Row over call to lower childcare qualfication rules in Ireland

Monday, October 30, 2017

A campaign to relax the requirement for all childcare staff in Ireland to be qualified has been met with criticism from the sector.

Calls to relax the requirement for all childcare staff in Ireland to be qualified have been met with criticism from the sector.

Nursery World reported earlier this month that Seas Suas, an organisation of independent childcare providers in Ireland, was calling for the requirement to be relaxed to 75 per cent qualified staff in a setting in order to help alleviate the ‘recruitment crisis’. This would be pending the introduction of a national apprenticeship scheme, it said.

However, other organisations and childcare professionals in Ireland have spoken out against the recommendation, saying it is not representative of the entire sector’s view.

As of 31 December 2016, all staff working directly with children in Ireland must hold a minimum of a QQI Level 5 Major Award in Early Childhood Care & Education – equivalent to an NVQ Level 3.

Seas Suas says it supports formalising education and professionalising the sector, but the ‘rigidity’ of the ‘100 per cent qualified’ requirement is exacerbating a staffing crisis.

According to Seas Suas, the need to have the QQI Level 5 qualification is shutting out people who are otherwise well-qualified, with significant on-the-job experience.

However, the Association of Childcare Professionals (ACP), as well as Pedagogy, Learning and Education (PLÉ) – an association that represents early years students and graduates – have both argued that relaxing the qualifications requirement would be a retrograde step.

Marian Quinn, chairperson of the ACP, said, ‘The call for an interim reduction in qualifications is not widely supported in Ireland.

‘The reality is that we do not have a shortage of qualified personnel so waiting for an apprenticeship model to be introduced would not be of benefit and could potentially result in even more precarious working conditions.

‘The main reason we have a staffing crisis is that, due to insufficient government investment, the pay and conditions of our early years workforce are generally poor. The average wage is little more than minimum wage and thus below the recommended living wage. Our workforce would be classified as the working poor.

‘Understandably, where providers are experiencing recruitment difficulties, they are seeking possible solutions, but we believe that calling for an interim reduction in the qualification requirements is very much a race to the bottom which would result in even greater difficulties.’

Dr Mary Moloney, chairperson of PLÉ, said, ‘The call for 25 per cent of staff working in childcare to be unqualified has been met with derision and outrage.

‘Nobody wants to return to a situation where it is thought that anybody can work with young children. Working with young children is highly complex and multi-faceted. We need the best “teachers” to work with our youngest children. The consequences of placing children in the care of unqualified staff was all too apparent in 2013, when the horrific abuse of children in settings was broadcast on national television. Is this what we want?

‘And what about staff who invested in their training because they believed in a child’s right to quality educational and care experiences? This suggestion from Seas Suas devalues their attempts to up-skill, as well as their commitment. Why would anyone bother to become qualified at any level if 25 per cent of staff can be untrained, and earn the same as those who are highly qualified?

‘Calling for a reduction in qualification levels is a regressive and damaging step.’

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