While the purpose of inspection is to ensure compliance with best practice, evaluation seeks to determine what constitutes best practice, to assess the effectiveness of various early childhood education approaches and interventions and to indicate how effectiveness and efficiency may be enhanced. Evaluation will be carried out at three levels: specific project(s) level, thematic level and aggregate or national level. At project level, the impact of specific interventions, approaches and innovations will be analysed. These will generally be pilot projects, the future development of which will depend on the evaluation results. Thematic-level evaluation will be undertaken to assess the impact of an approach or intervention across a range of providers or to compare the relative impact of different approaches. In each case, the results will be widely disseminated to assist development of good practice.
Evaluation will be undertaken at an aggregate level to assess the extent to which the White Paper objective – the attainment of lasting educational and developmental benefits for children, particularly the disadvantaged and those with special needs – is achieved. The nature of the analyses undertaken will vary. Ongoing evaluation will be required to determine the effectiveness of provision on young children’s development while in pre-school settings and on their transition to primary school. In addition, longitudinal studies will be necessary to determine whether long-term benefits accrue to participants. This will require follow-up of children from participation in early childhood education, through formal education at primary and second levels and beyond. Particular attention will be paid to the impact of provision on the special target groups. The results of the evaluations will be central to the policy formulation process.
Evaluation will be carried out by ECEA staff and by independent researchers and will form part of the research and development programme referred to in chapter 5. The programme will be overseen by a steering group representative of the ECEA, the Department of Education and Science, other Departments, parents, providers, partners in education and independent experts.
A key element in the evaluation process will be the development of performance and process indicators. The primary focus will be on the extent to which programmes succeed in meeting children’s developmental needs. In particular, effectiveness will be benchmarked by the success in engendering among participants a disposition and readiness to learn and the extent to which children successfully make the transition from pre-school to primary school. Longitudinal studies will focus on the academic participation and attainment of early childhood education participants and on their broader development and socialisation skills. The effectiveness of interventions will also be judged by the extent to which the specific needs of target groups are addressed. Indicators will also be designed to cover specific aspects of early childhood education including:
l quality of provision, staff training, premises and environment
l effectiveness of partnership arrangements and approach
l efficiency and effectiveness of coordination and structures.
To maximise transparency and inform parental choice, all evaluation reports will be available to the public.
It is clear that suitable structures must be put in place to permit efficient and effective implementation of the policy proposals discussed in earlier chapters since “unless structure follows strategy, inefficiency results”.1 This chapter first describes some of the challenges which must be taken into account when designing structures. The proposed two-tier structure is then outlined: this will involve allocating policy and macro-level co-ordination to the Department of Education and Science and devolving administrative tasks to a new executive agency. The involvement of parents, providers and other partners in education is considered in the final section.
11.1 Structural Challenges
A number of factors combine to make the development of appropriate structures in the early childhood education area a difficult task. These include the comparative lack of development in the early childhood education area, the wide range of proposals in the White Paper and the need to deal with co-ordination problems and other weaknesses of the existing system, identified in chapter 2.
Although private provision is well established, the provision of universal early childhood education outside of the primary school sector is still relatively new to Ireland. The State’s role to date has been confined to provision for specific groups: Travellers, children with special needs and the pilot Early Start project. Participation rates in early childhood education are low compared to other European countries, appreciation of the benefits of participation is only beginning to increase and considerable effort will be required to develop the sector.
The proposals outlined in previous chapters concern a wide range of activities aimed at various target groups. In addition to provision for key groups, the State will develop standards of provision, a quality assurance programme (the QE mark), curriculum guidelines and materials, and will undertake a research role concerning the development and dissemination of best practice. Incentives will be provided to primary schools to become involved and additional resources will be made available for infants classes in primary schools. Proposals are also directed at training and advice for parents and provision for children with disabilities. The wide range of tasks involved means that a comprehensive and flexible structure for administration and development will be required.
