Applying for a funded pre-school place – 2023/24

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 2023/24

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 2023?

The Pre-School Education Programme for the 2023/24 school year is targeted at children born between 2 July 2019 and 1 July 2020.  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 2023/24. 

If funded places are still available after target age children are admitted then underage children born on or between 2 July 2020 and 1 July 2021 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?

Stage 2 of the pre-school admissions process for 2023/24 school year concluded on 9 June 2023 and parents were notified of the outcome of their applications on 13 June 2023.

Parents that did not submit an application, or did not receive an offer of a funded pre-school place, can continue to engage with the EA and individual settings that still have funded places available in order to obtain a funded place for their child should they wish to do so.  Further information is available on the EA website


Where are pre-school education places available?

Funded 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?

The pre-school admissions process for the 2023/24 academic year has now closed.

The Education Authority (EA) website will be updated with information on the 2024/25 pre-school admissions process in December 2023.

Education Authority website

Parents apply for funded pre-school education places online, through the EA website. During the admissions process 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 will be published on the Education Authority website in December 2023 for the 2024/25 admissions process.  

Stage One of the admissions process will normally commence in early January with completed applications to be submitted usually before the end of January.

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


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