Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE)

What is the free Pre-School Year in Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE)?

The ECCE is a scheme designed to give children access to a free Pre-School Year of appropriate programme-based activities in the year before they start primary school. Participation in a pre-school programme provides children with their first formal experience of early learning, the starting-point of their educational and social development outside the home. Children who avail of pre-school are more likely to be ready for school and a formal learning and social environment.

Will my child be eligible?

Childcare services participating in the programme are required to provide age-appropriate activities and programmes to children within a particular age cohort, and therefore it is necessary to set minimum and maximum limits to the age range for qualifying children.

The ECCE programme is open to all children aged between 2 years 8 months and 5 years 6 months on 1st September each year. (Children aged more than 2 years 8 months and less than 5years 6 months of 1st September each year are accepted as qualifying.) To avail of the programme from September 2013, children must have been born between 2nd February 2009 and 30th June 2010. See our ECCE calculator at the bottom of this page.

The upper age limit of 4 years 6 months may be be extended in the following circumstances; Children with Special Needs: Parents may apply for a waiver of the upper age limit or else to avail of the pre-school year on a pro-rata basis over two years on the grounds that their child has special needs. This must be applied for in writing to the Childcare Directorate in the Department of Children and Youth Affairs.

School Admission Policy: The upper age limit of 4 years 6 months may be extended where your child may not be able to start primary school due to local schools admission policy on the condition that the child has not previously availed of the free pre-school year. Applications will be considered on a case by case basis

Check your child's eligibility

The Table below shows eligibility for ECCE by year of birth.

Where can I enrol my child for the free Pre-School Year?

Almost every pre-school service is participating in the scheme. A list of services in your area can be obtained from your local City and County Childcare Committee. Parents can contact services in their area to arrange for enrolment. If your child is already attending a pre-school service, whether it is a playschool or a full or part-time daycare service, you can also ask the service provider if they are participating in the scheme. The pre-school session is a 3 hour session usually in the morning or afternoon.

How is the Pre-School Year funded?

Pre-School services participating in the programme are paid a capitation fee of €64.50 for each qualifying child enrolled. Pre-school services are required to notify the Department of the details of each child enrolled in the programme, so you will be asked by the pre-school service in which your child is enrolled to complete a form which includes your child’s date of birth and Personal Public Service Number (PPSN). You will also be asked to provide documentary evidence of these details (a copy of the child’s birth certificate and a copy of official proof of the child’s PPSN which can taken the form of a copy of an official document or card showing the child’s name and PPSN, e.g. a Drug Repayment Scheme card, a Medical Card, or a letter from the Department of Social Protection). The pre-school service is then required to complete an electronic return to verify that all details are correct. In return, the service is required to provide an appropriate programme of activities in early childhood care and education free to parents.

How is the Pre-School Year provided?

Children will normally receive pre-school year sessions for 3 hours a day, 5 days a week, over 38 weeks (September to June). The weekly capitation fee for these sessions is €64.50. If you choose to enrol your child for fewer than 5 days per week, the capitation fee payable to the provider will be reduced on a pro-rata basis.

Do parents have to pay additional charges to the service for the free Pre-School Year?

Services participating in the programme must provide the pre-school year free of charge to parents. However, a service may charge parents for additional services as long as (a) the services are provided on an optional basis and (b) appropriate programme-based activities are provided to any children not participating in an optional activity. Optional additional services can take the form of various activities or services such as outings, specific teaching resources such as dance or music, and food, but should not include activities which would generally be regarded as a normal part of a pre-school service, e.g. general arts and crafts activities. Services may also charge for any additional hours outside of the free pre-school provision. Additional services or additional hours must be offered to parents on a purely optional basis and take-up of these options must not a condition (real or implied) of enrolment in the pre-school service.

Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth

For further information on the ECCE Programme including the Rules for ECCE Programme, Valid for the 2023/2024 Programme Year and Information on Minimum Enrolment Exemptions: Click Here