The Irish Government offers a free preschool year for children within a certain age range; this is as per the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Scheme. The objective of the scheme is to introduce the children to a formal learning environment before they begin their education at a primary school.
Before you start looking for a childcare centre that participates in the ECCE in Kildare, you need to understand the details regarding the eligibility criteria. This knowledge will be necessary to ascertain whether your child is within the qualifying age limit.
What is the qualifying age? If a child is aged between 3 years 2 months and 4 years 7 months on the 1st September for a year, he/she will qualify for the free preschool year. This implies that children born on any date from 2 February 2009 to 30 June 2010 (including the two dates) are eligible for the free preschool year commencing in September 2013.
Why is it necessary to set this limit? As the objective of the scheme is to introduce the children to the formal learning environment, the children must be provided with age appropriate activities and curriculum. It is to fulfil this objective that the scheme has set the limit on the qualifying age for the preschool year.
Are there any exceptions to the age limit? There is no exception of the lower age limit. If your child is younger than 3 years 2 months on 1st September, he/she will not qualify for that year. However, the upper age limit may be extended by a maximum of 1 year in certain circumstances.
If a child has been assessed as having delayed development or the enrolment policy of the local school is such that a child younger than 6 years may not be admitted, the upper limit of the preschool year may be extended. However, the Education and Welfare Act makes it necessary to enrol your child in a primary school before he/she is 6 years old.
How does the free pre school year work? The children entitled to the free pre school year may avail of it in one continuous period, i.e. from the September of the year they enrol in the school to the June of the next year. However, the children assessed with special needs may avail of the provision in two years.
You may choose a full or part time childcare service, participating in the scheme, for your child. Whether you choose a creche or a playschool, make sure it corresponds to the requirements of your child. Working parents may require childcare services for more hours than that specified in the scheme.
Is the eligibility of the children verified? The Department of Social Protection verifies the eligibility of the children enrolled in the childcare centres participating in the ECCE scheme. This is done by reference to the date of birth and the Personal Public Services Number of the child. Any error in this may be a cause of delay in the payment of the capitation fees.
Celia Barrymore is an educational consultant and childcare expert. She provides a brief overview of the eligibility criteria for the free year available at a Pre School in Dublin. If you are looking for a Montessori school participating in the ECCE scheme, she suggests you visit http://www.cocoonchildcare.ie/.