Pre-school childcare

A variety of childcare options for pre-school age children are available in Oxford and are outlined below. 

See Oxfordshire County Council’s website for the different childcare options available in your area. 

Nurseries (0 - 4 year olds)

Nurseries provide childcare throughout the year, and are open during working hours, which can be any time from 7:30am until 6:00pm.

Nurseries are popular, so they can be oversubscribed and there is often a waiting list for a place. The availability of places may depend on the age of the child, and on your working patterns. Some nurseries offer part-time places, but only for fixed days, so it is worth bearing this in mind if you are negotiating with your employer to return to work part-time. It is advisable to apply for a nursery place as early as possible; in many cases parents do so before the child is born - you can apply once you know your 'due date'. A deposit may be payable on application. It might be beneficial to apply for places at a few different nurseries.

Nursery costs in the UK are relatively high compared to other countries. However, there are various financial support mechanisms in place (see the ‘Childcare costs and sources of funding' section below).


Childminders care for your child in their own home and tend to work on a self-employed basis. This might be a good option if you prefer your child to be cared for in a less formal, ‘family’ environment. Childminders can often offer flexible hours of care that may be less restrictive than those offered by a nursery.

A childminder can care for a maximum of six children under eight years old, of which usually no more than three may be under the age of five, and no more than one of these may be under one (although exceptions may be granted, eg, for twins).

It is a legal requirement for a childminder to be registered and inspected by Ofsted.

Pre-schools (playgroups)

Pre-schools (also known as ‘playgroups’) provide opportunities for play, childcare and early years educational sessions for children aged two to four years.

Pre-schools tend to be based on school sites or in Community Centres, and most are only open during school term-times. The opening hours and fees vary, with many playgroups offering morning or afternoon sessions only.

Childcare at your home              

You can employ a nanny, au pair or a babysitter to provide childcare in your own home. They are not required to register with Ofsted, so you might wish to consider how to check their background and take up references before offering a position.

If you have a disabled child you may wish to consider a ‘home childcarer’, who is registered with Ofsted; click here for more information.


Crèches provide ad-hoc childcare on a short-term basis. In the UK, a crèche refers to a temporary childcare setting. Your children can be looked after in a crèche for a limited number of hours while you do something else. Crèches are often found in leisure centres (gyms) and shopping centres. Some are linked to adult learning or children's centres.

The age range cared for, opening times and fees will vary according to the provider.


Finding childcare in Oxford


The University of Oxford offers a comprehensive childcare service, with more nursery places available than any other Russell Group institution. Quality childcare at affordable prices is available for eligible members of staff and student parents in and around Oxford. There are five University nurseries: Bradmore Road, Mansion House, Jack Straws Lane, Woodstock Road, and the Triangle Nursery, as well as University-supported places at nine community nurseries across Oxfordshire.

For full details including how to apply and the costs, please visit the Childcare Services web pages. Please be aware that demand for the University’s nursery provision is high and there is a long waiting list.

Some of the colleges run their own nurseries (Balliol, Somerville, St Anne’s, St John’s and Wolfson colleges). If you are a member of one of these colleges your application for a place at your college nursery will be given priority. However, many of the college nurseries accept applications from members of other colleges.

There are many other childcare providers and just under 50 nurseries in and around Oxford. Details can be found on the Oxfordshire County Council website, where you can search for childcare providers based on your location.

University staff can register with My Family Care to access childcare for emergencies or school holiday cover.

Childcare costs and sources of funding

Costs of pre-school childcare will vary depending on the type of childcare and provider (nanny, childminder, nursery). Nursery costs for a full time place (Monday-Friday) can typically vary between £880 and £1,200 per month.

All children are eligible for 15 hours hours per week of Nursery Education Funding, for 38 weeks of the year, from the term after their third birthday. Please contact the specific childcare provider for details, or see the Local Authority information on free early education for three-to-four year olds.Some families may qualify for additional hours up to a total of 30 hours per child per week, and/or for free early education for two-year-olds.  

The University also offers a salary sacrifice scheme (subject to eligibility) and a childcare voucher scheme (subject to availability) for staff members using one of the University nurseries. Further information on both schemes can be found on the Childcare Services web pages.

See also the information on ‘Fees and Funding’ on the University's Childcare Services web pages.

2018 update: Childcare voucher schemes will close to new entrants in April 2018, to be replaced by a new 'tax-free childcare' scheme. If you are eligible for both schemes, the Childcare Choices website includes a handy calculator to find out which scheme would be better in your particular circumstances.

Children's centres and toddler groups 

If you decide childcare provided by a third party is not right for you, there are other ways you can meet other children

  • Toddler groups cover music education, creative sessions, physical exercise and many other activities
  • The Oxford University Newcomers’ Club organises a parent and toddler group where you can meet other Newcomers and find lots of helpful advice about living in Oxford with children (please register with the Newcomers' Club before attending this group)
  • Oxfordshire Children’s Centres are a free and great way to interact with others
  • Community Centres offer group activities, social support, and public information. You do not have to be a local resident to attend. Some of these centres offer short-term learning courses at affordable prices.

You also might like to have a look at these parenting organisations that offer activities for your children and parents.

External sources, such as Netmums and Daily Info can sometimes be a useful online forum for finding local information on activities, playgroups, parenting support and much more.

Disclaimer: Please note that the University does not endorse any of the external websites listed above, or elsewhere in this guidance.