Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Education and Skills Brendan Smith TD has expressed serious concerns about the proposal to raise the school starting age from four to five and has requested the Education Minister to reject the proposal without delay.
Deputy Smith has urged the Government not to consider implementing the measure without committing to extend the Early Childhood Care and Education Scheme (ECCE) and providing additional supports for early childhood education. The ECCE is an initiative announced by the previous Government in April of last year to provide a free pre-school year for 70,000 children around the country aged between 3 years and 3 months and 4 years and 6 months and this scheme has been very successful.
Deputy Smith commented, “Raising the school starting age without providing equal access to pre-school education in all parts of the country would be an extremely short-sighted measure that could have a serious impact on early childhood development and on the financial situation of many families around the country.
“Fianna Fáil is totally opposed to raising the school starting age. The previous Government rejected such an option. I am urging the Fine Gael/Labour Government to do the same.
“However if this Government is to even consider raising the school starting age they must fully commit to extending the ECCE which provides substantial benefits to disadvantaged children who previously didn’t have access to pre-school education. Raising the school starting age without extending this initiative would force parents to pay for an extra year of child care when many simply can’t afford it at a cost of up to €1,000 a month. It could prevent many children from engaging in pre-school education at a crucial stage of their development.
“Under the proposal, many children could end up not starting school before the age of 6. We cannot have a situation where 4 and 5 year olds are not engaged in any form of social and educational development. We also cannot have a situation where families are simply unable to meet the financial burden of childcare for a longer period of time.
“I am calling on the Government to clearly state their position on the ECCE. In the Programme for Government Fine Gael and Labour said:
‘We will maintain the free pre-school year in Early Childhood Care and Education to promote the best outcomes for children and families. As resources allow, this Government will invest in a targeted early childhood education programme for disadvantage children, building on existing targeted pre-school supports for families most in need of assistance such as the young Ballymun project.’ – Programme for Government
“The State has made great strides in supporting education in the early childhood years. Despite an unprecedented recession, the previous Government committed to funding pre-school education for all. A leading expert in early childhood education, NUI Maynooth’s Professor Tom Collins has said: “Early childhood represents the most important opportunity for educational development of any period in a person’s life.” This Government must avoid taking retrograde steps for short-term financial gain at the expense of our children.”