Deferral of School Starting Age

Information on deferring school starting age for pre-school and primary one.

Legislation allows a parent/guardian to request to defer their child starting pre-school and primary school by one year. 

What does deferral mean?

Deferral means delaying starting Primary 1 or Pre-School for one year from September 2024 to September 2025. 

If you delay your child from starting Pre-School your child would then in turn delay starting primary school until September 2026.   This would mean your child would start pre-school aged 4 and primary school (P1) aged 5.

If you delay your child from starting Primary 1 your child would then in turn delay starting primary school until September 2025.   This would mean your child would start primary school (P1) aged 5. 

Your child would then (unless in very unusual circumstances such as serious illness) remain within the relevant year group as above throughout their time at school. 

Children who defer will transfer to post-primary school in September following their 12th birthday and complete compulsory education (Year 12) in the year they turn 17, though they may of course continue to sixth form (Year 14).

Who is eligible to defer?

Children are eligible for deferral if they were born on or between 1 April – 1 July (inclusive) and also children who were due to be born on or between those dates but were born early. 

For the School Year September 2024 – June 2025 the dates of birth are:

  • Deferring P1 - Children born on or between 1 April 2020 and 1 July 2020.  Any child who was born before 1 April 2020 but who was due to be born on or after 1 April 2020 if born at term.
     
  • Deferring Pre-School (Target Year) – Children born on or between 1 April 2021 and 1 July 2021.   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.

How do I defer?

I have already registered on EA Connect and have added my child, how do I submit a request to defer?

If you wish to defer your child and have already registered on EA Connect and have added your child in your account, login into EA Connect and select Request Deferral for your child.  For guidance on EA Connect visit  Admissions Videos and Guidance.

I have not registered on EA Connect, how do I submit a request to defer?

If you wish to defer your child and have not registered on EA Connect, register now on EA Connect, add your child into your account and then select Request Deferral for your child. For guidance on EA Connect visit Admissions Videos and Guidance.

When will I know the outcome of my request to defer my child?

You will receive a confirmation email and a further email will then be sent to you when your request to defer has been processed.   

If my P1 Deferral request has been approved and I wish to apply for Pre-School (Target age), how do I apply?

If your deferral request is approved and you then wish to apply for a Pre-School place for September 2024, read the FAQs below including ‘What is Deferral and Late Deferral?’. 

If you wish to apply for a Pre-School place the EA Connect Portal to submit a pre-school (target age) application is closed and will reopen on 25 April 2024 for Stage 2 of the Pre-School Admissions procedure.   Further information on ‘How to Apply’ will be available at that time under Applying for a Pre-School Place .  

If my Pre-School (Target Age) Deferral request has been approved and I wish to apply for Pre-School (Underage), how do I apply?

If your deferral request is approved and you then wish to apply for a Pre-School (Underage) place for September 2024, the EA Connect Portal to submit a pre-school (underage) application is closed and will reopen on 25 April 2024 for Stage 2 of the Pre-School Admissions procedure.   Further information on ‘How to Apply’ will be available at that time under Applying for a Pre-School Place .  

FAQs - Deferral of School Starting Age

What is Deferral and Late Deferral?

If you have deferred your child from starting P1 and apply for a funded pre-school place for September 2024, Deferral and Late Deferral are defined in the published admissions criteria of pre-schools as follows:

Deferral:

If a child:

  • was born on or between 1 April 2020 - 1 July 2020 (inclusive), or was due to be born on or between those dates but was born earlier; and,
  • has not attended or is not currently attending a funded pre-school setting under the Pre-School Education Programme as a target aged (not penultimate aged) child; and,
  • where that child’s parent has completed a request to defer their child starting P1; then,
  • a submitted pre-school application form will be prioritised within the published admissions timetable dates as a “target age” or “final pre-school year” child.

An application received as defined under the definition of ‘Deferral’ is processed in Stage 1 of the admissions process if the pre-school application is received by 4pm on 31 January 2024.   The outcome of applications that are processed in Stage 1 will be available on 25 April 2024.   (Note an application received from 12 noon 26 January 2024 to 4pm on 31 January 2024 is treated as late).

A pre-school application received as defined under the definition of ‘Deferral’ can still be received and processed in Stage 2 of the admissions process (commences 25 April 2024).

Late deferral:

If a child:

  • was born on or between 1 April 2020 - 1 July 2020 (inclusive), or was due to be born on or between those dates but was born earlier; and,
  • has attended or is currently attending a funded pre-school setting under the Pre-School Education Programme as a target aged (not penultimate aged) child; and,
  • where that child’s parent has completed a request to defer their child starting P1; then,
  • a submitted pre-school application will not be prioritised within the published admissions timetable dates as a “target age” or “final pre-school year” child.

This is because the child will have already been prioritised within the pre-school admissions process, so cannot be prioritised for a second time. A parent can apply for a further year of funded pre-school education for them, but this is not guaranteed, and risks a gap in education provision for the child.

An application received as defined under the definition of ‘Late Deferral’ is processed in Stage 2 of the admissions procedure even if the pre-school application is received in January 2024.   Stage 2 commences 25 April 2024.  The outcome of applications processed in Stage 2 will be available on 11 June 2024.  

