When Early Childhood Ireland published our fifth national Barometer last week, the headline news was that 80% of people in Ireland believe that young children have a right to early years care and education, but this year’s poll also showed strong support for the 30,000 staff who work in settings every day.
As well as high levels of support for children to have the right to free, high quality and accessible early years care and education, Early Childhood Ireland’s fifth annual ‘Barometer’ also shows that three-quarters of people in Ireland (75%) believe that, like primary school education, early years care and education should be free. This represents a steep rise in support for publicly-funded provision – the equivalent figure in the 2021 Barometer was 61%.
In addition to measuring public sentiment on children’s right to high-quality early years services, the Barometer also shows strong support for the sector’s workforce. Just under three-quarters of respondents (73%) agree that staff who work directly with children and are as qualified as other professionals such as nurses and teachers should have terms and conditions which reflect this.
We have been tracking this since 2019, and support for better conditions of employment has increased over time.
Last year, we asked an additional question, as the Wage Subsidy Scheme was contributing towards staff salaries in the sector at the time. More than half (55%) of the public agreed.
At the moment, along with our members, Early Childhood Ireland is awaiting details of the new core funding contract and the proposed Employment Regulation Order for the sector before the summer. It is vital that these developments lead to improvements so that we can, at last, have in Ireland an Early Childhood and School Age Care system which is universally available and high-quality for children, and which values the profession properly. More than 7 out of 10 people believe that the education of children under 5 is as important as the education of children over 5. We need urgent political leadership so that investment is increased here. According to our 2022 Barometer, 72% of people agree that we should significantly increase investment in line with international benchmarks. This view is held across all demographics, regions and age groups, including among those who don’t have children of their own.
Decision-makers must recognise and value the 30,000 excellent staff who educate and care for our youngest children. The vital workforce must be treated as professionals who deliver a vital element of Ireland’s care and education system.