Learning curve

Most childcare workers have, or are working towards, a qualification, says Neans McSweeney.

ONE-IN-FOUR staff working in childcare has no formal qualification. A further 43% have an award from a private college or an agency, and 87% of all staff are women, census figures show.

Under the Child Care (Pre-School Services) Regulations 1996 and (Amendment) Regulations 1997, pre-school staff do not need any formal qualifications.

Article 7 of the regulations simply states: “A person carrying on a pre-school service shall ensure that a sufficient number of competent adults are supervising the pre-school children in the service at all times.”

A competent adult is defined as “a person who has experience in caring for children under six years of age and/or who has an appropriate qualification in childcare and is a suitable person to care for children.”

However, although qualifications are not mandatory, most in the sector are working towards a nationally-accredited qualification.

The situation has improved significantly since the last census on the service in 2000, with a growing number of staff now either formally trained or working towards a nationally-recognised qualification.

The latest national study, the National Childcare Census 1999/2000, showed that 23% of staff employed in childcare had no formal qualification and 43% had an award from a private college or agency. Just 14% had a National Council for Education Awards Degree.

Formal qualification levels are higher in full-time staff: while the last census showed that 16.5% of full-time staff had no formal qualifications, it rose to 23.3% among part-timers.

The National Qualifications Authority of Ireland has now been charged with the creation of a national qualification framework, including a framework for the childcare sector.

The two principal accrediting bodies for childcare awards are the Higher Educational and Training Awards Council (HETEC) and the Further Education and Training Awards Council (FETAC).

The most popular are FETAC level 2 and 3 programmes, diplomas in childcare education, humanities and Montessori education or national diplomas in applied social studies.

Some courses are taken on a part-time basis, over periods as short as four months, while other programmes continue to diploma or degree level.

Areas of instruction vary but typically include topics such as the rights and needs of children; minimum standards of early childhood development; legislative guidelines and administrative matters as well as nutrition.

There is very little centralised, national information about the profile, pay or qualifications of those working in the sector. Typically, it’s up to every city or county childcare committee to keep a log of such data.

Waterford has the most up-to-date information, which details the qualifications of those registered and working in the service in the city and county.

The Waterford City and County Professional Development in the Childcare Sector report has the information all parents should have at their fingertips.

This report shows that just 20% of those in the sector are full-time child carers. Of these, just over half earned between €18,000 and €24,000, a third earned less than €18,000 and only 4% earned between €30,000 and €40,000.

Most - 41% - had between one and four years’ experience in the sector, 27% had between five and nine years. Only 16% were in the sector for 15 or more years.

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