Pre-Schools will apply the published admissions criteria where they receive more applications than funded places available.

Further information on the admissions procedure is available in our Admissions section.

What happens currently?

In Northern Ireland children start primary school in September if they are 4 years old by 1 July of that year.  Children born in July, August and September are the oldest in the school year group whereas those born in April, May and June are the youngest. These younger children are sometimes called Young for Year children.

The School Age (NI) Act became law in Northern Ireland on 28 April 2022.  The legislation allows a parent to request their child to defer entry to compulsory schooling (P1) by a year.  In order to ensure continuity for children whose parents decide to defer their child, a parent can also defer their child’s entry to funded pre-school education.

It will also allow children born early, who would have been born on or after 1 April, if born at term, to defer. There is no requirement for any child deferring P1 to receive home education during that year.

Do I have to defer my child?

If you wish to continue with your application for pre-school (target age) or primary one in September 2024, you do not have to do anything and your child’s application will continue to be processed as normal.  Notification of the outcome of your application will be available to view on the EA Connect Portal on 25 April 2024.  If you submitted a paper application you will receive a letter/email from the school where your child has been offered a place also on this date.  We anticipate that the majority of parents of eligible children will not choose deferral for their child.

Is deferral best for my child?

For most children, deferral is not necessary or recommended.

However, if you have concerns about your child’s development, you are strongly encouraged to speak to your GP or Health Visitor to discuss your concerns. In September 2024, the majority of children born on or between 1 April 2020 and 1 July 2020 will continue to start primary school or children born on or between 1 April 2021 and 1 July 2021 will start pre-school.

In making your decision about deferral, it is important to remember that the majority of children regardless of their age within the year group thrive at pre-school or primary school and we have excellent pre-schools and primary schools in Northern Ireland.

At both pre-school and in Primary 1 and 2 years of education, (primary years are called the Foundation Stage), enable children to learn through well-planned, challenging play, recognising that all young children learn best when learning is interactive, practical and enjoyable. Please also be assured that children start pre-school or primary school with a whole range of abilities and at different levels of maturity. Children learn at their own pace and pre-school educators and teachers are trained to adapt the school day and all activities and learning to meet a range of children’s needs, including those who are the youngest children in the year group.

If you do not have significant concerns about your child starting pre-school or primary school, it is unlikely that deferral is the best option for them.

More detail on pre-school and the early years of primary school are available on the CCEA website at CCEA - Pre-School and Foundation Stage | CCEA.

Does my child need to be assessed in order to defer?

No, deferral is a matter of parental choice and no educational assessment is required.  However, if you have concerns about your child’s development, you are strongly encouraged to speak to your GP or Health Visitor to discuss your concerns.

Do I have to provide medical evidence to confirm my child was born earlier than their expected due date?

Medical evidence is ONLY required for any child who was born before 1 April but who was due to be born on or after 1 April if born at term.    You will need to have your medical evidence ready to upload on EA Connect when you are requesting to defer your child.

Recommended medical evidence can include one of the following:

Evidence must clearly show the child's name, expected due date and actual date your child was born (the information provided will only be held by the Education Authority for the purposes of processing this request).

  • Personal Child Health Record (Red Book); or 
  • Letter or any other evidence from GP, Midwife or Health Visitor or any other Health Professional involved with your child; or
  • Maternity Certificate (MAT B1).

NB: You do not need to provide all pages of any medical evidence held - You ONLY need to take a photo image of medical evidence that shows the child’s name, expected due date and actual date your child was born.

My child is currently under Statutory Assessment – can I defer?

If your child is known to Special Education and going through the Statutory Assessment process the option to defer your child would also be available to you to consider if you so wish. A statutory assessment may not necessarily lead to a statement of special educational needs so normal admissions processes apply.

If your child has a statement or receives a Statement of Special Educational Needs (SEN 3), staff from your local Special Education Office will be in contact with you about your child’s placement.  If you require any further information contact numbers for Special Education can be found on the EA website here or by calling the SEN Helpdesk on 028 9598 5960 (available Monday - Friday 9am–5pm).

If I defer my child commencing P1 – can he/she remain in the Pre-school currently attended?

No, there is no guarantee that your child will be offered a place in their current pre-school.  You will have the option to apply for a funded pre-school place.

NB: If your child defers P1 and has already had a year of preschool education as a final preschool year child your pre-school application will not be considered until Stage 2 which commences 25 April 2024, as your child cannot be prioritised as ‘target age’ for 2 consecutive years. There is no guarantee of a funded pre-school place.

Am I entitled to two years of government funded pre-school for my child if I request deferral?

There is not an automatic entitlement to more than one year in a government funded pre-school.   However, you will have the opportunity to apply for a funded year of pre-school.

If you defer your child from starting P1 and your child has attended or is currently attending pre-school as a target aged child, your application for a funded pre-school place will not be considered until Stage 2 of the Pre-School Admissions procedure commences (i.e. 25 April 2024).  This is because, children can only be prioritised as ‘target age’ for a funded pre-school place once.

Admissions Helpdesk

If you have any additional queries please contact our Admissions Helpdesk. 

Last updated: 31/01/2024