Wednesday, 7 March 2001
Dáil Eireann Debate
36. Proinsias De Rossa asked the Minister for Education and Science if he will report on the action which he has taken consequent to the publication of the White Paper on early childhood education; if it is his intention to establish and fund a full pre-school sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6972/01]
Minister for Education and Science (Dr. Woods): The White Paper on early childhood education, Ready to Learn, sets out a comprehensive strategy for the development of early childhood education for all children aged from birth to six years. Following the publication of the White Paper, my Department carried out an extensive post-consultation process with all of those who made presentations to the National Forum for Early Childhood Education. The aim of these consultations was to seek the views of interested parties with regard to the implementation of the policies set out in the White Paper, on a phased basis, and to enable the necessary planning and preparatory work for implementation to be undertaken by my Department in line with the commitments in the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness.
More recently, my Department sought and received proposals from third level institutions for a pilot project to develop early childhood education provision in pursuance of the objectives in the White Paper. It is envisaged that the pilot project will include: the development of early education quality standards in relation to equipment and materials, staff qualifications, training, learning objectives, methodologies and curriculum; the development of a support framework to encourage compliance with quality standards by early education providers; the co-ordination and enhancement of early education provision with a particular focus on disadvantaged and special  needs groups; and the commissioning of a programme of research and development through which best practice in curriculum, teaching methodology and parent involvement may be implemented and evaluated.
My Department is assessing the proposals and I hope to be in a position to make further announcements about future developments in early education area very shortly. The question of developing and funding initiatives for particular pre-school sectors will be considered by my Department in the context of the implementation of the White Paper and the proposed pilot project. Support will continue to be made available through existing programmes such as the early start and Rutland Street pre-school projects. In addition, the State may become involved in further direct provision in certain instances, where the educational needs of disadvantaged children or children with special needs are not being met by existing State-funded services.
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