The Programme has been in existence since the 1998/99 school year. The overall aim of the Programme is to provide one year’s pre‑school education for every child whose parents wish it.
The Pre‑School Education Expansion Programme is planned and implemented at local level by a Pre‑School Education Advisory Group (PEAG) in each of the 5 Education Authority areas. Each PEAG includes representatives from the statutory, voluntary and private sectors and is chaired by an officer or member of the Education Authority. PEAGs have overlapping membership with the Childcare Partnerships.
Each PEAG undertakes an annual review of provision taking into account factors such as the return of unfilled places by pre‑school education centres, demographic changes and the relocation/closure of settings, in order to ensure that the distribution of places continues to meet the needs of each area. The PEAG then considers applications from additional providers in order to ensure the number of funded pre‑school places in those areas where a shortfall has been identified reaches an acceptable level.
Pre‑school education places are targeted in the first instance on children from socially disadvantaged circumstances and the oldest pre‑school 4‑year olds (those with July or August birthdays) and these children therefore receive priority under the admissions criteria which apply to all funded pre‑school education places.
All places secured under the Programme are part‑time (normally 5 sessions per week, each lasting at least 2.5 hours) and provided on a full year basis (normally secured for 38 weeks over the school year, from September to June. Three and four year olds in their final pre‑school year are eligible for places, with priority being given to the target group. However, it is not possible to guarantee places for individual children in the target group.
Any pre‑school education centre receiving funding under the Programme is required to provide the places for the full academic year once its allocation of places has been confirmed and the school year has commenced. In the interests of providing continuity of experience for the children, providers are expected to remain in the Programme for the full academic year unless exceptional circumstances arise.
Funded places are provided in the statutory, voluntary and private sectors. Places secured under the Programme in voluntary and private settings registered with Health and Social Care Trusts are funded at a flat rate each academic year. Nursery schools and classes are funded under the Local Management of Schools (LMS) arrangements.