Education cutback closes pre-school unit


IN THE latest education cutback, the Department of Education has moved to close a unit working to develop education for pre-school children.

The decision to close the Centre for Early Childhood Development and Education, with the loss of eight jobs, was signalled to staff late last Friday.

The move has been received with dismay across the education sector, amid fears of further cuts in next month's budget.

Fergus Finlay, chief executive of Barnardos, said the decision "raises fundamental questions about the Government's commitment to the area of quality earlychildhood education and development and the educational system in general".

He said: "For the sake of a tiny dent in the exchequer's budget, approximately half a million euro a year, we will lose an invaluable source of expertise, guidance and support", not to mention the loss of a number of committed experts in this arena.

Last night, the department defended the decision. It was timely, it said, "to reconsider the structures established to support early childhood care and education".

Established in 2002, the centre, based at St Patrick's College, Drumcondra, Dublin, worked to develop early childhood education provision. It also advised the department on these issues.

Its brief covered children from birth to six years of age in a wide variety of settings, including families, nurseries, creches, playgroups, pre-schools and the infant classes of primary schools.

The INTO general secretary John Carr said the decision showed the lack of commitment by the Government.

Calling for the decision to be reversed, Mr Carr said an Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development report Education at a Glance, showed Irish spending on pre-school education to be one of the lowest in developed countries."Quality early childhood education provides the basis for lifelong learning," he added.

The department said the centre had been established on an initial three-year basis following the publication of the White Paper on Early Childhood Education. It was sanctioned for a further three-year period in 2005.

The department added: "The establishment of the centre and its sanctioning for a further three-year period pre-dated the Government decision in December 2005 to set up the Office of the Minister for Children. The Office of the Minister for Children, now the Office of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, brings together policymakers from different Government departments to ensure consistency in policymaking and implementation for children.

"With the centre now coming to the end of its contracted period, it is timely to reconsider the structures established to support early childhood care and education."

The department said it envisaged that the work of ensuring education provision in pre-school services would be led by the early years education policy unit based in the the office of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Barry Andrews.

"It is now," it added, "a matter for the office of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs to lead the way forward . . . in the area of early childhood development and education".