Extension of Early Childcare Schemes

23 March 2017


DÁIL QUESTION addressed to the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Dr. Katherine Zappone)
by Deputy Brendan Ryan
for WRITTEN ANSWER on 23/03/2017

* To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs her plans to extend the early childcare scheme for families than cannot find a place in their local school and require an extra year for a place to become available; and if she will make a statement on the matter.

Brendan Ryan T.D.

As the Deputy will be aware an expansion of ECCE, the free pre-school programme, took place following Budget 2016. This expansion was given significant consideration by the Inter-Departmental Group on Future Investment in Childcare which reported in July 2015. Senior officials from the Department of Education and Skills contributed to the discussions on an upper age limit for the scheme, taking a child centred approach and considering the delivery of better outcomes for all children. As with any scheme, there must be entry and cut off points. Prior to Budget 2016 the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) programme had one entry point (September) from when children could begin pre-school, and children had to be aged between 3 years and 2 months and 4 years and 7 months by the September to avail of the free pre-school year (i.e. 38 weeks). The programme was then expanded by reducing the age of eligibility to 3 years and by increasing the number of entry points to three throughout the programme year (September, January and April). This means that children can begin to avail of their free place on the pre-school programme as soon as possible after they reach the age of 3 and participate in the programme once they will not be older than 5 years and 6 months by the end of the programme year (i.e. end of June). These rules for ECCE reflect evidence based policy and are necessary from an administrative and budgetary management perspective. Regrettably, it is the nature of such rules that they benefit some more than others and it will therefore not be possible to provide an extension of ECCE in circumstances where a family may be unable to find a place for a child in their local school.

The Department of Education and Skills main responsibility is to ensure that schools in an area can, between them, cater for all pupils seeking school places in the area.
Parents can choose which school to apply to and where the school has places available the pupil should be admitted. However, in schools where there are more applicants than places available, a selection process may be necessary. This selection process and the enrolment policy on which it is based must be non-discriminatory and must be applied fairly in respect of all applicants. However, this may result in some pupils not obtaining a place in the school of their first choice. In a circumstance where a child has been refused a place by a Board of Management of a school, or a person acting on behalf of the Board, a parent or guardian can choose to take an appeal under Section 29 of the Education Act, 1998 to the Secretary General of the Department of Education and Skills, or in the case of an Educational Training Board (ETB) school to the ETB in the first instance. Further information on the Section 29 appeals process is available on the Department of Education and Skills website www.education.ie.

The Educational Welfare Service (EWS) of Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, is the statutory agency which can assist some parents who are experiencing difficulty in securing a school place for their child. The EWS can be contacted at 01-7718500. The Deputy will be aware that, in legislation, the legal school starting age is 6. Prior to a child reaching the age of 6, the Educational Welfare Services of Tusla cannot do anything in terms of representing/advocating for parents to access school places. However, after the age of 6, Tusla's Educational Welfare Service would engage with, advise and support parents in accessing school places, including advising on the writing of appeals, with the Educational Welfare Officers acting as advocates at appeal hearings.

I would also note to the Deputy that plans are currently in train to provide for a new national scheme of financial support for parents towards the cost of their childcare entitled the Affordable Childcare Scheme, which will replace the existing targeted childcare subsidisation schemes with a single, streamlined and more user-friendly scheme. This scheme may be of benefit to some families in the circumstances outlined. Further information on the scheme will be available from my Department shortly