The Programme for Government agreed in June 2020 does commits to a range of measures to improve the affordability and quality of early learning and care (ELC) and school-age childcare (SAC), at service and system levels.
These commitments build on the existing State investment in the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) universal pre school programme which enables children to access 15 hours per week of ELC for the two years before starting primary school and the National Childcare Scheme which offers universal and targeted subsidies in respect of children participating in ELC and SAC, varying in line with the age of the child, household income and family composition.
Relevant Programme for Government commitments include measures to expand high-quality ELC and SAC, reforms of the ELC and SAC system, continued investment in NCS, fast-tracking the work of the Expert Group on a new funding model, examination of approaches to capping parental fees, increasing flexibility of ELC and SAC, supporting the ECCE programme, increasing SAC and supporting the establishment of a Joint Labour Committee in the ELC and SAC sector. Steady progress is being made on this wide range of commitments.
Two reform projects may be of particular interest; the development of a New Funding Model and a Workforce Development Plan.
The ongoing work of the Expert Group established to develop a new funding model is a key vehicle to ensure that increased State investment delivers for children and families to ensure greater levels of affordability, accessibility, quality and inclusion in ELC and SAC services. The terms of reference for the Group include a number of items relevant to the Programme for Government commitments, such as consideration of mechanisms to improve affordability for parents and improve pay and conditions for staff.
My Department is also developing a Workforce Development Plan to support a graduate-led ELC workforce, raise the profile of careers in ELC and SAC, establish a career framework and leadership development opportunities, and build a more gender-balanced and diverse workforce.
Work on both of these projects – the Workforce Development Plan and the Funding Model - commenced in 2019 and has continued throughout the pandemic. Significant progress has been made and extensive engagement taken place. These coming months will be a crucial time for both of these projects in generating proposals and recommendations that I can bring before Government.
Recent progress made on another Programme for Government commitment – to support the establishment of a Joint Labour Committee in the sector and the drawing up of an Employment Regulation Order – is significant for both of these projects. In December 2020, working in partnership with SIPTU and CSI/IBEC, I began a short process in which interested parties were invited to discuss how best to address issues of pay and conditions in the sector and how a Joint Labour Committee might support this. The series of meetings concluded recently and the independent Chair, Dr Kevin Duffy will shortly submit to me a report outlining the issues and possible solutions raised in the process, and make a recommendation on next steps.