The move towards an expanded pre-school provision for all children in Northern Ireland forms part of the ongoing work to develop an Executive Childcare Strategy.
Minister McIlveen said: “I want to make sure that we have the best possible early years provision for every child, which will not only support their education, but also enable parents to work. My Department is developing an Executive Childcare Strategy, which will include a package of measures to provide that vital support.
“Pre-school education is critically important for our children’s development. Ensuring equality through an expanded pre-school provision will undoubtedly improve outcomes for children, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds. I have therefore instructed my officials to develop a timetable and costed delivery plan to provide a minimum of 22.5 hours of funded pre-school provision for every child in Northern Ireland.
“Initially, this will involve a pilot programme that will facilitate new full-time statutory nursery provision in certain areas. This is an important first step which will inform plans for the standardisation of all pre-school education sessions, including a phased lifting of the current moratorium on the creation of new full-time provision.”
The Minister also provided an update on the wider work to develop a Childcare Strategy, including:
- The establishment of a new Stakeholder Engagement Forum to ensure the voices of all relevant parties are heard;
- The commissioning of an independent Review of Childcare Services in NI to provide an up-to-date evidence base on the childcare sector; and
- A review of DE targeted early years interventions, which includes consideration of how Sure Start services are currently targeted.
Addressing the cost of childcare, the Minister said: “I understand that the affordability of childcare is a key concern for families, and this will be considered as part of the development work on the strategy. I am mindful, however, of the immediate financial pressure being felt by parents. In addition to the ongoing work to encourage uptake of existing financial support available to families, I have written to the UK Chancellor asking him to uplift the rate of the Tax-Free Childcare Scheme from 20% to 30% to support families with their childcare costs.”
The Minister concluded: “This important work will require a coordinated approach across departments and stakeholders. By working together to transform early learning and childcare services we will put children’s development and wellbeing at the heart of the Strategy while also supporting families and the economy.”