Childcare centres say they are not ready for the extension of the free preschool year

Preschools have warned that many of them may not be ready to provide the additional free childcare places required under Government plans due to capacity and recruitment challenges.

From next month, the scheme providing free preschool for children in the year before they enter primary school will expand.

Children will now be eligible to start free preschool when they reach the age of three and continue to avail of free preschool until they start primary school – as long as the child is not older than five years and six months at the end of the preschool year in June.

The extension poses a major challenge for the sector, which must almost double the number of childcare places from about 67,000 to 127,000 over the coming months.

Teresa Heeney of Early Childhood Ireland (ECI), the main representative body for preschools, said she expects shortages in places in many urban areas where there has been rapid population growth.

“It is a huge jump and it’s an enormous national policy which the Government is trying to deliver for relatively little money,” she said.

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