The Early Years Quality Agenda, which is a key priority for my Department, brings together a range of measures designed to support providers in the challenge of continually improving the quality and standards of early years services throughout the country. Among these measures are initiatives to improve the qualifications of, and provide training opportunities to, early years professionals.
New qualification requirements for staff working directly with children in early years settings are planned. All staff will be required to have a minimum Level 5 qualification on the National Qualifications Framework in early years care and education, or an equivalent qualification. In addition, pre-school leaders delivering the free pre-school year, who are currently required to hold a Level 5 qualification, will be required to have a minimum Level 6 qualification, or equivalent to qualify for ECCE. To support staff to meet these new qualification requirements, my Department established the Learner Fund which allocated €3 million to almost 3,000 staff for the purpose of upskilling. Further, my Department provides some €16 million annually to City and County Childcare Committees, the National Voluntary Childcare Organisations and the Early Years Specialist Service towards the valuable work of these bodies who support early years' services and professionals around the country, through training, mentoring, continuing professional development programmes, networking and cluster-type support groups.
The Inter-Departmental Group on Future Investment in Early Years and After-School Care and Education will be considering further steps to be taken to support the professional development of the sector. It will also consider options to enhance affordability, options to increase the accessibility of provision and options to build the quality of provision and support the sustainability of the early years sector. It is likely that increased capitation rates will be considered in this context. The Group is expected to submit a series of recommendations to Government in June 2015.