The most recent data available on numbers of staff working in early learning and care services dates from mid-2018 and is set out in Pobal's Early Years Sector Profile Report of 2017/18. At that time Pobal estimated there to be 25,893 staff working directly with children, of whom 65% or approximately 16,800 were working in private services. Of this number, Pobal reported that 27% or approximately 4,600 had relevant qualifications at Level 5 on the National Framework of Qualifications, 44% or approximately 7,500 had qualifications at Level 6, and 7.5% or approximately 1,300 had qualifications at Level 7. In addition, 17% or approximately 2,900 had qualifications at Level 8 or higher, while 3.6% or approximately 600 had either no qualifications or qualifications at less than Level 5. This latter group included staff who had signed the 'grandfather declaration' allowing them to remain working in the sector without qualifications until September 2021, as well as staff who work solely with school-age children, in relation to whom there is currently no minimum qualification requirement.
As the State is not the employer, my Department does not pay the wages of staff working in early learning and care settings, and I am therefore not in a position to estimate what the cost to the State would be if it were to take on the direct employment of all staff currently working in private early learning and care services.
I am, however, doing all that is in my power to improve wages and working conditions in the sector. I have repeatedly called for the sector to pursue a Sectoral Employment Order, which offers a viable mechanism to establish appropriate wage levels. My Department will readily co-operate with such a process when it is under way.
In the interim, I have introduced a range of measures to support employers to improve pay and conditions. These include a 7% increase in ECCE capitation in 2018; higher capitation payments for graduates and Inclusion Coordinators; annual Programme Support Payments to recognise administrative demands; support for school-age childcare, which will make it easier for service providers to offer staff full-time employment contracts; and a pilot measure to fund participation in CPD. In addition, work has commenced on the development of a Workforce Development Plan, which will identify practical steps to achieve First 5 commitments relating to the workforce, including moving to a graduate-led workforce by 2028.