Monday 22 July 2019

Invest in early childhood education


Darragh Clifford - Straight Talking

Our eldest boy Conor, who is four, finished up in playschool for the summer last week. They marked the end of the school term with a delightful concert where a band of 30 happy kids entertained doting parents with rhymes and songs.

As Conor won't turn five until next April, we are holding off sending him to 'big school' until September 2020. To be honest, we are more than happy to do this as it gives him an extra year in his Montessori school, which has had nothing short of an amazing impact on him.

It will mean that by the time he graduates to primary school, Conor will have had two full years under the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Scheme, which provides free early childhood care and education for children of pre-school age.

The scheme is offered in early years settings (pre-schools, Montessoris, crèches, playgroups) for three hours a day, five days a week, 38 weeks of the year.

All children are entitled to two full academic years on the ECCE scheme.

It is a scheme that is widely lauded for its positive impact on children and parents across the country. It is no state secret that childcare costs in this country are bordering on the obscene in some areas. Parents often refer to their 'second mortgage' when it comes to paying for full-time childcare, so any help is no doubt greatly appreciated.

In Budget 2018 the scheme was expanded to offer the second free year, as part of a €1.38bn allocation for the Department of Children.

Fast forward to 2019, and last week Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe outlined his summer economic statement ahead of October's budget. It is fair to say the Minister has a lot on his plate, and his economic statement was essentially in two parts - what the Budget will look like in the event of an orderly Brexit, and what it will look like in the event of a no-deal outcome.

The Minister will have an extra €700m to play around with in spending if the UK somehow manages an orderly exit. However, it the UK crashes out, it would see the Budget surplus turn to a deficit in the region of -0.5 to -1.5 per cent of GDP next year.

Regardless of which way Brexit will swing, Minister Donohoe also has a number of key areas that need careful consideration when it comes to the Budget - the National Broadband Plan, the National Children's Hospital, the ongoing problems with our health service and how to solve our homeless crisis, to name just four.

I'm sure in the list of priorities, early childhood education and childcare is down the pecking order. But the government can't take their eye off the ball in this area. Childcare costs continue to be a massive burden to many parents, but it is not just about the money. The ECCE scheme means there are many children who are exposed to early education who otherwise wouldn't have. The benefit of this to the child's development is invaluable and the Government should look closely on investing further in this area.

Gorey Guardian