The recent decision by the Government to introduce a free pre-school place for all children in the year prior to starting primary school is, in Barnardos’ view, a most significant and welcome policy development which will benefit children now and into the
future. Research has shown that quality Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) delivers long-term dividends to children, families and society. 1 Studies have also shown that quality pre-school education leads to immediate and measurable gains in education and social development. For children living in poverty, quality education and care can lead to better school achievement, higher school retention rates and improved mental health. Barnardos questions the rationale for limiting the provision to 2 hours and 15 minutes. This level of intervention is too short to make a significant impact on a child’s educational
and social development. The importance of ‘quality’ cannot be overstated and again it is positive to note the Government’s recent
announcements in regard to Síolta, the National Quality Framework. Early years providers will need comprehensive supports to ensure that they can engage with the Síolta process of quality improvement. Mentoring, training, information and resources will need to be available to ensure the highest standards of quality is provided in the pre-school year. The details of the free pre-school year have yet to be made public. It is to be hoped that the implementation of the measure will be rolled out in partnership
with the ECCE sector. This is a land-mark decision, all the more extraordinary given that it was part of a cost cutting budget. It is proof that good policy made on the basis of strong policy research can impact on Government policy-making.
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