance, they will also be entitled to 570 hours of free childcare a year or 15 hours a week over 38 weeks.

Local authorities must find and fund enough free childcare places for parents in your area. They are also expected to help make sure there is as much flexibility as possibility over how you access the 15 hours of free childcare a week.

This childcare is only free if the provider is registered with Ofsted. The local authority may decide only to fund childcare if the provider has been found by Ofsted to be outstanding or good or if you’re using a childminder, if the childminder agency has found them to be effective. You can find out what free childcare is available in your area by going to the GOV.UK website. Unless the provider is registered with Ofsted, you will not be able to use your free childcare entitlement with a nanny, au pair, home carer or family member.

The Government has published guidance for local authorities on free childcare: Early Education and Childcare: Statutory guidance for local authorities.

If your child is aged three or four and you get certain benefits (such as income support), the childcare provider may be eligible for additional funding, through what’s called the Early Years Pupil Premium.

If you have any concerns, try discussing it with the manager of the childcare facility. In most cases, you should be able to resolve any problems with them directly. Depending on the type of childcare, they may have a complaints policy.

If this doesn’t address your concern or your concern is urgent, you can contact Ofsted directly or, if you are using a registered childminder, the childminder agency.

You can also get advice from your Local Information, Advice and Support Service or contact our Freephone Helpline.

If your complaint is about the range of childcare services available in your area, you can complain to the local authority. Your local authority website should have information about how you can do this.

The Childcare for Families with Disabled Children: How to access free childcare for two to four-year-olds resource by Contact, Every Disabled Child Matters, Family and Childcare Trust and Irwin Mitchell Solicitors has template letters that you can use to challenge a childcare provider or a local authority that is refusing to provide support.