I propose to take Questions Nos. 1358 and 1359 together.
The Department of Children of Youth Affairs provides funding for the Early Learning and Care and School Age Childcare sector through a wide range of schemes and initiatives.
The largest annual funding stream is for the universal pre-school programme, or Early Childhood Care and Education programme. This programme resources Early Learning and Care services to provide children with 15 hours per week of pre-school education over a 38-week programme year, for two years, free of charge to parents.
In practice, parents, providers and the wider public use a number of different names and titles to describe this programme and the staff who work there. For example, the programme itself is called:- the free preschool programme, the free pre-school year/s, the ECCE programme, sessional pre-school and free childcare hours, among others. In respect of the staff who deliver this programme, similarly there is a range of terms used to describe their job titles and roles, as there is for those who work in the wider Early Learning and Care and School Age Childcare sector. Staff are sometimes referred to as early years educators, but very often, other titles are used.
In the absence of a professional regulator or professional body for the sector, no titles have been agreed at national level to date. Staff are employed by individual providers, either private or community not for profit, and sometimes the provider proposes terminology to be used to describe the various roles within the service.
However, my Department acknowledges the centrality of the workforce to delivering quality Early Learning and Care and School Age Childcare services and to that end has made a number of commitments in First 5, the recently published Whole of Government Strategy for Babies, Young Children and their Families, in respect of the workforce. Most significantly, the Strategy commits to a Workforce Development Plan to ensure the appropriate number of staff at all levels in the sector and support the achievement of ambitious qualification targets. The Workforce Development Plan will also consider the grading structure for the sector and seek to agree terminology. It will set out plans to raise the profile of careers in Early Learning and Care and School Age Childcare sector, establish a career framework and leadership development opportunities.
The Terms of Reference for the Workforce Development Plan Steering Group have recently been published. Critical to its work will be the input of a Stakeholder Advisory Group, and a public consultation will also take place which will include consultation on the language we use to describe different occupational roles within the sector. The first phase of the Plan, including the main report, is to be completed by the summer of next year.