Early childhood is a crucial period in a child’s development, where they begin to explore the world and lay the foundation for future learning. In the United Kingdom, preschool and nursery age children are provided with an environment that promotes their holistic growth and prepares them for formal education. In this blog post, we will delve into the significance of nursery education in the UK, highlighting its benefits, curriculum, and the role it plays in shaping young minds.

Understanding Nursery Age in the UK:

Nursery education in the UK typically lasts 30 hours and caters to children and babies aged between three and five years old. It is considered an essential stepping stone before entering primary school. Nursery schools and settings provide a supportive and stimulating environment that focuses on children’s social, emotional, physical, and cognitive development.

Benefits of Nursery Education:

Social Development:

offer opportunities for children to interact with their peers, fostering social skills and cooperation. Through activities such as group play, sharing, and communication, children learn to build relationships and develop empathy.

Emotional Development:

Nurseries provide a nurturing space for children to express their emotions and learn how to manage them effectively. Qualified staff members provide guidance and support, helping children develop resilience and self-regulation skills.

Cognitive Development:

Nursery settings offer a structured curriculum that encourages cognitive growth through play-based activities. Children engage in early numeracy and literacy experiences, problem-solving tasks, and creative play, laying the foundation for future academic success.

Physical Development:

Nurseries promote physical well-being by providing opportunities for children to engage in outdoor play, develop fine motor skills, and participate in physical activities that enhance their coordination and gross motor skills.

Curriculum in UK Nursery Education:

Nursery education in the UK follows the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) framework, which sets standards for the learning, development, and care of children from birth to five years old. The EYFS framework focuses on seven areas of learning and development:

Communication and Language:

Nurseries and schools encourage language development through conversation, storytime, and language-rich activities, enabling children to express themselves effectively.

Physical Development:

Physical activities, including outdoor play, fine motor skills development, and healthy eating practices, are integrated into the nursery curriculum to support children’s physical development.

Personal, Social, and Emotional Development:

Nurseries prioritize emotional well-being, self-confidence, and respect for others. Children learn to manage their feelings, make friends, and develop a positive self-identity.


Nurseries introduce early literacy skills through engaging activities such as storytelling, reading, mark-making, and phonics awareness, preparing children for their journey into reading and writing.


Basic numeracy skills, including counting, recognizing shapes, and understanding patterns, are introduced in a playful manner to develop children’s mathematical understanding.

Understanding the World:

Children are encouraged to explore and understand the world around them through various activities, including nature walks, science experiments, and cultural celebrations, fostering curiosity and a sense of belonging.

Expressive Arts and Design:

Nurseries promote creativity and self-expression through art, music, dance, and imaginative play. These activities enhance children’s imagination and develop their fine motor skills.

Role of Nursery Education:

Nursery education plays a pivotal role in laying a strong foundation for children’s lifelong learning. It fosters a love for learning, helps children develop essential skills, and prepares them for the transition to primary school. Nursery settings provide a supportive environment where children can thrive, building confidence and independence. Moreover, nursery education contributes to narrowing the achievement gap, as it helps children from disadvantaged backgrounds catch up with their peers by providing equal opportunities for learning and development.

What is the compulsory school age?

Though most children start school at the age of four, the compulsory school age, defined by the government, is the date of the start of term after their fifth birthday, so this could be in September, after Christmas, or after Easter. However, the majority of children start at the beginning of the school year in September. At GDST schools, it is recommended that children join at the beginning of the school year in September, the typical day after their fourth or fifth birthday. Your child must legally be in education full-time starting school or in the school term after their fifth birthday. This means attending a school, receiving suitable home education, or a mixture of both.opment.

What age is best to send your child to school?

The age that children are entitled to a full time school place is earlier than the compulsory age. It is typical in the UK for many parents not to make use of this entitlement and start their children’s education at the earliest date. This gives them more time to acclimatize to the school environment and meet new friends. This is a decision for parents to make, but government advice is that “the majority of children will thrive in reception aged four ” Even if you send your child to school later, you should apply to their school at the designated time..

What is early-years education?

Years of education prior to age five are sometimes called pre-school, nursery, early-years education, or the early years’ foundation stage (EYFS).

The reception class of a primary school is included as part of the EYFS. The Early Years Foundation Stage ends when a child enters Year 1, which is also the first year of Key Stage 1.

Sending your child to school at this age is not compulsory. However, it gives your child a chance to practice social skills, play and be exposed to new experiences that they might not be at home. It also prepares them for further schooling at the primary/prep school level.

How do I apply for my child to start school?

