Quality issues found in preschool tuition
Weaknesses found in range and quality of activities for children in most preschools inspected by Department of Education and Health Service Executive
The State’s investment in preschool tuition is largely on the basis that high-quality early-years education can yield significant benefits for children later in life. Photograph: Frank Perry/AFP/Getty Images
Unpublished inspection reports examining the quality of tuition in creches delivering the free preschool year – which costs the State €175 million a year – have revealed “significant weaknesses”.
A total of 68,000 children between the ages of three and four – or 95 per cent of eligible children – take part in the preschool year.
However, inspections carried out by the Department of Education and the Health Service Executive’s preschool inspectorate into a sample of 15 preschools found weaknesses in the range and quality of activities for children in most of the preschools they examined.
The inspection teams found good standards in areas such as personal care and the quality of relationships with children in most of the preschools surveyed. They also found that the physical and material conditions in most preschools was of a high standard.
However, the findings over the quality of tuition are likely to cause concern among policymakers. “It is of particular concern that the extent to which the programme of activities and its implementation supports the children’s development was effective in less than half of the settings observed,” the report states.
The State’s investment in this area is largely on the basis that high-quality, early-years education can yield significant benefits for children later in life. Several Ministers had spoken out in support of extending the preschool year over recent weeks by a further year.
Inspectors also expressed concern over the lack of planning to implement the official curriculum, and said there was “considerable scope for development” in relation to planned activities that can benefit children’s development. Research has consistently shown the long-term benefits of high-quality early childhood care and education. But these figures are based on high-quality childcare services using trained tutors.
New research by State agency Pobal also shows significant gaps in the number of staff qualified to provide early-years education in the free preschool year. Its report, finalised earlier this month, found one-in-four educators in preschools either did not have any qualifications or completed unaccredited training.
Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald has said a second free preschool year could be available within 18 months, if there is Government support for such a move. But she has acknowledged there is “considerable scope” for development in relation to areas such as planned activities. “I would like to see development and further investment in a number of associated measures to support quality assurance, staff training, workforce development and inspections,” Ms Fitzgerald said.