Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

"We Can't Provide a Quality Service on Shoestrings": Irish Practitioners Perspectives on the ECCE Scheme (2010)

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

"We Can't Provide a Quality Service on Shoestrings": Irish Practitioners Perspectives on the ECCE Scheme (2010)

Article excerpt

Introduction

Numerous benefits have been associated with Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) while many studies have investigated the economic and societal impact of universal ECCE programmes (Baker, 2011; Haynes & Mogstad, 2015; Zhou, Li, Ying Hu, & Li, 2017), the significance of quality ECCE remains of utmost importance (Dahlberg, Moss & Pence, 2013). It is well established that quality ECCE can make a significant difference in the lives of young children (European Commission, 2014; Lipsey, Farran & Hofer, 2018) especially for children from disadvantaged backgrounds (Ansari & Lopez, 2015; Bakken, Brown, & Downing, 2017; Roberts, 2015). Research indicates that quality in ECCE comprises of process (e.g., positive interactions between children, families and practitioners, etc.) and structural components (e.g., stable working conditions for practitioners and safe ECCE environments, etc.) which are influenced by economic, political and cultural factors (Couchenour & Chrisman, 2016; Dahlberg, Moss, & Pence, 2013; European Commission, 2014).

Hence, this paper contributes to insights on a universal access programme in Ireland; the ECCE Scheme (2010) was an attempt by Irish policy makers (namely, the Childcare Directorate of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs) to move beyond the highly disjointed and privatised Irish model of ECEC (Urban, Robson, & Scacchi, 2017), thereby, contributing to the professionalism of the sector and better outcomes for children (Ozonyia, 2012). As part of the Barcelona Summit (2002) (European Commission, 2008), Ireland was obliged to provide pre-school education to "90% of children [minimum] between [2.8 years old] and the mandatory school age" (European Commission, 2008). This agreement was primarily enacted to improve equal employment opportunities between women and men (European Commission, 2008) by providing free ECCE to children (DCYA, 2017b). The ECCE Scheme (2010) is an initiative available to children between 2.8 and 5.6 years old that provides children with access to ECCE prior to transitioning into primary school. Children can access up to 15 hours per week over 38 weeks per year (September to June) (DCYA, 2018b) which was deemed insufficient to facilitate working parents (Hayes, O'Donoghue-Hynes, & Wolfe, 2013). In essence, however, I argue in this paper that quality ECEC should primarily concerned with improving children's lives and outcomes (Perlman et al., 2017) rather than solely focusing on the correlation between accessible ECCE and increased female participating in the workforce. This is not to say that practitioners' and parents' needs should not be considered in policy development but that collaborative actions by the government results in positive ECCE outcomes for children, practitioners and their families. Therefore, children, parents and practitioners' views should be prioritised in the development of new ECEC policy and initiatives and what is best for the child is what policies affecting children should be primarily concerned with (United Nations, 1989). This means investing in quality and affordable ECCE, the facilitation of occupational profiles for those working in ECCE, stable work environments, accessible continued professional development opportunities (Urban et al., 2017) and consultation with ECCE stakeholders (children and families; CECDE, 2006).

The ECCE Scheme and Administrative Practices in Early Childhood Education and Care

For an early childhood care and education (ECCE) service to participate in the ECCE Scheme (2010), a number of administrative and structural changes were required. To register for the scheme, providers needed to complete a series of online applications (DCYA, 2018b) and increased qualification levels were mandated for ECCE leaders participating in the scheme (ibid.). Additionally, an increase in workload was associated with ECCE services participating in the scheme, who were required to provide documentary evidence for the implementation of Aistear (NCCA, 2009), Irelands National Curriculum Framework and Siolta (CECDE, 2006), Irelands National Quality Framework for ECCE (DCYA, 2018b). …

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