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Written Answers - Preschool Curriculum

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 765 No. 3

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 97.  Deputy Willie O’Dea Information on Willie O'Dea Zoom on Willie O'Dea  asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald  the steps she is taking to ensure the Aistear curriculum is being followed by pre school providers; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24010/12]

 110.  Deputy Brendan Smith Information on Brendan Smith Zoom on Brendan Smith  asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald  the steps she is taking to ensure that the Síolta Framework for Early Learning is implemented; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24014/12]

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald I propose to take Questions Nos. 97 and 110 together.

Implementation of Aistear, the Early Childhood Curriculum Framework is being led by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA).

The NCCA have set in place a range of activities to disseminate the materials and resources of Aistear to all those working with children in the 0-6 age range. For example, the online Aistear Toolkit provides a wealth of information and resources such as audio and visual podcasts. Additionally, a network of Aistear Tutors are delivering professional development activities for infant class teachers through the education centre network nationally. My Department is in discussion with the NCCA on the model of support that should be used for other practitioners in the early years sector. This is more challenging because, while the primary school sector is relatively homogenous with a workforce holding the same qualifications and teaching the same primary school curriculum, the early years sector is more diverse and operates across a wide range of curricula and philosophies.

[320]As a preparatory step, the NCCA has been developing resources on Aistear for use in the early years sector and are working with Early Childhood Ireland on developing exemplars of good practice which will be added to the Aistear Toolkit resource.

Implementation of Síolta, the National Quality Framework for Early Childhood is being overseen by the Early Years Education Policy Unit of the Department of Education and Skills, which is co-located with my Department.

Early years settings can engage with Síolta on either a formal or an informal basis.

Informal use of Síolta usually involves early years settings using the resource materials developed as part of the framework, such as the Síolta Setting Manuals and Research Digests, as tools for internal review of practice. In addition, organisations such as the City and County Childcare Committees, education and training institutions, Voluntary Childcare Organisations and other community, voluntary and private organisations have also availed of these materials and have provided information sessions to early years service providers. This has been a valuable support to the introduction of the Free Preschool Year, as services contracted to deliver this scheme are obliged to ‘...adhere to the Principles of Síolta...’ in delivery of their programmes. It is welcome that so many support agencies have used the Síolta materials as the foundation for a range of quality improvement activities. Such activity clearly demonstrates the commitment of the sector to quality improvement.

Formal engagement with Síolta means participation in the Síolta Quality Assurance Programme (QAP), with the support of a Síolta Coordinator/Mentor. The Síolta QAP is designed to allow early years settings to be externally evaluated and validated for their achievements in delivering high quality provision.

A field test of the Síolta QAP is currently underway. A number of organisations including the Voluntary Childcare Organisations and Prevention and Early Intervention Programmes are participating in this process. Suitably qualified staff, within these organisations, have been trained by the Early Years Education Policy Unit to provide support for pre-school services to participate in the Síolta QAP. The 134 services that are participating in the field test represent the broad spectrum of pre-school services in Ireland including sessional pre-school services, full daycare, infant classes in primary schools and childminders.

An evaluation of the field test was commissioned by the Department of Education and Skills and completed in 2011. The evaluation was conducted in parallel with the ongoing development of the programme in the field and its recommendations are contributing to the continuing review and refinement of the Síolta QAP materials, processes and supports.

Validation is the final stage of the Síolta QAP. Since the beginning of 2012, an increasing number of early years settings have reached the final stage of the QAP and have submitted their quality portfolios for validation. It is anticipated that the remaining participants in the field test of the Síolta QAP will proceed to submit quality portfolios in the coming months and a review and evaluation of the validation tools and processes will be conducted. Once complete, the research and development phase for the Síolta QAP will be concluded.

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