The Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) programme was introduced in January 2010, and a number of transitional measures were included to make it more acceptable to the childcare sector. One of these measures related to the number of weeks over which the free pre-school year could be provided. At that time, approximately 30% of children in the relevant age-cohort were in full daycare. Therefore, in order to facilitate full daycare services in the early years of the programme, services were permitted to choose between providing a 38 week or a 50 week model.
I should emphasise that the ECCE programme is designed as an educational programme for children. It was always intended, once the programme had bedded-down, to introduce a standard 38 week model. This is primarily because this is the optimal model in terms of ensuring a high-quality early years experience for pre-school children. The Síolta and Aistear frameworks were developed to support this objective. The ECCE programme is designed to be delivered across 38 weeks. It is difficult to see how the curriculum can be delivered across a 50 week period when the children spend less time (generally 2 hours 15 minutes per day) availing of it.
My focus is on improving the quality of childcare services. For this reason, therefore, services participating in the ECCE programme are now required to provide the programme on the basis of 3 hours per day, 5 days per week, over 38 weeks. It is not mandatory that children attend every day but, where they do not, the capitation fee is reduced accordingly.
The change to the 38 week model only was introduced in September 2012 and all participating services have successfully made the transition to the new arrangement. There are no proposals to re-introduce the 50 week model.