DCYA Announcement – Over 800,000 children avail of first decade of free pre-school

Over 800,000 children avail of first decade of free pre-school

Annual budget jumps 172% since first roll out
Steep rise in the school-starting age


Statement by Minister Katherine Zappone

Tuesday 7 May 2019

New figures show how the Government’s free pre-school programme has transformed early learning for children over the past decade, according to the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Dr Katherine Zappone.

The Minister says the programme is providing important development opportunities to all young children, in particular children from disadvantaged backgrounds, and raising the school-starting age.

The National Childcare Scheme, which will open later this year, will build on this strong foundation, according to Minister Zappone.

The free pre-school programme was officially launched a decade ago offering 38 weeks of pre-school education. Minister Zappone doubled this entitlement in 2018.

The figures show that since the pre-school programme started:

• 806,359 children have availed of the Programme
• Annual Government investment has soared from €104.9m a year to €285.5m
• The number of 4-year olds in Primary School has fallen significantly.

In addition since 2016, more than 5,000 children with disabilities a year are being supported to participate in the Programme.

Welcoming the figures Minister Katherine Zappone added:
It is clear that this Programme has provided children with important learning and development opportunities and has been embraced wholeheartedly by their families. Since its introduction, the Programme boasts a 95 percent uptake rate with almost 40 percent of low-income families  have said they would not have been able to enrol their child in pre-school had it not been for this Programme. Increasing the average number of funded weeks from 38 to 61 three years ago was a very significant development – bringing the numbers of children enrolled in the Programme  to over 100,000 a year for the first time and there has been further extensions to the number of funded weeks since – now 76 weeks. These data are so encouraging. We know from research that all children benefit from high-quality early learning experiences – with the greatest gains experienced by children from disadvantaged groups. The introduction of the Programme has also opened up education, training and work opportunities for parents and has reduced the cost of early learning and care to families – benefitting entire households.
We now have a strong foundation for the roll out of the new National Childcare Scheme later this year – with many children expected to benefit from wraparound supports under the Scheme along with thousands more children, including those not yet enrolled in the ECCE Programme and those of school-going age. I am conscious of the hugely important role of pre-school education and the need for its continued development and look forward to outlining further steps next month when the initial implementation plan for First 5 – the whole of Government strategy for babies, young children and their families is published.”


You can see the full announcement on the DCYA website here.