Early Start Programme


The Early Start Programme is a one-year preventative intervention scheme offered in selected schools in designated disadvantaged areas. The objective of the pre-school programme is to tackle educational disadvantage by targeting children who are at risk of not reaching their potential within the school system. The programme is managed, funded and evaluated by the Department of Education.

Children must be aged more than 3 years 2 months and less than 4 years 7 months on the 1st day of September of the year in which they are enrolled.

Children may either be enrolled in Early Start or in the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Scheme. Children are not eligible to be enrolled in both schemes at the same time.

The Early Start Pre-School Programme was introduced in 1994. You can get a list of the schools in the Early Start Programme on the Department of Education website.

The aims of Early Start are:

  • To implement an educational programme that will enhance the overall development of young children and prevent school failure
  • To counteract the effects of social disadvantage.

The desired outcomes of Early Start are:

  • That the children involved in the programme will develop confidence in their ability to learn
  • That the children involved in the programme will develop learning styles, which are led by motivated, organised and appropriately independent behaviour
  • That the children involved in the programme will develop their language, cognition and social/personal skills to the extent that they will be able to easily adapt to school life in the future
  • That the 'learning through play' approach used in the programme will be positive and enjoyable for the children involved
  • That the parents of participating children will become actively involved in their children's education.


How Early Start operates

Early Start pre-schools are accommodated in vacant classrooms in primary schools. The teachers and childcare workers in Early Start are members of staff and are under the general supervision of the Board of Management and the principal teacher. Early Start is regarded as an integral part of the primary school and benefits from the managerial and administrative services of the school.

A full unit caters for a total of 60 children and a half-unit caters for 30. Each teacher and childcare worker caters for 15 children between 09.00 and 11.30 and a different 15 from 12.00 to 14.30 each day. A full Early Start unit is staffed by 2 trained teachers, 2 trained childcare workers and parent volunteers. A half-unit is staffed by one trained teacher and a trained childcare worker. The board of management of the school where Early Start is established appoints the childcare workers and the principal of the school assigns the teachers to work in Early Start.

Parental involvement is also a key element in the Early Start project, both in everyday management and in the organisation of activities. Working in conjunction with the school's Home School Community Liaison Co-ordinator, the Early Start staff encourage parents to take part in the centre's activities. A rota is agreed and parents take turns to spend time each week in the centre.

The curriculum of the programme prioritises the four core areas of language, cognition and social and personal development. This is done by engaging the children in structured play activities, aimed at enhancing their development in the core areas. Within these play activities, teachers set specific learning objectives for each child. Play and positive adult-child interaction are the cornerstones of the Early Start activities.

After completing the Early Start programme, children proceed to the junior infants class.


The teachers are fully qualified primary school teachers.

The minimum qualification for childcare workers in Early Start is a one-year full-time QQI Level 5 qualification in Childcare, Pre-school Childcare or Social Care or equivalent.


Grants available under the Early Start scheme

The following full and half-unit grants are provided by the Department of Education for schools participating in the Early Start scheme:

  • €2,539.48 (full) €1,523.69 (half) per centre per annum for the purchase of materials/equipment
  • €1,904.60 (full) €952.30 (half) per centre per annum for the development of parental involvement

In addition, an annual capitation grant of €95.23 per pupil is paid to the school's Board of Management, which is to be used as funding support for day-to-day running costs of the centre.

Where to apply

Department of Education

Early Years Education Policy Unit
Block 1
Miesian Plaza
50-58 Baggot Street Lower
Dublin 4
D02 WX14

Tel: (076) 1108967 or (076) 1108968

Page edited: 6 October 2021