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Early Childhood Care and Education Programme (ECCE):


The Free Pre-School Year in the Early Childhood Care and Education Programme (ECCE) is a universal childcare programme designed to give children access to 2 years free pre-school education before they start primary school.

Is my child eligible for the ECCE Programme?

The age criteria for the current and coming pre-school year is as follows in relation to the ECCE Programme

Eligibility for ECCE by month of birth


Birth Date Between

ECCE Start Date

ECCE End Date

1st January 2015 –

31st December 2015

1st September 2018 +

1st September 2019+


June 2020

1st January 2016 –

31st December 2016

1st September 2019+

1st September 2020+


June 2021

1st January 2017 –

31st December 2017

1st September 2020+

1st September 2021+


June 2022

1st January 2018 –

31st December 2018

1st September 2021+

1st September 2022+



June 2023

1st January 2019 –

31st December 2019

1st September 2012+

1st September 2013+


June 2024



Exemptions to upper age limit

 For the programme year 2019/2020, exceptions to the upper age limit may be granted where a child has special/additional needs.  Applications for such exemptions must be submitted in writing to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and must include a letter of recommendation from a medical specialist(not a GP/Public Health Nurse) stating that it is in the best interest of the child to avail of a further year of preschool.


The Better Start Access and Inclusion Model (AIM) is a model of supports designed to ensure that children with disabilities can access the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) programme. Its goal is to empower service providers to deliver an inclusive pre-school experience, ensuring that every eligible child can fully participate in the ECCE programme and reap the benefits of quality early years care and education. There are 7 levels of support:

Universal Supports (Levels 1 – 3 of the Access and Inclusion Model)
Universal supports are designed to promote and support an inclusive culture within pre-school settings by means of a variety of educational and capacity-building initiatives. Specifically:

  • A new Inclusion Charter has been developed for the pre-school sector. Pre-school providers are invited to sign-up to this Charter by producing and publishing their own Inclusion Policy. To support this process, updated Diversity, Equality and Inclusion Guidelines for Early Childhood Care and Education have been produced and a national training programme on the Inclusion Charter and the Guidelines is being delivered by the City and County Childcare Committees. The Diversity, Equality and Inclusion Charter and Guidelines can be accessed here
  • A new higher education programme, “Leadership for Inclusion in the Early Years” (LINC), commenced in September 2016. The Department of Children and Youth Affairs will fund approximately 900 places per annum, over 4 years, on this programme. Pre-school settings employing a LINC graduate (who has agreed to take on the role and responsibilities of Inclusion Co-ordinator within their pre-school setting) will attract an increase of €2 per child per week in the rate of ECCE capitation payable to that setting.
  • Finally, a broad multi-annual programme of formal and informal training for pre-school staff in relation to disability and inclusion will be funded by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and will be delivered by a number of agencies (e.g. the City and County Childcare Committees, Early Years Specialist Service, Health Service Executive) and other agencies.

 Targeted Supports (Levels 4 – 7 of the Access and Inclusion Model)

The supports at levels 1 to 3, when appropriately developed, have been found internationally to be sufficient to support many children with disabilities. However, where a pre-school provider, in partnership with a parent or guardian, considers that some further additional support may be necessary to meet the needs of a particular child, they can apply for one or more of the following targeted supports:

  • Expert advice, mentoring and support is available from a team of 60 specialists in early years care and education for children with disabilities. These experts, termed Early Years Specialists, are based in the Better Start National Early Years Quality Development Service.
  • A scheme is available for the provision of specialised equipment, appliances and grants towards minor building alterations which are necessary to support a child’s participation in the ECCE Programme.
  • Therapy services, which are critical to a child’s participation in the ECCE Programme, are available through AIM and will be provided by the HSE.
  • Finally, where the above supports are not sufficient to meet the needs of a child, pre-school providers, in partnership with parents or guardians, can apply for additional capitation to fund extra support in the classroom or to enable the reduction of the staff to child ratio.

 Further information on Better Start Access and Inclusion Model is available by visiting here

Further information on Better Start National Early Years Quality Development is available here


ECCE 2019/2020 Programme Rules available here