Irish Government launches major reform of funding for early learning and childcare sector

In the Republic of Ireland, the Minister For Children, Equality, Disability, Integration And Youth – Roderic O’Gorman – has launched a major reform of funding for early learning and childcare services, together with a Workforce Plan for the sector.

These initiatives have been informed by consultation with parents, early education and childcare providers, staff and other stakeholders, as well as independent research and the findings of an expert panel.

Reforming funding for the early learning and childcare sector: Partnership for the Public Good

The Irish Government has accepted the recommendations of an Expert Group report, Partnership for the Public Good, which examined the funding of the early learning and childcare sector. The report proposes increasing the extent to which services are publicly funded and publicly managed, with the sector delivering a service for the public good, through greater partnership between the State and providers.

The new funding model is intended to deliver transformational change over time, including:

  • Improving the quality of services
  • Better pay and conditions for those working in the sector
  • Tackling disadvantage
  • Improving affordability for parents
  • Better matching supply with demand
  • Supporting provider sustainability.

This will help to achieve the overall objectives of improving child wellbeing and development, supporting parental employment and enhancing social inclusion. This will be delivered through:

  • A new ‘Core Funding’ scheme to support quality of provision, improved pay and conditions for staff, management of parental fees and sustainability of services
  • Universal and targeted funding aimed at tackling disadvantage.
  • Continued provision of the universal Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) programme and the National Childcare Scheme (NCS), with some enhancements.

Core Funding will support the establishment of an Employment Regulation Order to improve pay and conditions in the sector, ensure stability and sustainability for services, improve quality of provision, and enable parental fees to be controlled. As a condition of receiving Core Funding, providers will have to agree to work to achieve these policy outcomes.

The Irish Budget 2022 saw the announcement of significant funding to support the implementation and delivery of the new funding model from 2022.

New Workforce Plan for early learning and childcare: Nurturing Skills

Minister O’Gorman also launched Nurturing Skills: The Workforce Plan for Early Learning and Care and School-Age Childcare, 2022-2028. The plan recognises the vital role that early years educators, school-age childcare practitioners and childminders play in supporting children’s early education, development and well-being. It aims to support the professionalisation of the early learning, childcare and school-age childcare workforce, give those working in the sector the prospect of career development and professional recognition, and raise the profile of careers in the sector.

The five pillars of the Nurturing Skills plan are:

  1. Establishing a career framework
  2. Raising qualification levels
  3. Developing a national Continuing Professional Development (CPD) system
  4. Supporting recruitment, retention and diversity
  5. Moving towards regulation of the profession.

In parallel, and key to the delivering with the Nurturing Skills plan, the roll out of Core Funding is essential to help improve pay and conditions.

Reports welcomed by the sector

Those working in the sector in Ireland have broadly welcomed the publication of these two reports. Commenting on the announcements, Early Childhood Ireland stated that they have the capacity to deliver real change. France Byrne, Director of Policy, said:

“Both reports potentially signal a real and significant commitment to bring Ireland’s childcare system in line with the other EU Member States. By committing to a new stream of core funding and by recognising the importance of a professional workforce for the delivery of high-quality, child-centred care and learning, this Government is answering the concerns raised by us, by providers and by parents, for many years now.”

Importantly, however, they reflect that for the reforms to be implemented, continued investment year-on-year will be essential, together with careful and full consultation with stakeholders.

Important learning to support the development of a new Childcare Strategy for Northern Ireland

There is important learning here for Northern Ireland as we look to the development of a new Childcare Strategy. The new Strategy must be ambitious in seeking to support the entire sector here to be more sustainable, the workforce to receive better pay and recognition, keeping a focus on quality early education and care outcomes for children, and in addressing the affordability of childcare for parents.