Early Childhood Education Pn. 7939 00

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5.1 Overview

State interventions will be designed to facilitate and support providers to deliver quality early education as an integral part of all early childhood services. Providers who are funded by the State with the aim of meeting the developmental/educational needs of children will be required to meet prescribed standards as set out in chapter 4; other providers will be supported and encouraged to meet these standards, and will be given the opportunity to have this fact recognised through the award of the Quality in Education (QE) mark. In line with the key principles set out earlier in this Paper, the State, in making provision for early childhood education, will seek to build on existing provision and to use the existing regulatory framework, where possible. The State’s role in this area will largely be executed by the Early Childhood Education Agency (chapter 11).

5.2 Framework for Provision

A large number of Government Departments and State agencies already fund early childhood services; an outline of these services was given in chapter 2. The aims of these services vary: services provided by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform have the general objective of facilitating equal participation by parents in the labour force or the education system; services provided by the Department of Health and Children are largely aimed at ensuring the care and protection of children.

Most State-funded services have, as a primary or secondary aim, the alleviation of disadvantage. As set out earlier in this paper, the research indicates that the provision of places is not sufficient, in itself, to achieve developmental/ educational goals, which are basic to the alleviation of disadvantage: the State must be concerned with the developmental experiences of the children who fill these places and must ensure that the provision is actually helping in the achievement of the developmental/educational goals. The basic principle underpinning State intervention is that where provision is funded by the State with the aim of meeting the developmental/educational needs of children, the provision of quality early childhood education must be ensured.

5.3 Building on Existing
State-funded Provision

In line with the key principle that the State will seek to build on existing provision and to use the existing regulatory framework, where possible, the State will:

l continue to provide early childhood education for priority groups – children with special needs, travellers and children who are disadvantaged

l establish strategies, at national level, to ensure an educational/

developmental content to provision

l set down minimum quality standards for the educational/developmental content, in accordance with the principles laid down in chapter 4

l develop and publish guidelines in a number of areas, as set out

in chapter 4

l develop and publish a “specimen” curriculum which may be used for pre-school children, including children under 3 years of age

l establish and maintain a framework for the development, recognition and award of qualifications and for the promotion and facilitation of access, transfer and progression throughout the sector

l where necessary, provide funding and other supports to providers to assist them in developing their services to the required standards

l inspect/evaluate the provision, in accordance with the framework developed in chapter 10, with a view to ensuring that standards are enhanced and maintained; in the case of a serious breach of educational standards, which remains unaddressed, State funding may, as set out in chapter 10, be withdrawn

l review quality standards on a continuing basis in the light of new research and models of good practice.

The structures through which the State’s intervention in this area will be managed will be set out in chapter 11. The requirement for funded providers to meet minimum standards will be phased in gradually, following consultation with the various interested parties. This will allow early childhood education providers and staff sufficient time to upgrade their skills, qualifications and provision to the required level.

Is mór an ceann oibre a dhéanann Naíonraí a sholáthraíonn oideachas trí Ghaeilge, chomh fada agus a bhaineann le forbairt agus luathoideachas leanaí agus le tacaíocht don Ghaeilge. Liamhnaítear go bhfuil Naíonraí faoi mhíbhuntáiste seachas saghasanna eile réamhscoileanna, i dtaca le háiseanna a bheith ar fáil iontu. Tacaíonn an scáthghrúpa, An Comhchoiste Réamhscolaíochta, le soláthar áiseanna agus soláthraíonn Údarás na Gaeltachta maoiniú teoranta ceannsraithe.

Beidh na tacaithe uile do réamhscoileanna atá luaite sa Pháipéar Ban ar fáil mar an gcéanna, dar ndóigh, do Naíonraí. Beidh áiseanna agus comhairle ar fáil, i nGaeilge agus i mBéarla, ón Áisíneacht Luathoideachais Leanaí. Chomh maith leis sin, beidh sé mar chúram speisialta ar an Áisíneacht curaclam agus áiseanna do réamhscoileanna lán-Ghaelacha a chomh-mhaoiniú agus a thacú agus cúrsaí oiliúna agus tuismitheoireachta trí mheán na Gaeilge a fhorbairt. Ina theannta sin, beidh rol lárnach sna cúrsaí seo ag an gCoiste Gaeilge a éilítear in Alt 31 den Acht Oideachais.