Chapter 2 outlined weaknesses in the existing system which must be taken into account in designing a new structure. In particular, the need to improve coordination of services across Departments is highlighted by the Commission on the Family, the Partnership 2000 Group on Childcare and the National Forum for Early Childhood Education. Coordination is vital in view of the wide range of provision, the risk of duplication of effort, the numerous training courses available and the need to strengthen provision, raise awareness and build on existing strengths. The issue arises at three levels: within the Department of Education and Science, between Departments, agencies and other providers, and at local level. The new structure must address the coordination issue and ensure adequate exchange of information and coordination of strategy and effort between the various parties involved in the early childhood education sector.
11.2 Meeting the Challenge
The structures issue was analysed in some detail at the National Forum for Early Childhood Education. There was consensus that although “many successful initiatives were operating … the efforts involved in establishing and maintaining services was being dissipated through weakness in co-ordination …” 2 The Forum considered that coordination would be best served by allocating a lead role to a single organisation and there was unanimous support for the establishment of an Early Years Development Unit to take on this role. Views differed on the choice of an appropriate home for such a unit and several options were considered. Locating the unit in the Department of the Taoiseach would place early education in the spotlight and at the centre of power and influence. However, since “this particular department had little engagement or experience in the provision of services to families and children”, such a move was seen as short-term option. The Departments of Health and Children and of Education and Science each received support as suitable locations, and some delegates suggested locating separate units in each, with responsibility for the age group 0-3 given to the Department of Health and Children, while the management and coordination of services for those in the age range 4-6 would lie with the Department of Education and Science.
As regards the childcare sector, the Report of the Partnership 2000 Expert Working Group recommends a three-tier structure:
l county committees, representative of the main stakeholders in childcare; these committees would prepare county childcare plans and would coordinate provision to avoid duplication
l a National Childcare Management Committee (NCMC) to assess and resource the county plans, undertake research and coordinate existing national developments in childcare
l an Interdepartmental Policy Committee, which would provide a link between the NCMC and the Government.
It is understood that there is some support for an alternative format of a three-tiered structure for childcare. At intermediate level, in the short and medium term, this would involve the health boards convening the county committees, with possible alternatives in the longer term.
The focus of the Report of the Partnership 2000 Expert Working Group is on childcare in general, whereas this White Paper deals specifically with early childhood education. However, the need for seamless provision of both early education and childcare is a continuing theme of the White Paper. The structure devised must, therefore, facilitate provision of care and education in an integrated manner and must enable coordination of strategy and exchange of information between the main players.
The White Paper envisages that the Department of Education and Science will oversee educational input into early childhood services and will provide this input through existing and planned structures. Structures for the integrated provision of early childhood services – care, welfare and education – are required and will be developed through a process of dialogue between Departments and other interested parties. In keeping with the principle of building on existing provision and minimising red tape, the development and management of early childhood education will, where possible, be organised using existing structures.
The wide range of early childhood education activities, noted earlier, may be classified under two broad headings – policy and administration. Allocating the latter tasks to an independent agency is attractive for a number of reasons. The establishment of an independent agency would highlight the importance of early childhood education as a key area within the education system and ensure that it would not be overshadowed by larger established areas of education. In addition, the Department would be freed from the burden of executive tasks and would be enabled to focus more closely and effectively on policy issues. The retention of executive matters within the Department could be complicated since many executive tasks cross traditional sector boundaries. The Department is moving away from a sector-based structure towards a thematic organisation, where responsibility will be allocated in line with the nature of the service to be provided or tasks to be undertaken, rather than on the basis of a target group. Devolving executive tasks to an agency would enhance coordination while greater scope for task specialisation would enhance management efficiency.
The need to incorporate expertise in the early childhood education area into any new structure has been noted in the Forum report: “it is obvious that the (Early Years) Unit would need … to have access to external expertise.”3
The evaluation of the Early Start pilot programme also considers that expert input would be valuable: “The officials responsible for Early Start were given responsibility for the entire programme including practical issues relating to the setting up of … classrooms, the planning of the programme, and the preparation of staff … they would have benefited greatly from having support from a small team of experts in early childhood education”.4 Establishing a specialist agency would facilitate the development of a critical mass of expertise in the early childhood education area. In particular, there would be greater flexibility to recruit specialist staff and to second experts from existing national organisations of providers.
