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

Press Release  - April 2009

The Irish Montessori Education Board welcome the introduction of a free pre-school place for all children aged between 3-and 4-years-old from January 2010 as a positive step in that the Government recognises the value of quality Early Childhood Education and Care. However this has been a cautious welcome as the Board are now only getting the details of how the scheme will operate. In practice it is now obvious that the grant will only partially meet the running costs of any quality early childhood education provision.

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

As part of the April 2009 Budget, a new scheme to provide for a free Pre-School Year in Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) was announced by the Government.

The announcement of a free pre-school year for all children is a landmark development in the provision of early childhood care and education services for young children in Ireland.  The new scheme will be implemented by the Office of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, or OMCYA, and will be open to all private and voluntary pre-school services which meet the requirements of the scheme.

Capitation grant:  The capitation grant is set at over €2,400 p.a. and is a payment made to participating services for each child enrolled.  The full year cost of the scheme is expected to be approximately €170 million.

Parents who avail of the scheme in a playschool will be entitled to a free pre-school provision of 5 weekly sessions of 3 hours per day for 38 weeks per year.  This amounts to a weekly capitation grant of €64.50.

Parents who avail of the scheme within a full- or part-time childcare service, will be entitled to 50 weeks of free pre-school provision of 5 weekly sessions of 2 hours and 15 minutes per day.  This amounts to a weekly capitation grant of €48.50 and the service must reduce the weekly childcare fee for parents by this amount.

The free Pre-School Year will normally run from September to August each year.  However, rather than wait until September 2010, the scheme will be introduced from January next to maximise the number of parents and children who will benefit, and to enable pre-school services which wish to enter the scheme to do so at the earliest possible date.

The scheme is intended to benefit children in the year before they start primary school.  For this reason, the age for eligibility for the scheme has been set at between 3 years 3 months and  4 years 6 months, at 1 September each year.  In January 2010 it will be open to children who at that point are aged between 3 years 7 months and 4 years 10 months.

Parents will be advised to coincide their take-up of the scheme in line with the admissions policy of their local national schools.  If cases arise where a national school does not admit children until they are more than 5 years and 6 months at 1 September each year, we will look at these cases to ensure that they are not excluded for this reason alone.

Children with delayed development, who as a result will be accepted into their local national school at a later age than normal, will be able to access the free pre-school year to coincide with their school starting date.

Pre-school services which are notified to the HSE, and services which are registered with the IMEB, can apply to participate in the scheme. The OMCYA will contact these services, which total almost 5,000, by the end of May 2009, providing an information pack and details regarding the application process.  Childminders who are notified to the HSE will be included in this process.  Services will, normally, be required to have an enrolment of at least 8 children in the pre-school year.  Exceptions will be made in some cases e.g. a small rural service may be considered eligible where, due to small numbers of pre-school children in the area, it is necessary for it to have some children in their pre-school year and some who are a year younger.

Childminders who are notified to the HSE and who have an enrolment of at least 5 children in the pre-school year will be considered for entry to the scheme if they:

Ø      hold a childcare qualification at FETAC level 5 or 6 (or equivalent thereof),

Ø      operate a programme-based, pre-school service which is compliant with the pre-school regulations and which adheres to the principles of Síolta, and

Ø      are recommended by Childminding Ireland as an appropriate setting for delivery of the pre-school year.

The City and County Childcare Committees (CCCs) are expected to play an important role in supporting the new scheme, particularly as a contact point between services and parents.  It is expected that, following the issue of information packs to services in May, services will be asked to return their completed application form to their local Childcare Committee during June and early July.  The OMCYA will finalise and approve applications in the following months and will advise the Committees of participating services in their area.  From October, 2009, parents will be able to contact their local Childcare Committee to get details of participating services in the local area.

Participating services will be asked to make an electronic return of their enrolments to the OMCYA in January 2010.  This will be processed and will determine the grant level by reference to the number of capitation fees payable for that term.  An interim payment will be made to services pending the outcome of this process if any significant delay is expected.  A second payment will be made in April in respect of the following term.  The process will be repeated in September 2010 as this will be the start of the first full pre-school year.

Services which are participating in the Community Childcare Subvention Scheme (CCSS) will be eligible to participate in the pre-school year.  In these cases, the service will receive capitation fees in respect of parents using the service who feel they would benefit more from the new scheme, and it will receive subvention funding in respect of parents using their service who feel they benefit more from the CCSS.  The OMCYA will combine the electronic returns for both schemes to avoid additional administration for the services.

Where, for a reason outside their control, a service cannot provide a sessional pre-school service for 5 days a week, applications to provide the same level of service over a 4 day week will be considered.  This will be done on a case-by-case basis.

Participating services must be notified to the HSE under the Child Care (Pre-School Services) Regulations 2006 and meet all other statutory requirements.  The HSE Pre-School Inspectorate is already implementing Regulation 5 of the Regulations which relates to the development of the child.  The Regulations set the ratio of staff to children in their pre-school year at 1 to 8 in the case of a full-time or part-time service and at 1 to 10 in the case of a sessional playschool service.  The Regulations do not require full-time or part-time services catering for not more than 8 children, or sessional playschool services catering for not more than 10 children, to have a second person employed and this will also be the case for the Pre-School Year scheme.  However, in such cases a suitable person who is capable of taking over and managing the service must be available.

Síolta:  The Pre-School Year will be guided by the principles of Síolta, the early years framework which the OMCYA is implementing.  As a framework to assist services to progress towards quality early childhood care and education provision, Síolta is not be specific in relation to the educational format or content of the pre-school year's programme content. 

To participate in the scheme, the Pre-school year leader must have a FETAC level 5 or 6 qualification in childcare, or its equivalent.  Over 50% of all childcare staff currently have this level of qualification.  In the initial phase of the scheme, year leaders may also be accepted where they have completed at least part of the level 5 modules, are in the process of working to complete this training and have experience and expertise in working with pre-school children.  The OMCYA will be looking at ways to maximise training supports for this sector including flexible training delivery to facilitate staff out of service hours.

A Workforce Development Plan for the sector has been developed and a national consultation process on this issue is expected to take place very shortly.  In addition, many practitioners in the current workforce have many years of experience and have acquired considerable skills in supporting the wellbeing, learning and development of young children. Processes to recognise and accredit such learning will be an important part of this plan.

The pre-school year will be supported through a network of mentors and Síolta co-ordinators and this will be developed over the coming months through a range of agencies which work with the OMCYA, including the National Voluntary Childcare Organisations. This model of delivery of free preschool places has been successfully implemented and positively evaluated internationally.

The OMCYA helpline is 1890 30 30 39 and queries can also be directed to  General information on the new scheme, together with answers to the most frequently-asked questions, can be accessed through the OMCYA website at

Childcare Directorate, Office of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs
24 April 2009


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