Minister Fitzgerald commits to comprehensive Pre-School Quality Agenda

-   Susan Moss

Frances Fitzgerald T.D., Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, has today committed to delivering a comprehensive and multi-faceted Pre-School Quality Agenda.

The Minister was addressing the official launch of the new National Association of Childhood Professionals at an event in the Clock Tower, Marlborough Street.

The Minister stated: “The establishment of this association as the representative body for childhood professionals in Ireland is an important development and one which I warmly welcome”.

However the Minister commented that the scale of action required must not be underestimated. She said: “There is no one single simple solution. We should not distil our national response to a narrow or overly-simplistic focus on single aspects of the current debate, such as, for example, inspections.”

“What is required is a multi-faceted agenda.”

The Minister noted that there is now intense public focus on the quality of pre-school services and this represents a “critical opportunity to deliver improvements and to drive reform”.

“In past years there has been too much of a focus on building facilities and not enough on building children’s futures. I am committed to addressing this legacy and to building a system of quality, affordable and accessible pre-school and childcare; and to ultimately improving the experience and outcomes for children.”

The Minister added that ” my Department and I have been working on a comprehensive Pre-School Quality Agenda.”

The Minister said that this agenda involved working to:
– increase the required qualification standards of childcare staff;
– support implementation of Síolta and Aistear, including examining the establishment of nationwide mentoring supports;
– implement new National Pre-School Standards.;
– introduce registration of all childcare providers;
– develop a more robust, consistent and regular inspection system;
– publish inspection reports;
– ensure action is taken in response to findings of non-compliance;
– increase sanctions for non-compliant childcare providers.

The Minister also addressed proposals for a a second free-pre-school year, stating: “This pre-school quality agenda represents an essential building block towards the future extension of universal pre-school provision; including the objective which I have previously spoken of in relation to introducing a second free-pre-school year.”

“There is a wealth of research which highlights the economic benefits of investing in the early years and which demonstrates how quality pre-school provision can greatly contribute to improved educational and developmental outcomes for children, including school-readiness. A second free-pre-school year would also represent an equivalent saving of approximately €2,500 – €3,000 in childcare costs for parents.”

“However in discussing the possible extension of the free pre-school year, I have also always been clear that ensuring quality provision is critical. I see my pre-school quality agenda; and measures as to be considered in the context of Budget 2014, as a first step in a multi-annual approach which could eventually lead to the introduction of a second year”

The Minister concluded by highlighting the multi-annual aspect of this work, stating that “just like the ambitious and comprehensive reform programme underway in child protection, let us be clear: a sustained effort is required for a significant period ahead; and this will not be done overnight.”  

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