I greatly appreciate the anxiety of parents who seek an overage exemption from the early childhood care and education, ECCE, programme for their child.
Overage exemptions for ECCE are provided by my Department and are governed by three guiding principles: first, a specialist has recommended the additional time in ECCE; second, the child will not reach six years of age before beginning primary education, in line with the Education (Welfare) Act 2000; and, third, if a child has already availed of the full two years of ECCE, he or she will not be eligible for a further year.
Where an application does not fulfil these criteria, the application will be declined.
The primary reason for refusal of an overage exemption this year was that the child would be older than six when starting school if the exemption had been provided.
The National Disability Authority conducted a review of the way in which my Department and the Department of Education and Skills were applying the overage exemption in 2018. The authority’s report concluded that the approach being taken by my Department was in the best interests of the child.
The National Disability Authority found that children with disabilities were better served by starting school with their peers and progressing to secondary school with their peers.
It is important to note that the overage exemption for the ECCE programme was never intended as a mechanism to delay a child’s entry to primary school or to address issues to do with the availability of school places.
The overage exemption was developed when ECCE was a one-year-only programme and where the significant resources that come with the access and inclusion model, AIM, did not exist. All children now have the option of two full years of ECCE with a wide variety of AIM supports that are available.
I would encourage parents of children attending ECCE to discuss any concerns they might have as early as possible with the provider and with the AIM Better Start team. Details about the access and inclusion model can be found on the aim.gov.ie website if parents want more information.