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Departmental Consultation

Early Years (0-6) Strategy

Department of Education Paper & Powerpoint

Synopsis for the Education Committee Consultation Event

17 November 2010


There is increasing recognition of the importance of the early years as a unique phase of human development and of early intervention. International evidence suggests that interventions early in life can help to reduce barriers to learning that may, otherwise, reduce children’s longer-term chances of success.

This Strategy recognises that there are already a range of services in place from which children benefit. The Strategy aims to build on these and to link learning and development in the early years more coherently through services including Sure Start, the current pre-school education programme and the Foundation Stage of the Revised Curriculum in P1 and P2, hence the age range 0-6.

The Strategy focuses on the wider concept of child development and considers learning in the early years is in a much broader context, including socialisation, language and communication, physical development and good health, particularly for those children who may start with reduced life chances.

The role of the parent or primary carer is central to the development of children and is vital in the early years. The Strategy seeks to address the question of how early years services and providers can work together more effectively with parents, helping them to improve children’s development and well-being, to ensure the maximum benefit for the child.

It is intended that the implementation of the Strategy will build upon existing ‘best practice’ and the working relationships and partnerships between Departments, authorities, agencies, service-providers and service-users. .


The challenges for the future are to place the development and well-being of children at the centre of the Executive’s policies by implementing:

  • PSA targets 10 (all children to realise potential) and 19 (raising standards in schools);
  • The ten year Children and Young People’s Strategy 2006-2016 “Our Children and Young People – Our Pledge”; and building on
  • Children’s and Young People’s Strategy 2006-16 (OFMDFM); and
  • Families Matter: Supporting Families (DHSSPS).

Vision, Aims and Objectives

The Department recognises that the early years are key to the healthy physical, intellectual, emotional and social development of the child.  It is in these formative years that a child develops their cognitive and language skills and their disposition to learn.

Within this context the Strategy sets out a vision:

  • to enable every child to develop to their full potential by giving each one the best start possible.

In seeking to deliver this vision, the Strategy includes the following aims:

  • value and respect the early years of a child’s life, while also laying the foundations of, and removing barriers to, learning so that each child can develop as a successful learner; and
  • achieve positive outcomes for children by supporting their development through high quality, child-centred and family-focused services, ensuring greater equality of access.

In support of the aims 4 key objectives have been identified:

  • to improve the quality of early years provision;
  • to recognise and respect the role of parents of young children;
  • to improve equity of access to quality early years provision;
  • to encourage greater collaboration among key partners to promote greater integration in service delivery.

The Strategy sets out a series of areas to be addressed within each objective, and suggests a range of actions which will form the foundations for delivering more effective early years services over the longer term. The objectives highlight the importance of collaborative and partnership approaches to the successful implementation of the Strategy, and to ensuring the best outcome for every child.


  • The Strategy embodies a commitment to more equitable provision for children in their pre-school year, their parents and families;
  • It seeks to integrate more coherently early childhood services, pre-school education provision and the Foundation Stage of primary education;
  • It will bring increased rigour to judgments about quality and standards;
  • It recognises the importance of early year’s provision for individuals, society and for the economy; and
  • It seeks to enjoin parents, providers, support bodies and the relevant Departments in addressing the issues of quality, parental engagement, equality and access, and the better integration of services, which are set out as the key priorities.


The total budget allocated by the Department of Education for Early Years (children aged 0-4) is currently in excess of £82million (2010-2011).

This amount consists of funding for the statutory nursery sector, the Department’s two main Early Years Programmes and support for the promotion of high quality early years provision and services.

Funding is provided in respect of:

  • Statutory Nursery Schools
  • Pre School Expansion Programme
  • Sure Start (including the Developmental Programme for 2-3 Year Olds)
  • Early Years Development Fund
  • Pilot Early Years Capital Funding Scheme
  • Core funding to regional early years organisations

This does not include funding provided within the Aggregated Schools Budget for Primary 1 and 2 which is substantial.



The Sure Start programme was introduced in the north of Ireland during 2000-01 through the Department of Health and Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS). In November 2006 responsibility for Early Years policy, including Sure Start, transferred to the Department of Education.

Current policy on coverage of Sure Start services

Sure Start is a targeted service which has a distinct geographical remit, defined by ward boundaries, with a current policy focus of the coverage of at least the top 20% most disadvantaged wards in the north of Ireland, currently as defined by the Noble indicators MDM 2005. All children aged 0-4 and their families within the catchment area of each Sure Start can access services, as provision is universal within the targeted areas.

During the past 2 years (2009/2010 and 2010/2011) additional funding for the further development of early years services has enabled DE to work towards a further expansion, with the aim of extending Sure Start services to the top 20% Super Output Areas, therefore helping to address the needs of young families living within “pockets” of disadvantage which are located within an otherwise affluent or higher ranked ward area.

Main aims of Sure Start

The overarching aim of Sure Start is t o work with parents and children to promote the physical, intellectual, social and emotional development of pre-school children – particularly those who are disadvantaged – to ensure they can flourish at home and when they get to school. The main objectives are

  • To improve health - by supporting parents in caring for children and promoting children’s health and physical, social and emotional development;
  • To improve the ability to learn - by encouraging stimulating play, improving language and cognitive skills, and the early identification and support of children with learning difficulties; and
  • To improve social development - by supporting the development of early relationships between parents and children, good parenting skills, and early identification and support of children with emotional, learning or behavioural difficulties.

Core components of Sure Start services

  • Outreach and home visiting
  • Support to families and parents
  • Healthcare and advice
  • Play, learning and childcare experiences (including the Developmental Programme for 2-3 Year Olds)
  • Support for all children within the Sure Start community, recognising their differing needs.

Total number of Sure Starts

32 Programmes plus 2 smaller scale Sure Start partnerships.

Estimated number of children age 0- 4 in Sure Start areas


Budget for 2010/11 - £23m


Aim: To provide a funded pre-school place for every child in their final pre-school year whose parents wish them to have one.

Number of funded pre-school education places in 2010/11:-

Statutory nursery places:- 14,254 (8,632 full-time and 5,622 part-time)

Voluntary/private places:- £12m allocated to the ELBs to fund 8,357 voluntary/private sector places and administration costs.

Reception Places:- Will not be known until the Schools Census Data is collated and verified (2009/10 – 590 places).

Number of settings;-

Statutory Nursery Schools:- 98

Statutory Nursery Units:- 216

Voluntary/private providers in PSEEP:- 375

Minimum quality standards for voluntary/private providers participating in PSEEP:-

  • Registration with the relevant Health & Social Care Trust
  • Minimum staff qualification and staff/child ratios
  • Adherence to the Curricular Guidance for Pre-School Education published by CCEA
  • At least 8 children in their final pre-school year in each session
  • Sessions of at least 2.5 hours on a 5 session per week basis for at least 38 weeks or on a 4 session per week basis for 48 weeks
  • Support from a Qualified Teacher or Early Years Specialist
  • Inspected by Education and Training Inspectorate

Admissions criteria specified by DE

  • social disadvantage – because research has shown that those children from socially disadvantaged backgrounds tend to experience more difficulty at school than other children; and
  • 4‑year‑olds with July and August birthdays – because these children do not enter compulsory education until after their 5th birthday.

This targeting process, which is part of DE’s wider strategy to reduce levels of educational underachievement in the long-term, has been in operation since the 1999/2000 school year.

All pre-schools must then set their own admissions criteria to select children down to the last available place when too many children apply to a provider. These criteria are entirely at the discretion of the individual school/playgroup and are not determined by DE.

Early Years Strategy Presentation - Education Committee Panel Event 17 November 2010


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