The Free preschool place 2017 deadline is approaching!

Here is what you need to know…

In Northern Ireland, children are entitled to a free preschool place in the year before they start their first year of primary school. Unfortunately, there appears to be a lot of uncertainty about the application process for places for the final preschool year. This article will help to clarify who is eligible, how to apply, and where to access more information.

Who should apply?

Parents of children who are entering their final preschool year, i.e. have turned three on or before 1st July of the year they are due to start preschool, are encouraged to apply for a preschool place. For example, for a preschool place for the academic year beginning September 2017 the child’s third birthday should fall between 2nd July 2016 and 1st July 2017.

Why should I apply?

Preschool education is not compulsory, however there is strong evidence to suggest that high quality preschool education has immensely positive outcomes for children.

How do I apply?

You need to obtain an application form from your local pre-school setting or from the Education Authority’s website. The form should be completed giving at least three preferences of preschool setting and returned to your first choice of provider.

When should I apply?

The application packs are available in early December with the closing date for applications is noon on 11 January 2017 for those applying for a September 2017 place.

You should return your completed application form to your first choice provider by the closing date.

What if I miss the closing date?

If your application form has not been received by the closing date, it will be treated as late. If your chosen preschool provider is oversubscribed with applications for children in their final preschool year, then preference will be given to applications which were received by the closing date, regardless of how your child has met the admissions criteria.

If you are applying for a place for your child’s final preschool year and your chosen provider is not oversubscribed, then your application will take preference over any applications received on time for younger children who are in their penultimate preschool year.

What are the criteria?

Settings must adhere to strict admissions criteria, each provider will also have its own set of criteria which may include:

  • Children whose parents receive certain means-tested benefits
  • Children whose application lists that particular setting as first preference
  • Children who have siblings who have attended, or have parents employed by, the setting (or in the case of nursery units, those who attend or are employed by the adjoining school)
  • Children who live nearest to the setting.

Where can I get more information?

Visit to find out more.

For further information on preschool places or any other childcare or work related issue, call our Family Benefits Advisors today on 028 9267 8200 or email