I propose to take Questions Nos. 702 to 709, inclusive, together.
The Government currently supports the provision of early childhood care and education through three support programmes — the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) programme, the Community Childcare Subvention (CCS) programme and the Childcare Education and Training Support (CETS) programme. These programmes are implemented by my Department.
The Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) programme is a universal programme to which all children have access when they are in the qualifying age range of 3 years 2 months and 4 years and 7 months at 1 September in the year that they enrol for the programme. In the region of 4,300 preschool services are providing the free preschool provision.
The Community Childcare Subvention (CCS) programme provides funding to community childcare services to enable them to charge reduced childcare rates to low income and disadvantaged families. The Childcare Education and Training Support (CETS) programme provides free childcare places in both community and commercial services to qualifying FÁS and Vocational Educational Committees (VECs) trainees and students. There is no specific funding targeted at the 0 to 3 years age group and children of all age categories, whose parents qualify under these programmes, are eligible to enrol. In the region of 2,400 childcare services are participating in the CCS and CETS programmes.
The staff/child ratios are governed by the Child Care (Preschool Services) (No. 2) Regulations 2006. These currently require that, where children are in the ECCE age cohort, there should be a ratio of no more than 1:10. It has been decided to increase this ratio to a maximum of 1:11 from September 2012. Other ratios apply to different age groups availing of different levels of service, as outlined in the Regulations. The introduction of universal preschool provision in January 2010 and with it the requirements that preschool leaders have to have a minimum of a full award at FETAC Level 5 on the National Framework of Qualifications has acted as a major impetus for early years practitioners to acquire qualifications. To assist staff to achieve the full requirement in advance of the September 2012 deadline, arrangements were put in place by my Department to provide a subsidised on-line training initiative. A subsidy of €50 per module was provided which reduced the cost per module to €125.
It is also my objective to incrementally develop the ECCE programme over the term of this Government as resources permit. A key element of this is the implementation of the Workforce Development Plan by the Early Education Policy Unit of the Department of Education and Skills, which is co-located in my Department.
The Workforce Development Plan identified different distinct groups including new entrants to the workforce who wish to become appropriately qualified for specific occupational roles and responsibilities, and unqualified practitioners in the current workforce who want to achieve a Level 5 award. For new entrants to the workforce the publication of Common Award Standards at NFQ Levels 4, 5 and 6 is a welcome development. Programmes of learning developed to meet these new award standards will incorporate national practice frameworks and will reflect national policy objectives, thereby ensuring that graduates of these programmes are fully prepared to enter the workforce. Training providers have begun to develop new programmes to meet these award standards and, subject to validation by FETAC, the first of these, the FETAC Level 5 Major Award in Early Childhood Care and Education, will come on stream shortly through the VECs. As the Deputy may be aware the Department of Children and Youth Affairs was established on 3 June 2011. In relation to 2011 and the specific information requested by the Deputy, my Department's total spend on childcare related programmes as per the out-turn on Voted Expenditure was €248.8 million, which is 0.16 per cent of total GDP for that year, which was €156.4 billion. This expenditure total (and percentage of GDP) does not include expenditure under other early intervention programmes or by other Departments on early years' programmes and services and therefore does not represent the full extent of state expenditure. The number of children supported by the programmes administered by my Department is in the region of 100,000, of which some 320 children were identified as having special needs and were supported under the ECCE programme.
In 2012, Ireland's GDP is expected to be some €159 billion and my Department's total spend on childcare related programmes is expected to be €256.8 million, which is again 0.16 per cent of the expected total GDP. The number of children supported by the programmes is expected to increase in the school year 2012/2013 with an estimated 3,000 additional children qualifying in the eligible cohort for the ECCE programme and also additional parents becoming eligible under the CCS programme. In any given academic year, experience has shown that between 300 and 350 children with special needs are supported under the ECCE programme.