The Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Scheme provides a free year of early childhood care and education for children of pre-school age. In general, children are eligible for the ECCE scheme if they are aged between 3 years 2 months and 4 years 7 months on 1 September of the year that they will be starting. The upper age limit can be extended in some cases – see ‘Rules’ below.
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).
In general, children only qualify for ECCE in one school year. However, a child who has been assessed as having a disability may be able to spread their free pre-school year over 2 years - see 'Children with special needs' below.
Eligible age range
In general, children are eligible for the ECCE scheme if they are aged between 3 years 2 months and 4 years 7 months on 1 September of the year that they will be starting. This means that children born between 2 February 2007 and 30 June 2008 (both these dates included) are eligible to take part in the scheme for the school year 2011/2012.
For the year starting in September 2012, children born between 2 February 2008 and 30 June 2009 (both these dates included) will be eligible.
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. You should write to the Department of Children and Youth Affairs seeking an exemption from the age limit (see ‘How to apply’ below).
If your local primary school’s entry age policy requires children to be aged over 5 years and 7 months before starting school, you can also apply to the Department for an exemption from the upper age limit.
You should send your application for an exemption as soon as possible.
How the ECCE scheme is provided
The pattern of hours of free pre-school education depends on the type of service that your child attends and the weekly pattern that the service operates. The various types of service are described in our document on childcare options.
If your child attends a half-day or “sessional” service, such as a playschool, naíonra, Montessori or parent and toddler group, the normal pattern for the free pre-school year is 3 hours a day, 5 days a week, over 38 weeks. If your child attends for more than 3 hours, you will be charged for the extra time.
If your child’s sessional service cannot open for 5 days a week, the normal pattern for the free pre-school year is 3 hours and 30 minutes a day, 4 days a week, over 41 weeks.
If your child attends a full-time or part-time daycare service, the normal pattern for the free pre-school year is 2 hours and 15 minutes per day over 50 weeks. If your child attends for longer than this each day, you will be charged for the extra time.
To facilitate parents whose children attend a full or part-time service for only 3 days a week, such a service can opt to provide 3 daily free pre-school sessions of 3 hours 45 minutes each week over 50 weeks.
Content and quality of service
Childcare services taking part in the ECCE scheme must provide an appropriate pre-school educational programme which adheres to the principles of Síolta
, the national framework for early years care and education. Síolta co-ordinators and staff of the local City/County Childcare Committee (CCC) will support participating services with assistive visits and advice.
There are general terms and conditions for the ECCE scheme and a leaflet for parents on the website of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. There is also an Information Note outlining the detail of the age limits.
Children with special needs
When the scheme was first set up, a second pre-school year was allowed, as an exceptional measure, for children with severe disabilities who would benefit from an additional period in a mainstream pre-school setting. This provision has been discontinued.
Instead of this, if your child has been assessed as having a disability and would benefit from attending pre-school for 2/3 days a week rather than 5 days each week, they can be allowed to spread their free pre-school year over a 2-year period. For example, a child with special needs may attend a pre-school service for 2 days per week in the first year and 3 days per week in the subsequent year.
You will need to provide supporting documentation when applying for this type of arrangement - see 'How to apply' .
There is no charge to parents for the playschool or daycare hours provided under the ECCE scheme. The State capitation fee pays the playschool or daycare service to provide these ECCE hours. However, if your child attends for extra hours, you will have to pay for these extra hours in the normal way.
A service may charge parents for extra activities. However, these must be optional and the service must provide other appropriate activities to children who don’t take part in the optional activity being charged for.
The service may ask you for a booking deposit, which cannot be more than twice the weekly capitation fee (see below). Any deposit you pay must be repaid to you by the end of September of the year your child starts.
Capitation rates for service providers
For providers of daycare services, the weekly capitation fee is €48.50 over 50 weeks.
For providers of sessional services, the weekly capitation fee is generally €64.50 over 38 weeks. This will reduce to €62.50 from September 2012.
Sessional playschools with more highly qualified staff may be able to qualify for a higher capitation fee of €75 per week. This will reduce to €73 from September 2012.
How to apply
To get a place for your child, apply to a participating playschool or daycare centre. You can get a list of participating services from your local City or County Childcare Committee (CCC) – see ‘Where to apply’ below.
You will need to provide your child's PPS number
and a copy of their birth certificate.
To get an exemption from the upper age limit, write to the Department of Children and Youth Affairs seeking an exemption – see ‘Where to apply’ below.
If your child is over the age limit due to special needs, you should enclose a copy of an assessment of need from the HSE or else an assessment by a consultant. A letter from a GP will not be enough to get an exemption for your child.
If your child is over the age limit due to the local primary school’s entry age policy, you must enclose a letter from the school principal, specifying their entry age policy and the enrolment of the children in their school.
To request a spreading of the ECCE year over a 2-year period for a child with a disability, write to the Department enclosing a recent and detailed assessment report from the HSE. Where for good reason an assessment report from the HSE is not available, an assessment report from the treating consultant will be accepted. A letter from a GP will not be enough to get an exemption for your child.