Early childhood education generally means education before the start of formal schooling or before the age at which children are generally required to attend school. It covers the period from birth to 6 years. Legislation on school attendance requires children to be at school (or receiving an education) from the age of 6. In practice, almost all 5-year-olds and about half of 4-year-olds actually attend primary schools.
Early childhood education services include infant classes in primary schools and a range of childcare and preschool services.
The involvement of the Department of Education and Skills in early childhood education focuses mainly on interventions for children who are disadvantaged or have special needs. The Early Years Education Policy Unit of the Department of Education and Skills and the Office of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs work on policy issues affecting early childhood care and education.
Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Scheme
The Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Scheme provides for a year of free early care and education for children of pre-school age. It started in January 2010. In general, the provision amounts to 3 hours per day, 5 days a week over a 38-week year for children enrolled in participating playschools. Children enrolled in childcare services receive 2 hours and 15 minutes per day over a 50-week period.
The ECCE scheme is administered by the Office of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs.