Pre-School Education Places

In Northern Ireland pre-school education is non-compulsory for all children.

The Department of Education does, however, aim to provide one year of funded pre-school education for children in their immediate school year (i.e. the year before they start their compulsory schooling) for every child whose parents want it.  We do this through the Pre-School Education Programme (PSEP), which is a universal service offering funded pre-school education places in a range of settings in statutory (nursery schools and nursery units in primary schools) and non-statutory (voluntary and private) pre-school settings.  

Pre-school provision is not defined according to sectors (eg integrated, Roman catholic maintained or controlled), so all pre-school setting, regardless of location, are considered accessible to children from all backgrounds.  All providers deliver the pre-school year in line with the same curricular guidance and all are open to inspection by the Education and Training Inspectorate. 

Each year most parents (approximately 94%) apply for and accept a funded pre-school education place for their child. In 2022/23, over 22,000 children were admitted to funded pre-school places in the PSEP.  For each of the last eight years, at least 99.8% of children whose parents stayed with the admissions process to the end received the offer of a funded pre-school place in a pre-school setting of their parent’s preference.

Parents can apply for a funded pre-school education place through the open enrolment admissions process, which is managed by the Education Authority (EA) on behalf of the Department.  The pre-school admissions process usually commences in early January when Stage One opens for applications.  The majority of children who apply at Stage One are offered a place at the end of Stage One in April, but for those who are not, there is a further opportunity to secure a place at Stage Two of the process, when new applications or alternative preferences can be submitted. Stage Two concludes in mid-June each year.  The admissions process is preference based and when applying, parents are advised to apply to a range of settings to which they would be happy to send their child and are offered places only in settings to which they have applied.

Applications for funded pre-school education places are submitted online through the EA website - see link below.

Education Authority website

Paper applications are also available on request by contacting the pre-school setting you may be considering applying to for your child. 

Admissions criteria for all pre-school settings participating in the PSEP are published annually by the EA and are available on their website.  More information on the admissions process is also available on the EA website using the link above.

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