International evidence tells us that raising the qualification levels of staff working with children is key to improving the quality of services. As part of the ongoing progression of the pre-school quality agenda, it was announced last year that by September 2015 all staff working with children in early years services would have to have a minimum Level 5 qualification on the National Qualifications Framework in early years care and education, or an equivalent qualification. In addition, by September 2015, Preschool Leaders delivering the free pre-school provision under the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) programme will have to have a minimum Level 6 qualification, or equivalent. It is estimated that over 85% of staff working in the childcare sector already hold a Level 5 or equivalent qualification.
In March this year the launch of a Learner Fund to assist existing staff working directly with children in registered early years services to meet the new requirements, was announced. The Fund, which is being administered by Pobal with the help of local City and County Childcare Committees, has a total allocation of €3 million for the years 2014 and 2015 and will be used to subsidise the cost for eligible learners to undertake accredited Level 5 and Level 6 courses.
A panel of more than 50 training providers has been approved to deliver the training programmes following the completion of an Expression of Interest process. The fund closed for applications from staff seeking support under the programme at the end of April. Over 2,200 staff have applied to the fund. The cost to staff will be €25 per module with the fund providing the balance of up to €175 per module. The funding available will be sufficient to provide for all the applications on hand. The applications for support are currently being assessed and training will commence in September this year.