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 over 3 years 2 months and less than 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.
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.
From September 2016, children will be able to start ECCE when they reach 3 years 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). This increases the number of weeks available on the ECCE scheme. Children will be able to enroll in pre-school at 3 different points in the year (September, January and April) in order to access the scheme. You can find a list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about the extended ECCE scheme (pdf) on the website of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs.
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 6 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.
There are no exemptions to the lower age limit.
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. This only applies to services which have already been granted permission to run their service 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 3 hours per day over 38 weeks. If your child attends for longer than this each day, you will be charged for the extra time. You will also be charged for the extra number of weeks attended
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.
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 four times the weekly capitation fee (see below). Any deposit you pay must be repaid to you by the end of October of the year your child starts.
Capitation rates for service providers
For providers of daycare and sessional services, the weekly capitation fee is generally €62.50 over 38 weeks.
Daycare and sessional playschools with more highly qualified staff may be able to qualify for a higher capitation fee of €73 per week over 38 weeks.
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 a copy of your child's birth certificate or passport and PPS number.
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.
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
To find a childcare provider near you, contact your local City or County Childcare Committee (CCC).
If you have a question relating to this topic you can contact the Citizens Information Phone Service on 0761 07 4000 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 8pm) or you can visit your local Citizens Information Centre.