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Shared Delivery Models for Early Learning and Care and School-Age Childcare

Funding Models Addressing Early Childhood Disadvantage

May 9, 2021

On April 16, Frontier Economics published three more research papers to inform the development of a new funding model for Early Learning and Care and School Age Childcare in Ireland. The consultancy has been commissioned by the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth (DCEDIY) to provide research support to an Expert Group that was tasked to deliver a report containing proposals for a new funding model. This week, The Big Picture provides an overview of Working Paper 6. The other papers are available on the same site.

The authors highlight that a core objective of the new funding model is to provide additional support to mitigate the impact of early childhood disadvantage. While Working Paper 5 covered how to identify those children, the new Paper aimed to set out how to support the identified children or settings. The methodology was based on a literature review of international policies, along with interviews with key informants.

The review identified more than 30 examples of policies to enhance provision for disadvantaged children. These policies can be grouped into six broad approaches:

  • Flexible additional funding provides settings with funding for children experiencing disadvantage, with a degree of discretion regarding how these funds are spent.
  • Conditional additional funding provides additional funding for children experiencing disadvantage, conditional on meeting a set of quality standards such as child-to-staff ratios or staff qualifications.
  • Grants provide funding to settings on a case-by-case basis, generally to address specific individual or setting needs. Such approaches are generally used to fund supports above those provided in automatic funding formulae.
  • Additional staffing policies involve the direct provision of staff, including those with specialist qualifications.
  • Other in-kind support includes government-provided in-service training, mentoring and advice services, pedagogical resources and teaching materials for settings.
  • Specialised provision includes the delivery of focused curricula to children experiencing disadvantage and serving disadvantaged children in designated settings separate from mainstream provision.

Economic disadvantage was generally addressed by additional funding and grants. Children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) were targeted by a wide range of approaches, but the most common approaches were grants and in-kind support, reflecting that the costs associated with serving children with SEND are highly variable. Children from migration or ethnic minority backgrounds were targeted by all six approaches, but most notably by in-kind support and specialised provision policies. Family composition and extreme need characteristics were generally not the focus of targeted approaches.

According to the authors, given the available evidence, strong conclusions cannot be drawn about the effectiveness of the different types of approaches. However, they highlight three sets of trade-offs that should be considered in assessing the use of different approaches in Ireland:

  • Additional funding vs. grants. A combination of additional funding and grants is likely to be appropriate to address some disadvantage characteristics where additional costs vary substantially between individuals or settings (such as SEND);
  • Additional funding vs. in-kind support. Decisions about which objectives to support, the type of support needed and how (or by whom) the support should be delivered are assigned to government rather than settings to an increasing degree as the approach moves from flexible funding to conditional funding to in-kind support. A second consideration is that the burden of monitoring compliance may be greatest for conditional additional funding;
  • Direct provision of additional staff vs. funding for additional staff. Additional staff approaches are better suited to systems where staff are employed by the government rather than settings. The prevalence of private-sector provision in Ireland implies that funding settings to hire additional staff is likely to be more appropriate.

The report provides a good mapping of possibilities. However, there are no practical policy recommendations, including, for example, what are the best strategies to address children’s disadvantage in Ireland? What are the implications for ECCE, the NCS and AIM? Also, the report does not challenge the current model of provision. For example, it is argued that private provision leads to a certain type of staffing policy. This implies that a deeper rethinking of the current model is not under consideration. The first question that needs to be posed is how to achieve the best outcomes for babies and children, instead of ‘what can be done given the model that exists’. The development of reimagined forms of funding should be a key point of discussion in the Funding Model agenda.

Early Childhood Ireland will continue to analyse Frontier Economics’ reports in the coming weeks.


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