What are the Overage Exemptions?
When the ECCE programme was introduced in 2010 it contained no additional provision or support for children with disabilities. It did facilitate children with disabilities by allowing them to either commence ECCE later and/or spread their ‘year’ over two years.
If either of these accommodations involved a child participating in the ECCE programme above the programme’s upper age limit (5 years and 6 months) an application had to be made to the Department of Children and Youth Affairs.
These accommodations became known as ECCE overage exemptions.
After the establishment of the Access and Inclusion Model (AIM) (a programme of universal and targeted support for children with disabilities in ECCE) in 2016 and the decision to extend ECCE from one year to two years for all children from September 2018 was taken, the Department of Children and Youth decided to cease the process of approving overage exemptions.
However, concerns were raised by some stakeholders and the Department asked the National Disability Authority to conduct an evidence-based review, which would include significant consultation with parents.
The National Disability Authority’s Report
Our report, which was submitted to the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs and the Minister for Education and Skills in 2018, was based on
A review of the international literature
A survey of parents and follow up interviews
A review of a sample of redacted overage exemptions applications
An analysis of overage exemption and AIM administrative data
A consultation event with parents and other stakeholders
Some of the key findings of the review were that:
Many parents experience the support available to young children with disabilities as fragmented
Parents surveyed and interviewed had significant concerns about their child’s ‘school readiness’ but had differing views of what skills or attributes were required in school.
Only half of those surveyed had sought advice from an educational professional (such as a teacher or school principal) before applying for an ECCE overage exemption
In addition to concerns about perceived ‘school readiness,’ some parents were concerned about the approach to teaching in schools and the expectations they believed would be placed on their child in that context
Transition planning processes for all children from pre-school to school in Ireland are underdeveloped but parents of children with disabilities have additional concerns and information requirements. They need access to information and support around transitions
Pre-school practitioners appear to be key providers of information and advice on ECCE overage exemption. Other research has shown that many pre-school practitioners believe that a school starting age, which is older than the average Irish school starting age of 4 to 5 years, is preferable
AIM supports and the ECCE overage exemption process are not connected.
Approximately, two-thirds of ECCE overage exemption recipients do not have AIM support. Some survey respondents were given information on ECCE overage exemptions by pre-school staff but said that AIM supports were never discussed with them
The ECCE overage exemption appears to now primarily meet the need of parents who start their children in ECCE with the intention of sending them to school with their age peers but who subsequently decide that their child needs additional time in ECCE to prepare for school
Support for communication and language development is a factor for a significant proportion of children who currently have an ECCE overage exemption
The available evidence from the peer-reviewed literature suggests that there should be a cautious approach to children with disabilities not progressing along the education continuum with their peers.
However, most of the peer jurisdictions reviewed had processes for dealing with exceptional cases where children do not progress to school with their peers.
A ‘team around the child’ approach was typically central to informing or making decisions on those exceptional cases.