Pre-school inspectors to visit creches in review of standards
Toddlers' learning experiences will be checked by inspectors who start visiting pre-schools from today.
The arrival of Department of Education inspectors to crèches and other early years settings is part of a drive to raise standards, and ensure that the sector is delivering an all-round quality experience. They will focus on the educational experience of children, aged between about 3-5, who are on the free Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) programme.
The pre-school years are regarded as a critical time for laying the foundations for learning, when children can soak up knowledge and skills through play-based activities.
Early years education is particularly valuable in helping to overcome social disadvantage. Quality educational experiences in early childhood contribute to lifelong learning success, while children who miss out probably never catch up.
Providing a universal quality learning experience to children on the ECCE programme helps to level the playing field.
The value of early childhood education is borne out in surveys, such as the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) study conducted by the international think-tank, the OECD, every three years.
PISA compares the performance of 15-year-olds around the world in skills such as reading and maths and it shows that those who attend at least one year of pre-school education perform better.
The new inspections will be separate from visits made to pre-schools on behalf of Tusla, the child and family agency, which are concerned with health and safety.
Typically, pre-schools will get 48 hours' notice of an inspection, and the first of these were issued on Monday, for visits starting today.
Similar to what happens for primary and post-primary schools, the inspectors' findings will be published on the websites of the Department of Education and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, starting in June.
The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) has produced an education programme called Aistear, for the under-sixes, on the types of learning and development that are important in the early years with suggestions on how they might be nurtured.
However, pre-schools are not required to implement the Aistear curriculum and practice varies widely between early childhood care providers.
The Department of Education has recruited nine early years inspectors with specialist qualifications and experience in early childhood education who will work alongside a small number of existing inspectors who also have this expertise.
The inspections are intended to be supportive rather than judgemental and inspectors will give feedback and practical advice to practitioners about how provision can be improved.
Education Minister Jan O'Sullivan, a former Montessori teacher, said the roll-out of the inspections was a very positive development and one in which parents in particular were extremely interested.
It is a joint initiative with the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and planning for it included pilot inspections in 55 pre-schools.
As part of the Early Years Quality Agenda, new qualification requirements for child care workers are also being introduced.