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The free Pre-School Year in Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) programme was introduced with effect from January 2010. The programme is administered by the Childcare Directorate of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, with the local operation of the programme managed by the City and County Childcare Committees (CCCs). 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.
Both community and commercial service providers can apply to participate in the ECCE programme. Payment under the ECCE programme is by way of capitation fees which are paid directly to the service provider. A capitation fee is payable in respect of each eligible child enrolled in the free pre-school year, on a pro-rata basis if applicable. A higher rate of capitation is payable in respect of certain pre-school services with more highly qualified staff.
The free pre-school year is delivered on the basis of 3 hours per day, 5 days per week, 38 weeks per year. It is not mandatory that children attend every day but, where they do not, the capitation fee will be reduced on a pro-rata basis.
It is a fundamental principle of the programme that the pre-school year is available free to parents, and all participating services are obliged to meet the costs of the free pre-school year out of the capitation fees. Services may, however, charge parents for additional services provided,…