Extra pre-school year 'on hold' over scandal
A SECOND free pre-school year has been ruled out until at least 2014 following revelations of mistreatment of children in creches.
Children's Minister Frances Fitzgerald said that not until higher standards were in place in all childcare facilities would parents be offered a second year of pre-school education.
Currently, some 68,000 children avail of schooling through the Early Childhood Care and Education scheme (ECCE), which costs €175m a year.
But the minister said not until all staff were qualified, new standards were introduced and a "more robust" inspection regime implemented would a second year of education be provided.
"That's going to happen, and we're going to have to plan for that from mid-2014," Ms Fitzgerald told the Irish Independent.
"We'll be negotiating the contracts to make sure we have qualified people.
"I'm going to put that into the contract and work with the sector to move towards it. We will have to have training, but the key point is it has to be a statement of what we want in the sector.
"It's not that I'm ruling it out. I am for this year's Budget, but it's really important we work towards it. These are the steps we need to take, and it would save parents up to €3,000 a year because we will provide 3.5 hours of care every day."
The move to introduce a second year of pre-school education is strongly backed by Education Minister Ruairi Quinn.
Early Childhood Ireland, which represents 3,300 creches and childcare facilities, said many members were ready to provide high-standard care.
"The investment in childcare by the State is far short of what it should be and we need proper debate followed by targets, timelines and responsibilities to make this happen," the organisation said in a statement.
"However, pushing that State investment decision two or three years down the line won't work while at the same time asking the sector and hard-pressed parents to pay hefty registration fees to fill the shortfall in the meantime."