Quinn ‘fully supports’ use of child benefit to fund extra pre-school year

Minister says move could transform early education outcomes

Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn. Photograph: Cyril Byrne / THE IRISH TIMES.

Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn. Photograph: Cyril Byrne / THE IRISH TIMES.

Wed, May 8, 2013, 18:08

Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn has given his “full support” to the idea of using part of the €2 billion child benefit budget to fund a second year of State-sponsored pre-school.

Speaking at an ESRI conference on education, Mr Quinn said Government colleagues Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton and Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald had “rightly argued” in favour of the move to a “more effective” use of the child benefit budget.

“They have both together cogently argued that we need to explore expanding this provision to two years of free pre-school education for all our children,” he said.

Research revealed at the conference indicated that high quality pre-school education shows “lasting benefits” for better academic attainment and socio-behavioural outcomes.

The Government spent €175 million last year on the free pre-school programme, which is currently supporting in the region of 68,000 pupils.

Mr Quinn suggested the cost of doubling this provision would be in the region of €150-€175 million. “I fully support seeking to do this within the lifetime of this Government,” he added.

Asked whether this would mean less money in parents’ pockets, Mr Quinn said that “in many cases” parents were paying “an awful lot” for childcare anyway.

“Child benefit is about what is the best benefit you can give a child. That – particularly in relation to a child coming from a disadvantaged background – means levelling the playing field in the world of education,” he said.

“If we could get two years as distinct from one it would really have the potential to transform the learning outcomes and the educational outcomes of a whole cohort of young people.”

In the meantime, he said, Ireland could move “with limited further funding and in a short time” to enhance an effective quality assurance and inspection system focussing on educational outcomes across the pre-school sector.