Dáil debates

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Topical Issue Debate

Early Childhood Care and Education

4:45 pm

Photo of Katherine ZapponeKatherine Zappone (Dublin South West, Independent) | Oireachtas source

I thank Deputy Ó Laoghaire for raising an important question, as it gives me an opportunity to put on the record some of the ways in which we have been preparing for the implementation of the new child care regulations. I assure the Deputy that, although I was at an extraordinary event where we launched a report, Children Seen and Heard: 1916 to 2016, at Áras an Uachtaráin, I would never be too busy to be present to respond to his important questions and concerns. I will offer a couple of reflections that go wider in terms of the regulations that are coming into place while addressing the specific question on qualifications, which is important in the context of the regulations' implementation.

I will address the Deputy's question also.

As the Deputy knows, new child care regulations were published in May of this year and will come into effect on a phased basis from 30 June 2016. The 30 county and city child care committees around the country have been providing significant support to providers to deliver and develop their services and to ensure compliance with the regulations. In addition, the Child and Family Agency, Tusla, has hosted multiple roadshows around the country to communicate with providers on how the new regulations will affect them. It is critical that Tusla is doing that. There has been a large attendance at the roadshows and feedback has been positive. The Child and Family Agency is working on the preparation of the quality and regulatory framework which will be used to inform early-years inspectors and providers on compliance with the regulations. As the Deputy indicated, we welcome the regulations. It is important that we have regulations to ensure quality for children. This is proactive work that is being done by Tusla to help the sector to be ready.

A core part of the quality agenda pertains to increasing the qualification standards of those working in preschool child care. This is at the core of the Deputy’s concern. The new regulations require that all staff members working directly with children in preschool services must hold at least a major award in early childhood care and education at level 5 on the national qualifications framework, or a qualification deemed to be equivalent. This requirement will come into effect for newly registering services on 30 June 2016, and for existing services on 31 December 2016. I understand that an estimated 91% of child care workers already meet this requirement, and that the majority of the remainder are currently enrolled in courses that will provide appropriate qualifications.

In order to support staff in meeting the new qualification requirements, my Department established the Learner Fund, which has already allocated €3.5 million to over 3,000 staff for the purpose of upskilling. Funding of €1.5 million was allocated for Learner Fund 4 in budget 2016. This will be allocated to 1,000 early-years practitioners to undertake and complete the level 6 qualification. A large number of further and higher education institutions provide courses that are producing graduates at level 5 through to level 8 every year, and my Department is working with the Department of Education and Skills to monitor supply in the coming years.

My expectation is that, in general, there will be sufficient capacity in the early-years education sector to cater for the September 2016 intake of children for the Early Childhood Care and Education, ECCE, scheme, the expansion of which was announced in budget 2016. This expansion means that children will 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 a result, the number of children benefitting from the ECCE programme will rise from around 67,000 to around 127,000 in a given programme year.


No comments

Log in or join to post a public comment.