Early Childhood Care and Education Scheme
The Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Scheme provides early childhood care and education for children of pre-school age. 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) - see rules.
The State pays participating playschools and daycare services a set amount per child to offer the ECCE service. In return, participating centres and playschools provide a pre-school service free of charge to all children within the qualifying age range. The service is for a set number of hours over a set period of weeks (see ‘How the ECCE scheme is provided’ below).
ECCE is not affected by the introduction of the National Childcare Scheme (NCS) - this scheme provides financial support towards the cost of childcare for the hours spent outside of pre-school. You can read more on ncs.gov.ie.
COVID-19 and ECCE
On 12 March 2020, all childcare facilities in Ireland closed due to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) public health emergency. The ECCE scheme will reopen on 24 August 2020.
There are special financial supports for childcare providers during the pandemic period. If your childcare provider takes up these financial supports, you will keep your childcare place and you do not have to pay childcare fees while childcare facilities are closed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
You can find more information about childcare and COVID-19.
Eligible age range
There is only one point of entry at the beginning of the programme year in September. There are no longer entry points in January and April.
The programme is available to all children who have turned 2 years and 8 months of age before 1 September. They can continue until they transfer to primary school as long they won’t turn 5 years and 6 months on or before 30 June of the programme year.
The Department provides an eligibility calendar showing when your child can participate in the ECCE programme (pdf).
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.
There are no exemptions to the lower age limit.
How the ECCE scheme is provided
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 the school year. 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 the school year. This only applies to services which have already been granted permission to run their service over the school year.
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 the school year. 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
Content and quality of service
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.
The website of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs has further information on the ECCE scheme.
Children with special needs
A new Access and Inclusion Model (AIM) was introduced in June 2016 for children starting ECCE in September 2016. AIM supports a child-centred model, involving seven levels of progressive support, moving from universal to targeted support, based on the needs of the child and the pre-school provider. The model offers tailored, practical supports based on need.
Levels 1 – 3 of the model involve a suite of universal supports which are designed to promote and support an inclusive culture within pre-school settings by means of educational and capacity-building initiatives for providers and practitioners. Where a pre-school service provider, in partnership with a parent, considers that some further additional support may be necessary to meet the needs of a particular child, they can apply for one or more additional targeted supports under levels 4 – 7 of the model.
Additional targeted supports could take the form of expert early childhood care and educational advice and mentoring (level 4), specialised equipment, appliances and minor alterations (level 5), therapeutic supports (level 6) or additional capitation to fund extra assistance in the ECCE pre-school room (level 7).
When you have identified a pre-school for your child, your service provider, in consultation with you, will consider what supports may be needed to ensure your child’s participation in pre-school.
Where it is considered that your child needs additional support, your pre-school service provider can apply, in partnership with you, for targeted supports under AIM.
The AIM website provides information for Parents and Frequently Asked Questions on supports available. Your local City or County Childcare Committee will also be able to provide you with information and guidance on AIM.
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 provided over the school year. Daycare and sessional playschools with more highly qualified staff may be able to qualify for a higher capitation fee.
How to apply
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.
Supports for children with special needs
If your child needs additional support, your pre-school provider can apply, in partnership with you, for targeted supports under AIM. Applications are made through the Programmes Implementation Platform (PIP) on the Pobal website. Your pre-school service provider will be familiar with the Pobal website and with PIP.
The application process is open and will remain open throughout the year.
Applications can only be made with your full consent.
For advice and support from the Early Years Specialist Service (Access and Inclusion) contact (01) 511 7222 or e-mail: Onlinesupport@pobal.ie
Where to apply
To find a childcare provider near you, contact your local City or County Childcare Committee (CCC).
Applications are made via the Programmes Implementation Platform (PIP) on
the Pobal website. Your service provider will be familiar with the Pobal
website and with PIP.