Updated: Apr 6
In early March 2022 the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth (DCEDIY), Roderic O’Gorman, released fiercely anticipated information regarding rates and values due to come into effect in September 2022 under the new Core funding Scheme for Early Learning and Care (ELC) and School Age Childcare (SAC). Services around the country have been eager to access this information for some time now to calculate the funding they can expect to receive to support their ELC and SAC provision. The Minister had promised the sector that the new funding model of €221 million would enable service providers to increase staff rates of pay and support the move towards a graduate led workforce, as proposed in the First Five strategy.
A 2021 sector profile report from Pobal has shown that current pay rates within the ELC sector are extremely low and as a result practitioners do not even earn the living wage. With expectations within the associated Workforce Development Plan outlining upcoming changes in minimum qualification requirements for lead practitioners and managers to hold a degree at level 7, the ability to provide better rates of pay is central to the success of current strategies related to the sector. Therefore, it was hoped that the new Core Funding Model would address this issue and subsequently have a positive knock-on effect on other issues affecting the workforce in this sector. Such related issues include workforce sustainability with the SAC and ELC sector experiencing high rates of staff turnover due to experienced and qualified practitioners pursuing better paid and professionally recognised positions within other sectors.
Reports of No Increase for Some
Unfortunately, not all providers are happy with the proposed funding. Many smaller services are reporting that, upon calculating their expected share of the Core Funding Model, the amounts are showing as less than they were receiving previously. The DCEDIY have stated that no provider will lose out and anyone calculating a net loss will be brought up to zero, but this just means they will be stuck receiving the same level of funding as they did in 2019 with no actual increase. Providers are concerned that this will make it impossible to provide a meaningful wage increase to both experienced and graduate staff when considerations such as the increased cost of living and higher running costs for their service are taken into account. Many services have reported that they feel they will have to close their doors as they will be unable to sustain their business going forward. This will have a significant negative impact on the staff, parents and children who rely on these vital and acknowledged front-line services, along with an impact on the wider community to which they belong. When will Government make the important connection between the economy’s dependence on these vital services to enable parents to work, the sector’s ability to provide quality early childhood education experiences to young children as they embark on a journey of lifelong learning and professional status and pay?
A Question of Calculations?
One must wonder if the Core Funding Model was tested using realistic calculations based on the true cost of running an ELC service inclusive of all outgoings, increases in the cost of living and running costs, in addition to the significant amount of time that must be spent on the administration and paperwork of Government schemes and documentation associated with the dual inspection process? Quality ELC sustained by a workforce where both graduate knowledge and significant practitioner work experience at all levels on the qualification framework will require a funding model where, instead of counting cents per hour, practitioners receive a decent salary and pay scale with career development opportunities at all levels. Recognition of the ELC sector as a professional, highly experienced, appropriately qualified and necessary service for both parents and children is vital to retain staff and avoid collapse of the sector. It is not enough to simply call the sector “professional” or “front-line”, without appropriate acknowledgement and remuneration as such, these descriptors are meaningless in isolation.
Worth the Effort?
When all of this is taken into account, why would those with years of valuable experience put themselves through a degree course at level 7 or level 8, for little or no return? Similarly, why would a new graduate who engages in an ELC degree after secondary school stay in a sector which requires them to gain 3 years’ experience after graduation before they can earn a living wage and be properly recognised as an educator? Would other professional sectors stand for this? .....I doubt it.
About the Author:
Paula Walshe is an ECEC trainer and placement assessor in the further education and training sector and a freelance writer. She currently holds a BA (Hons) in Early Childhood Education and will complete her studies for a Master’s Degree in Leadership for ECEC in 2022. Paula has extensive ECEC experience in both pedagogical practice and ECEC management. You can learn more about Paula’s work at her website (www.thedigitalearlychildhoodeducator.ie), where she writes a weekly blog on current topics in Early Childhood Education and Care in Ireland and provides useful professional and academic resources for students and professionals in this sector. Paula is also one of the creators of an ECE community of practice based on Twitter: ECE Quality Ireland (@ECEQualityIRL) / Twitter Contact Paula: LinkedIn: Paula Walshe / Twitter: @digitalearlyed / Instagram: @digitalearlychildhoodeducator.