The move to postpone the introduction of a minimum qualification has been delayed until September 2016. It comes after the Irish Government announced every childcare worker would need a minimum of a level 5 on the National Qualifications Framework or equivalent, and pre-school leaders a level 6, by September 2015, in a bid to improve the quality of the country’s pre-school services.
In a letter to childcare settings, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs says it has taken note of concerns expressed surrounding the imposition of the minimum qualification requirement, and believes by postponing its introduction all childcare staff will have the opportunity to achieve the necessary qualifications.
The delay has been condemned by Start Strong, a coalition group campaigning to improve early years policy in Ireland. The minimum qualification was spurred by TV footage which showed children being mistreated in some of Ireland’s crèches.
The Growing up in Ireland 2013 report also found that just one in five nursery employees was qualified to level 3 or held a HETAC, a nationally recognised qualification.
In order to support existing childcare staff to achieve the minimum qualifications, the Government introduced a €3m Learner Fund.
A spokesperson for the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, said, 'minister Reilly is aware that the introduction of minimum qualification requirements for staff was welcomed by people working in the early years sector, as well as by parents, as an indication of the Government’s commitment to improving quality, and that any postponement in commencing the minimum qualification requirements will create disappointment.
'But, the minister points to major progress that has been made in improving qualifications in this sector and his department’s on-going commitment to supporting quality. This is evident in the significant increases in the number of early childhood care and education services under contract to deliver the free pre-school year who now meet a higher capitation criteria.
However Start Strong has said by delaying the introduction of the minimum qualification requirement, the Government is failing young children.
Its director Ciairín de Buis said, ‘The Government must have forgotten the broadcast, but anyone else who watched it won’t have. The minimum qualifications requirement was introduced as a direct response to the mistreatment of children shown in the programme, and now they are delaying it for another year. Once again, the Government haven’t followed through on a commitment to young children - staff who have absolutely no qualifications in the area can continue to work in childcare settings.
‘The decision also shows the scant regard the Government have for those many early years professionals who do take their role seriously and have undertaken training to qualify in the area.’