Early years services in this country are provided by private commercial and community/ not-for-profit services and the remuneration provided to staff and the conditions of employment are matters for the management of these services. However, in recognition of the link between staff qualifications and the quality of early years services, the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Programme, which is provided in nearly all of the early years services in this country provides a higher rate of capitation to services that employ staff who hold a higher level of qualification. There are in the region of 4,300 early years services participating in the ECCE programme and more than 1,400 of these services were in receipt of the higher capitation in the 2014/2015 programme year.
The Deputy will be aware that, in Budget 2016, the Government committed a further €85 million to the early years sector in 2016. This additional funding, which will support the expansion of a number of childcare programmes implemented by my Department, has also enabled me to restore the capitation payments provided under the ECCE programme to pre-2012 levels from September 2016. This means that the higher rate of capitation provided to services will be increased from €73 to €75 per child per week with standard rate of capitation increasing from €62.50 to €64.50 per child per week.
The expansion of the childcare programmes in 2016 and the increased capitation levels will help providers to address some of the cost issues that impact on their services including remuneration costs. It will also provide support to services employing staff with Level 7 or higher qualifications and will provide a further incentive to other services to employ more qualified staff.
New qualification requirements for staff working directly with children in early years services will be introduced in 2016 under the Early Years Quality Agenda. 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 . In addition, pre-school leaders delivering the ECCE Programme, who are currently required to hold a Level 5 qualification, will be required to have a minimum Level 6 qualification, or equivalent. To support staff to meet these new qualification requirements, my Department established the Learner Fund which has already allocated €3.5 million to over 3,000 staff for the purpose of up-skilling.
Further funding to improve the qualifications of the early years sector was secured as part of Budget 2016. This includes:
- €1.5 million, which will be directed towards a Learner Fund in 2016. I will announce details of this Learner Fund shortly.
- €1.5 million, which will fund the delivery of a 'Higher Education Programme for Inclusion Co-ordinators in Early Years Settings' as part of the model of supports I recently announced to ensure children with a disability can access and meaningfully participate in the ECCE Programme. This funding will meet the costs for the first intake of participants (up to 900 early years practitioners) who are expected to commence in this Programme in April 2016. It is envisaged that, over the next four years, at least 80 per cent of ECCE services will avail of this training fund, which will cost €1.5 million per annum.
The Deputy may be interested to note new Government-funded posts for early years practitioners. These include posts for inspectors in the Early Years Inspectorate at the Department of Education and Skills and posts for Service Co-ordinators and Early Years Specialists in Better Start's Early Years Specialist Service.