Preschool age exemption will apply for now

Some children with disabilities will be allowed to avail of two full years of preschool regardless of what emerges from discussions about changes to the scheme, Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone has said.

She is to shortly announce details of a consultation on plans to amend the rules. Currently, children with disabilities take part in the Government’s free early childhood care and education (ECCE) programme beyond the age limits applying to other children.

The consultation was announced in December, in response to concerns from some parents about the proposal to end the “over-age exemption”.

The exemption has been in place since 2016 and the introduction of a formalised ECCE scheme for children with disabilities.

It was designed to facilitate children whose parents felt they were not ready to begin pre-school at the same age as others.

Ms Zappone’s decision, that no applications for the exemption would be accepted for the 2018/19 school year, was based on advice that it did not serve the children’s best interests. 

One of the points made related to the benefits of starting school, and moving on to second-level, at the same stage as their peers.

But the move prompted a backlash from concerned parents, with 26,500 people supporting an online petition, seeking a reversal.

In December, the minister said that the proposals, due to come into effect from next September, would be paused, in light of the concerns, while the consultation took place.

Yesterday, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs said the minister has now acted to address concerns, raised by some parents who are facing imminent choices about their children’s education.

Whatever changes might happen after the consultation, the minister said they will be able to avail of two full years of preschool.

Parents of children who will be between two years, eight months and two years, 11 months next September, can now defer their start date to September 2019. 

The exemption to the upper age limit is being maintained for this cohort for this period.


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