Research increasingly points to the importance of pre-school education as a vital first step in the educational journey of young people globally, and Ireland is no exception. With more parents looking to give their child that head-start in life, more kids are enjoying pre-school in Ireland.
However, if you are new to Ireland or returning after some time abroad, you may not be aware of the pre-school options available to you and your child. This is how it all works.
Pre-school in Ireland is optional
Unlike primary and secondary school education, which is mandatory for all children in Ireland, pre-school remains optional. The non-compulsory nature of pre-school education means that almost all facets of the pre-school system in Ireland are delivered outside the formal education system.
The lack of formal guidelines in relation to pre-school education in Ireland mean that a range of stakeholders are responsible for its delivery. They include a diverse range of private, community and voluntary bodies that run an equally diverse range of pre-school services in Ireland. The variations that exist can include the level of training and qualifications held by the pre-school staff, to something as simple as the opening hours available.
One of the variables that most commonly differentiates pre-school in Ireland is the scale of the service available. In this respect, two options are most common.
- Full day care: As the name suggests, this is a pre-school service for more than five hours per day. Some providers may also include an after-school facility. In full day care, sleeping arrangements and food preparation must meet standards laid down by the Child and Family Agency.
- Sessional services: Sessional services usually focus on 3.5-hour slots in one part of the day, usually either morning or afternoons. They can either be delivered through the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Scheme or privately. In order to provide a sessional service, a provider must receive a recognized childcare qualification.
Early Childhood Care and Education Scheme
Introduced in January, 2010, the ECCE Scheme provides free early childhood care and education for children of pre-school age. The ECCE, also referred to as the Two Free Pre-School Year scheme, is delivered by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and provides parents with three hours of free pre-school education per day, five days a week at participating and approved pre-schools during the school year. If your child attends any additional hours, this difference must be paid by you. It may also be possible to avail of a part-time service, but that will typically be at the discretion of the pre-school provider.
As of September, 2018, children can start ECCE when they are 2 years and 8 months of age and continue until they transfer to primary school, provided that they are not older than 5 years and 6 months at the end of the pre-school year, thus providing the vast majority of children with two free pre-school years in a participating pre-school. In addition, certain provisions are in place that allow children with special needs to access free pre-school care through ECCE without having to adhere to the aforementioned age requirements.
To get your child a place in ECCE scheme pre-school facility, you need to find a nearby participating play-school or daycare centre. You can access this information from you local City or County Council Childcare Committee. In addition, you will need to make sure that you have a copy of your child’s birth certificate, and PPS number.
In addition to ECCE, there are a range of other affordable early childhood education and childcare options available to parents thinking about pre-school in Ireland. They include, but are not limited to:
- Community Childcare Subvention
- After-School Child Care Scheme
- Childcare Education and Training Programmes
- Community Employment Childcare Programme