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Members of the Federation of Early Childhood Providers at a recent protest in Ennis over the lack of investment into Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) services nationwide. Photograph by Eugene McCafferty

Childcare professionals appeal for better pay and more support

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A GROUP of 25 Clare early education providers swapped the classroom for the streets when they staged a one-day protest in O’Connell Street, Ennis recently.

Eilis Wall, who runs a Pre-School in Shannon catering for 30 children, said college graduates with four-year degrees were expected to work in the early years sector for €13.50 per hour.

“We only get paid for 38 weeks of the year for Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE).

“Our staff have to sign on for the summer holidays and this year had to wait six weeks to get paid lower than the dole rate.

“Under the core funding model, we haven’t got any extra pay. We haven’t received our core funding yet. If I had four graduates, I only get paid for one graduate.

“I am renting in a primary school. The school has helped to make it affordable to stay open. We want to be paid like teachers. A Special Needs Assistant starts on a €32,000 annual salary, they get paid for holiday periods.

“I have spent 20 years doing training, a degree and masters. I have to work part-time in a university. Young graduates who are interested in early years education have said they would be paid more working in a hotel,” she said.

Clodagh Hartnett, who operates a Naonrí in Gaelscoil Donncha Rua, Shannon, for 17 children recalled they protested for better pay, conditions and respect in 2020.

“There is more regulation for minimal pay. The ratio is one teacher per 11 children that equates to €28,000 a year, which is supposed to pay for all bills, rates, insurance, a teacher’s wage and equipment,” she said.

Edel O’Callaghan, Rockmount Montessori, Ennis, explained the new core funding model benefits large creches as it based on capacity and opening hours.

She said ECCE capitation only increased 7% since 2007 and has never been indexed linked to cope with rising costs.

She wondered if the government wants small providers to close, despite the key role they play, particularly in rural areas.

The UNICEF-recommended level of childcare sector expenditure per year is €4 billion, but Ireland is just spending 0.3% of GDP or €1 billion, which is one of the lowest in Europe.

Connie Hannon, who provides early education for 43 children in Teach Abhaile Pre-School, Ennis, stressed core funding doesn’t benefit ECCE providers.

“We didn’t want to close today. We engaged with Minister O’Gorman up to Thursday but we have been ignored.

“When I was in the minister’s office last August, I asked why ECCE providers with degrees wouldn’t benefit from any increase. He replied he had to focus freezing fees for full day services and look after parents.

“He said core funding was introduced to increase staff wages, but many of us were already paying a good wage.

“Running costs have gone through the roof, but my income has gone down. The extra administration is insane,” she said.

Parent, Laura Connellan said Teach Abhaile provides a great play-based service with outdoor activities and outlined it is benefiting her second son, Myles, and really helped her son, Conan, to become more confident for primary school after attending a few years ago.

A statement on behalf of the Minister said, “Minister O’Gorman is very disappointed that Federation of Early Childhood Providers (FECP) have chosen to pursue the action of requesting service providers close Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) provision.

“While only a small proportion of providers took part in closures on 11 November, it caused significant disruption to children and families using these services.

“The Minister believes that closures of services are unwarranted at a time when investment by the State in early learning and childcare is at an all-time high.

“Next year, the State will, for the first time, invest more than €1bn in early learning and childcare.

“The Minister and his officials have met with the FECP either individually or with other representative groups almost 20 times this year and have had extensive engagement with the group by phone and in correspondence. Last week, the Minister also offered to meet the FECP on the condition that the closures are called off.

“It is regrettable that they chose not to do so, and that offer of dialogue remains open.

“The Minister has been unequivocal that he does not want any services to be faced with financial sustainability issues and remains fully committed to working with providers to support them in delivering early learning and childcare for the public good.

“No services who participates in Core Funding will see a reduction in income compared to last year. The vast majority (99%) will see an increase in funding.”

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