Pre-school applications now open in Northern Ireland

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, although some children can access up to 22.5 hours per week.

In September 2022, then Education Minister Michelle McIlveen announced plans to standardise pre-school provision, offering all children a minimum of 22.5 hours of funded pre-school education per week, however it will take some time for this to be fully implemented once the NI Executive has been restored.

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 and that high quality childcare and early years education in general can have a positive impact on children throughout their school years and beyond.

Applying for a pre-school place for the 2024-2025 school year

The EA Connect portal for online pre-school applications is now open and will close at 12 noon on Friday 26 January 2024.  Applications received after then will be treated as late.

Parents have until Wednesday 31 January 2024 at 4pm to submit supporting documentation.

We would encourage parents to review the Education Authority’s Pre-school admissions guide carefully and the published admissions criteria for their preferred pre-schools, before applying. This guide includes information on how to access the EA Portal and is available on the Education Authority website.

This guide also provides parents with the key dates relevant to the application process as well as having information on each provider’s own admissions criteria to be used in the event of the pre-school receiving more applications than they have funded places available.

Note, places are not allocated on a first come, first served basis. Pre-school providers will not consider applications until after the closing date.

If you are unable to apply online, a request for paper applications can be made from the Education Authority Pre-School Admissions Office on 028 9598 5595 or

Who is eligible for a pre-school place in Northern Ireland?

If your child was born on or between 2 July 2020 and 1 July 2021, they will be in their final pre-school year (target age) and you are eligible to apply for their admission to either a Nursery School, Nursery Unit in a primary school, or a voluntary/private playgroup provider which provides funded pre-school places, for the school year beginning September 2024.

If there are funded places still available after all target age places have been allocated then younger children born on or between 2 July 2021 and 1 July 2022 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.

Deferral of pre-school and school starting age

If a child was born on or between 1 April 2021 and 1 July 2021, or was born before 1 April 2021 but was due to be born on or after 1 April 2021 if born at term, legislation allows parents to defer the start of pre-school and, in turn, primary school for their child for one year.

This would mean your child would start pre-school in aged 4 and primary school aged 5. Further information on the deferral of pre-school and school starting age is available at

Further information

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