Friday 29th March 2019
The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Dr Katherine Zappone and the Minister for Education and Skills, Mr Joe McHugh, today welcomed and published the report by the National Disability Authority (NDA) of the consultation process into overage exemptions for certain children in the Early Childhood Care and Education programme (ECCE). In welcoming the report, which was jointly commissioned by the Ministers for Children & Youth Affairs and Education & Skills and is being published today, Minister Zappone stated
‘The free pre-school programme is an important cornerstone of the Government’s commitment to high quality early learning and care. It is critical that all children are supported to participate fully in the programme. This report provides us with important evidence regarding the needs of children with disabilities which can now inform our future thinking in this important area.’
In December 2017 Minister Zappone announced her decision to pause the proposed rule changes on overage exemptions to the pre-school programme to allow for a consultation process where all voices, including those of parents of children with disabilities, could be heard in relation to the proposed change.
Both Ministers have conveyed their thanks to the NDA for their hard work and commitment in producing the report and for the invaluable contributions by parents, advocacy groups and other stakeholders who engaged with the NDA to assist in the production of the report.
Addressing some of the issues raised in the report Minister Zappone said
‘Evidence shows us that for the overwhelming majority of children with additional needs it is in their best interest to progress through transitions in their early life with their peers. Positive and well planned transitions from pre-school to supportive primary school environments are key. Our future policy direction must be informed solely by a consideration of what is in the best interests of the children and families involved. We must ensure that whatever information, support and resources that are necessary are in place to enable this to occur.’
Minister McHugh agreed, acknowledging that:
“The NDA report highlights that for parents and children, the transition from pre-school into primary school can be an anxious time. There is a shared objective by professionals in both sectors to provide an inclusive environment and experience for all children. We now all need to work collaboratively across the early learning and care and the primary school sectors to ensure that parents and children are aware of the many supports available to them, so that children can fully participate in high quality learning experiences with their peers as they progress through their lives.”
To progress the issue, Minister Zappone has asked that a group of experts in early learning and care, education and health, together with a parent representative, be convened to agree the next practical steps in as short a timeframe as possible. The work of the group will focus on how to support parents in planning for their children’s needs; improving the process of transition for children with additional needs from early learning and care settings to primary school and to ensure that parents are assured that the school will address the children’s need. The group will also consider how best to meet the needs of children in very exceptional circumstances where additional flexibility in the two year ECCE programme may be required.
Minister Zappone stressed that the current procedure for dealing with overage exemptions will remain in place for the 2019/20 pre-school year pending the outcome of this work.
The full NDA report can be found here
Additional letter of advice from NDA can be found here