Wednesday, 25 November 2015
Department of Children and Youth Affairs
Early Childhood Care Education
154. To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the reason the entitlement for the second preschool year excludes children born after 30 June 2012; if there are any plans to address this; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42007/15]
At present, children qualify for the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) programme when they are within the qualifying age range which is 3 years and 2 months to 4 years and 7 months in the September of the relevant year. This means, for example, that children born between 2 February 2011 and 30 June 2012 qualified for free pre-school from September 2015. Children who turn 3 from 1 July 2012 are below the age range for eligibility for ECCE in the 2015/2016 programme year but will qualify for the 2016/17 programme year.
In Budget 2016 it was announced that, from September 2016, children will be eligible to start free pre-school when they turn age 3, and can continue in free pre-school until they start primary school (once the child is not older than 5½ years at the end of the relevant pre-school year i.e. end June).
This extension of free pre-school will increase the number of children benefitting from free pre-school from about 67,000 per annum, to 127,000 in a given programme year. Accommodating this increase requires a significant increase in capacity in the pre-school sector; pre-school services need time to consider and implement any needed infrastructural or service changes, and to put in place extra staff resources. The September 2016 implementation date was set to allow pre-school providers to put such measures in place.
It is appreciated that this does mean that a small cohort of children, including those mentioned by the Deputy, while continuing to avail of the 38 week entitlement to free pre-school currently provided under the ECCE programme, will not benefit from additional free pre-school provided under this new budgetary measure. However, should an earlier start date have been chosen, the likelihood is that there would not have been sufficient capacity in the sector to accommodate all children.
However, you will appreciate that this extended provision, when introduced, will ensure that, from the age of three, all children in Ireland will be able to access free education, either in pre-school or in primary school. This is a significant step forward for children and families.