Nursery schools

Nursery schools and classes are staffed by teachers and assistants for children in the year before they go to primary school. It is not compulsory. Some places may be available for younger children.

Admission criteria

Places are allocated to children on the basis of a school's admission criteria, together with the parent's stated order of preference for the setting they wish their child to go to.

However, statutory, private and voluntary providers participating in the Pre-School Education Programme are required to give priority in their admissions criteria to children from socially disadvantaged circumstances and whose parents receive Income Support or income-based Jobseekers' Allowance.

More information about nursery schools, including how to get an application form and when to return it by, is available from the Education Authority (EA) in your region:


Most places are available:

  • at least two and a half hours per day
  • five days a week
  • for at least 38 weeks during the period September to June

Some nursery schools and classes may offer full-time places (around four hours, with lunch available). All nursery schools are registered and inspected by the Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI).

Children who go to nursery school get the chance to play and learn alongside other children and acquire skills, which will help prepare them for starting school.

Bear in mind when considering nursery schools and classes:

  • children have the opportunity to play and learn as well as have fun with friends
  • children will be in a group led by a trained teacher
  • it is sometimes free
  • parents who work full time may need to arrange for other childcare to fit around the hours worked
  • children may need to be fully toilet trained
  • are usually only open during the school term

Things to check with nursery schools

  • the staff ratio (1:13), premises, and level of supervision, which should be constant
  • the atmosphere should be calm, happy and well-ordered, with children given plenty of positive reinforcement
  • what out-of-school trips they do and how well organised they are
  • toys and equipment - they should be in good condition and accessible
  • how open staff are with parents

Questions to ask nursery schools

  • how much continuity of care is there? even older, more confident pre-schoolers dislike lots of change and constant new faces to get used to
  • is there a good mix of creative play, free play and sitting down activities?
  • do they have the opportunity for physical play and outdoor activities?

For further information about nursery schools, contact the EA in your region.

More useful links

Share this page


Would you like to leave feedback about this page? Send us your feedback