– Call for investment to ensure proper pay and conditions for early years workers, as professionalisation of the sector continues –
Early Childhood Ireland has called for early years practitioners to be treated on a par with professionals working across the wider care and education sectors. The organisation – which supports 3,800 childcare members nationwide who, in turn, support over 100,000 children and their families – made the call at the launch of a new research report on pay and working conditions in the early years sector.
The new report, ‘Pathways to Better Prospects: Delivering Proper Terms and Conditions for the Early Years Workforce in Ireland’, was launched today (01.12.20) and was produced by the Department of Work and Employment Studies at the University of Limerick. The report examines how best to professionalise the early years sector, and improve terms and conditions for the workforce. It compares pay and conditions for early years care and education workers with those for workers in a range of other sectors, including healthcare support assistants, special needs assistants, social care workers, physical therapists, teachers, and nurses.
The research, which received funding from the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, also looks at international models of good practice for professionalising the early years workforce, with comparisons made between Ireland and Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Germany, Finland, Denmark and Norway.
Commenting today (01.12.20), Teresa Heeney, CEO of Early Childhood Ireland, said the research shows the key factors that need to be taken into account to professionalise and adequately resource the early years sector.
“Early Childhood Ireland has always recognised the important contribution of the thousands of staff who work in the sector, delivering quality care and education to babies and children nationwide,” she said. “The backdrop to their vital work, however, is one of low rates of pay and the absence of a clearly defined career path.
“Over the past decade, the Government has given significant attention to professionalising the early years workforce. For the most part, they have been concerned with increasing the qualifications profile of early years workers – and this has been successful, in that there has been substantial upskilling of the workforce. However, this upskilling has not been met with the increased investment needed to ensure highly qualified professionals receive appropriate pay and secure working conditions.
“The reality is that the early years workforce remains in a policy limbo. On the one hand, employers in the sector have the legal authority but not the financial capacity to improve pay and conditions and, on the other hand, the State has the financial capacity but not the legal authority of an employer. This has led to an unsustainable policy ‘merry-go-round’ with no winners.”
Early Childhood Ireland is calling on the Government to increase investment in the early years sector to address the issues highlighted by the research. According to the report:
- Between 2011 and 2016, the number of people in the early years labour force with a higher certificate or honours degree more than doubled – with significant increases also in the numbers with advanced certificates, ordinary degrees and postgraduate qualifications;
- A 2019 survey found that 65 per cent of 3,200 early years professionals do not expect to be working in the sector in five years’ time ‘if things stay the same’;
- More recently, during the Covid-19 crisis, a survey of over 1,000 professionals found that 32 per cent intend to leave the sector within the next 12 months.
“The State must reimagine funding for the sector as an investment in the wealth and development of the country,” said Teresa Heeney. “We have seen how past investment in secondary education, in higher education and research, and in nursing – for example – has led to societal and economic dividends. We cannot expect to solve sustainability issues affecting the early years sector until the workforce is recognised and valued on a par with their peers in other education and care sectors.”
Ms. Heeney said the Covid-19 crisis had shown that the Government has the capacity to fund early years services in unprecedented ways.
“For years, Early Childhood Ireland has been calling for the Government to contribute to staff pay in our sector. And, for years, we have been told it was simply not feasible. It has taken a global pandemic for the Government to demonstrate that it does, in fact, have the financial capacity to do this. At a minimum, this needs to continue beyond the special Covid measures. Otherwise, we will continue to have highly qualified staff on low pay. That is not acceptable or sustainable.”