In line with emerging best practice to support the integration and independence of children with a disability, the Access and Inclusion Model (AIM) does not fund Special Needs Assistants (SNAs). Rather, Level 7 of AIM provides financial support to the pre-school provider, which is used either to reduce the adult-to-child ratio in the pre-school room or to buy in additional assistance to the pre-school room. Accordingly, AIM Level 7 assistance is a shared resource for the pre-school setting.
For this reason, staff who are supported with AIM Level 7 funding must adhere to the same qualification criteria as their colleagues in the early learning and care setting, as prescribed in Regulation 9 of the Early Years Services Regulations 2016.
I am committed to supporting providers to respond to current challenges. In designing responses, however, it is important that any measures considered are proportionate to the problem they seek to address and that wider impacts are carefully considered. In that regard, it is important to stress that the minimum qualification requirement to work directly with children in an early learning care service was introduced in 2016 in order to improve the quality of provision and to achieve better outcomes for children.
To remove this minimum qualification requirement could be contrary to the best interests of children and the vision for the sector that is outlined in First 5, the whole-of-Government strategy to improve the lives of babies, young children and their families. Such a move could be a significant backwards step in efforts to improve quality outcomes for children and could only be considered if there were a very strong evidence base requiring a change.
Individuals who wish to work directly with children in a pre-school service must hold at least a major award in Early Childhood Care and Education at Level 5 on the National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ), or a qualification deemed equivalent. My Department has published a list of qualifications that meet this regulatory requirement. If an individual's qualification does not appear on the list they may apply to my Department for assessment of equivalence of their qualification.