Applications to a state school depend on the local council/local authority. You must apply between September and January, the year before your child is entitled to start school. Applications to an independent school differ depending on the school you want to apply to. You should contact the school directly to learn more. Your child’s individual and many be required to complete an age-appropriate assessment

High School Graduation

Students in the UK will usually commence their final year, Year 13, at the age of 17 or 18 years old. At the end of the school year most students are 18 years old when they graduate. Use the tool above to calculate the most ages and year of high school graduation, noting students will finish the year after they commence their final year.

Admission into Pre School

Across all countries in the UK children may attend preschool prior to entry into the public schooling system, known as nursery or kindergarten.

Nursery is operated in childcare centers, crèches, day nurseries, kindergartens or playgroups. These are run independently and are not part of the formal Government education system.

All countries in the UK have some form of government funding or subsidy available to pay for preschool and early learning. Pre-school is not mandatory but is taken up by the majority of students.

In England, any child who has turned 3 by September 1st is provided free childcare or preschool for 15 hours per week, up to two drop in sessions for 38 weeks a year, paid for by the government. Data suggests that by age of 4, 99 percent of children in Great Britain have started reception.

Admission into Primary School


The first year in primary school is reception, with most children commencing in September in the year after the child has turned four. This means that the child must have turned four by the 1st of September to commence in that year. If the child is born between September to Dec they will then start reception in the following year. Following reception year, primary school then runs from Year 1 through to Year 6.

There are several variations to the standard entry age, exclusively for England as outlined below.

Delayed Entry

Children born between April and August, known as ‘summer born’ children, may apply to delay entry into school until the following year and start in September after they reach compulsory school age and turn five. The rules around delaying the year of entry are somewhat ambiguous as the child can either start in reception or move straight into Grade 1, and this is usually determined by the local admissions board. The legislation around this is currently under review by the government but no outcome has been finalized at this stage.

Deferred Entry

Parents may also choose to defer their child’s entry into school to start mid way through the first year. The latest point at which the child can start is one week after the start of the school term following their fifth birthday. This is known as the compulsory school age, where once the child is 5 years old by either 31 December, 31 March or 31 August, they will start in the school term immediately following. In England and Wales, secondary education commences at Year 7, also known as first form, and runs through to Year 13, also known as sixth form, if the student is taking A levels. Entry into secondary school in the UK is not subject to distinct age requirements, and the entry follows the students’ progression out of the primary school system.

North Ireland

The first year of primary school in Northern Ireland is known as Primary 1, with children commencing in September who have turned four by the 1st of July in that year. Children turning four after 1 July will then start school the following year. Primary school grades in Northern Ireland run from P1 to P7.

Northern Ireland currently does not have an option to defer entry for children who are born close the July 1 cutoff date e.g. those born in May or June. In recent years the government has announced it is considering policy options for any child to defer the entry year into primary regardless of birth date but this has yet to be finalized.

In Northern Ireland, after primary children start school after holidays in 7, secondary school starts in Year 8 and runs to Year 14.


The first year of primary school in Scotland is known as Primary 1, with children starting school commencing in August three children who have turned five by the 1st of March in that year. Children turning five after 1st of March will commence school in the following year. Scotland does have a deferral policy for younger children. Any child born in January and February can apply and will automatically be granted a deferral to the following year if they request it. In this case they will automatically be granted funding for an additional year in nursery. Meanwhile parents of children born between the start of the autumn term (usually August) to the end of December can apply for a deferred entry, but the outcome is at the discretion of the admissions board and is not guaranteed. In Scotland, after primary year 7, secondary school runs from S1 (Secondary 1) and runs through to S6 (Secondary 6).


The Welsh schooling system closely mirrors that of England. First year of primary school in Wales is reception, with the start of compulsory school age for children’s centers commencing in September in the year after the child has turned four. This means that the child must have turned four by 1 September in that year. Following reception year, primary school then runs from Year 1 through to Year 6. In Wales, secondary education commences at Year 7, also known as first form, and runs through to Year 13, also known as sixth form, if the student is taking A levels.

The Early Years Foundation Stage

the Early Years Foundation Stage framework in the UK lays the groundwork for children’s learning, development, and well-being during their early years. It provides a holistic approach that addresses all aspects of a child’s growth and prepares them for a successful transition to primary school. By focusing on key areas of learning and providing a nurturing environment, the EYFS framework ensures that children have the best possible start in life.

What age do children start school in the UK?

In the UK, children must legally attend school from their fourth birthday until the age of five. However, most children start education in a family home even before they are five years old, attending nursery and then reception (the first year of primary school).


Nursery education in the UK plays a vital role in shaping young minds, providing a strong foundation for future learning and personal growth. By nurturing social, emotional, physical, and cognitive development, nurseries prepare children to thrive in the formal education system and become well-rounded individuals. The Early Years Foundation Stage framework ensures that children receive a comprehensive curriculum that promotes holistic development. Investing in nursery education is investing in the future of our children, enabling them to reach their full potential and become active contributors to society. most other parents h