Early Years Organisation
We in Early Years- the organisation for young children - representing 1200 local early care and education providers, 30,000 parents and a workforce of 10,000 see the development of a coherent, integrated 0-6 Strategy as one of the most important developments for the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly. These suggestions come from the recent consultation sessions we have had with over 1000 providers and parents across Northern Ireland; including preschool play groups, private day care, statutory nursery schools and units, Sure Start projects and representatives from other voluntary sector organizations.
Short to medium term goals over the next 5 years
- Keep the vision statement, as outlined, but clearly articulate in the document what the priorities will be over the short, medium and longer term.
- Commit to the development of an integrated strategy for all children 0-6 but clearly articulate how education and care services for children 0-3 will be enhanced and developed:
- Use the learning and evidence of what is working well in Sure Start to roll out the Sure Start Model across Northern Ireland
- Roll out the programme for two year olds incrementally across Northern Ireland allowing Statutory Nurseries, Private Day Care, Sure Start services, community based playgroups and child minders to deliver the programme
- Expand the two year old programme from 12½ hours to 15 hours per week
- Allow parents to pay for wrap around child care
- Create a curriculum which links learning and care needs for the 0-3 and the 3+ emphasising holistic learning
- Develop a training, qualifications and professional development strategy for the entire workforce working with this age group recognising the experience many staff will bring with them
- Ensure there is reference in the 0-6 strategy document for the need to align this strategy with other key policies and strategies such as the need for enhanced parental leave entitlement; the relationship with the Child Care , Play and Leisure, Cohesion, Integration and Sharing strategies.
- Maintaining the integrated focus on the 0-6 age group deal is crucial given the weight of evidence from neuroscience, economics, health and education, however, there is the need for the 0-6 Strategy to deal with as a pressing issue and outline in a clear manner how services for the 3+ can be delivered in an equitable and accessible fashion. Again given the evidence from local and international research this means creating a level playing field for all providers of early care and education which should consider the following actions:
- deal with funding inequities by creating a single funding formulae for this age group
- Promote age appropriate provision (end two year old occupying preschool places and end reception provision where there is adequate preschool provision)
- Develop a training qualification and professional development strategy for all the workforce
- Creating consistency about what is meant by part-time and full-time provision in the voluntary, statutory and private sectors, staff ratios, support for children with special needs
- Extend funded provision to 20 hours per week from the current 12½ hours
- Allow parents to pay for wrap around child care in funded pre school provision
- Providing clear accessible information for parents as to their entitlements and availability of services
- Creating a streamlined efficient approach to planning, registration, inspection and quality improvement
- Support local area based approaches to planning and sharing of best practice across all sectors
As a way forward
- Establish a regional implementation group with key players from all sectors to ensure incremental operational delivery is achieved and that appropriate data and resources are available to support planning.
- Increase / realign the percentage of the Education budget spent on pre-primary education.
On an ongoing basis
- Produce an annual report to the Executive on progress made against key milestones in developing and delivering on the vision, goals and objectives of the final 0-6 Strategy.
- Integrate early education planning into all regional and rural development plans and poverty reduction strategies.
Longer term goals 5-10 years:
- Develop an Early Education and Care Act for Northern Ireland that would provide a legislative basis for the financing, supervision and coordination of all education and care services for young children.
- Work towards a graduate pedagogy in the workforce for all who care for and educate young children.
- Raise the school starting age to 6.
"We cannot wait until they are adults, or until they start school, a time when it is already too late. We must invest now in early childhood care and education. Young children cannot wait. Their time is now. Now is our time to build the foundations for the wealth of nations" James Heckman (2000)