Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Children Robert Troy has said Ministers are engaged in a false debate on the provision of the free pre-school year. Ministers have openly discussed the possibility of expanding the scheme to two years, possibly funded through a reduction in child benefit while at the same time ignoring weaknesses in the current system.
Deputy Troy commented: “I believe this debate is taking place in a vacuum while the reports and audits that have been carried out into the free pre-school year remain unpublished. Minister Fitzgerald only acknowledged these reports during Question Time in the Dáil and I am disappointed that despite my call for these reports to be made public that have been reported on in the media. I would now urge the Minister to publish these reports without delay.
“The free preschool year has been hugely successful with a participation rate of 94% however participation alone is not a measure of success. We need clear measurements and these reports can form the basis of this.
“Extending the free preschool year could potentially be a huge help for many families across the country and be of great educational and developmental benefit for children. Any weaknesses highlighted in the reports in relation to quality assurance and planning in relation to delivering the curriculum need to be overcome prior to any extension. I have consistently said that we would like to see a full professionalisation for everyone involved in the sector. We need to know what plans the Minister has to ensure professionalism in the service.
“Aistear has been hugely successful in child development in the early years. The curriculum was developed with an intense consultation between practitioners, parents, children, researchers and policy makers. The Government needs to engage proactively with the sector to ensure the preschool programme is being delivered to the highest standards and to discuss how the programme would proceed if it was extended to two years.
“The only response coming from government to address the excessive childcare costs facing families is to introduce a second free preschool year, which is only of a part-time nature, and even in this Ministers have been incoherent on the issue, with some suggesting this could be financed by cutting child benefit.
“Fianna Fáil is currently engaging in a consultation process on early childhood development and education which involves meeting those on the frontline delivery the service. We will shortly be bringing forward proposals in this area and I hope we will be able to bring forward realistic and constructive proposals to strengthen and expand the delivery of free preschool education.”