ECCE Scheme (free pre-school year) Ireland

What is the ECCE Scheme?

There’s no denying that childcare costs are extremely high, Irish families pay on average over a quarter of their disposable income on childcare costs, making it one of the highest in the OECD countries. Schemes like the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) scheme provide some relief to families with the added benefit of introducing young children to quality pre-school education.

The ECCE scheme or free childcare scheme was introduced in Ireland in January 2010. Prior to this, only children in disadvantaged areas could avail of free pre-school education. The ECCE scheme opened this up to all children allowing all children within the eligible age range to benefit from pre-school education. There’s no denying that it has been a massive success with approximately 100,00 children availing of the scheme in any one term.

Is my child eligible for ECCE?

The scheme provides three hours per day, five days per week over 38 weeks per year and runs from September to June each year, in line with the primary school year. If your child attends for longer than this each day, you will be charged for the extra time. All children are eligible for two full programme years. Children must have reached the age of 2 years and 8 months of age by August 31st of the year of entry to the programme. Therefore, children are eligible to start in September of the year that they turn three.


How does the ECCE scheme work?

The funding is paid directly to the playschool or childcare service provider. In return, they provide a pre-school service free of charge to all children within the qualifying age range. There are over 4,500 service providers in Ireland offering the scheme. Most providers will have a waiting list so it’s important to contact your preferred provider early to ensure your child gets a place.


How do I apply for the ECCE scheme?

Once you have secured a place parents are given a Registration Form by the childcare provider. The provider then applies directly to the Department of Children and Youth Affairs for a place for your child using the PIP System (Programme Implementation Platform) which checks the child’s date of birth against their PPSN, to ensure they are eligible. Parents are then given a parental declaration form from the PIP System, to sign.

Each childcare provider must provide the parent with a copy of the following:

  • Service Fees Information Letter – detailing how much the service charges full fee-paying parents (i.e. parents of children not eligible for free ECCE) and the charges that are applied for children who attend part-time and full-time. It also shows if the service charges a deposit and/or optional extras. Parents must sign the ‘Parental Acceptance’ at the end of the letter.
  • ECCE Calendar Letter – this states the first and last dates of the ECCE programme and lists the dates on which the programme is open and closed.

Children with special needs and the ECCE scheme

A new ECCE scheme for children with special needs was introduced in 2016.  Access and Inclusion Model (AIM) provides a tailored and practical programme based on the child’s needs. There are seven levels of progressive support, moving from universal to the targeted, individual supports based on the child’s needs.

More details can be found on the AIM website


Need more information?

The Department of Children and Youth Affairs provides details and  an eligibility calendar on its website

By SureSitter