Policy in Action 19 March 2024

Policy in Action 19 March 2024

As part of Early Childhood Ireland’s policy monitoring work, we examine the implementation of key plans and commitments including those in Nurturing Skills: The Workforce Development Plan for Early Learning and Care and School Age Childcare and Partnership for the Public Good on an ongoing basis. Recently, a report focusing on the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECEC) Workforce in Ireland was published by the Systems of Early Childhood Education and Professionalisation in Europe (SEEPRO-3) project. This comprehensive report provides key data and a narrative on the workforce profile in Ireland. The data for this report was gathered by the Department of Children, Equality, Integration and Youth (DCEDIY), the Department of Education and Pobal. It provides important expert insights. 

The Irish policy landscape and workforce profile

The report notes that a series of policy reforms are underway in Ireland that will directly or indirectly impact on the situation of the Early Years workforce in Ireland. These include changes to the way in which the sector is funded; the systems and structures that support the organisation and governance of the sector, including regulation; the structure and delivery of initial and continuing professional development of the workforce and initiatives to begin to improve the terms and conditions of employment of staff. The following publications provide detail on each aspect of the reform agenda:

The SEEPRO-3 report also lays out the workforce of the sector, and outlines the following sector profile:

Change from a specialist vocational qualification towards a specialist higher education degree is progressing. This is due to the influence of range of incentives, such as Core Funding Graduate Uplifts and previously Higher Capitation, which made it more attractive for employers to hire more qualified staff. This is a specific ambition outlined in First 5, with a graduate lead workforce by 2028. It must also be noted that 6.7 per cent unqualified staff points towards the level of staff employed in School Age Care (SAC) settings, as well as students and volunteers.

Issues facing the workforce in Ireland

The report notes that this changing landscape presents challenges that are faced by the workforce. For example, Partnership for the Public Good established the Core Funding model, which seeks to address low terms and conditions in the sector by tying funding to the sectoral Employment Regulation Order (ERO). This ERO, which sets minimum rates of pay in the sector and was established by the Joint Labour Committee in 2022. The ERO in turn puts role descriptors from Nurturing Skills on a statutory footing. The report notes that this commitment to improve terms and conditions in a sector dominated by private for-profit services will present a challenge into the future.

Further noted is the continuing disparity between staff working in primary schools and those working in the non-primary sector. While the past decade or so has seen significant progress towards creating the context in which such parity could be established – through the establishment of the Early Childhood Education and Care (ECCE) scheme and increased State investment in Early Years and School Age Care provision, there remains much work to be done. The scope and nature of this work has been transformative for the EY and SAC workforce and there are implementation strategies underway to deliver on the vision of a graduate-led sector fully equipped with the appropriate skills, knowledge and values to deliver high quality EY and SAC for babies and young children in Ireland.

However, in addition to addressing challenges particular to the EY workforce there is the wider issue of addressing the disconnect between the EY workforce and the workforce in primary education. This disconnect presents as an impact on the early learning and care experiences of children aged Birth–5 years, particularly in relation to transitions from EY to primary education. This disconnect and impact on transitions was also highlighted in the recent  End of Year Three Evaluation of the Access and Inclusion Model (AIM) report.

Early Childhood Ireland’s policy monitoring work and recommendations

The changing policy landscape and the challenges outlined by the report emphasise the importance of Early Childhood Ireland’s policy monitoring work. Early Childhood Ireland representatives sit on a number of forums, sub-forums and working groups, which monitor various aspects of the implementation of national Early Years, School Age Care and Childminding policies. Moreover, Early Childhood Ireland regularly reports on the various implementation plans and reviews that are released to the sector, for instance the First 5 Implementation Plan 2023-2025, the recent End of Year Three Evaluation of the Access and Inclusion Model, the Joint Committee on Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth (CEDIY) Report on challenges Facing the Early Childhood Care and Education Sector and the soon-to-be released ECCE Evaluation.

Some recommendations can be drawn from these reports, to address the challenges that are outlined in the SEEPRO workforce profile. Namely these would include:

  • Resourcing and addressing transitions from Early Years to primary school, which was recommended by the End of Year Three Evaluation of the Access and Inclusion Model. This will have tangible benefits for children’s learning and well-being and transitions to primary school.
  • To address the disconnect between staff in Early Years and Primary School, it has been proposed by the Joint Oireachtas Committee on CDEDIY in their report that those working in Early Years settings should have the word educator returned to their title. Moreover, those working in the EY sector should be listened to as experts and educators.
  • The Joint Oireachtas Committee also recommends that an improved ERO should be delivered urgently to address low pay and additional funding should be invested to help providers who need assistance to meet it.
Conclusion

This report from SEEPRO provides an interesting look into the profile of the workforce in Ireland. Early Childhood Ireland will continue to monitor the implementation of Partnership for the Public Good, Nurturing Skills and First 5, which will all have impacts on this workforce profile, as acknowledged in the report.

If you would like to know more about our work, please contact policy@earlychildhoodireland.ie.

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