Closure of pre-school programmes extended until January 11th
Latest move comes in bid to clip spread of Covid-19, according to Department of Children
After a meeting with the department on Friday early-learning representatives said the closure will also be extended to early childhood education and care facilities. File photograph: Getty
Closure of the pre-school programme will be extended until January 11th in line with primary and secondary schools.
This latest move comes in an attempt to reduce the spread of coronavirus, according to the Department of Children.
On Wednesday, Taoiseach Micheál Martin announced that primary and secondary schools would remain closed until January 11th. They had been scheduled to reopen on January 4th or 6th, depending on the school.
The decision to delay reopening was made at a hastily convened Cabinet meeting on Wednesday following an increase in Covid-19 infections. It was the highest number of hospitalisations since May and there has been a massive rise in referrals of suspected cases in the past week.
However, the delayed reopening did not apply to early-years facilities such as creches and childcare premises – a move criticised by those in the sector who said their exclusion from the new public health rules had “no rationale”.
Following a meeting with the department on Friday representatives from the sector said this closure will also be extended to early childhood education and care facilities.
The department said representatives from the advisory group shared their concerns about full resumption of early learning and childcare from the beginning of January.
“While accepting the need to maintain early learning and childcare for priority groups, the advisory group asked that the pre-school programme [Early Childhood Care and Education] would be aligned with the reopening of schools on 11 January,” it noted.
The department also said its Minister, Roderic O’Gorman, has agreed with Cabinet colleagues that the pre-school programme can resume on January 11th.
“By postponing the return of these children to the pre-school programme, social mixing will be reduced, which will help to prevent the spread of Covid-19 in the post-Christmas period,” it said.
“The pre-school programme will now resume on January 11th, in line with the reopening of schools. The Department of Children . . . will provide funding to providers for the pre-school programme for the week of 4 to 8 January.”
However the department said that under Level 5, early learning and childcare services that provide services other than, or in addition to, the pre-school programme can continue to operate.
“These services provide an essential service which supports parents to go to work. The Minister is asking these services, which are private businesses, to reopen as planned from January 4th to provide childcare, particularly to priority groups,” it said
“The department will provide guidance to services on how to prioritise demand for places in their services, if they are short staffed and unable to reopen with a full staff complement for the week of 4 to 8 January.”
Previously, Early Childhood Ireland and trade union Siptu criticised the Government’s decision not to compel the early-years sector to abide by the same public health rules as schools.
Chief executive of Early Childhood Ireland Teresa Heeney said it “beggars belief” that early years were not included in the announcement, and that the decisions had “no rationale”.
An online petition calling on the Minister to push back reopening for the early-years sector had more than 10,000 signatures by Friday afternoon.
Siptu head of organising Darragh O’Connor said the union is demanding “equal treatment” for early-years educators and to ensure “the same protections can be implemented” to keep those workers safe.