I propose to take Questions Nos. 181 and 184 together.
From September 2018, all children meeting the minimum age requirement of 2 years and 8 months have been eligible for a full two programme years on the Early Childhood Care and Education programme (ECCE). This measure refined the development introduced in 2017 and increased the eligibility of each registered child on ECCE from an average of 61 weeks, to a potential 76 weeks (two programme years). This delivers fully on a commitment in the Programme for a Partnership Government that is good for children, families and Early Years providers.
The minimum age was chosen based on national experience and a review of international practice. It also had regard to the regulatory environment for early years care and education in this country and issues such as child development readiness and adult-child ratios. The upper age limit 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).
In order for a child to be eligible to be enrolled for free pre-school in September 2020 they must have been born between 1 January 2017 - 31 December 2017, i.e. they must have reached 2 years and 8 months on or before 31 August 2018.
In the example cited by the Deputy, the child will not be able to commence their ECCE in September 2020 as they will not have reached the age of 2 years and 8 months on or before 31st August 2020. However, they will be able to commence ECCE in September 2021, and continue for a further year from September 2022, commencing school in September 2023.
Some parents/guardians may prefer for their child to start school at age 4 rather than 5. These parents/guardians may therefore opt for 1 year of ECCE only. This decision is entirely at the discretion of the parent/s or guardians but it is important to reiterate that two full years of ECCE provision is available to all children.
It should be noted that the National Childcare Scheme will launch on 29th October 2019 and income-assessed subsidies will be available to families with children aged between 24 months and 15 years. This is a means-tested subsidy and is calculated based on a family's circumstances. The rate will vary depending on the level of family income, the child’s age and educational stage, and the number of children in the family. Further details of the new scheme are available on the National Childcare Scheme website https://ncs.gov.ie/