Pre-school places: information for parents

In Northern Ireland, children are entitled to a funded pre-school place of at least 12.5 hours per week for 38 weeks in the year before they start primary one. Pre-school education is not compulsory, but it helps prepare your child for primary school by providing a variety of challenging play-based learning activities and other experiences in a stimulating environment. Studies have shown that pre-school education can contribute to better performance in school.

Applying for a pre-school place for the 2021/2022 school year

The portal for online applications opens at 12 noon on Thursday 7 January 2021 and closes at 12 noon on Friday 29 January 2021.  Applications received after then will be treated as late. If you are unable to apply online, a request for paper applications can be made from the Education Authority Pre-School Admissions Office.

Following completion of your application, you have until 12 noon on Friday 5 February 2021 to upload supporting documentation to your first preference pre-school provider. This includes your child’s birth certificate and any other documents as specified by the pre-school in the published admissions criteria. You can search for pre-school admission criteria on the Education Authority website.


If your child was born on or between 2 July 2017 and 1 July 2018, you are eligible to apply for admission to either a Nursery School, Nursery Unit in a primary school, or a voluntary/private playgroup provider for the school year beginning September 2021.

If there are funded places still available after all target age places have been allocated then younger children born on or between 2 July 2018 and 1 July 2019 may also be admitted. If your child falls within this age group you will be eligible to apply to a Nursery School or a Nursery Unit only. Applications for younger children must still be made within the application deadlines above.

Further information

Parents can read further information on the pre-school admission procedure on the Education Authority’s website. The ‘Find a Pre-School’ postcode search option on this website will assist parents in familiarising themselves with the name and location of pre-schools in their area in preparation for nominating their preferences within their application.

Further information regarding funded pre-school places in Northern Ireland is available on our ‘Funded Pre-School Places: Information for Parents’ Factsheet or from our Family Benefits Advice Service on 028 9267 8200.