Pay rates in childcare are abysmal. Should I retrain as a primary teacher?

Ask Brian: Increased investment in childcare sector is crucial to avoid exodus of staff

Government needs to increase investment to ensure proper pay and conditions for early years professionals so they are on a par with professionals in the wider care and education sector. Photograph: iStock

Government needs to increase investment to ensure proper pay and conditions for early years professionals so they are on a par with professionals in the wider care and education sector. Photograph: iStock

 

I secured a level-eight degree in early childhood education three years ago. While I love my work, it is very difficult to make ends meet. I’m thinking of returning to college to complete an 18-month post-graduate primary teacher programme unless pay and conditions improve.

The development of the free preschool year just over a decade ago by the then minister for children Barry Andrews was a monumental advance for early childhood education in Ireland.

We know the learning and development that takes place in early childhood provides an essential cornerstone for lifelong learning and educational attainment.

Studies show that high quality early childhood care and education plays a vital role in reducing educational underachievement, particularly for children who are faced with barriers to learning, and reduces or eliminates the need for later educational and social interventions.

The Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) system has grown. And there are now 17 level-eight degree programmes on offer to those seeking to educate our youngest children. It is no exaggeration to state that your role is in many ways the most important one in shaping a child’s long-term educational development.

The sector has also had its challenges. During the pandemic, the then minister Katherine Zappone had to step in to financially rescue the ECCE system as it would have collapsed due to its private sector nature.

When the programme for government was launched, early childhood occupied a prominent place. However, it was mainly in relation to childcare and its affordability for parents, which are mentioned some 32 times; early education is mentioned only twice.

Your dilemma encapsulates the crux of the direction the Government takes in early childhood education.

If your input into the educational development of preschoolers is to be recognised, then the budget allocation to pay you on the same salary scale as those who take the child forward educationally in junior infants should be found.

It is clear that the Government needs to increase investment to ensure proper pay and conditions for early years professionals

If on the other hand Government sees your role as glorified childminding, then your salary will remain low and many highly-qualified staff will move on.

We often create vital public services as “pilot projects”, hoping to wring enough money out of the Department of Public Expenditure in time to keep the service on life support. This is exactly how the ECCE scheme has evolved over the past decade.

It is clear that the Government needs to increase investment to ensure proper pay and conditions for early years professionals so they are on a par with professionals in the wider care and education sector.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin, who I know to be passionately committed to education as a former teacher himself, spoke recently about the priority of funding early childhood education in the 2021-22 budget. Hopefully, he sees the centrality of your educationalist role.

email queries to askbrian@irishtimes.com