Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Scheme

The Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Scheme, introduced by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs (DCYA) in January 2010, ensured that all children could avail of one year of free pre-school, before they entered primary school.

In September 2016, the ECCE Scheme was expanded to allow children to start pre-school from the age of 3 years and continue until they enter primary school.  It allowed for enrolment in pre-school at three different points in the year – September, January and April.

Budget 2018 brought further changes to the ECCE programme which came into effect in September 2018.  The January and April enrolment points were no longer available after April 2018.  Also, the minimum starting age from September 2018 is 2 years and 8 months.

See FAQs re Early Years Budget 2018 changes for details following the budget changes.

What is Free?

The ECCE programme year has 183 days, i.e. 3 hours per day, 5 days per week, for 38 weeks per year. The pre-school year generally runs in line with the primary school year, which is September to June.

From September 2018, children may avail of 76 weeks of pre-school over a 2 year period.

Who is Eligible?

Children may enter the ECCE Scheme from age 2 years and 8 months.  See below table.

Child born in  Eligible for 2 years’ ECCE from
2015 September 2018
2016 September 2019
2017 September 2020
2018 September 2021
2019 September 2022
Child born in 2014 may attend a 2nd year from September 2018

Use the ECCE Calculator to determine what year a child will be eligible

ECCE Calculator

Fees List and Service Calendar

The Early Years (Childcare) Service must provide the parent with a copy of the following:

Service Fees Information Letter –  This details how much the service charges full fee paying parents (i.e. parents of children not eligible for free ECCE) and the charges that are applied for children who attend part-time and full-time. It also shows if the service charges a deposit and/or optional extras.  Parents must sign the ‘Parental Acceptance’ at the end of the letter.

ECCE Calendar Letter – this states the first and last dates of the ECCE programme, and lists the dates on which the programme is open and closed.

Charges for Optional Extras

The service can charge for additional hours and optional extras such as school tours, but parents are not obliged to avail of these. If a service charges for optional extras, they must provide details in the Service Fees Information Letter.  The DCYA has listed the following as options which the service cannot charge for under the ECCE Scheme.

  • Booking Fees (N.B. A refundable booking deposit may be taken, but it must not exceed four weeks’ capitation, and must be refunded by the end of October where the child has attended the service and DCYA has confirmed the child’s eligibility for the programme)
  • Arts & Crafts materials
  • Worksheets
  • School trips which incur no cost (e.g. walking to a nearby park)
  • Report cards
  • Graduation diploma
  • Insurance
  • Claims to have higher quality, or to have lower staff ratios than other participating services
  • Different curricula
  • Unspecified “flexibility” in drop-off and collection times
  • Dancing (as opposed to programme-based dance instruction)
  • School plays/concerts
  • Anything which, in practice, is required for effective participation in the class

How to Apply

Subject to availability, children may enter the scheme in September once they are at least 2 years and 8 months of age. Parents contact an early years service which operates the ECCE Scheme (full list at bottom of each page on this website) and enroll their child. The service will provide them with a Registration Form. The service applies directly to the DCYA for a place for the child using the PIP System (Programme Implementation Platform) which checks the child’s date of birth against their PPSN, to ensure they are eligible. The service then prints a parental declaration form from the PIP System, for the parent to sign.

Age Exemptions – Children with Special Needs

Parents of children with disabilities are to be consulted on plans to change current rules of the free pre-school programme, according to the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Dr Katherine Zappone.  See Press Release Re ECCE Overage Exemptions 6 Dec 2017.

On the 5th March 2018, Minister Zappone announced further flexibility to overage exemptions to free pre-school programme pending outcome of consultation process. Read the full press release here.

Further details on AIM are available from www.aim.gov.ie

Transferring to a New Service

Parents can also transfer their child from one service to another during the year, by giving one month’s notice to their Early Years Service.  The first service needs to provide the parent with a leaver form, which will be printed from the PIP system and the parent must then take this to the new service.

DCYA Administrative Guide

The DCYA has published Rules for DCYA Childcare Funding Programmes 2018-19 which covers all aspects of the scheme and, while aimed primarily at Early Years Services, it also provides useful information for parents.