I am in the process of introducing a number of key reforms as part of the Pre-School Quality Agenda with the objective of improving the quality of childcare services. I have outlined to this House and to the Seanad on a number of occasions the proposed reforms and the measures necessary for their implementation. Legislative amendments to Part VII of the Child Care Act 1991 have been passed by the Oireachtas and will underpin the reforms. The objectives are to strengthen the current inspection regime, provide a statutory basis for registration of pre-school services and also provide for the setting of minimum qualification standards for staff working directly with children in pre-school services. To provide for the implementation of the changes to the Act it will be necessary to amend or make additions to the current Regulations in a number of areas, and these are currently being considered.
The new regulations will be accompanied by new National Quality Standards, both of which will form the basis against which services will be inspected by the Early Years Inspectorate of the Child and Family Agency. The Standards will set out the outcomes for quality, and supporting criteria, against which the compliance level of a service will be measured.Inspection under the new regulations and Standards will commence as early as practicable, and following the development of new inspection tools and guidelines. In advance of the introduction of the new regulations, a communications exercise will be undertaken to ensure that childcare services fully understand the impact of the changes to how they will be inspected.
A new system of registration has been introduced and anyone proposing to open a new childcare service must first be registered with the Early Years Inspectorate before they begin to operate. The registration and inspection system will allow Inspectors to specify improvement conditions that a service must comply with. This system will, for the first time, provide for timely and effective regulation and enforcement of standards in pre-school services. Information in relation to the inspection and registration system is available on the Child and Family Agency’s website at www.tusla.ie.
I have also indicated my intention to introduce a new requirement that all staff caring for children in an early years service hold a minimum qualification at FETAC Level 5. In addition, the minimum requirement of FETAC Level 5 currently in place for pre-school leaders delivering the Pre-School Year programme, will be increased to Level 6. The new requirements will apply from September 2014 for new services, and from September 2015 for existing services. To support existing childcare workers to obtain the necessary qualifications, my Department is currently finalising arrangements for a new, subsidised training programme which will be implemented in 2014/2015. Funding of €3 million is being allocated to support this initiative, the details of which I expect to announce shortly.