Interview: Marian Quinn

Monday, January 12, 2015

Chairperson of the Association of Childhood Professionals (ACP), a voluntary organisation for the early years and childcare sector in Ireland.

What is the role of the ACP?

We are a voluntary organisation for individuals qualified in early years, including practitioners, providers and early education lecturers.

The aim of the ACP, which was founded in 2005 in Cork and grew to a national level in 2013, is to provide independent support by giving the sector a voice.

We have 1,500 members across Ireland, with branches across seven regions of the country.

The ACP has organised a rally for early childhood education and care professionals on 17 February. What do you hope to achieve with it?

The purpose of the rally, which will take place outside Dail eireann (the Irish Parliament buildings), is to highlight the importance of early childhood education and care, and the vital part played by professionals in supporting children and families at this stage of development.

So far, 968 people have confirmed their attendance. We are also planning on launching a petition.

What key messages do you want to get across?

The sector is currently massively underfunded. The rate given to providers for the free pre-school year - known as the Early Childhood Care and Education Scheme (ECCE) - falls short of the real cost of delivering the places. Many providers are struggling to meet costs and as a result are facing closure.

Another issue is that wages don't match the qualifications of staff, many of whom hold degrees but earn minimum wage or marginally more. Practitioners are, through their low wages, subsidising the cost of childcare.

The sector can't afford to do this any longer, so we are demanding that the state steps in and accepts its responsibility to provide sufficient funding for high-quality provision, and that it consults with childcare professionals on future policy.

What other changes would you like to see made to early childhood education and care in Ireland?

We would like a national pay scale to be introduced across Ireland for those that work with children. The country's inspection system also needs overhauling.

The move by the Department of Education and Skills to employ eight to ten dedicated early years inspectors falls short of the mark as we have 4,500 early childhood education and care centres in Ireland.

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