Finally, it seems that the professional training required for the early childhood education sector is going to be reviewed by the Minister for Education and Skills, Jan O'Sullivan. I wonder who is going to be involved in this review process?
For many years I have sat on boards where the views of childcare and early education providers have not been taken into account by officials when developing policy.
I would argue that those working with young children should be central to the proposed appraisal.
What would I do to improve the quality of early education and outcomes for children?
Money continues to be invested in inadequate training. Having worked over the years with many holders of FETAC Level 5, 6 and above, qualifications, I am more than aware that, in many cases, graduates are simply not ready for employment.
As a first step, I would engage childcare centres with a proven track record for quality as part of a funded scheme to mentor graduates upon completion of their studies. An internship scheme is necessary to address the lack of practical experience crucial to ensuring high standards of care and early learning for our young children.
Notwithstanding the bad press the sector has received over the past year, there are many excellent providers who are passionate about delivering exceptional services. Work experience in 'vetted' centres would make a world of difference to graduates' understanding of what is expected of them, as well as helping to seed best practice across the sector.
Government ministers have failed to address the pay issue and childcare has always been the poor relation. Childcare and early education providers are professionals and should therefore be paid as such. While higher standards and stricter regulations are being enforced, no financial support is forthcoming to support their implementation
The higher capitation paid to childcare providers offering the Early Childcare and Education (ECCE) scheme - the free pre-school year - should be linked not only to employee qualifications but also to the standard of care delivered.
Currently, qualification for the higher fee is based on the number and level of academic awards held by childcare professionals working in a facility. It should also be necessary for providers to achieve the highest possible standard under the Siolta Quality Assurance Award programme, as well as demonstrating adherence to Aistear, the national early education framework.
On the other hand, services not meeting required standards should be identified by TUSLA (the Child and Family Agency) and supported in improving quality of environments and early education delivery.
Compulsory continuous professional development should also be introduced. Managers of childcare centres should attend a minimum of two national annual meetings to keep abreast of regulations and best practice. This should be funded by the Department and be a criterion for the higher capitation.
I agree wholeheartedly with the minister that crèches should be places of early learning as well as childcare and I hope that those working with young children will be involved in planning how to make that a reality right across the sector.
*Regina Bushell is Founder and Managing Director of Grovelands Childcare