All Party Group on Early Education and Childcare continues to work for progress on a much-needed Childcare Strategy

The Northern Ireland Assembly’s All Party Group on Early Education and Childcare has elected new officer-bearers as it marked its first year, and reiterated its calls for a renewed focus on childcare and early education as a top priority for the Northern Ireland Assembly. In particular, the Group is calling for the ‘New Decade, New Approach’ commitment to publishing a new Childcare Strategy to be delivered.

The group’s AGM saw Chris Lyttle (Alliance) returned as Chair and Sinead McLaughlin (SDLP), Nicola Brogan (Sinn Fein) and Claire Sugden (Independent) to the positions of Vice-Chair, Secretary and Treasurer respectively. Reflecting on a busy and proactive first year for the group, Chris said: “I am delighted to be re-elected as chair of this important All Party Group on Early Education and Childcare, and would like to thank the office bearers, members and stakeholders who have engaged so effectively, and shared valuable information and evidence.

“The past year has demonstrated just how essential high quality education and childcare provision is for families and children in Northern Ireland. Yet, we are the only part of the UK without a Childcare Strategy. This is urgently needed and long overdue to support children, parents and our vital childcare sector – as well as our society and economy more broadly as we seek to rebuild following Covid-19. We have heard a lot over the last few weeks about the priorities for the Executive – addressing childcare must be a key priority – if parents can’t access the childcare they need in order to work, we won’t be able to fully rebuild our economy or transform the health service. I look forward to continuing our constructive work with colleagues and with the new Education Minister to ensure that this dynamic All Party Group is a vehicle for driving policy and legislative development and promoting best practice.”

Members of the All Party Group have made a clear and robust case for a firm timetable to be established in relation to the publication of an ambitious, much needed and long overdue Childcare Strategy and are calling for demonstrable progress before the end of this year.

Aoife Hamilton, Head of Charity Services at Employers For Childcare, which provides the Secretariat to the All Party Group outlines some of the work that it has been engaged in to date: “Since its establishment this important forum has engaged constructively with the Education Minister, the Departments of Education and Health and a wide range of individuals and groups. Crucially we have heard from those who have expertise and lived experience and they have shared insights on themes ranging from the role of childcare in supporting the economy to the value of early education and childcare for children with additional needs. As well as local experts, we have heard from leaders from elsewhere in the UK and from the Republic of Ireland. This learning will be invaluable as we input into the development of a Childcare Strategy for Northern Ireland, which must be a local solution designed to meet needs here”.

Looking ahead, the Group’s robust work plan will include continuing to gather evidence, and the views and experiences of key groups and individuals, while contributing constructively to the Childcare Strategy development process, having secured a commitment to a programme of engagement – as part of a ‘Strategic Insight Lab’ process – in the Autumn, as a key next step.

Looking ahead

The All Party Group on Early Education and Childcare will continue to meet on a regular basis, working constructively with the Departments of Education and Health and other key stakeholders to ensure progress on these important issues. It was agreed that the next meeting will be scheduled for September 2021.

Employers For Childcare provides the Secretariat for the All Party Group on Early Education and Childcare – correspondence to or 028 9267 8200.