The Government recognises the important role played by Irish pre-school education in fostering the language. As noted, all provisions that apply generally to pre-school education will apply to Irish medium pre-schooling. However, the Government recognises that pre-schooling in Irish has been traditionally funded by the Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands (Bord na Gaeilge/Údarás na Gaeltachta) and sees no reason to change this. It should be stated that the amounts concerned are on a very limited scale. It is envisaged that, particularly in the context of the establishment of the North/South Irish language body, increased funding will be made available to the Irish language pre-schooling sector from 2001 onwards.

5.4 Direct State Intervention

There will be instances where the educational needs of disadvantaged children, or those with special educational needs, are not being met by existing State-funded services. Some of these will be dealt with through the research strand, outlined later in this chapter. The particular requirements of children with special educational needs will be dealt with in chapter 7. Proposals concerning disadvantaged children are set out in chapter 8.

5.5 Facilitating Quality Early
Education for all

While direct State funding or provision of early childhood education will be targeted largely at children in key groups, mainly those experiencing educational disadvantage or those with a special educational need, the State has an interest, for all the reasons set out in chapter 1, in facilitating the incorporation of quality education provision into all early childhood services.

The Quality in Education (QE) mark, outlined in chapter 4, will be the main instrument by which the State will seek to ensure that quality early education services are widely available. The QE mark will be available to all providers of early childhood services, who may apply for the mark.

The State, through the Early Childhood Education Agency, will promote the QE mark, and will facilitate and support providers in obtaining it. In particular, the State will:

l make available to providers guidelines in a number of areas, outlined in chapter 4, including the recommended or “specimen” curriculum for pre-school children

l promote the framework established for the development, recognition and award of qualifications and for the promotion and facilitation of access, transfer and progression throughout the sector

l facilitate and support providers and childcare staff in acquiring qualifications, through the development and provision of training courses, and through the provision of incentives for training

l consider providing limited funding for the upgrading of facilities and materials to enable provision of quality early childhood education

l provide an inspection and evaluation service for purposes of assessing quality in line with QE standards

l insofar as possible, provide general advice and support to providers

l disseminate the results of research and good practice

l encourage funded providers to develop links with other providers in the neighbourhood, and with local schools, to ease the transition to primary school.

5.6 Children aged 3 to 4
cared for in the Home

A considerable number of parents choose to care for their pre-school children in the home. Where parents opt to do this, the State will make available a number of supports which they may use to develop and encourage the educational dimension of their children’s care.

A variety of educational materials, including, most particularly, the guidelines on curriculum and methodology, and the “specimen” curriculum developed by the State (see chapter 4), will be made available to parents, in a number of formats (hard copy, Internet), and through a number of channels - the local library network, community health care centres, social welfare offices and the National Parents Council. In addition, chapter 9 proposes that the Early Childhood Education Agency develop courses, with particular emphasis on development of early literacy skills, of which parents may avail.

The Early Childhood Education Agency (ECEA) will work with other Departments and agencies to examine the feasibility of facilitating and supporting the establishment of “drop-in” centres, or parent and toddler groups, where parents may receive and exchange advice and experience on issues relating to early childhood education. The possibility of building on the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs support for Family and Community Services Resource Centres will be examined. Typically, these Centres provide a wide range of services including crèche and pre-school facilities, after school activities and usually provide a general ‘drop-in’ facility for parents. In addition, adult education and training courses (including parenting) are available in the Centres.

The ECEA will consider, in particular, the possibility of locating centres in vacant classrooms in national schools, which would have the added advantage of linking the early education experience to the mainstream education system; incentives would be provided for schools which provided vacant classrooms for use in this way. The possibility of recognised national early years agencies being supported to establish centres of this sort in particular locations will also be considered.

5.7 Children under 3 Years

Although the needs of this age group are predominantly care-related, as outlined earlier, there are substantial benefits to be gained from supportive education, even at this early age. While it is not necessary to provide a formal early education system for these children, it is desirable that they be provided with opportunities to develop in a number of areas – cognitive, linguistic, social, emotional, aesthetic, sensory, physical and moral areas. The initiatives concerning curriculum, advice and support will be available to this age group.

