Dáil Éireann - Volume 623 - 05 July, 2006
Written Answers. - Pre-School Services.
Mr. Crowe Mr. Crowe
Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Education and Science if pre-school education is a priority for her Department; the amount which is being spent in this area; the percentage of children of pre-school age that are involved; and the proposals there are in the pipeline to increase its roll-out. [26793/06]
Ms Hanafin Ms Hanafin
Ms Hanafin:My Department is committed to the development of quality early learning opportunities for children. Following on from the publication of the White Paper on Early Childhood Education “Ready to Learn”, the Centre for Early Childhood Development was established and has recently published a comprehensive draft quality framework for early childhood education. In addition, the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment is developing a national framework for early learning, which will be relevant  and useful to all those responsible for children’s early learning and development.
A new Early Years Education Policy Unit has recently been established within my Department and will be co-located with the Office of the Minister for Children. The Deputy will recall that, in December 2005, the Office of the Minister for Children was established by the Government to maximise the co-ordination of policies for children and young people and to provide an overall strategic policy framework to bring together and promote close co-operation between the relevant areas of my Department, the Department of Health and Children and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform.
Early Years Education in Ireland covers the period from birth to six years. Almost all five year olds and half of four year olds attend junior infant and senior infant classes in primary schools. These classes are funded from within the Department’s current allocation of €2.6 billion for primary education in 2006.
Outside of junior classes in primary schools, my Department’s main role in the area of early years education encompasses targeted pre-school provision for children from disadvantaged areas, for traveller children and for those with special needs. The Early Start pre-school project operates in 40 primary schools in designated areas of urban disadvantage in Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Waterford, Galway, Drogheda and Dundalk. There are 1,680 places in these centres and total expenditure was €4.96m in 2005. My Department also funds 46 pre-schools for Traveller children, catering for some 500 pupils at an annual cost of €850,000 in 2005.
In the special needs sector, there are currently 15 pre-school classes for children with autism located throughout the country. In addition to this, 12 stand-alone autism facilities that provide an applied behavioural analysis (ABA) model of response to children with autism cater for a number of children of pre-school age. My Department sanctions home tuition grants for children with autism who are of pre-school age and for whom a home educational programme is considered appropriate — grants for some 380 such children are currently in payment, costing in the region of €7m per annum.
In a small number of cases, my Department allocates funding to service providers to assist them in providing an educational component to pre-school age children in Child Educational Development Centres (CEDCs) and some €300,000 per annum is currently provided in this regard.
Targeted early childhood education provision is a key element of the School Support Programme (SSP) under the new action plan for educational inclusion DEIS (Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools), which provides for a standardised system for identifying levels of dis advantage. The objective in relation to early childhood education is to concentrate actions initially on those children aged from three up to school enrolment, who will subsequently attend the 180 urban/town primary schools serving the most disadvantaged communities.
My Department will work in partnership with other departments and agencies to complement and add value to existing childcare programmes in disadvantaged communities, with a view to ensuring that the overall care and education needs of the children concerned are met in an integrated manner. A strong emphasis will be placed on adding value to the work of other providers by embedding quality early learning within childcare provision. The Centre for Early Childhood Development and Education will provide advice on the future development and direction of pre-school measures for children in disadvantaged communities.
My Department will oversee the preparation of plans for phased implementation of the early childhood education dimension of DEIS in the targeted school communities, starting in the next school year, and this will be pursued within an overall strategic policy framework developed by the Office of the Minister for Children.
In relation to the specific commitment in the Programme for Government concerning the introduction of a national early education system for children with intellectual disabilities, I can assure the Deputy that my Department is committed to developing a pre-school service for children with special educational needs. Initial discussions between my officials and the Department of Health and Children and the HSE, who also have significant responsibilities in this area, have taken place with a view to progressing the development of an appropriate nationwide pre-school service.
Additional funding has become available through a multi-annual investment programme for the years 2006-2009. The programme is intended to support the development of high priority disability support services over this period, one of which includes an increase in the level of pre-school provision available for children with special educational needs.
Dáil Éireann 623 Written Answers. Pre-School Services.