What is the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) programme?

The ECCE programme is a universal free pre-school programme available to all eligible children for two years before starting primary school.

In line with primary schools, the programme runs from September to June for three hours per, day five days per week.

Who is eligible?

All children are eligible from the September after they turn 2 years and 8 months. The upper age limit is 5 years and 6 months. This means that, in order to be eligible, a child cannot turn this age at any point before the end of the pre-school year (i.e. end of June). The table below outlines eligibility for the free preschool programme by birth month.

Table 1: Eligibility for ECCE by month of birth
Birth Date between Start Date End Date
1st January 2015 – 31st December 2015 1st September 2018 June 2020
1st January 2016 - 31st December 2016 1st September 2019 June 2021
1st January 2017 - 31st December 2017 1st September 2020 June 2022
1st January 2018 - 31st December 2018 1st September 2021 June 2023
1st January 2019 - 31st December 2019 1st September 2022 June 2024

Will the introduction of the National Childcare Scheme affect the ECCE programme?

No. The National Childcare Scheme will ‘wrap-around’ the free preschool programme, providing financial support towards the cost of childcare for the hours spent outside of pre-school.  

How does the free preschool programme differ from the National Childcare Scheme? 

The National Childcare Scheme provides subsidies towards the cost of childcare. The subsidy rate and the maximum number of hours for which it can be applied are determined by a child’s age, educational stage and, in cases of an Income Assessed subsidy, a family’s reckonable income.  More information on the National Childcare Scheme subsides can be found here.

Can I receive a National Childcare Scheme subsidy if my child is availing of the ECCE programme?

Yes. Subsidies under the National Childcare Scheme can be used for hours spent outside of pre-school, up to the maximum hours allowable under Scheme limits.

In all cases, the hours of subsidised care available to a family under the National Childcare Scheme are inclusive of time spent in pre-school. More information on this can be found here.

Are there supports available for children to access pre-school?

Yes. The Access and Inclusion Model (AIM) is a model of supports designed to promote inclusion and to ensure that children with disabilities can meaningfully participate in the ECCE Programme in mainstream pre-school settings.

AIM is a child-centred model, offering a range of tailored, practical supports based on need and does not require a formal diagnosis of disability.

For further information on AIM and the support it provides, please visit

For any other queries regarding the free preschool programme, including where to find a childcare service in your area, please contact your local City/County Childcare Committee (CCC) at