The active involvement of parents is crucial to the development of their children and this is particularly the case for children aged under 3. Assistance is therefore most effective when provided to parents, to assist them to help their children. A range of proposals is outlined in chapter 9. Interventions will also aim to build on the existing involvement of the Department of Health and Children. The Early Childhood Education Agency will also, in cooperation with maternity hospitals, provide support materials and developmental guidelines and advice to parents of newborn children.

5.8 Research Strand

General provisions with regard to research, development and dissemination were set out in chapter 4. It is envisaged that the research programme will involve the establishment of a number of pilot projects, under the aegis of the Early Childhood Education Agency, to test models of provision, with a view to dissemination of the results. Existing Early Start projects will form the core of the initial research pilot projects.

Providers will be encouraged to engage in the research process from the outset. Funded providers which seek to tackle disadvantage will be required to implement “best practice” findings from the research strand; non-funded providers will be encouraged to implement these findings.

5.9 Implementation

Two of the key principles underpinning this White Paper are that implementation will be undertaken on a gradual, phased basis, to allow all the participants in the system to prepare adequately for the challenges which lie ahead, and that progress will be achieved through a process of consultation, dialogue and partnership. An incremental, phased implementation will be necessary to ensure that early childhood education staff have adequate time to update/enhance their existing skills base to the required levels and to allow providers sufficient time to adjust to the new system. An incremental approach also recognises the pressures that exist in the childcare sector and avoids any danger of reductions in the supply of early childhood places.

6 Early Childhood Education in Primary Schools

This White Paper encompasses policy for all children aged up to 6 years. Chapter 5 has focussed on children up to the age of 4 years; the focus in this chapter is on children above this age, most of whom, as pointed out in chapter 1, attend State-funded national schools. These children form an important infant cohort which, in international terms, is regarded as a pre-school cohort. It is important, therefore, that policy in relation to the early childhood education needs of these children be set out clearly in this White Paper.

6.1 Existing Provision

The first few years a child spends in primary school have a profound effect on the child and on her/his later achievement throughout the education system. The experience can be daunting, as the child has to cope with the transition from a setting which is partly, or indeed largely, care based, to a more formal and structured learning environment. The services provided to children in these infant classes must recognise this and must assist the children successfully to make the transition to primary school.

The general aims of early education for children in the infant classes of primary schools are essentially the same as those outlined for younger children in a pre-school setting. If children have experienced quality early childhood education during the pre-school years, they will enter the early years of primary school with a disposition and in a state of readiness to learn. It is important that, for these children, the benefits of early childhood education are not lost but rather are consolidated as they progress through the education system. Children who have not benefited from early childhood education, either in a home or other setting, must also be enabled to benefit to the maximum degree from the education provided in the early classes in primary school.

While there are many positive aspects of the education provided in the infant classes in primary schools, it is clear, from the analysis in chapter 2, that some aspects of provision require some modification to ensure that provision remains of the highest possible quality. Chapter 2 highlighted class size for target groups, resources and inconsistent application of new methodologies as particular issues which must be tackled in this context.

6.2 Curriculum and Methodology

Chapter 4 has dealt in a general way with the issues of curriculum and methodology and proposed that the Early Childhood Education Agency should develop appropriate guidance for curriculum and methodologies for pre-school children. A revised curriculum for primary schools, including infant classes, has recently been introduced into schools. The revised curriculum also includes guidelines on methodologies. It builds on the latest research into, and the most up-to-date expertise on, childhood learning. Used by teachers in the infant classes in primary schools, and coupled with additional resources for equipment and, in particular cases, by smaller child:adult ratios, the curriculum guidelines and methodologies should prove adequate to address the educational needs of the children in infant classes in primary schools. Further evaluation and development of curriculum and methodologies for infants classes will continue on an ongoing basis. The proposed programme of research and development will be important in this regard. In particular, it will be necessary to ensure that provision continues to take account of developing knowledge and best practice.

6.3 Qualifications and Training

The twin issues of qualifications and training were addressed in a general way in chapter 4, which also noted that the issues will be addressed for the system as a whole by the Qualifications (Education and Training) Act, 1999, with input also from the Early Childhood Education Agency. To enhance and maintain the integrity of the primary school system, and of the primary teaching service, there is a case for maintaining the system whereby fully-trained teachers are deployed as the leading classroom professionals in infant classes.

