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Early Childhood Ireland welcomes news 800,000 children have benefited from ECCE programme

May 8, 2019

For immediate release
8 May 2019


Early Childhood Ireland welcomes news 800,000 children have benefited from ECCE programme
Representative body urges extension of this vital scheme to 52 weeks, as part of wider increased investment in staff


Early Childhood Ireland has welcomed figures showing that 800,000 children have benefited from the ECCE preschool programme since 2010. The figures were released yesterday by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs.

Early Childhood Ireland welcomes these figures as highly significant. The widespread uptake of the ECCE scheme has contributed to a growing awareness of the importance of the early years in children’s lives and development.

However, the figures also underline the need to significantly increase investment in early years to support providers and staff. This is urgently needed to address the ongoing staffing crisis in the sector, central to which are low pay and precarious working conditions.

Many early years professionals, employed on 38-week contracts that reflect the current period of the ECCE programme, are forced to sign on for social welfare payments during the summer. Early Childhood Ireland strongly advocates that, as part of wider increases in investment, and similar to the forthcoming National Childcare Scheme, the ECCE scheme be extended to a 52-week programme.

Commenting, Frances Byrne, Director of Policy at Early Childhood Ireland, said, ‘The figures released by the DCYA tell a bittersweet story. It is hugely heartening to see that 800,000 children have benefited from the ECCE scheme since its introduction. The programme has been instrumental in bringing awareness to the importance of children’s earliest years, and the need to ensure high-quality, inclusive learning experiences.’

Ms. Byrne continued, ‘However, this awareness has not been matched by increased investment in early years professionals. While some important progress has been made in recent years, a very serious staffing crisis remains. The skill and expertise of the early years workforce is integral in ensuring universal quality experiences for children.’

Ms. Byrne concluded, ‘These figures acknowledge the benefits of quality early learning experiences for children. We must also acknowledge the need to ensure professionals are fully supported to deliver those experiences. Increased investment, including the extension of the ECCE programme to 52 weeks, is key.’



For media enquiries, please contact Grace Duffy on 086 144 8768.


Note to editors

Frances Byrne, Director of Policy and Advocacy at Early Childhood Ireland, is available for interview and comment.

Early Childhood Ireland is the largest organisation in the early years sector. It represents 3,800 childcare members, who support over 100,000 children and their families through preschool, afterschool, and full day-care provision nationwide.

Ireland invests approximately 0.2% GDP in the early years sector[1]. This is significantly below the OECD average of 0.8% GDP, and the UNICEF international benchmark of 1% GDP. Leading countries in this area (such as the Nordic countries) invest between 1.2% and 1.9% GDP in the sector[2].

The ECCE scheme (Early Childhood Care and Education scheme, also known as the ‘free preschool year’) was launched in January 2010. Originally, it entitled families to 38 weeks of preschool education. This has since been increased so that families are entitled to 76 weeks.

Figures released by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs on 7 May 2019 show that 800,000 children have participated in the scheme since it was launched. The figures further show an estimated uptake rate of 95%.


[1] Please see page 193, note 245 in ‘First 5: A Whole-of-Government Strategy for Babies, Young Children, and Their Families 2019-2028’.

[2] ‘Education at a Glance’, OECD Indicators, 2015.

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