The free Pre-School Year in Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) programme was introduced in January 2010. The programme is administered by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and Pobal, acting as agents for the Department, with the local operation of the programme managed by the City and County Childcare Committees (CCCs).
The ECCE programme is designed to give children access to a free pre-school year of appropriate programme-based activities in the year before they start primary school. Participation in a pre-school programme provides children with their first formal experience of early learning, the starting-point of their educational and social development outside the home. Children who avail of pre-school are more likely to be ready for school and a formal learning and social environment. In general, each eligible child is entitled to one free pre-school year.
Children qualify for the free pre-school year where they are aged more than 3 years 2 months and less than 4 years 7 months at 1 September in the relevant pre-school year.
The objective of the ECCE programme is to make early learning in a formal setting available to eligible children in the year before they commence primary school. To achieve this, services participating in the pre-school year are required to provide age-appropriate activities and programmes to children within a particular age cohort. For this reason, it is necessary to set minimum and maximum limits to the age range within which children will qualify to participate in the programme.