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United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Early Childhood Education and Care

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Overview United Kingdom (Northern Ireland)

Contents

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Political, Social and Economic Background and Trends

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Historical Development

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Main Executive and Legislative Bodies

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Population: Demographic Situation, Languages and Religions

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Political and Economic Situation

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Organisation and Governance

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Fundamental Principles and National Policies

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Lifelong Learning Strategy

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Organisation of the Education System and of its Structure

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Organisation of Private Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:National Qualifications Framework

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Administration and Governance at Central and/or Regional Level

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Administration and Governance at Local and/or Institutional Level

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Statistics on Organisation and Governance

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Funding in Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Early Childhood and School Education Funding

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Higher Education Funding

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Adult Education and Training Funding

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Early Childhood Education and Care

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Organisation of Programmes for Children over 2-3 years

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Teaching and Learning in Programmes for Children over 2-3 years

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Assessment in Programmes for Children over 2-3 years

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Organisational Variations and Alternative Structures in Early Childhood Education and Care

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Primary Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Organisation of Primary Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Teaching and Learning in Primary Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Assessment in Primary Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Organisational Variations and Alternative Structures in Primary Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Secondary and Post-Secondary Non-Tertiary Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Organisation of General Lower Secondary Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Teaching and Learning in General Lower Secondary Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Assessment in General Lower Secondary Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Organisation of General Upper Secondary Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Teaching and Learning in General Upper Secondary Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Assessment in General Upper Secondary Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Organisation of Vocational Upper Secondary Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Teaching and Learning in Vocational Upper Secondary Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Assessment in Vocational Upper Secondary Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Post-Secondary Non-Tertiary Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Higher Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Types of Higher Education Institutions

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:First Cycle Programmes

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Bachelor

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Short-Cycle Higher Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Second Cycle Programmes

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Programmes outside the Bachelor and Master Structure

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Third Cycle (PhD) Programmes

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Adult Education and Training

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Distribution of Responsibilities

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Developments and Current Policy Priorities

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Main Providers

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Main Types of Provision

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Validation of Non-formal and Informal Learning

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Teachers and Education Staff

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Initial Education for Teachers Working in Early Childhood and School Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Conditions of Service for Teachers Working in Early Childhood and School Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Continuing Professional Development for Teachers Working in Early Childhood and School Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Initial Education for Academic Staff in Higher Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Conditions of Service for Academic Staff Working in Higher Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Continuing Professional Development for Academic Staff Working in Higher Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Initial Education for Teachers and Trainers Working in Adult Education and Training

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Conditions of Service for Teachers and Trainers Working in Adult Education and Training

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Continuing Professional Development for Teachers and Trainers Working in Adult Education and Training

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Management and Other Education Staff

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Management Staff for Early Childhood and School Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Staff Involved in Monitoring Educational Quality for Early Childhood and School Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Education Staff Responsible for Guidance in Early Childhood and School Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Other Education Staff or Staff Working with Schools

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Management Staff for Higher Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Other Education Staff or Staff Working in Higher Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Management Staff Working in Adult Education and Training

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Other Education Staff or Staff Working in Adult Education and Training

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Quality Assurance

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Quality Assurance in Early Childhood and School Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Quality Assurance in Higher Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Quality Assurance in Adult Education and Training

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Educational Support and Guidance

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Special Education Needs Provision within Mainstream Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Separate Special Education Needs Provision in Early Childhood and School Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Support Measures for Learners in Early Childhood and School Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Guidance and Counselling in Early Childhood and School Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Support Measures for Learners in Higher Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Guidance and Counselling in Higher Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Support Measures for Learners in Adult Education and Training

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Guidance and Counselling in a Lifelong Learning Approach

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Mobility and Internationalisation

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Mobility in Early Childhood and School Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Mobility in Higher Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Mobility in Adult Education and Training

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Other Dimensions of Internationalisation in Early Childhood and School Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Other Dimensions of Internationalisation in Higher Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Other Dimensions of Internationalisation in Adult Education and Training

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Bilateral Agreements and Worldwide Cooperation

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Ongoing Reforms and Policy Developments

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:National Reforms in Early Childhood Education and Care

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:National Reforms in School Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:National Reforms in Vocational Education and Training and Adult Learning

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:National Reforms in Higher Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:National Reforms related to Transversal Skills and Employability

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:European Perspective

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Legislation

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Glossary

This chapter focuses on publicly funded, pre-school provision for three- to four-year-olds. This phase of education is not compulsory.


Structure and organisation

Providers

Publicly funded pre-school education for children aged three to four is provided in nursery schools, nursery classes or units in primary schools, and in a wide range of voluntary and private settings (e.g. day nurseries and playgroups) funded under the ‘Pre-school Education Expansion Programme’. The Programme began in 1998 with the aim of expanding the availability of pre-school places.

There is no universal, publicly funded pre-school education for children under the age of three.  If ‘Pre-school Education Expansion Programme’ places are available once demand amongst three- to four-year-olds has been met, they may be offered to those under three.  Many parents of children under three who require childcare pay for provision offered by privately-run day nurseries, voluntary pre-schools, childminders or nannies.

Unlike the compulsory school system, which is organised along denominational lines in Northern Ireland, pre-school education in all settings is accessible to children from all backgrounds.


