Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Ceisteanna (190)

Róisín Shortall

Ceist:

275 Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Health and Children if she will make an exception to the age criteria and allow in respect of a child (details supplied) in Dublin 9 to avail of the free preschool year under the early childhood care and education scheme. [4497/10]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Health and Children)

I have responsibility for the implementation of the free Pre-School Year in Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) scheme which commenced earlier this year. As the Deputy is aware, the scheme is open to children aged between 3 years and 3 months and 4 years and 6 months at 1 September each year. The most generous interpretation possible is being applied to this age range so that all children aged more than 3 years and 2 months and all children aged less than 4 years and 7 months (i.e. born on or between 2 February and 30 June in the relevant year) will qualify. This means that children born between 2 February 2006 and 30 June 2007 will qualify for the free pre-school year in September 2010 and children born between 2 February 2007 and 30 June 2008 will qualify for the free pre-school provision in September 2011. I understand that the child referred to by the Deputy will not be eligible to avail of the free pre-school provision in September 2010 but will be eligible in September 2011. While the majority of children commence school between the age of 4 years and 6 months and 5 years and 6 months, it is accepted that some parents choose to send their children to primary school at an earlier age and the ECCE scheme allows for children to attend the pre-school year and still commence primary school when they are just over 4 years and 2 months of age. However, the objective of the scheme is to make early learning in a formal setting available to all children in the key developmental year before they commence primary school, with appropriate age related activities and programmes being provided to children within a particular age cohort. Targeting the pre-school year at a particular age cohort is clearly fundamental to the scheme and it is necessary, therefore, to set minimum and maximum limits to the age range within which children will participate in the scheme each year. I am satisfied that the age range set for the scheme achieves a reasonable balance between supporting the provision of age related programmes and activities and providing flexibility to parents and their children and there are no plans to review the position at this stage.