Minister Fitzgerald outlines agenda to improve pre-school quality

-   Susan Moss

Frances Fitzgerald TD, Minister for Children & Youth Affairs has today outlined her commitment and agenda for improving quality in pre-school services.

The Minister stated: “As Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, driving the early childhood care and education quality agenda is one of my key objectives. I believe we can achieve this objective by taking a number of steps which my Department, in conjunction with the Department of Education and Skills, has been examining.

The steps referred to by the Minister include:
enhancing the supports available to individual pre-school services in implementing Síolta and Aistear.
adapting the existing pre-school inspection system to provide an early education inspection and assessment system, similar to that in place for primary schools.

reviewing the professional training system for early education practitioners to ensure that it has the capability to deliver accessible and affordable training of appropriate quality at the required standards.
The Minister pointed out that previous governments had failed to invest in quality assurance measures, including to support the introduction of the free pre-school year.

The Minister further told the Dáil that in 2011, 2,789 childcare providers were subject to inspections by the HSE – an inspection rate of over 61% in a single year. The Minister noted that this compares very favourably with comparable jurisdictions such as England where Ofsted operates a policy of inspecting childcare providers on a 3-4 year cycle.

However, the Minister stated that “the Government and I are very conscious of the continuing imperative to deliver improvements in quality in early years and childcare provision. As part of this, I have prioritised the need to introduce a more comprehensive and broader-based inspection regime for preschools, moving to a greater focus on children’s outcomes, including in relation to educational development and child wellbeing.”

In support of this, a Joint Pilot Inspection of Early Years Services was carried out by Inspectors from the Health Service Executive and the Department of Education and Skills between September 2011 and May 2012.

The Minister added: “This Joint Inspection pilot will inform the proactive approach being taken by my Department.”

The findings of the report highlight the importance of quality practice within early childhood settings and the need to support the development of professional expertise among staff, including with respect to planning and implementing a clearly-structured, well-referenced programme of activities, as outlined in the Síolta and Aistear frameworks.

The Minister also referred to the issue of staff qualifications. The Minster told the Dáil that there had been very significant developments on this front in recent years; and she referred to the Pobal Annual Survey of childcare providers for 2011 which found that:

one third of staff had a qualification at degree level
76% of staff had a qualification equal to or higher than FETAC Level 5.

Pobal has stated that their Annual Survey for 2012 is being finalised and has not yet been published.

The Minister concluded: “Developments with respect to quality assurance and workforce development will be further informed by the ongoing work on Ireland’s first-ever Early Years Strategy, which I initiated and which is at an advanced stage of preparation. Any future consideration of proposals to introduce a second free pre-school year will take account of this ongoing work to deliver improvements in quality in early year’s provision.”  

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