Irish Montessori Education Board - Bord Oideachais Montessori Eireann


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Introduction of a free Pre-School Year
in Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE)

Free Pre-School Year in Early Childhood
Care and Education (ECCE) Scheme

The information in this document sets out the most up to date details regarding the free Pre-School Year in Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) scheme which will be introduced from January 2010 and which will be implemented by the Office of the Minister for Children (OMCYA).

Some of the details may be amended over the coming weeks, however, final details regarding the terms and conditions governing the scheme and details of how to apply will be issued to all pre-school services by early June 2009.  The information which will issue to services will also be posted on the OMCYA's website and will also be available from City and County Childcare Committees (CCCs).

The following are some of the terms and conditions which will apply to pre-school services wishing to participate in the free Pre-School Year in ECCE scheme:

Services must be notified to the HSE as a pre-school service and have a satisfactory level of compliance with the Child Care (Pre-School Services) (No. 2) Regulations 2006.

During the period January/August 2010, it is expected that registration with the IMEB will be accepted as meeting this requirement.


Satisfactory compliance with the Child Care (Pre-School Services) (No. 2) Regulations 2006 for the purposes of acceptance into the ECCE will be determined by the OMCYA in consultation with the City and County Childcare Committees (CCCs) and the HSE Pre-School Inspectorate.


Compliance with the Child Care Regulations will include adhering to the appropriate staff to children ratios, that is 1 staff member for every 8 children, in the case of a full- or part-time service and 1 staff member to every 10 children, in the case of a playschool sessional service.  Where the number of children enrolled in a service's pre-school year does not exceed the ratio for 1 staff member, the service will be required to have a second competent adult available.


Services will generally be required to have a minimum enrolment of 8 children in their pre-school year.  Subject to compliance with all other contractual requirements, exceptions will be considered in the case of:

  • services which have an enrolment of at least 8 children but, for good reason, only 3 or more are in their pre-school year and the remainder will be eligible for a pre-school year in the following year, and
  • smaller services which are considered to be appropriate settings for delivery of the pre-school year but, for good reason, have an enrolment of not less than 5 children in their pre-school year.

Services must be trading as either a sole trader, a partnership or a limited liability company and must demonstrate tax compliance by providing an up to date Tax Clearance Certificate.

Services must agree to provide an appropriate educational programme for children in their pre-school year, which adheres to the principles of Siolta, the national framework for early years care and education.

Services will be supported in meeting this requirement through the assistance of Siolta Co-ordinators, funded for this purpose, and by their local CCC.  Services must agree to accept assistive visits and advice from Siolta Co-ordinators and staff of the local CCC.

In addition to meeting the requirements regarding staff ratios, as provided for under the Child Care Regulations, the pre-school year Leader should have a qualification in early childhood care and education at level 5 in the National Framework of Qualifications.  This can equate to a FETAC accredited major award at level 5 or equivalent. (Note: Within a reasonable time a qualification at level 6 in the National Framework of Qualifications will be the required qualification for staff in this position).

In recognition of the complex nature of educational attainment of staff within the early childhood care and education workforce in Ireland, it is proposed that where an individual has achieved a FETAC component certificate of 50% of the minor awards of the mandatory components of the FETAC Level 5 Major award in Childcare, that service may be deemed eligible to participate in the ECCE initiative .  Such services will however be required to commit to ensuring that staff become fully qualified within a reasonable timeframe.

A pre-school year Leader will be accepted for pre-school year provision where the total number of children in each group does not exceed 16 or 20, as appropriate to the service under the Child Care Regulations, and where a second childcare worker is present.  Where a service is provided to not more than 8 or 10 children, as appropriate under the Child Care Regulations, the Leader must meet the qualification requirement.

Services may participate in the scheme on the basis of a number of options.

Option A applies to playschool sessional services  and requires the service to provide 3 hours per day, five days a week for 38 weeks per year in return for the capitation grant of 64.50 per week.

Option B applies to full- or part-time daycare services  and requires the service to provide 2 hours 15 minutes per day, five days a week for 50 weeks per year in return for the capitation grant of 48.50 per week.

A sessional service may choose to operate as a part-time service and open for 38 weeks of the year, or to provide 2 sessional services.  Alternatively, as a sessional service, it may choose to provide 2 hours 15 minutes per day for 50 weeks of the year.  A full-day service may also choose to provide a 38 week sessional service (or 2 sessional services).

In all cases, participating services must operate the relevant pre-school provision free to parents in return for the applicable capitation grant and parents should be given access to the service where their child only attends the pre-school element of the service.

Services participating in the scheme may charge parents for optional, additions as follows:

  • hours which are additional to the free pre-school year requirement.  In the case of a full or part-time daycare service, the service will offer additional hours to the pre-school provision, which they will charge for.  In the case of a sessional service an additional 30 minutes per day may be offered as an optional addition which can be charged for.  If the service became a part-time service within the 38 week model, it could offer an up to an additional 2 hours and 30 minutes per day as an optional addition which can be charged for, provided it complies with part-time service requirements);
  • optional additional services can also take the form of various one-off, or on-going, activities or services such as outings, birthday parties, specific teaching resources such as dance or music or food.

Note:  Services must ensure that:

  • parents are informed that their agreement to additional hours or to any optional charge, is not compulsory and that agreement is not a condition of initial or continued enrolment; and
  • appropriate programme based activities are provided to children not participating in an optional activity where this takes place during the required period of pre-school provision.

Flexibility is also provided for where a sessional service is, for good reason, unable to operate over 5 days.  Such cases will be considered and, where accepted, will be accepted on the basis that they provide a service for 3 hours 45 minutes per day, for 4 days a week for 38 weeks per year.   The provision of a longer hours service, will not normally be permitted in the case of exceptions for 4 day services.


All places provided under the scheme by a service must meet the requirements in terms of length per day, days per week and weeks per year.  It is not mandatory that children attend every day, however services should prioritise places for children where parents indicate that they intend to avail of the place for at least 4 days each week.

Services may not enrol children under the scheme on the basis of providing a part place (i.e. where more than 1 child share one place and each attends for a number of days per week).  However, during January/August 2010, services which have children enrolled in part places (i.e. where more than 1 child share one place and each attends for a number of days per week), will be admitted to the scheme and receive a capitation grant on a pro-rata basis (i.e. by reference to the total number of children attending each day rather than the total number of children attending per week).  Where additional capacity arises in the service during this period e.g. a child leaves to take up a full pre-school year place in another service, the additional capacity available must be made available to another child or children to increase their provision.

Services will be required to make an electronic return to the OMCYA in January 2010 providing details of their enrolments for January/June (or January/August were applicable) 2010.  This return will be used to determine the amount of capitation funding which will be payable to the service.

Services will be paid in advance for each term.  The payments will be made from the earliest possible date at the start of each term.  It is anticipated that transfers of children between services will be accommodated on a term by term basis.

Services will have to adhere to accounting and financial control requirements including audit and verification visits.

Applications should be made to services' local City or County Childcare Committee and these will be accepted between early June and mid-July (exact dates to be finalised).  The OMCYA will be in contact with applicants regarding contractual arrangements and it is hoped to finalise all applications by end September 2009.

From early October 2009, it is expected that each CCC will have details of participating services within its area and will provide a contact point for parents wishing to obtain information on enrolments.  Parents can then contact services in their area to secure an enrolment.

Childcare Directorate
Office of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs
Hawkin's House
Dublin 2

11 May 2009

Kingston House, 64 Patrick Street, Dun Laoghaire, Co. Dublin.  Tel/Fax: 01 - 280 5705  email: info@imebtrust.org