Information for parents on pre-school application process

In Northern Ireland, children are currently 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 Pre-school admissions guide will be available from Tuesday 12 December 2023 on the Education Authority website. This guide provides parents with the key dates relevant to the application process as well as having information on the admissions criteria for pre-school settings in Northern Ireland.

Each provider will have their own admissions criteria to be used in the event of the pre-school receiving more applications than they have funded places available.

We would encourage parents to review the Education Authority guidance, and the published admissions criteria for their preferred pre-schools carefully, before applying.

The EA Connect portal for online applications opens at 12 noon on Tuesday 9 January 2024 and closes 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.

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.


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

Legislation allows parents of children who are young for their year to defer the start of pre-school and, in turn, primary school for their child for one year.

Deferral of pre-school means delaying your child starting pre-school for one year from September 2024 to September 2025. Your child would then in turn delay starting primary school until September 2025. This would mean your child would start pre-school aged 4 and primary school aged 5. Your child would then (unless in very unusual circumstances such as serious illness) remain within this year group throughout their time at school.

For the new academic year, these arrangements apply to children born on or between 1 April 2021 and 1 July 2021 and any child who was born before 1 April 2021 but who was due to be born on or after 1 April 2021 if born at term.

Further information on the deferral of pre-school and school starting age is available at

Further information

Parents can read further information on the pre-school admission procedure on the Education Authority’s website.

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.