From September 2018, all children meeting the minimum age requirement of 2 years and 8 months will be eligible for a full two programme years on the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) scheme. The current take up of ECCE averages at 61 weeks, up from 38 weeks when ECCE was first introduced. From September 2018, the entitlement for all children will be 76 weeks. This further enhancement of ECCE to two full years delivers on a commitment in the Programme for a Partnership Government that is good for children, families and Early Years providers.
This new measure will address the inconsistencies that led to a wide range in the number of free preschool weeks; some children could avail of 61 weeks, while others could avail of 88 weeks, and will ensure a programme that is more equitable for children.
The number of entry points into ECCE will revert to one at the beginning of the 2018 programme year (September). One enrolment period at the start of the pre-school year will help streamline the administration process and will make it easier for childcare providers to operate and budget for the programme year. This will also make it simpler for parents to secure places on the ECCE programme for their children.
It is recognised that childrens' birth dates and parental preference for school starting age, plus the single entry point for enrolment in primary school, will be factors influencing parents' take-up of the second year of ECCE.