Offaly County Childcare Committee -   057 9135878

ECCE (Free Pre-School Year)

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

The ECCE programme is 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. In general, each eligible child is entitled to one free pre-school year. Certain children with special needs may avail of a pro-rata provision over two years, provided they fulfil certain conditions (please see the section ‘Children with special needs’ below.)

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

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 3 years 2 months and 4 years 7 months on 1st September 2015 to the 30th June 2016.  From September 2016 the programme is open to all children aged between 3 years untill they start in primary school (once the child is not older than 5 years and 6 months at the end of the pre-school year).

The following table outlines the age criteria for eligibility for the ECCE (Free Pre-School Year) Programme for the coming Preschool years:-

To avail of the ECCE Programme during the Pre-School Year
2015 - 2016
Children must have been born between the following dates
(Both dates inclusive)
1st September 2015 to 30th June 2016 2nd February 2011 and 30th June 2012

To avail of the ECCE Programme during the Pre-School Year
2016 - 2017
Children must have been born between the following dates
(Both dates inclusive)
1st September 2016 to 30th June 2017 1st January 2012 and 31st August 2013
1st January 2017 to 30th June 2017 1st January 2012 and 31st December 2013
1st April 2017 and 30th June 2017 1st January 2012 and 31st March 2014

To avail of the ECCE Programme during the Pre-School Year
 2017 - 2018
Children must have been born between the following dates
(Both dates inclusive)
1st September 2017 to 30th June 2018 1st January 2013 and 31st August 2014
1st January 2018 to 30th June 2018 1st January 2013 and 31st December 2014
1st April 2018 to 30th June 2018 1st January 2013 and 31st March 2015

Are there any exceptions to the age-related eligibility rule?

There are no exceptions to the lower age limit. For the Pre-school year 2015/2016 the upper age limit of 4 years 6 months may be extended where a child is not in a position to commence primary school until s/he is more than 5 years 6 months of age, due either to the enrolment policy of the local school, or because s/he has been assessed as developmentally delayed. Applications for an extension of the upper age limit will be examined on a case-by-case basis. Please note that under the Education and Welfare Act 2000 all children must be enrolled in a primary school by the time they reach their 6th birthday.

From September 2016 there are no exceptions to the lower age limit or the upper age limit.  An exception may be made for children with special needs where deemed appropriate.

Children with Special Needs

Where a child has been assessed by the Health Services Executive, or treating consultant, as having special needs, which will either delay his/her entry to primary school or make it more suitable that he/she avails of the pre-school year on a pro-rata basis over two years, this will be examined on a case-by-case basis. In such cases, the child may avail of the ECCE free pre-school year, for example, for two days in the first year and three days in the second year, or vice versa. 

From September 2016, a new model - ‘Supporting Access to Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Programme for Children with a Disability’ – will be in place. This model will provide for the inclusion of children with a disability in the free pre-school programme, including the provision of exemptions where deemed appropriate. Further details in relation to this model will be available in early 2016.

Where can I enrol my child for the free pre-school year?

There are nearly 5,000 pre-school services notified to the Health Service Executive or registered with the Irish Montessori Educational Board. All of these services are eligible to apply to participate in the ECCE programme. A list of participating pre-school services is available from Offaly County Childcare Committee. Parents can contact participating services in their area to arrange to enrol their child.

How many free pre-school weeks will my child be entitled to?

The maximum number of free pre-school weeks to which a child is entitled will depend on their date of birth, and the age at which they start primary school. The following table sets out the maximum number of weeks to which a child will be entitled, depending on these circumstances:

Birth Month
Enrolment Month
Maximum No of Weeks
Start School Age 4
Start School Age 5
Januray - March
April - August
September - December

*As the child would turn 5 ½ years by the 30th June they cannot enrol for the free-pre-school on the third rolling intake i.e. the child starts the first year in January and enrols again in the September but cannot enrol for a third time the next September. 

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 may also be asked to provide documentary evidence of these details (a copy of the child’s birth certificate or passport, 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 Payment 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? 

The pre-school programme is normally delivered for 3 hours per 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. Where the free Pre-School Year is provided in a Creche or full day-care setting, it will generally consist of a daily session of two hours and fifteen minutes duration, five days per week over 50 weeks of the year. The service will be paid €59.78 per week by the DCYA for each pre-school place. Parents of participating children who are paying for full or part-time daycaremust be given a reduction in their daycare fees of €59.78 per week by the Creche facility. The parent then pays the balance of fees.  

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

Can a child availing of the ECCE programme move to another pre-school during the pre-school year? 

A child can be moved from one pre-school to another during the pre-school year. Parents should note however, that the pre-school from which the child is being moved must be given four pre-school weeks advance notice of such a move. Where a child is moved and no notice has been given, the original service will be paid four weeks capitation in lieu of notice and the parent will have to pay the pre-school fees for the following four pre-school weeks in the new service. 

ECCE Child Registration Form

Guide to the ECCE Programme & Administrative Procedures 2014

Frequently Asked Questions