Unannounced pre-school inspections to begin in autumn

Unannounced inspections of how children are being taught in pre-school settings will begin in the autumn, six years after taxpayers started investing over €170m a year on free provision.

The system will be piloted at a number of early years settings which are taking part in the Government’s early childhood care and education (ECCE) scheme.

It is planned that reports of one-day inspections will be published on the Department of Education website. Recruitment begins this week for a team of inspectors who will be attached to the department’s schools inspectorate. That is a departure from previous plans that the educational aspect of work in the ECCE sector would be added to the work of health inspectors already assessing standards of safety and care.

However, since that position was put forward by then children’s minister Frances Fitzgerald in 2013, Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan made the inspection of educational quality a priority when she moved into her own department almost a year ago.

More than 4,000 early childhood settings deliver the free pre-school year.

The minister said €600,000 will be spent recruiting the first inspectors. They will monitor the quality of educational experiences for children, and provide practical advice and recommendations about how provision for learning and development can be improved.

Ms O’Sullivan and James Reilly, the children’s minister, said those settings taking part in the pilot, and in the early years sector more generally, will be invited to give their views on the new form of inspection as it is being developed.

“The introduction of education-focused inspections is an essential element of improving the quality of early years education, alongside the introduction of the ‘Better Star’ support service which will send mentors into childcare facilities to help them improve the quality of care and education,” said Mr Reilly.

Officials from his and Ms O’Sullivan’s departments briefed key groups working in the sector yesterday on the planned consultation. They said the inspections will complement the regulatory inspections carried out by child and family agency Tusla, as one of a range of measures being taken to improve the quality of early years education and care.

Ms O’Sullivan set up a new early years education advisory group in December to guide policy on the sector. The Department of Education is also reviewing courses towards qualifications to work in the sector.

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