The free Preschool Year in Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) programme provides a free preschool year to all eligible children in the year before commencing primary school. In line with the Programme for Government, my Department has made a significant commitment to maintaining this universal programme.
The programme includes a number of additional provisions to take account of children with special needs. These include an exemption from the upper age limit for qualification under the programme where a child is developmentally delayed and would benefit from starting primary school at a later age. In addition, children with special needs can apply to have the preschool year split over two years on a pro-rata basis, for example availing of the programme for 2 days a week in the first year and for 3 days a week in the second year. Application for these exemptions must be made prior to the child commencing the programme.
The free preschool provision was introduced in January 2010 and in the 18-month period to June 2011 a total of 98 children were approved to avail of the programme on a pro-rata basis. In the periods September 2011 to June 2012, and September 2012 to June 2013, 191 and 264 children respectively were approved for the special provision.
All qualifying children that applied to my Department to avail of the free preschool year on a pro-rata basis and who provided the required medical evidence to support their application were approved for the provision.