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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
National reforms in early childhood education and care


14.Ongoing reforms and policy developments

14.1National reforms in early childhood education and care

Last update: 27 November 2023

National Reforms in Early Childhood Education and Care


First 5 is a whole-of-Government strategy to improve the lives of babies, young children and their families published at the end of 2018. It is a ten-year plan (2019-2028) to help make sure all children have positive early experiences and get a great start in life. First 5 uses evidence to identify goals, objectives and the specific actions required from across Government to support children (and their families) in the early years of life.

First 5 commits to major initiatives on family leave, children’s health services, parenting supports, child-friendly communities and Early Learning and Care services among a broad range of actions.

First 5 includes measures to reform the Early Learning and Care (ELC) system by building on the very significant developments in Early Learning and Care (and school-age childcare) over recent years and seeks to further improve affordability, accessibility and quality. Measures include introducing the National Childcare Scheme, moving progressively towards a graduate-led professional ELC workforce, and the extension of regulations and supports to all paid childminders and school-age childcare services, and the introduction of a new funding model for ELC. An effective early childhood system will support the transition to school by enabling greater communication between ELC settings, primary schools and parents, particularly for children with additional needs; supporting more play-based, child-centred learning in the early years of primary school; and equipping primary schools to accommodate young children through smaller class sizes, more time and space to play, and interactive teaching styles.

The National Strategy on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) provides a framework to support the contribution that the education sector is making and will continue to make towards a more sustainable future at a number of levels: individual, community, local, national and international.

The 2nd National Strategy on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD to 2030) was published in June 2022. ESD to 2030 is co-sponsored by the Department of Education, Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, and the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth.

ESD is both a target in itself under the United National Sustainable Development Goals (4.7) and also widely acknowledged as a key enabler for the achievement of all 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

ESD to 2030 sets out five key priority areas in line with UNESCO’s Framework for ESD for 2030:

  • Advancing policy: ESD is embedded in education and other relevant policies and frameworks as part of a lifelong learning approach.  

Transforming learning environments: Learners have opportunities to acquire the knowledge, skills, values and 

  • dispositions, needed to promote sustainable development and to experience sustainable development in action through a whole of institution approach to ESD.
  • Building capacities of educators: Educators have the opportunities to develop capacities to foster societal transformation for a sustainable future, with ESD integrated into the offerings of education and training providers.
  • Empowering and mobilising young people: Young people are supported to be agents of change for sustainable development.
  • Accelerating local level actions: Enhanced collaboration exists between education providers, local authorities, local communities, civil society organisations and enterprise in ESD as part of lifelong learning, towards achieving sustainability at a local level.


ESD to 2030 spans the continuum of education in Ireland, from early learning and care to third level education and research, and extends beyond to engage with local communities, and youth groups through lifelong learning. It is accompanied by an Implementation Plan 2022 – 2026 with an interim review planned for the second half of 2026.

An Expert Group was established in September 2019 to develop a new funding model for early learning and care and school-age childcare. The Group was tasked with examining the current model of funding and considering how additional resourcing could best be structured to achieve a high-quality, affordable, accessible, and sustainable sector. 


The Expert Group was independently chaired and comprised of national and international experts across multiple fields. The Expert Group published their report, Partnership for the Public Good: A new Funding Model for Early Learning and Care and School-Age Childcare, in December 2021 following consideration by Government and acceptance of its 25 recommendations. Work has now commenced on implementation of these recommendations.


The new funding model outlined in Partnership for the Public Good comprises four key elements: two new elements (Core Funding and Tackling Disadvantage funding) and two elements which are developments on the existing funding approaches of the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) programme and the National Childcare Scheme (NCS). These four elements, and their associated conditions, will form an interlocking and integrated system of funding which is designed to ensure progress on each of the main goals of ELC and SAC policy, and move in the direction of enhanced public management.


On 15 September 2022, the Minister launched Together for Better, the new funding model for early learning and childcare. This new funding model supports the delivery of early learning and childcare for the public good, for quality and affordability for children, parents and families. Together for Better brings together three major programmes, the Early 

Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) programme, including the Access and Inclusion Model (AIM), the National Childcare Scheme (NCS) and the new Core Funding scheme.


Core Funding is the new funding stream which begins in September 2022. Core Funding has a budget of €259 million in full year costs for year 1 of the programme (September 2022-August 2023).


Core Funding is designed to meet the combined objectives of:


  • Improved affordability for parents by ensuring in its first year that fees do not increase;


  • Improved quality through better pay and conditions and career frameworks for the workforce, underpinned by Employment Regulation Orders;


  • Supporting the employment of graduate staff; and


  • Improved sustainability and stability for services.


