“The Government’s main response to the growing ECCE sector was to give direct financial supports to parents through universal payments of Child Benefit and Early Childcare Supplement. This was coupled with the National Childcare Investment Programme 2006-2010 with a budget of €575m and an aim to create 50,000 childcare places…..for reasons of cost effectiveness and to improve accessibility for all children, the Government has ceased the Early Childcare Supplement in favour of establishing the Free Pre-School Year which provides for a year of free early care and education for all children the year prior to joining primary school. Beginning in January 2010, the provision amounts to 3 hours per day, 5 days a week over a 38-week year or 2 hours and 15 minutes per day, 5 days a week over a 50-week year or a variation involving 3 or 4 days a week depending on what the parents choose.” (Barnardos Aug 2010).
This is a very brief history into the ECCE scheme that is operation in Ireland today (Aug 2017). In effect, a monetary payment issued to parents (€1,000) was replaced with free pre-school places for all* . In budget 2016 it was announced that this free year of pre-school was to be extended to allow children as young as 3 years** to avail of a government paid pre-school place.
It was effectively communicated to parents that there are now two free years of pre-school available for every child with words such as “Plan for second free preschool year” and “Free pre-school extended” “expansion”. This however is not the case and is not widely known until it is time to apply for an ECCE place.
There are serious shortcomings with the current ECCE scheme which has the effect of excluding some children from the scheme for a minimum of 15 weeks, essentially every child born in the months September, October, November and December. Instead of the scheme using the primary school entry year as a reference for allocating an ECCE placement, it uses the date of birth of the child to evaluate eligibility and restricts the entry times into the scheme to three intakes per year. This results in many children missing out on weeks of early childhood education due to their month of birth. The knock-on effect of this is when a child becomes eligible for the January intake, they may not be able to avail of their full entitlement of pre-school education due to a lack of spaces.
Take a child born in January 2014, they can join the ECCE scheme in April 2017, Sept 2017 & Sept 2018 availing of a maximum of 88 weeks of the ECCE scheme.
Take a child born in August 2014 – they are able to avail of their ECCE place beginning in Sept 2017 and Sept 2018. This child can avail of a maximum of 76 weeks of the ECCE scheme.
Take a child born in Sept 2014 – they can join the ECCE scheme in January 2018 providing there are spaces still available, and Sept 2018. This child can avail of a maximum of 61 weeks of the ECCE scheme.
The differences are shocking to treat 3 children so differently all because of their month of birth. Three children beginning their primary school education together in September 2019 are all eligible to avail of different pre-school education. This is discrimination at the hands of the Irish Government.
Our recommendation is that all children are accepted into the ECCE scheme 2 years prior to beginning their primary school education to ensure that each child is entitled to 76 weeks of government provided pre-school education and furthermore, for the education of pre-school children to be moved in under the Department of Education within the grounds of primary schools.
If you are a parent to young children in Ireland, please answer our poll here and help us raise awareness of this issue.
* While the amount of €1,000 was withdrawn from all parents in full, the scheme to replace the monetary payment was not issued out to pre-school in an equal manner.
** While children qualify for the ECCE scheme on their third birthday, they are required to wait until the next scheduled intake period. This happens three times a year, Sept, Jan & Apr effectively pushing their qualifying age out to 3 years and 4 months in some cases.