Pobal recently published the 2012 findings of its Annual Survey of the Early Years Sector. As the survey now goes to practically all early care and education services, it is the most comprehensive data source available to us.
The response rate to the survey is high at around 72% and especially high among community-based services, which constitute nearly 30% of services in the country, with the remainder private providers.
The survey provides data on a range of issues. What follows is a summary of some key themes and key findings, from a policy perspective:
Types of service
It is hard to get a precise picture of the mix of different types of service, as there is variation and overlap in the use of terms. Just over half (54%) of services describe themselves as a “playgroup or pre-school”, 32% describe themselves as providing a “creche or nursery”, and 40% describe themselves as “Montessori”. Playgroups are more common in the community sector, and “Montessoris” in the private sector. 57% of services deliver only the Free Pre-School Year.
The number of children attending, and the hours they attend per day, varies significantly by the age of the child. 66% of children attending services are in the 3-5 age-group, and two-thirds of these (44% of all the children) attend on a “sessional” basis (i.e. up to a maximum of 3.5 hours per day), which largely equates to participation in the Free Pre School Year.
14% of children in the services are aged 1-2, and just 3% are less than 1 year old. The majority of those aged 0-2 who attend do so for more than 5 hours per day.
16% of children attending early care and education services are school-age children attending on an after-school basis.
Profile of children and families accessing services
45% of services reported having one or more children with a disability. Of the 3,800 children with a disability reported by services, 32% were on the autistic spectrum. The next most common type of disability was learning disabilities, which affected 23% of the children with a disability.
14% of services reported having one or more Traveller children, with these services mostly community-based. In total, 2,084 Traveller children were attending one of the services that responded to the questionnaire.
11% of children attending services had neither English nor Irish as their first language.
Looking back over surveys since 2006, Pobal note an upward trend in fees charged (particularly for sessional and part-time places), and a convergence in the fees charged by community and private providers (which at least partly results from a change in the way the community subvention scheme operates).
The average weekly fee, according to the Pobal survey, is €66 for a sessional place, and €167 for a full-time place for a child over 1 year old.
Staffing and qualifications
The proportion of staff with qualifications at Level 5 or above on the National Framework of Qualifications is 87%, a significant increase from 76% the previous year.
The proportion of staff with degree-level qualifications remains low, however, with only 12% of staff at Level 7 or above.
For the first time, the survey also distinguishes the age of children that different staff-members work with, using two groups: children less than 18 months old and those over 18 months. Analysis revealed that more highly qualified staff are with the older age-group. Of staff working with the older age-group, 36% are at Level 6 and 14% at Level 7 or above. Of those working with the younger age group, 27% are at Level 6 and 7.5% at Level 7 or above. The survey was unable to determine whether this tendency had been reinforced by the qualification requirements for the Free Pre-School Year, but Pobal do note concerns about the quality of care for the very youngest children.
Data like this is of great importance for policy-making, and it’s very positive that the Pobal survey now goes to all early care and education services and gets such a high response rate. The data requirements for good policy-making are even greater, however. Not only should more data be available from official returns for the Free Pre-School Year – so that we can have data based on a 100% response rate – but we need data on other questions too.
Above all, we need other measures of quality and we need a more detailed breakdown of access to services by different social groups. The National Early Years Strategy offers the Government the opportunity to commit to a programme of on-going data collection.