Pre-schooler staff still not fully qualified, says minister
CHILDREN'S Minister Barry Andrews yesterday admitted that many people working in the pre-school sector are still under-qualified and badly paid.
His admission comes as a record 60,000 children are set to avail of a free pre-school year. It also follows a new study that shows many staff are paid little more than the minimum wage and that 30pc have no qualifications in Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE).
The study claims that highly trained ECCE graduates are being lost to the sector because of low status and pay.
"It is incomprehensible that in 21st Century Ireland there is still no mandatory training requirement for this sector," said PHD in Education student Mary Moloney, from Mary Immaculate College of Education in Limerick.
In a survey of staff working in the area, there was agreement that the lack of a training requirement was seriously undermining their practice and identity.
"No wonder people think anybody can mind children," one staff member said.
"Dissatisfaction with pay and conditions is considerable," found the study, which is published in the current issue of 'Irish Educational Studies'.
Earning little more than the minimum wage was demoralising for staff who claimed that "you can earn as much, even more, stocking shelves in a shop or selling burgers where you have no responsibilities".
The poor salaries are an indication of the low status and lack of identity within the sector generally.
Mr Andrews told the Irish Independent that there was a contractual obligation of at least one qualified person in each pre-school, day care or playgroup in the scheme.
He said that he was trying to upskill staff and give the sector a higher status. There was a higher level of subvention where staff were employed with degree-level qualifications.
"There has to be a balance here in acknowledging experience and expertise. There are people working 20 or 30 years in the sector who may be coming close to retirement and I am not going to go round telling them they have to spend three years in college getting a qualification," he said.
Mr Andrews added that there is a workforce development plan, drawn up after extensive consultations.
The free pre-school year began in January when 53,000 children availed of the programme and this is expected to rise to 60,000 next month.
"It's a child-centred intervention but we were able to get funding for it on the basis that it retained employment in a sector which was on its knees," Mr Andrews said.