The ECCE Scheme

The ECCE is a scheme designed to give children access to a free Preschool Year of appropriate programme-based activities in the year before they start primary school. Participation in a preschool 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 preschool are more likely to be ready for school and a formal learning and social environment.

The ECCE Scheme

What is the ECCE scheme?

The Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Scheme provides early childhood care and education for children of pre-school age. The scheme is offered in early years settings (pre-schools, Montessori’s, creches, playgroups) for 3 hours a day, 5 days a week, 38 weeks of the year.

All children are entitled to 2 full academic years on the ECCE scheme.

Children are eligible to start the ECCE scheme in the September of the year that they turn 3 years old. For example, a child turning 3 years old in 2019 can be registered on the ECCE scheme in September 2019.

Check your child’s ECCE eligibility on the ECCE calculator here


Eligible age range

To avail of the ECCE programme with effect from

Children must have been born between the following dates (both dates inclusive)

September 2017 – June 2018

1st January 2013 – 31st August 2014

January 2018 – June 2018

 1st January 2013 –  31st December 2014

April 2018 – June 2018

1st January 2013 – 30th March 2015

September 2018 – June 2019

1st January 2014 – 31st December 2015

September 2019 – June 2020

1st January 2015 – 31st December 2016

September 2020 – June 2021

1st January 2016 – 31st December 2017

For a downloadable pdf version of this information please click here.

The Department of Children and Youth Affairs sets the age eligibility and funds the scheme. The funding is provided directly to early years settings for children that they have registered on the ECCE scheme. Parents can contact their local County Childcare Committee with any questions they have about the ECCE scheme.


How do I find a pre-school setting?

There are almost 5000 pre-schools running the ECCE free pre-school year. You may have a recommendation from a friend or you might have an idea of the type of pre-school you want to send your child to. Here are some tips for finding a pre-school:

  • We also have outlined a number of practical steps you can take to ensure that you make the best possible choice for your child : Making the Choice


Booking your child’s free pre-school place

Most settings will have either a waiting list or an enrolment procedure. When you have made your decision, make contact with them and fill in a booking form.

A large number of settings require a booking deposit to secure the place which will be refunded once your child’s place has been verified by Department of Children and Youth Affairs.

When your child starts, the setting will ask you to complete a declaration form confirming your child’s details and this is sent to the Department of Children and Youth Affairs who will then fund your child’s place.


Getting ready for Preschool

We have developed a free guide for parents to help their child with the transition to preschool:
Going to Preschool Leaflet


Children with Additional Needs – Access and Inclusion Model (AIM)

The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Dr Katherine Zappone TD, has introduced a new model to enable children with disabilities to access and fully participate in the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Programme.

The Access and Inclusion Model (AIM) is 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. Further information is available at Access Inclusion Model website and Access and Inclusion Model (AIM) – Information and Contact Leaflet.


Overage exemption for ECCE scheme

The overage exemption option only applies to children with additional needs.

Following the decision in December 2017 to allow for a consultation process on proposed changes to the rules on overage exemptions in the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) programme, the Minister has acted to address concerns raised by some parents who are facing imminent choices about their children’s education.

This means that parents of children born over autumn months (i.e. from September to December) can defer their children’s start date from September 2018 (when the child will be between 2 year 8 months and 2 years 11 months) to September 2019 (when the child will be between 3 year 8 months and 3 years 11 months) and continue to avail of 2 full years of the ECCE Programme (or 76 consecutive ECCE weeks). As a consequence, an exemption to the upper age limit in the ECCE Programme will be maintained for this cohort for this period of time.

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