There is no question of any child losing entitlement to eligibility for the ECCE scheme. Rather ECCE eligibility has increased to two years.
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 programme (ECCE). The upper age ECCE requirement is that the child must not reach 5 years and 6 months before the end of the programme year.
This new measure will address the previous situation with regard to multiple entry points whereby there was a broad fluctuation in the number of free preschool weeks a child could avail of –(between 61 and 88 weeks depending on the date of birth of the child)– and will ensure a programme that is equitable for all children. The situation where there was more than one entry point created a perception of inequality to some parents when they considered the variance in the number of weeks of ECCE provision, dependant on their entry point.
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 will help to streamline the administration process and will make 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 ECCE programme for their children. There are currently no plans to change this single entry point.
Some children will not be able to commence their ECCE in September of the programme year as they will not have reached the age of 2 years and 8 months on or before 31st August. However, they will be able to commence ECCE in the following September and continue for a further year from September of the next programme year. Parents of children born around this time of the year may prefer for their children to start school at 4 rather than 5. These parents may therefore choose to avail of one year of ECCE only. However, it is important to note that this is a parental choice and that the overall policy change has ensured that two programme years are available to all children.