Thursday, 18th July 2013
At today’s meeting of the Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children I raised the Pre-School Quality Agenda with the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Frances Fitzgerald TD. In response the Minister gave reassurances that National Quality Standards for pre-school services will be in place later this year.
Parents have been caused a lot of concern due to the recent debate about childcare services and the quality of care and education provided. All parents need to be reassured that proper standards are in place and enforced so that their children receive the best possible care and education in pre-schools. I am pleased that the Minister has confirmed that she is taking steps to put in place National Quality Standards for pre-schools, which will form part of the inspection process, by the end of this year.
The Minister also informed me that she will be increasing the qualification requirements for pre-school leaders. The minimum requirement of Level 5 for pre-school leaders delivering the pre-school year will be increased to Level 6. In addition, all pre-school assistants, and all other staff caring for children in a pre-school service, will be subject to a minimum requirement of Level 5. These new requirements will be effective from September 2014 for new services, and from September 2015 for existing services.
As well as setting standards, it is important that parents can have access to the inspection reports. The reports of the HSE Pre-School Inspectorate are currently being put online, with the first going up last week. By the end of the year, all reports will be online and can be accessed through the Pobal website.
Setting standards and publishing reports is just part of the jigsaw to ensure quality pre-school services. There also needs to be penalties for those who breach these high standards. The Minister also confirmed to me that she is reviewing the penalties in place for breach of the Child Care (Pre-school) Regulations, as provided for under the Child Care Act 1991. This review will look at increasing the range and severity of the existing penalties, including the actions which can be taken by inspectors without recourse to court prosecution, as is currently the case.
Making sure that quality pre-school care is delivered by all pre-school services is essential. I very much welcome the steps being taken by Minister Fitzgerald to set standards, publish reports and increase penalties for those who breach the regulations. These steps will go a long way to reassuring parents that their children are receiving the pre-school education and care that meets the highest standards we all expect.