Pre-school Admissions Guide

Although pre-school isn't compulsory it has benefits. Our guide will help you understand more about the process and what to expect when applying for a place in pre-school for your child.

General Information

My child is under the age of 2, can I apply for pre-school?

No, if your child is under the age of 2 you can make contact with the Early Years Organisation or Family Support NI for further advice 

Early Years Organisation

Family Support NI 

Is Pre-School compulsory?

No, although good quality pre-school education has important benefits.  Parents make application for a funded place on the understanding that their child will attend 5 days per week.  This will enable their child to benefit fully from a quality pre-school experience.

Do I need to put my name down or register with a pre-school provider?

No and even if you have given your name to a provider, you would still need to apply for admission.

What is a funded Pre-School?

A funded pre-school place is provided under the Pre-School Education Programme. It normally consists of five sessions per week, each lasting 2½ hours per day during the school year. In nursery schools and primary schools with nursery units, attendance takes the form of full day (4½ hours per day) or part-time (2½ hours per day, either morning or afternoon sessions).

Nursery schools and Primary schools with nursery units can offer either full time or part time sessions which can be either morning or afternoon.  A few schools have both full-time and part-time sessions.

Voluntary/Private providers only offer part time sessions.

A child is only entitled to one funded place in a school or playgroup or private nursery e.g. a child may not have a funded place in a playgroup in the morning and attend a nursery school in the afternoon.

Can my child be enrolled for a second year in Pre-School

If your child is already attending pre-school and is at the age to apply for a second year, you still must complete an application. There is no automatic entitlement to a second year placement.

Can my child do another year in funded Pre-School instead of starting school?

No. A child over compulsory school age is not entitled to a funded pre-school education place.

Our information leaflet entitled ‘School Starting Age – A Guide for Parents' includes information on the legislation that determines compulsory school age, making your own arrangements to educate your child of compulsory age and advice on what to do if you have concerns about your child settling into primary school.

What does Socially Disadvantaged mean?

Socially disadvantaged applies to a child whose parent is in receipt of any of the following benefits -

  • Income Support
  • Income-based Jobseeker's Allowance
  • An award of Income Support which has been converted into an Employment and Support Allowance and the level of benefit remains the same
  • Universal Credit.

Legislation requires Pre-School providers to give priority to children in their final pre-school year who are from socially disadvantaged circumstances.

Can I complete more than one application?

No. If you have made more than one application you will have made a false declaration.

In the event that parents are discovered to have lodged more than one application form, then the first application lodged will normally be treated as the formal expression of parental preference and all other applications  will not be considered.

Who can I speak to about a Pre-School provider’s published admissions criteria?

The Board of Governors of a Nursery School or Primary School with a Nursery Unit and the Management Committee of a Voluntary or Private Playgroup are responsible for determining and applying their own admissions criteria.  Any queries on the content of the criteria should be directed to the pre-school provider.

Parents cannot agree on which schools to apply to

In cases where parents cannot agree on the preferences for their child, they should endeavour to do so as soon as possible to minimise the risk of their child being unplaced. If mutual agreement is not possible ultimately you may need to obtain a Specific Issues Order from the court.

Where can I find other information on Pre-Schools?

Other sources for this information may include:

Children with Special Educational Needs

If your child is undergoing statutory assessment you still need to apply for a pre-school place.  This will ensure your child secures a place in the event that the statutory process determines that your child does not require a statement. If/when your child's statement is put in place, the application you submit will become null and void.

Already has statement of special educational needs (SEN 5)

You do not need to submit an application for admission for a pre-school place.

Where are Pre-school places available?

Pre-school places are available in : 

Nursery Schools

Primary Schools with Nursery Units

Voluntary / Private Settings that have funded pre-school places (these settings are known as providers)

What curriculum is taught in Pre-school?

All funded pre-school education centres must follow common curricular guidance to plan and organise the children's learning.

Can I apply for a pre-school place and a place in reception class?

A small number of primary schools have a Reception Class for children who are aged four at the date of their admission but who are not yet compulsory school age (i.e. children who become aged 4 after 1 July in a year).  Click here for further details.

Can I pay for my child's pre-school education?

If you wish you may contact any private or voluntary provider of your choice directly with regard to a fee paying place for your child.

Priority of Target and Underage applications

A target age (final pre-school age) child will always get priority over an underage pre-school age child during the admissions procedure.

How do pre-school providers decide who to accept?

If a pre-school provider has sufficient funded places all eligible children will be accepted.   If a provider has more applications than funded places it will be required, by law, to give priority to:-

  1. Children from socially disadvantaged circumstances in their final pre-school year i.e. born on or between 2 July 2015 and 1 July 2016
  2. Children not falling within sub-paragraph (i) in their final pre-school year;

and who at the time of their proposed admission will not have a pre-school education place, whether full-time or part-time, at another pre-school or any other premises.

Pre-School providers will implement this legal requirement through application of the statutory admissions criteria.  If there are more applications meeting a particular statutory criterion than there are places available then the provider will select between these applicants by applying its own sub-criteria; these sub-criteria normally differ from provider to provider.

(For further information on what is meant by ‘Socially Disadvantaged circumstances’ see under the section on General Information within this website)

When will any document(s) that I have provided in support of my application be returned to me?

Original documents will be returned to you by the pre-school provider as applicable at the time of application or where your child is placed.  The EA will return original documents to those who have been unsuccessful in securing a pre-school place on Tuesday 11 June 2019.  

Admissions Helpdesk

If additional information is required or any difficulty is experienced, parents can contact the admissions helpdesk on:

028 9598 5595

Helpline open from 9am to 5pm

or email the relevant address listed below

Last updated: 10/05/2019