The Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) programme was introduced in January 2010 with the objective of providing one free pre-school year for all eligible children prior to commencing primary school.
Childcare services participating in the ECCE programme are paid a standard capitation fee of €62.50 per week for each eligible child enrolled for the free pre-school year. Under the terms of the ECCE programme, the pre-school leaders delivering the programme must hold a certification for a major award in childcare/early education at a minimum of level 5 on the National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ) or an equivalent nationally-recognised qualification or a higher award in the childcare/early education field. My Department has part-subsidised on-line courses, developed by one of the National Voluntary Childcare Organisations, for unqualified practitioners in the current workforce who wish to achieve a level 5 award.
In keeping with the Government's commitment to increasing standards in the pre-school sector, a higher capitation payment of €73 per week is available to childcare services in which all childcare workers have qualification levels above the minimum requirements for the programme. One of the requirements for the higher capitation is that the pre-school leader holds a qualification in a relevant discipline at a minimum of a full level 7 award on the NFQ.
I have been successful in maintaining the ECCE programme as a free and universal programme despite the reduced funding available to my Department. Funding of €176 million is being made available this year to ensure that the increased cohort of eligible children have access to a quality free pre-school year.