In my opinion: Pre-school workers are getting a raw deal on pay
While the free pre-school year, which is available to children born between February 2, 2006, and June 30, 2007, under the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) scheme, is positive and adds stability to the sector, it needs serious improvement if it is to succeed longer term and it must be off-limits to cuts in the forthcoming budget.
The ECCE scheme was launched in January, replacing the early-childhood supplement, and since then we've seen it in action, and the Office of the Minister for Children & Youth Affairs (OMCYA) has gathered a lot of data.
So the minister has a true picture of fees, costs, pay scales, training needs and profit margin (or should I say lack of profit margin) across the sector.
Now in the second week of term, our members are busy settling the children in and filling in all the ECCE forms.
Many are disappointed with the tone of the recent letter from the OMCYA regarding ECCE, which suggests that parents contact their local county childcare committee with problems regarding voluntary contributions -- something that parents should address first with their pre-school manager.
The relationship with parents is hugely important to our members and the OMCYA has got the tone of this correspondence wrong. While there may be a minority of childcare services approaching the voluntary contribution in the wrong way, the majority are not.
Last week, we read Minister Barry Andrews' comments in the Irish Independent that those working in the pre-school sector are still under-qualified and badly paid -- issues that must be explored further. To receive the higher payment of €75 per child per week on ECCE, practitioners must have reached Level 7, equivalent to a degree.
About 10% of the sector has Level 7 and it is difficult for working people to find access to a degree course that suits their work and family-life patterns. There is no extra remuneration for those with Level 6, so payment for Level 5 and Level 6 is the same at €64.50 per child per week.
We know from surveying our members last March that 92% see continuous professional development as critical. While 42% highlight the lack of budget as the main barrier to training, 36% blame the fact that ECCE doesn't pay for non-child-contact hours.
More than half of our members do not pay staff extra to stay back for staff meetings or to attend parent meetings.
IPPA is urging the minister to address the issues with ECCE by establishing a training fund and changing the practice of zero pay for non-contact time with children. By "non-contact time" we mean time spent meeting parents, training, information nights and implementing the Siolta quality programme.
IPPA will shortly present the OMCYA with an estimate of hours not covered under this scheme and will recommend the payment of a certain number of hours per week to cover this work.
Do politicians attend meetings that they don't get paid for? Do primary, secondary or third-level teachers?
We are looking for a fair approach to non-contact time and a dedicated training fund to make this ECCE scheme better for everyone.
The IPPA represents more than 50,000 families nationwide through crèches, playgroups, parent and toddler groups, after-schools and out of school groups. See www.ippa.ie