The expansion of the free preschool scheme for children between the ages three to five and a half in Budget 2016 is not what it seems and will not enable children to undertake a Second Free Preschool Year as the government has spun.
Fine Gael and Labour are attempting to mislead parents with these Budget announcements; in reality there will not be a dramatic expansion of free preschool under these changes.
For example, if a child begins his/her free preschool in the September of the year they turn 3, this will mean that by the September next year, will have used 38 weeks childcare, when one excludes summer and Christmas breaks (the current provision).
To gain an extra 38 weeks of preschool (i.e. an extra year) under the scheme, parents would have to make the decision to either re-enrol their child in preschool or enrol them in primary school by the September, when they are over 4 years old.
For lots of different reasons, most parents will choose to place their child in primary school, as more hours per day of childcare are provided in school than in preschool.
Since most children who begin school between ages 4 to 4.5, they will only avail of 2 extra months preschool (for 15 hours per week or total 120 hours).
This expansion is not the Universal Second Free Preschool Year that Fianna Fáil has been calling for and will do very little to reduce families’ childcare bills.
Fianna Fáil is the only party to address the issue of childcare affordability head on and the only party with proposals for directly helping struggling families with the costs of childcare.