The majority of Core Funding is distributed based on a service's capacity - the opening hours, opening weeks and the age group of children for whom services are provided as well as number of places available. This includes allocations for improvements in staff pay and conditions, for administrative staff/time, and a contribution to non-staff overhead costs. Contact and non-contact time, holiday pay, sick pay and other employer costs, are all factored in to the staff costs allocation in Core Funding.


In addition, further funding is allocated to contribute to support graduates to be Lead Educators across ELC and to support graduates as Managers in ELC or combined ELC and SAC services. Heretofore funding has only been available in respect of graduate Room Leaders in the ECCE programme. The Graduate Lead Educator Premium in Core Funding is paid as a top up on the number of hours of provision that is led by a graduate. The Graduate Manager Premium is paid as a top up on the number of hours of operation of a service whose manager is a graduate.


Participation in Core Funding means that fees cannot increase above September 2021 levels for Partner Services. Core Funding also requires Partner Services to offer the NCS and/or ECCE to all eligible parents to ensure that parents can avail of their full entitlement to subsidised provision. The combination of the fee freeze plus access to increased subsidies ensures improved affordability for parents which is particularly important in the context of rising prices for goods and services across the economy.


The introduction of fee management is one of the recommendations of the Expert Group in their report, Partnership for the Public Good. The fee freeze for the first year of the scheme is the start of the few management process and will be further developed in future years as more information about income and costs in the sector is available and analysed. 

Core Funding has also supported the agreement of historic Employment Regulation Orders leading to wage increases for the large majority of staff in the sector.

The new funding model being implemented aims to transform the sector to one that is increasingly publicly funded and publicly managed, delivering a service for the public good, through a partnership between the State and providers, to the benefit of children, parents, practitioners, and society overall.

Partnership for the Public Good, amongst other things, sets out a new approach to State funding of the ELC and SAC sector that includes universal and targeted Tackling Disadvantage funding and support, building on Core Funding. 

Informed by recommendations in Partnership for the Public Good, services will be provided with a proportionate mix of universal and targeted supports to support children and families accessing their services who are experiencing disadvantage.

Development of this model is currently in early stages.

DCEDIY has also commenced a review of the ECCE programme which will consider whether the programme is meeting its objectives and subject to the findings consider whether any changes need to be made. This work will also act as a precursor to consideration of the putting the scheme on a statutory footing.

In December 2021, "Nurturing Skills: The Workforce Plan for Early Learning and Care and School-Age Childcare, 2022-2028" was published. Nurturing Skills aims to strengthen the ongoing process of professionalisation for those working in ELC and SAC, supporting the professional development of the workforce and raising the profile of careers in the sector. Commitments in Nurturing Skills are organised under five pillars:

  1. Establishing a career framework;
  2. Raising qualification levels;
  3. Developing a national Continuing Professional Development system;
  4. Supporting recruitment, retention and diversity; and
  5. Moving towards regulation of the workforce.

Successful delivery of commitments under the five pillars is supported by three "key enablers" that are identified in Nurturing Skills:

  • Improvement in pay and conditions of employment;
  • Coordination of the quality support infrastructure; and
  • Ongoing engagement with the profession

There is now, through an independent Joint Labour Committee (JLC) process, a formal mechanism established by which employer and employee representatives can negotiate pay rates for ELC and SAC services. With effect from 15th September 2022, two new Employment Regulation Orders for Early Years Services, which were negotiated through the JLC, came into effect, setting minimum hourly rates of pay for various roles in ELC and SAC services, including higher minimum rates of pay for graduate lead educators and 

graduate managers, in line with the commitments in Nurturing Skills to support the move to a graduate-led workforce.

The National Action Plan for Childminding 2021-2028 sets out a plan for extending State support and regulation to childminding on a phased basis, with accelerated access to subsidies for families who use childminders through the National Childcare Scheme. The National Action Plan for Childminding commits to opening the National Childcare Scheme to non-relative childminders at the earliest possible opportunity, though it will be necessary first to develop and introduce childminder-specific regulations, and to give childminders adequate time and support to meet regulatory requirements.

Phase 1 of the Plan, which began in 2021, involves preparatory work, putting in place the building blocks of this major reform. Phase 1, which will take 2-3 years to complete, includes developing new regulations and training that are specific to childminding, amending legislation, rolling out training, further research on costs and on ways to support childminders most effectively, and re-examining the funding and financial supports available for childminders. The National Action Plan sets out a phased approach with a preparatory phase followed by an extended transition phase, to allow childminders a lead-in time for any requirements. This supportive, phased transition process aims to facilitate the largest possible number of childminders to enter the regulated sector, the sphere of quality assurance, and access to Government subsidies, while recognising the time and supports required for this reform.


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