Updated: Apr 6, 2022
Anyone who has studied ECEC in Ireland, at any level from level 5 and beyond, will at some point…preferably very early on…have been introduced to both Aistear the curriculum framework and Síolta the quality framework for ECEC. However, anecdotally it seems that the majority of the focus seems to be on Aistear and students of ECEC frequently do not emerge from their studies with adequate knowledge of the bedrock upon which quality ECEC is built, namely Síolta.
Clearing the Fog
On a professional level I have worked as a practitioner and a manager in ECEC prior to becoming a trainer of ECEC professionals. As a result, in my experience, there appears to be a lack of knowledge on how Síolta meaningfully influences our everyday practice. Síolta is not just something that the owner or manager has to consider, every practitioner’s daily practice is intrinsically linked to the Síolta quality standards. It is likely that the lack of practitioner recognition of Síolta in daily practice is due to what can seem an overwhelming amount of information for students and practitioners to learn about and implement such as legislation, regulations, curriculum plans, observations, child protection and the heightened focus on infection control. However, if ECEC is viewed primarily through the lens of the Síolta quality standards first and foremost, it can provide significant clarity to help identify how all of the rest of the regulations and best practice guidelines fit into our everyday practice. Sometimes the numerous different guidelines and regulations can result in a fog descending and reduces our capacity to see how it all fits together symbiotically for the provision of quality ECEC.
Driver Theory Test
Síolta is a bit like the driver theory test handbook. We would not dream of letting someone drive around in a car (ECEC practice, Aistear) without making sure that they had the appropriate knowledge on the best way to do it (Síolta). For example, take Standard 1: The Rights of the Child, many suggest the same answers on how to implement this standard such as “we let the children free play” or “we listen to the child’s voice”. On the surface, yes, that is part of it, however if we look a little closer at Standard 1, we can identify other areas of our training and every day practice that also tie in to the implementation of this standard as highlighted in the image below:
Straight away, when looking at this flashcard, it is evident how this Síolta Standard 1 is more than just the voice of the child, though that is a very important element of it. However, we can also see how other areas of our ECEC studies and practice are important component parts of the implementation of Standard 1:
· UNCRC (United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child) – The right for children to participate, to have freedom to express themselves and their opinions and to have them taken into account and acted upon. Highlighted under Article 12: The Child’s Opinion. This reminds us that not only should we listen to the child’s voice but we also have an obligation to act upon that so the child can see the impact that their voice and opinion has on their own lives, facilitated by the adults who care for them.
· Irish Constitution – Article 42A – This article was added to the Constitution in 2015 after a referendum in 2012. It places an obligation on the state to uphold the unique rights of children, separate to that of the family. In ECEC practice, this informs child safeguarding and protection along with curriculum planning and child observations and reinforces our obligation to always act in the best interests of the child in all aspects of our professional ECEC practice. This legislation also complements UNCRC Article 12: The Child’s Opinion.
· The Child Care Act 1991 (Early Years Services) Regulations 2016 – We can sometimes think that these regulations are only related to the registration and management of an ECEC service. However, if you consult the Tusla QRF document, which breaks down this legislation in a meaningful way, you will see under Regulation 19 Health, Welfare and Development, that there is a legal obligation to implement “practices that support the learning, development and wellbeing of each child, taking their individual interests and needs into consideration”. Regulation 19 also considers how ECEC services support “relationships and interactions around all children” – all phrases reminiscent of Aistear.
· Aistear – The Aistear principles of Children as Citizens and Active Learning are clearly identifiable within the UNCRC right to participation and the Irish Constitution Article 42A which recognises the individual rights of children as unique citizens. Also, the Aistear them of Wellbeing highlights the importance of children feeling “valued, respected, empowered” and to be facilitated as active citizens. While the theme of Identity and Belonging describes facilitating children to feel confident to use their voice and give their opinion in order to “shape their own learning” and to be aware of their own rights and the rights of others.
· Other Síolta Standards – To listen to, hear and act upon the voice of the child we must engage in consultation with them, talk to them, listen to what they have to say and show them that we respect them and that they can make a difference in relevant and meaningful ways on their own lives and ECEC experience. Therefore this links to Síolta Standard 4: Consultation. However, no Síolta standard exists in isolation, they are all inter-related and you will see elements of each standard reflected in all of the remaining standards…..consider the full list of standards here and I guarantee you will identify how they are all intrinsically linked.
It is vitally important that we do not overlook the value of reflecting on and understanding the implementation of the Síolta quality standards within our everyday practice. We need to see how all of the various regulations, legislation and best practice guidelines that we learn about tie in together to support quality ECEC provision. If we reflect, both individually and with our teams, on how we implement Síolta then we can ensure that we are reflecting on, not only Aistear curriculum implementation, but on all of the various elements which must be evident in our professional ECEC practice.
As per my earlier analogy, think of Síolta as the driver theory handbook, we must understand it in order to drive the car of ECEC to be best of our ability and in the best interests of children and all other stakeholders of our ECEC service. For the next few weeks I will be devising Síolta in Practice flashcards (like the image above) and sharing them on my website/Twitter/Instagram for you to freely download and use as a tool to inform your studies or practice. These are open resources so there is no charge (just leave my name on them!....thanks). I hope you will find them useful.
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.