The number of entry points reverted to one at the beginning of September 2018. One enrolment period at the start of the pre-school year helps to streamline the administration process and makes it easier for childcare providers to operate and budget for the programme year. It also makes it easier for parents to secure places on the Early Childhood Care and Education programme (ECCE) for their children.
This policy change, along with the reduction of the minimum age requirement to 2 years and 8 months, ensured that from September 2018, all children will be eligible for a full two programme years on the ECCE programme. This measure adds to previous enhancement of the programme and increases the duration of each registered child on ECCE from the original 38 weeks to a potential duration of 76 weeks (two programme years) delivering on a commitment in the Programme for a Partnership Government.
The upper age limit for the ECCE programme remains the same (i.e. a child is not eligible if they will be 5 years and 6 months before the end of the programme year.) The upper age limit for the ECCE programme was set in consultation with the Department of Education and Skills. It ensures that children transition into primary school with their peers and limits the age range of children beginning primary school. Limiting the diversity in age ranges in children beginning primary school education is considered generally to be in the best interest of children, in relation to peer interaction in junior infants, as well as other educational considerations.
My Department does its best to ensure, in so far as possible, the equitable treatment of all children and families who apply for childcare funding under the ECCE Programme. In order to ensure objectivity and fairness, it is essential that clear rules exist for the scheme and that they are applied evenly. As stated above, the Department of Education and Skills informed the policy which these rules support.
It must be noted that age limits have been used to determine eligibility since the inception of the ECCE programme in 2010. These rules are a necessary component of any Government scheme and ensure that Exchequer funding is used for its intended purpose.