10 October 2013
Question (Deputy Jerry Buttimer)
To ask the Minister to provide a progress report on implementation of the Pre-School Quality Agenda?
As I have outlined on a number of occasions, my Department and I, in conjunction with the Health Service Executive (HSE) and other stakeholders, are progressing a Pre-School Quality Agenda involving a range of actions in eight key areas, aimed at improving quality within early years services and enhancing the regulatory regime. The actions include:
- Increasing the qualification requirements for all staff in pre-school services to a minimum standard at FETAC Level 5.
- Improving the quality and curricular supports for pre-school services when implementing the Siolta Framework and Aistear Curriculum.
- Implementing the new National Pre-School Standards.
- Introducing a registration system for all pre-school services.
- Taking steps to make the inspection system more consistent and more robust.
- Publishing inspection reports online
- Increasing and widening the sanctions which can be taken for non-compliance.
This Agenda includes the introduction of National Quality Standards as part of a new inspection system in 2014. The Quality Standards include the following criteria in relation to Organisation and Management:
- all staff commence induction training in relation to all the policies and procedures of the service during their first week of employment;
- each staff member receives regular supervision and support in relation to all areas of their work;
- the on-going training needs of staff are identified, addressed and provided for on a regular basis.
The standards are due to be launched shortly.
I have highlighted previously the responsibilities that the Child Care Regulations impose on pre-school managers in ensuring that suitable and competent staff are employed and that they are effectively supervised and monitored in order to ensure that the highest quality of care is provided to children attending the service. New protocols on regulatory compliance will be introduced to provide greater clarity and consistency of approach in dealing with findings of serious non-compliance as opposed to minor breaches and full compliance. These steps will result in a more robust inspection regime which will help to place quality at the centre of childcare services.
I have already announced that I will be introducing new qualification requirements for staff working in childcare services from September 2014. For new services, the current Level 5 requirement for pre-school leaders delivering the pre-school year will be increased to Level 6. Pre-school assistants and all other staff caring for children in a new service will be required to hold a Level 5 qualification. These requirements will be applied to staff in existing services from September 2015.
My Department is continuing to work, in conjunction with the Department of Education and Skills, to improve the quality and curricular supports for pre-school services in order to more fully implement the Siolta Framework and Aistear Curriculum. I hope to be in a position in the near future to bring forward some additional proposals in this regard.
Since July of this year, the HSE has been publishing all new inspection pre-school inspection reports on-line and is also undertaking the task of putting previous reports on-line, providing open access to the public to inspection findings. Since July over 900 reports have been published online.
It is my intention to support the Quality Agenda for pre-schools through changes to the Child Care Act 1991, which provides for the regulation and inspection of pre-school services by the HSE. In September of this year, the Government approved legislative proposals to amend the Child Care Act 1991 and these will be brought forward in the coming weeks as an amendment to the Child and Family Agency Bill at Committee Stage. It is intended that these will be enacted before the end of the year.
Significantly, the legislation will provide a statutory basis for registration of pre-school services. Under the current Child Care Regulations, providers are required to notify the HSE at least 28 days before they open and an inspection is not required at that stage, although new services would normally be prioritised for inspection. A registration system has already been introduced on an administrative basis by the HSE and providers wishing to open a pre-school service are asked to register with the HSE in advance of opening in order to determine whether the service is compliant in terms of service design and suitability. This is followed by an inspection after the service has opened to examine the care and welfare practices of the service.
The legislation will also introduce a range of new enforcement powers for Inspectors at pre-prosecution level. Inspectors will be empowered to specify improvement conditions that a service must comply with; and the threat of removal of registration will be available. In addition my Department, in conjunction with the HSE, is working to develop new protocols on regulatory compliance to provide greater clarity and consistency of approach in the way inspection reports deal with findings of serious non-compliance as opposed to minor breaches or full compliance. These changes will, for the first time, provide for timely and effective regulation and enforcement of standards in pre-school services, backed up by statutory registration.
Since my appointment as Minister I have consistently highlighted the importance of investing and supporting quality interventions in the early years of children’s lives. There is an increasing body of Irish and International evidence which quantifies the benefits of early year’s interventions in terms of improving children’s outcomes and in delivering significant economic and societal return. In line with this commitment I announced that I would lead the preparation of Ireland’s first Early Years Strategy which I indicated should represent an innovative and dynamic blueprint addressing a range of issues affecting children in their first years of life such as child health and well-being, parenting and family support, learning and development, play and recreation and early childhood care and education
The Expert Advisory Group which I appointed to advise on the Early Years Strategy, recently reported its recommendations to my Department which I will publish later today . These will then be considered by my Department prior to finalisation of the Early Years Strategy in the coming months.