Curriculum and assessment

All publicly funded pre-school settings must adhere to the Curricular Guidance for Pre-School Education and are regularly inspected by the Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI). The guidance should be used by staff to review, develop and promote good practice. The guidance outlines the range of learning opportunities, which children of this age should have through play and other relevant experiences. There are no statutory requirements to assess children during pre-school education, although the Curricular Guidance promotes the assessment of children’s learning through day-to-day observations of, and interactions with, children in a range of situations.


Participation

In the 2016/17school year, there are almost 24,000 funded pre-school places in Northern Ireland. The table below shows the numbers of pupils in full- and part-time funded pre-school provision by type of establishment in 2016/17:

Provider
Number of pupils

Voluntary and private pre-school education centres (funded places only)


Playgroups - part-time
7,437
Day nurseries - part-time
834
TOTAL
8,271
Nursery

Nursery schools – full-time
3,955
Nursery schools – part-time
1,909
Nursery classes – full-time
5,174
Nursery classes – part-time
4,292
TOTAL
15,330
Reception classes in primary schools
15,330
TOTAL
224

Legal framework

A key piece of legislation governing pre-school education in Northern Ireland is the Education (Northern Ireland) Act 2014. It established the Education Authority (EA) in April 2015, which became responsible and accountable for all pre-school education and learning services funded by the Government, including the planning of places and the coordination of pre-school admissions. This role was previously carried out by the five regional Education and Library Boards (ELBs), which have been dissolved.

Another key piece of legislation is the Education (Northern Ireland) Order 1998. It defines the length of a full-time pre-school place as at least four- and a-half hours a day and a part-time place as at least two- and-a half hours a day. It also sets out the responsibilities of boards of governors regarding pre-school education provided in grant-aided schools.

The Education and Libraries (Northern Ireland) Order 2003 includes provisions for parents to express on a single application form, in order of preference, the schools in which they wish pre-school education to be provided for their child.

The Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995 sets out legal requirements regarding childminding and day care for young children. Articles 125 and 126 required authorities to set limits on the number of young children being looked after in settings, as well as on the number of children in specific age groups. Private providers and childminders must be registered and inspected annually by one of the five regional Health and Social Care Trusts in Northern Ireland.


Main national policy aims and general objectives

Pre-school Education Expansion Programme

The Government’s main pre-school education programme is the ‘Pre-school Education Expansion Programme’, which was introduced in 1998. In the Programme for Government 2011-2015, the Government committed to ensuring that publicly funded pre-school education is available to every family that wants it in the year immediately before children start compulsory education (aged three to four). The Government committed also to ensuring that this part-time provision is available for 38 weeks of the year from September to June, five days each week (Monday to Friday), and for at least two-and-a-half hours each day. The draft Programme for Government 2016-2021 continues this commitment. However, following the collapse of the Government in January 2017, elections are due to be held on 2nd March 2017 which may affect this.


Learning to Learn Framework

Learning to Learn – A Framework for Early Years Education and Learning, published by the Department of Education (DE) in October 2013, provides the policy focus for pre-school education in Northern Ireland. The overarching aim is that ‘all children have opportunities to achieve their potential through high quality early years education and learning experiences’. Policy objectives supporting this aim are to:

  • provide equitable access to high quality early years education and learning services
  • support personal, social and emotional development, promote positive learning dispositions, and enhance language, cognitive and physical development in young children
  • provide a positive and nurturing early learning experience, as well as a foundation for improved educational attainment and lifelong learning
  • identify and help address barriers to learning, and reduce the risk and impact of social exclusion and the need for later interventions
  • encourage and support parents in their role as first and ongoing educators.


Sure Start Programme

The other key government programme supporting early education and care is the ‘Sure Start Programme’, which provides a range of support services for parents and children under the age of four who live in disadvantaged areas across Northern Ireland. The programme varies according to local need, but there are six core services which must be provided in all Sure Start projects. These are:

  • home-based support for those families who could benefit from Sure Start
  • support to families and parents
  • healthcare and advice from local healthcare professionals
  • support for good quality play, learning and childcare experiences for children both at home and together with other children in group activities
  • support for speech, language and communication
  • support for all children in the community and recognising that they all have different needs.

Sure Start also offers a free developmental programme to help two- to three-year-olds get ready for pre-school. This targets those children most likely to benefit from support in the year before starting pre-school, and aims to help their social and emotional development, build on their communication and language skills, and develop their imagination through play.


Parental Engagement

Parental engagement is high on the education agenda in Northern Ireland. The ‘Education Works’ campaign highlights the important role parents and carers play in their child’s learning, in particular during the period from birth to age eight, but also in the teenage years.


Childcare Strategy

The Northern Ireland Executive published its Draft Childcare Strategy 2015 to 2025 for consultation in July 2015. This sets out a strategy for affordable and integrated childcare from birth to 14 years. It has two main aims:

  • Developmental: to give all children the best start in life, preparing them for lifelong wellbeing and achievement, thereby creating the basis for a better, more prosperous future
  • Employment: to enable parents to join the workforce, thereby enhancing prosperity, and to improve gender equality by enabling mothers to join the workforce, return to work and remain in work.


 

Article last updated February 2017.