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Applying for a Funded Pre-School Place - 2016/17

What is the Pre-School Education Programme?

This is a programme funded by the Department of Education to provide one year of non-compulsory pre-school education which builds upon the learning that children experience at home. It provides a rich variety of challenging play activities and other experiences in a stimulating environment and will help prepare your child for primary school.  

What age should my child be to access a pre-school place?

Priority will be given to children born between 2 July 2012 and 1 July 2013.  Children born between 2 July 2013 and 1 July 2014 may apply for places in statutory nursery settings but will not receive priority.

When do I need to apply?

The application process for September 2016 will begin on 27 November 2015.  Application forms will be available from then, from your local pre-school provider.

How do I apply?

  • Application forms and a booklet listing all pre-school provision in your area are available from your local pre-school provider or can be accessed from the Education Authority Northern Ireland website.
  • Carefully examine the admissions criteria which apply to pre-school providers in your area offering funded places.
  • Make sure you express preferences for a number of pre-school providers on the application form to maximise your chances of securing a funded pre-school place.
  • Take the completed form and all required documents to your first preference provider before noon on Wednesday 13 January 2016.

Where can I find out more?

Further information about the pre-school admissions process is available on the NI Direct website A paper copy of this information is available on request (Tel: 9127 9235) and can be provided in a number of languages.

or you may contact your local Education Authority:

Education Authority

Further Information

  • The Department of Education’s ‘Valuing Education’ campaign encourages families to play, talk, read and count with their child and to ‘Get Involved Because Education Works’.  It highlights the vital role families can play in helping children do well at school and improve their life chances.  Pre-school education is an important stepping stone in a child’s overall development.
  • Pre-school provision is not defined according to sectors (e.g. integrated, Catholic maintained), so all pre-school settings, regardless of location, are considered accessible to children from all backgrounds.
  • High quality pre-school education is available at all types of pre-school setting, both statutory (nursery schools or nursery units attached to primary schools) and non statutory (voluntary or private providers).  
  • The only difference between full-time and part-time sessions is the length of the each session; all pre-school settings deliver the same curriculum. Research has shown that there are no notable gains for children attending a full-time session.
  • Research has also shown that children from socially disadvantaged circumstances tend to experience more difficulty at school than other children, so they are given priority within the pre-school admissions process as part of wider efforts to tackle educational underachievement.
  • The programme provides funded pre-school education; it is not free day care.
  • You are asked to express a preference for a pre-school provider, not a choice.  It may not be possible to secure a place at your preferred provider, so it is important to apply to more than one provider when invited to do so during Stage 1 of the admissions process.
  • You should examine carefully the admissions criteria that will be used by your preferred providers if they are oversubscribed with applications. Please bear in mind that some pre-school settings give priority to applicants who name them as a first preference. When naming further preferences check to see if they too give priority to applicants who name them as a first preference. If your child is not offered a place at the end of Stage 1 of the process it is important that you take full advantage of the process at Stage 2 where you will be asked to list further preferences.  This will maximise your chances of securing a funded pre-school place.  At the end of the 2015/16 pre-school admissions process, 99.8% of target age children whose parents fully engaged with the process were offered a funded place in a pre-school setting.
  • Please only express preferences for providers that you would be happy to send your child to if offered a place.


The information contained in the attached links currently relates to the 2015/16 pre-school intake.  Information on the 2016/17 intake will be availavle shortly.

Circular - Open Enrolment in Nursery Schools - English (PDF 324KB)

Circular - Open Enrolment in Nursery Schools - Irish (PDF 591KB)

Advice for parents when applying for a pre school place - English (PDF 548KB)

Advice for parents when applying for a pre school place - Irish (PDF 555KB)