For these reasons, it is proposed to establish and allocate executive functions concerning early childhood education to an independent Early Childhood Education Agency (ECEA). The roles and responsibilities of the Department and the ECEA are set out below.
11.3 Role of the Department of
Education and Science
The Department of Education and Science will be responsible for formulating and developing early childhood education policy. Initially, the Department will focus on establishing the ECEA and on implementing the proposals outlined in this White Paper. When the Agency has been established, the Department will devolve executive functions and focus on broad policy issues and on high-level coordination.
A specific Unit – the Early Years Development Unit (EYDU) – will be established in the Department, to oversee the implementation and devolution strategies. Although the establishment of a Unit for a specific sector might seem contrary to the theme-based re-organisation of the Department, a specialist Unit is necessary for several reasons. Firstly, dispersing early childhood education activities across several units would risk a loss of status and priority for the area and would hinder coordination of provision and policy formulation. Secondly, early childhood education is a relatively new area for the Department and is under-developed nationally. The impetus required to “kick-start” the development of the sector can only be achieved by a specialist Unit. Finally, particular expertise required in the early childhood education area may be provided by a specialist Unit comprising a multi-disciplinary team, including representatives of the Inspectorate.
Responsibility for some executive tasks will remain with the existing primary administration and teachers sections. For example, the salaries of teachers of infants in primary schools will continue to be paid by the teacher salary section. These arrangements will evolve in line with planned restructuring of the Department of Education and Science.
Coordination will be a key role of the new Unit. This will require action at three levels:
l coordination of policy and activities within the Department; in particular, ongoing liaison with the primary teacher, primary administration and special education sections will be necessary
l continuous contact with the ECEA; although policy and executive tasks will be split between the two organisations, ongoing exchange of information is essential to ensure that policy is adequately informed by reality “on the ground” and that implementation of policy is managed effectively by the Agency
l liaison with other Government Departments and agencies and others involved in the early childhood area.
The Unit will also be responsible for evaluating the effectiveness of the ECEA in the discharge of its functions.
The Unit’s initial priorities will be to facilitate effective implementation of the White Paper, to “kick-start” the development of the sector, and to assist the establishment of and transfer of responsibility to the new Agency. Once the Agency is established, a reduction in the size of the Unit will be possible.
11.4 The Early Childhood
Education Agency (ECEA)
The ECEA will function as the primary support for parents and providers and will be responsible for executive and administrative tasks, including inspection and evaluation. Its principal activities will concern implementation of the White Paper proposals including:
l management of the Department of Education and Science early childhood education provision
ldevelopment of the QE mark and associated minimum standards
l production of materials and curriculum development
l research, development and dissemination of best practice
l inspection of provision
l advice to providers on how to raise quality and address deficiencies
l development of strategies and structures to involve parents and to assist them in helping their children to learn.
However, the Agency’s role will not be confined purely to executive tasks: it will also have an input into and advisory role concerning policy formulation. Although a division of responsibility between the Department and the ECEA is desirable, policy and executive functions cannot be disaggregated entirely. Ongoing consultation between the two bodies will be essential. The ECEA must also be able to link into the variety of services provided by or under the auspices of the Department, in particular the In-Career Development Unit, the Inspectorate and the National Educational Psychological Service, and the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment.
11.5 Coordination Structures
The structures for coordination of early childhood issues more generally have yet to be defined. However, it is likely that three tiers will be involved – a local or county structure, an intermediate tier and a national coordinating committee.
The Department of Education and Science takes the view that effective coordination of early childhood education will require development of structures at two levels. Firstly, coordination of early childhood policy and provision is required at a high level between Departments and State agencies. It is considered that the most effective means of coordination is the establishment of a high-level interdepartmental committee. Membership would be drawn from Departments and agencies with significant involvement in the early childhood area. It is envisaged that the committee will comprise representatives from the Departments of Health and Children, Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Social Community and Family Affairs, Tourism, Sport and Recreation and Education and Science. The Department of Education and Science will play the key role on the committee in regard to establishing standards for early education services to ensure that provision takes full account of children’s right to and need for early education and development. Agencies which operate in the early childhood area on behalf of these Departments – such as the health boards and ECEA – should also be represented. Other Departments will be consulted as issues of relevance to them arise.
