Dáil Éireann - Volume 599 - 09 March, 2005
Written Answers. - Departmental Programmes.
Ms Enright Ms Enright
99. Ms Enright asked the Minister for Education and Science the full extent of the early start programme; the proposal she has to extend  the programme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7869/05]
Ms Hanafin Ms Hanafin
Ms Hanafin:The Early Start pre-school project was established in 40 primary schools in designated areas of urban disadvantage in Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Waterford, Galway, Drogheda and Dundalk during 1994 and 1995. The aims of Early Start are to expose young children to an educational programme which would enhance their overall development, prevent school failure and offset the effects of social disadvantage.
Early Start is a one year, pre-school intervention aimed at children from selected designated areas of disadvantage. Children must be between the ages of three and four years on 1 September of the year they are enrolled. The Early Start project is designed to cater for the needs of children, including those with disabilities, who are most at risk of not reaching their potential in the education system and the school must give priority to the children who are most at risk. This would also include children at risk from migrant, refugee and asylum seeker families.
There are 56 teachers and 56 child care workers employed in 16 full units and 24 half units and there are a total of 1,680 places in Early Start centres. A full unit caters for a total of 60 children and a half unit caters for 30. The approach taken in Early Start is to establish groups of 15 pupils in existing primary schools in disadvantaged areas, with each class being run by a primary school teacher and a qualified child care worker. While the Early Start curriculum emphasises the development of cognitive and language skills, due regard is also had to personal and social development.
Parental involvement is a key element in the Early Start project. Parents are encouraged to become involved in the planning, organisation and implementation of the work in each centre. This is intended to build their own capacity to influence and become involved in their children’s education. Post-primary students from local schools may also spend part of their time working in the centres as part of their work experience during transition year and-or Yourthreach and vocational preparation and training programmes. This will allow them to acquire practical skills in child care and will also establish role models in retention and achievement in education in the local community.
The Early Start service has not been expanded since 1995. With regard to future development of early childhood education provision for disadvantaged children, my Department, as part of a detailed review of educational disadvantage programmes, is currently exploring how such provision should best be delivered in the future. I am particularly concerned to ensure that any future actions by my Department in this area are based on a collaborative approach with other Departments involved in the overall early childhood care  and education, ECCE, sector. Meeting the overall objective of providing the best possible service to the communities and children involved requires that any educational provision by my Department takes account of child care measures under the remit of other Departments.
Dáil Éireann 599 Written Answers. Departmental Programmes.