Applying for a funded pre-school place – 2024/25

Guidance on how to apply for a funded pre-school education place as well as information about the Department of Education run pre-school education programme.

Applying for a funded pre-school education place 2024/25

Funded pre-school education is provided under the Pre-School Education Programme.  This is a programme funded by the Department of Education (DE) with the aim to provide one year of non-compulsory pre-school education to every child in their immediate pre-school year whose family want it.  It provides a rich variety of challenging play-based learning activities and other experiences in a stimulating environment and will help prepare your child for primary school.

The DE Pre-School Education Programme provides funded pre-school education places: it is not free or funded childcare.  Information on childcare provision is available at Family Support NI.

What age should my child be to access a pre-school education place in September 2024?

The Pre-School Education Programme for the 2024/25 school year is targeted at children born between 2 July 2020 and 1 July 2021.  If your child was born during this period you will be eligible to apply for admission to either a Nursery School or Nursery Unit or Playgroup for the school year 2024/25. 

If funded places are still available after target age children are admitted then underage children born on or between 2 July 2021 and 1 July 2022 may also be admitted.  If your child falls within this age group you will be eligible to apply to only a Nursery School or a Nursery Unit within a primary school.

Deferral for younger children

The School Age (Northern Ireland) Act 2022 now allows the parents or guardians of Young for Year to defer the start of pre-school and in turn primary school for their child for one year. If the child defers prior to starting pre-school, they will then start pre-school in September following their 4th birthday and primary school in September following their 5th birthday.

You can also find more information about this here

Frequently asked questions relating to deferral of pre-school are also available on the EA website and can be accessed here

When should I apply for a pre-school education place?

The Pre-School admissions process for the 2024/25 school year commences at Noon on Tuesday 9 January 2024 with Stage one of the process closing at Noon on Friday 26 January 2024.

An application received during this timeframe will be treated as ‘punctual’.  If received after Noon on Friday 26 January 2024 and by 4pm on Wednesday 31 January 2024 the application will be treated as target age ‘late’ in Stage 1; or underage late throughout the procedure.


Following completion of the application parents must provide any documentation requested in support of their application and will have until 4pm on Wednesday 31 January 2024 to do this.  Such documentation may include the child’s birth certificate or any other documents as requested in the published admissions criteria of the parent’s nominated pre-school preference(s).

You can make a late application for a funded pre-school education place until 4pm 31 January 2024.  However, applications for funded pre-school places received by the closing date and time (Noon 26 January 2024) will be considered first. 

Any applications/information received after 4pm on 31 January 2024 will not be processed until Stage 2 of the pre-school admissions process.

Where are pre-school education places available?

Pre-school education places are available in nursery schools, primary schools with nursery units and voluntary/private settings that have funded places.  Pre-school education is not defined according to sectors so all pre-school education settings, regardless of location, are considered accessible to children from all backgrounds.

How do I complete an application for a pre-school place?

Parents can apply for funded pre-school education places online, through the Education Authority website which was updated with information on the 2024/25 admissions process from 12 December 2023.

Education Authority website

You will complete one online application, listing all the pre-school education settings you wish your child to be considered for.

Please note that it may not be possible to secure a place at your first preference setting if more children apply to a setting than there are places available.  It is therefore important to list as many settings as possible (that you are willing to send your child to) on your application.

The admissions criteria for all pre-school settings in Northern Ireland was published on the Education Authority website from Tuesday 12 December 2023.  

If additional information is required or you have any difficulty when making an application, or you need to apply in another format, you can contact the Education Authority admissions helpdesk on:

028 9598 5595

or via email at the address below


Back to top