Move part of ongoing work to enhance quality and professionalisation in the early learning and care sector
Minister for Education and Skills Joe Mc Hugh T.D. and Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Dr. Katherine Zappone T.D. today (Friday 12 April) launched Professional Award Criteria and Guidelines for Initial Professional Education (Level 7 and Level 8) Degree Programmes for the Early Learning and Care (ELC) Sector in Ireland.
The purpose of these criteria and guidelines is to support the development by higher education institutions of professional awards for early childhood educators, at Level 7 and Level 8 on the national framework of qualifications. The aim is to ensure consistency of approach and quality in provision of education, ensuing graduates are fully prepared to take on the complex challenges of practice in this field.
Minister McHugh said: “I am delighted to introduce these guidelines for initial professional education programmes for early childhood educators. Early learning and care plays a huge role in children’s development, ongoing wellbeing and their future educational achievement. We want to ensure that children have the best possible learning experience from an early age. The quality of education for our graduates in this area, and how prepared they are for the incredibly important role they perform is critical in ensuring, in turn, that children’s experiences in early learning and care settings are of the highest quality.
“These guidelines build on the Government’s commitment to supporting the evolution of the early learning and care sector in Ireland and in particular the professionalisation of the workforce. They provide initial education providers with clear standards and criteria to meet, to ensure that all awards offered in Ireland as initial professional education for early childhood educators will have the capacity to prepare graduates for the complex and challenging roles they will occupy. The guidelines have been developed in close consultation with stakeholders, and with the higher education institutions who are producing high quality graduates for the sector.”
Minister Zappone said: “We need to future-proof and professionalise the qualifications on offer to the current and future early learning and care workforce, so that we can be assured that they are prepared for the responsibility to deliver high-quality learning and care experiences for their young charges. The guidelines being published today are one part of the important agenda being progressed through First 5 – A Whole-of-Government Strategy for Babies, Young Children and their Families, which sets out a highly ambitious vision for a graduate-led workforce.
“One of the major goals in First 5 relates to the availability of positive play-based learning experiences for young children in our early learning and care settings. While recognising the dedication of our ELC workforce to providing those experiences, I am aware that, like all professions, they need continual support and access to high quality CPD opportunities and initial professional education. These guidelines are one of the important building blocks for the forthcoming comprehensive workforce development process that will be led by my Department in ongoing collaboration with the Department of Education and Skills.”
The Criteria and Guidelines may be used in the development or review of programmes by individual institutions, by awarding bodies, by accreditation bodies or by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs (DCYA). They will inform the development of undergraduate programmes and will complement the current exciting development of professional awards in the further education and training sector being undertaken by Quality and Qualifications Ireland, who have today launched a consultation on these proposed awards. For the first time the ELC workforce will have access to a suite of professional awards from entry level qualifications at Level 5 to honours degree level, that recognise the value of professionals at all these levels working in ELC settings across the country. A qualifications advisory board to review the new degree programmes will be established later this year.
The introduction of the Free Preschool Year (ECCE) scheme and its extension to a second year has introduced increased professional expectations of the ELC workforce. The numbers employed in the sector are now approaching 30,000. Agreement of titles for ELC professionals will take place as part of the forthcoming workforce development planning process expected to be announced shortly by Minister Zappone.
Other recent developments undertaken to underpin the quality of early learning and care include the National Síolta Aistear Initiative, which is currently being implemented by the Department of Education and Skills in collaboration with the Department for Children and Youth Affairs, the introduction of a minimum qualification requirement in the sector, revised Regulation and a new Quality and Regulatory Framework by Tusla, the National Early Years Inspectorate and the roll-out of education-focused inspections by the Inspectorate at the Department of Education and Skills.
Notes to Editors
Please find Professional Award Criteria and Guidelines at the following link
It is intended that the criteria and guidelines will enable initial professional education course providers to design and deliver a course (including professional practice placement) that develops the necessary values, knowledge(s) and practices in their graduates to enable them to practise as professionals in ELC settings.
Further education award standards were established at Levels 4, 5 and 6 on the NFQ in 2011, but there has been little national oversight around the structure and content of programmes at bachelor degree level and above.
The criteria and guidelines specifically focus on the professional dimension of practice in the ELC sector which must be integral to the professional formation of Level 7 and Level 8 graduates. It provides guidance and criteria on the journey from entry for a candidate onto a Level 7 or Level 8 undergraduate course to their exit as an early childhood educator graduate.
The criteria are inclusive of both academic and professional indicators expected by early childhood educator graduates. They aim to improve the experiences and outcomes of our youngest citizens in ELC settings. It is not intended that these criteria and guidelines will standardise and homogenise the delivery and content of all Level 7 and Level 8 courses in Ireland; rather it aims to bring some consistency to the experiences and outcomes for students undertaking such courses.
A working group was established in June 2017 by the Early Years Education Policy Unit (EYEP) to lead the development of professional award criteria and guidelines to inform the development and review of ordinary and honours level degrees (Level 7 and Level 8) programmes for the ELC sector in Ireland.
The working group was representative of key constituents of the education sector with a remit to authorise and implement the use of the criteria and guidelines in their various jurisdictions. Included were representatives from the Irish Universities Association (IUA) and the Technological Higher Education Authority (THEA). Membership of the working group can be found in Appendix 1 of the document and the terms of reference in Appendix 2.