Secondly, coordination between the various stakeholders is essential to promote understanding, co-operation and effective provision and to avoid overlap and duplication of effort. An advisory expert group will therefore be established, drawn from parents, existing providers, trainers, researchers and academics, staff interests, national early childhood organisations, relevant Government Departments and agencies and other interested parties.
In addition to facilitating coordination and exchange of views, the group will also:
ladvise the EYDU and the ECEA on policy formulation and executive tasks
l evaluate and select proposals for funding for research and development in the early childhood education area
l oversee the evaluation and inspection function of the ECEA
l assist in the development of an early childhood curricula and methodologies.
As well as representation on the advisory expert group, additional structures to promote parental involvement are proposed. The vital contribution of parents to the effective development and implementation of policy at an aggregate level and to management and delivery of provision at local level was highlighted in chapter 9. All early education providers will be encouraged to involve parents as much as possible. Support for the development of a representative body for parents of pre-school children is also envisaged.
11.6 Implementation – Next Steps
Implementation of the White Paper proposals will initially be the task of the EYDU. One of its first tasks will be to establish the Advisory Group and the ECEA. The Unit will draw up a timetable for implementation and will issue position papers on the key issues involved. These will then be considered by the Advisory Group and all interested parties will have an opportunity to comment on the position papers. These views will be considered carefully before decisions are finalised.
1 National Childcare Strategy, Report of the Partnership 2000 Expert Working Group on Childcare,Stationery Office Dublin, 1999, p. 45.
3 Report of The National Forum for Early Childhood Education, Stationery Office, Dublin, 1998.
4 Section 2(1), definition of “child”.
5 National Forum Report, p. 43.
6 Martin, Micheál, T.D., Minister for Education and Science, Opening Address to the National Forum for Early Childhood Education, 23 March, 1998.
7 Commission on the Family, Strengthening Families for Life, Final Report to the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs, Stationery Office, Dublin, July 1998.
8 Martin, John P., Education and Economic Performance in the OECD Countries: An Elusive Relationship?, Symposium on the Economic Returns to Education, 19 February 1998, in Journal of the Statistical and Social Inquiry Society of Ireland, Vol. XXVII, Part V, p. 121.
9 Action Programme for the Millennium, 1997, p. 7.
10 Micheál Martin, Address at the closing of the National Forum for Early Childhood Education, 27 March, 1998.
12 National Forum for Early Childhood Education, 1998, p. 158.
13 Hayes, N., The Case for a National Policy on Early Education, Combat Poverty Agency, Poverty & Policy Discussion Paper No. 2, p. 10.
14 Evaluation of National Curriculum Assessment at Key Stage 1, Shorrocks, D., 1992, and 1993.
15 National Research Council, Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children, National Academy Press, Washington, DC 1998, p. 320.
16 Barnett, W.S., The Future of Children: Long-term Outcomes of Early Childhood Programs,
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18 Schweinart L., and Weikart D., Young Children Grow Up: The Effects of the Perry Preschool Program on Youths through Age 15, High/Scope Educational Research Foundation, Michigan, 1980; McKey et al., Final Report of the Head Start Evaluation, Synthesis and Utilization Project, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1985.
19 Kellaghan, T., & Greany, B.J., The Educational Development of Students following Participation in a Preschool Programme in a Disadvantaged Area, Educational Research Centre, Dublin, 1993.
20 Lynn A. Karoly, Peter W. Greenwood, Susan S. Everingham, Jill Houbé, M. Rebecca Kilburn, C. Peter Rydell, Matthew Sanders, James Chiesa, Investing in Our Children: What We Know and Don’t Know About the Costs and Benefits of Early Childhood Interventions, RAND Corporation, California, 1998 pp. 66-7.
21 OECD, Early Childhood Education and Care Policy: A Proposal for a Thematic Review, DEELSA/ED(98)2, 1998.
22 O’Flaherty, Julie, Intervention in the Early Years An Evaluation of the High/Scope Curriculum, National Children’s Bureau, London, 1995, p. 16.
23 Psacharopoulos, George, 1994, Returns to Investment in Education: A Global Update, World Development, Volume 22, September 1994.