Early childhood education is a crucial period of development during which the foundations for lifelong learning are nurtured. A key priority of the government is to promote the best outcomes for children and families participating in the Free Pre-school Year programme. In 2013, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs (DCYA) published an eight-point pre-school quality agenda to develop the quality of provision within the pre-school sector. This plan places a focus on enhancing both the support and regulation of the sector. The Department of Education and Skills is working closely with the Department of Children and Youth Affairs to advance the plan.
Within the broader context of quality improvement, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs and the Minister for Education and Skills have asked the Inspectorate of the Department of Education and Skills (DES) to lead and organise focussed inspections on the quality of educational provision in early childhood education settings participating in the Free Pre-school Year programme. These Education-Focussed Early Years Inspections will draw on the expertise of the Early Childhood sector and take account of the approaches and interactions that support the learning and development of pre-school children who are aged 3 years or more.
The inspections will be based upon best practice in early years’ settings in Ireland and abroad. They will draw upon the existing national frameworks, Aistear (the curriculum framework for Early Years settings) and Síolta (the quality and self-evaluation framework for the early years’ sector), and research and development in early years’ settings in several other countries. The inspections will focus on a number of key areas, including:
A key aim of the Education-Focussed inspections will be to promote continuous improvement in early childhood education settings. The inspections will seek to affirm good practice and to provide sound advice and recommendations for improvement. The inspections will seek to foster professional dialogue with the practitioners and other personnel in each setting. In addition to oral feedback, a written report that includes recommendations for practice will be issued to each setting. The written report will be published and be available to parents and the public.
The DES Inspectorate is committed to developing and implementing these Education-focussed Early Years’ Inspections in collaboration with parents, practitioners, experts, organisations and agencies in the early years’ sector. Research and development work on the new inspections has already commenced and the DES Inspectorate will consult widely in the coming months with the early years’ sector on the approaches and processes that will be used. The consultation will include meetings with relevant stakeholders and an invitation to provide written comment on draft inspection guides and materials. The Inspectorate will also learn from trial inspections and share this learning with stakeholders as part of this consultation process.
The Inspectorate of the Department of Education and Skills, with the support of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, will establish a team of early childhood education inspectors with expertise in early childhood education. The inspectors will be recruited from among skilled practitioners in the early years’ sector and will also include some existing DES inspectors who have specialist skills in early childhood education.
The Education-Focussed Inspections conducted by the DES Inspectorate will complement a range of other measures that the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and the Department of Education and Skills are taking to improve the quality of early childhood education and care. These include:
The education-focussed inspections carried out by the Inspectorate of the Department of Education and Skills will complement the inspections carried out by the Child and Family Agency (TUSLA) Early Years’ Inspectorate.
The TUSLA Early Years’ Inspectorate will continue to have responsibility for the regulatory inspection of all pre-school provision for children from aged 0 to 6 years to ensure compliance with the current Child Care Regulations (2006), with forthcoming new regulations, and with the new registration requirements for early childhood settings. Reports by TUSLA’s Early Years’ Inspectorate are already being published and provide an important source of information for parents and practitioners.
The inspections carried out by the Inspectorate of the Department of Education and Skills will focus on the improvement of educational provision for pre-school children who are aged 3 years or more in early childhood education settings participating in the Free Pre-school Year programme. They will be a separate programme of inspections but they will complement fully the regulatory inspections by the TUSLA Early Years’ Inspectorate. Reports from these education-focussed inspections will also be published and will provide valuable information to parents and others, and advice for practitioners and those involved in the initial and continuing education of pre-school staff.
Both Inspectorates are committed to working closely to ensure that the inspection processes complement each other, to minimise disruption to the work of early years’ settings and to avoid unnecessary administrative burdens on leaders and practitioners in early years’ centres. Together the work of both Inspectorates will provide robust quality assurance and support the improvement of the quality of provision in early childhood settings. Appropriate systems will be put in place to facilitate the sharing of inspection information between both Inspectorates and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. The cooperation between both Inspectorates and the Departments of Children and Youth Affairs and Education and Skills will be underpinned by a formal memorandum of understanding.
The involvement of both Inspectorates grows out of joint pilot evaluations of early years’ provision which the Government asked the Inspectorates to conduct as part of the National Literacy and Numeracy Strategy. Similar arrangements, where care-focussed inspections and education-focussed inspections are conducted by separate and cooperating inspectorates, take place in a number of other jurisdictions, including Northern Ireland and Wales.