Qualified teachers should be working in pre-schools, according to an education expert from the University of Oxford who will be addressing a seminar in Ireland today.
Professor Kathy Sylva said that while the benefits of early childhood education were widely accepted, studies were now pointing to the importance of quality, and a characteristic of a high quality pre-school was having teachers trained to degree standard, which in Ireland is a Level 8 qualification.
Prof Sylva's recommendation is a long way from practice in Ireland, where the long-awaited and, now, further delayed, roll-out of minimum educational standards for all pre-school staff is focused on qualifications at levels 5-7.
According to Prof Sylva, the quality of early childhood care has a significant impact in key areas such as reading, independence, persistence, confidence, and leadership.
Early childhood education is regarded as a key to tackling educational inequality and Prof Sylva says her research shows that attending high quality pre-schools boosts overall performance, and by giving young children from all backgrounds access to these schools, long-term socio-economic disparities among students are reduced.
The professor of educational psychology, who is addressing the annual Maynooth University Education Forum - on the theme of educational disadvantage - said the elimination of education inequality for pre-school children was not only a moral imperative for modern societies including Ireland, but would have a significant impact on national economies. She said for every euro invested in pre-school education, there was a 16-fold return to the public purse by the time those children hit 40.
Meanwhile, global education expert, Dr Pasi Sahlberg, told a debate on educational reform and improvement, at the Department of Education yesterday, that giving parents more school choice and driving competition was not the way to improve performance and policy-makers should focus on equity in education.
*The Irish National Teachers' Organisation has criticised the delay in notifying schools about the number of special needs assistants they will be allocated from September, which, it said was causing uncertainty.
A spokesperson for Education Minister, Jan O'Sullivan said she would be seeking to confirm allocations over the next 10 days.