However, other teaching professionals will also have developed skills which may be particularly suited to the needs of infants in primary schools. These include, for example, qualified Montessori teachers, who have been awarded an NCEA accredited degree qualification, following a full-time course of no less than three years in duration. Recognition extends to such teachers to teach in special schools and special classes in national schools. Difficulties, of course, arise in relation to further extending this recognition to mainstream teaching posts as it is necessary for all teachers to have qualifications in relation to the full range of the primary curriculum since each primary school teacher may be required to teach any age group. This said, the Department of Education and Science intends consulting on the most appropriate means of assisting these other professionals to obtain qualifications which would entitle them to hold mainstream posts in national schools.

More generally, an Expert Advisory Group, established by the Minister for Education and Science, is currently undertaking a review of the pre-service education programme for primary teachers provided by the colleges of education. The Group has been particularly asked to consider issues relating to pre-service training for teachers in infant classes. It would be premature to recommend changes in advance of this Group’s final report. However, it is clear that its findings will inform any changes in training for teachers.

The Early Childhood Education Agency, in its capacity as an originator and disseminator of research findings, will liaise with and have an input into in-career development provision for teaching professionals in infant classes, insofar as the particular needs of early childhood education are concerned.

6.4 Inputs

Much debate in recent years has centred on the optimal child:adult ratio and the implications of this ratio for effective learning. International research indicates that smaller ratios (18:1) in the initial years are beneficial, in particular for disadvantaged and minority students –

“The research suggests that minority and economically disadvantaged students benefit most from smaller classes.”1 However, the benefits are likely to be lessened unless teachers adapt their teaching methodologies in line with the reductions “ …the clearest evidence of positive effects is in the primary grades, particularly kindergarten through third grade, and that reducing class size is especially promising for disadvantaged and minority students. … positive effects were less likely if teachers did not change their instructional methods and classroom procedures in the smaller classes.”2

The Department of Education and Science has traditionally employed lower child:adult ratios as one method of targetting the needs of disadvantaged children, particularly in the early years in primary schools. This measure, combined with changed teaching methodologies and other arrangements is seen, for example, in the Breaking the Cycle pilot programme, which makes provision for reduced class sizes for each of the first four years of primary school. The Childcare Regulations also make provision for relatively small child:adult ratios, which vary according to the age of the child and the circumstances of the setting.

Children who are in situations of relatively small child:adult ratios in pre-school settings may find it difficult to adapt to the much larger class sizes in primary schools. The Department will continue to address this issue in the context of prioritising schools which serve significant numbers of disadvantaged children.

Evidence from recent international research suggests that early identification of and intervention concerning a child’s special needs is most effective for the individual child, and most cost-effective in the long term. Particular attention will be directed by the remedial service (extended to all schools with effect from September 1999) towards the needs of children in the early years in national schools.

The Department accepts that quality provision should be supported by appropriate facilities, equipment and materials. It considers that where resources are allocated to the primary education system, priority should be given to the needs of infants classes. and materials for infant classes. The introduction of the new infant capitation grant for the school year 1999/2000 is evidence of this priority. The grant may be used by schools to purchase equipment according to their individual needs. In utilising the grant, schools will have to have regard to the enhancement of quality in the early classes and to the importance of making available materials that support learning through play and activity. Schools may also link into relevant initiatives at primary level. For example, the grant may be linked into the “Schools IT 2000” programme, through the purchase of CDs and computer software.

7 Children with Special Needs

Since the 1930s, there has been research evidence that the provision of stimulation and education at an early, pre-school age tends to accelerate the physical, social and cognitive development of children with disabilities. In the last decade, in particular, there has been significant research into the effectiveness of early intervention programmes for children with disabilities. The evidence emerging from these studies is unequivocal in highlighting the significance of the early years in the development of children with disabilities and in stressing the value of targeted systematic, intensive and high-quality interventions.

7.1 Definition of Children with
Special Educational Needs

The Report of the Special Education Review Committee in its definition of pupils with special educational needs included all “those whose disabilities and/or circumstances prevent or hinder them from benefiting adequately from the education which is normally provided for pupils of the same age, or for whom the education which can generally be provided in the ordinary classroom is not sufficiently challenging.”1 The Report described particular categories of pupils with special educational needs, including pupils with mental handicap, emotional and behavioural disorders, physical and sensory disabilities, specific learning disabilities, specific speech and language disorders, and autism.

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