ECCE Scheme

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Frequently Asked Questions in Relation to Early  Childhood Care and Education Scheme(ECCE):

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

The Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Scheme provides early childhood care and education for children of pre-school age. From September 2016, children are eligible for the ECCE scheme if they are aged over 3 years and not older than 5 and a half years.

The State pays a capitation fee to participating playschools and daycare services. In return, they provide a pre-school service free of charge to all children within the qualifying age range for a set number of hours over a set period of weeks (see ‘How the ECCE scheme is provided’ below).

When will my child be eligible to participate in the ECCE programme?

From September 2016, children will be able to start ECCE when they reach 3 years of age and continue until they transfer to primary school (provided that they are not older than 5 years and 6 months at the end of the pre-school year). This is an increase in the number of weeks than previously available on the ECCE scheme. Children will be able to enroll in pre-school at 3 different points (September, January and April) in the school year in order to access the scheme. The school year is normally from September to June.

Childcare Committees Ireland provides an eligibility calendar showing when your child can participate in the ECCE programme (pdf).

You can find a list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about the extended ECCE scheme (pdf) on the website of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs.

Exemptions from age limit

If your child is over the eligibility age requirement due to special needs they may be able to get an exemption from the upper age limit for the ECCE Scheme.

There are no exemptions to the lower age limit.

Children with special needs

A new Access and Inclusion Model (AIM) was introduced on the 15 June 2016 for children starting ECCE in September 2016. AIM supports a child-centred model, involving seven levels of progressive support, moving from universal to the targeted, based on the needs of the child and the pre-school provider. The model will offer tailored, practical supports based on need.

Levels 1 – 3 of the model involve a suite of universal supports which are designed to promote and support an inclusive culture within pre-school settings by means of educational and capacity-building initiatives for providers and practitioners. Where a pre-school service provider, in partnership with a parent, considers that some further additional support may be necessary to meet the needs of a particular child, they can apply for one or more additional targeted supports under levels 4 – 7 of the model.

Additional targeted supports could take the form of expert early childhood care and educational advice and mentoring (level 4), specialised equipment, appliances and minor alterations (level 5), therapeutic supports (level 6) or additional capitation to fund extra assistance in the ECCE pre-school room (level 7).

When you have identified a pre-school for your child, your service provider, in consultation with you, will consider what supports may be needed to ensure your child’s participation in pre-school.

Where it is considered that your child needs additional support, your pre-school service provider can apply, in partnership with you, for targeted supports under AIM.

The AIM website provides information for Parents and Frequently Asked Questions on supports available. Your local City or County Childcare Committee will also be able to provide you with information and guidance on AIM.

How is the Pre-School Year funded?
Pre-School services participating in the programme are paid a capitation fee 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).  In return, the service is required to provide an appropriate programme of activities in early childhood care and education free to parents.

How will the Pre-School Year be provided?
Children will normally receive pre-school year sessions for 3 hours a day, 5 days a week, over 38 weeks (September to June).  

Will parents have to pay additional charges in respect of the Pre-School Year?
Services participating in the programme must provide the pre-school year free 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.

What are Síolta and Aistear?
Síolta and Aistear are the National Frameworks for Early Learning which support services for children aged from birth to 6 years.  Detailed information can be found at and framework.

If you would like further information regarding the ECCE programme please contact us by clicking this link.